Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Discovering Akio Jissôji

I want to thank my friend Jean Guerin for bringing my attention to Episode 38 of ULTRAMAN DYNA, directed by the remarkable Akio Jissôji. Jean had previously brought to my attention the fact that Jissôji had directed the 22nd episode of the original ULTRAMAN series, employing a somewhat jarringly unusual visual style influenced by the works of Jean-Luc Godard. It was yet another of the six episodes of the series that Jissôji directed that Hayata reached for his Beta capsule and pulled a spoon from his pocket instead - a surreal joke that reportedly worried the show's producers but went on to become a favorite moment with fans.

I had never before seen an episode of ULTRAMAN DYNA, which ran in 1997. I tend to find it difficult connecting with the later ULTRAMAN series, particularly those shot digitally, because they are somehow too clean, too transparent, too antiseptic to feel filmic. That said, I recommend that everyone watch this episode, because - despite its digital origins - it’s one of the trippiest, most cinematic experiences I’ve had in a long time.

Akio Jissôji and friend.
In addition to the 22nd episode of ULTRAMAN, Jissoji also directed four episodes of ULTRA SEVEN in 1967-68, and one episode of ULTRAMAN DYNA's direct predecessor, ULTRAMAN TIGA. Before you watch, think of the basic requirements of any ULTRAMAN series episode, and then marvel to how much more Jissôji imports: Pirandello-like musings on reality and fantasy, Biblical imagery, theatricality, alchemy, flashing reflective surfaces, Kaspar Hauser, sex dolls; he even resorts to imparting information through bending, refracted imagery and somehow makes it work. It’s blatantly experimental work in an arena that wouldn’t seem to permit this - and yet it absolutely succeeds in telling a highly concentrated story that would make even Philip K. Dick bust his buttons with pride. Mark my words and check this out.

I see from his IMDb listing that Jissôji also directed the Edogawa Rampo adaptation THE WATCHER IN THE ATTIC (1993) and also a segment of the anthology feature RAMPO NOIR in 2005, the year before his death at age 69. As coincidence would have it, next month Arrow Video will be releasing a box set of Akio Jissoji's THE BUDDHIST TRILOGY. Definitely a filmmaker worth studying more closely.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

RIP Greg Shoemaker (1947-2019)

I'm very sorry to learn of the passing, two days ago, of Greg Shoemaker - a fellow Ohioan and, for 17 years and forever more by reputation, the editor-publisher of THE JAPANESE FANTASY FILM JOURNAL. Launched in 1968 with an issue devoted to Ishiro Honda's GODZILLA (1954), it was the first English language magazine to seriously document the fantasy films of Toho, Daiei, and other Japanese studios. It also had an initial print-run of only 25 copies, which I did not know when I read an enthusiastic mention in the pages of CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It was the first horror-related fanzine I ever sent away for and received in the mail.

I was surprised to find inside the envelope a hand-written letter of apology from Greg, informing me that #1 had sold out (I imagined a warehouse suddenly emptied of boxes by popular demand!) and that he was sending me the latest issue in its stead. It was JFFJ #4, featuring the second half of their FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD coverage. It was printed on white paper, mimeographed with a photo-offset cover. I was initially disappointed (you try reading the second half of an article and imagining what came before!) but, in the days and weeks that followed, I devoured that issue again and again. 

I was one who preferred to exchange my money for items acquired on the spot, so for years, JFFJ #4 was the only issue I would ever see. I've been able to collect the last several issues, when the once-ditto-pressed, hand-stapled mailing had evolved into a handsome offset publication, well-written and -illustrated with a reported circulation of 1,000. It ceased publication in 1985, and I sorely wish I'd supported it all along.

It is hard to express what its example meant to me: it was the first time I'd seen Japanese fantasy films written about without derision, and it also presented me with a very early pre-CINEFANTASTIQUE glimpse of what might be possible to do with my own life. I wish the issues missing from my collection were easier to come by. Individual copies occasionally turn up on eBay with starting bids that are both so much higher than they should be, yet indicative of how cherished they are by the kogunosenti.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

THE PERFECTION (2018): A Considered Response

Logan Browning and Allison Williams as the lovers and competitors of Richard Shepard's THE PERFECTION.
THE PERFECTION (Netflix) is a beautifully designed and shot film for the most part, one that builds to a nicely kinky tableau that is half ingenious and half absurd and thus lingers in the memory; unfortunately, its scenic pluses made me all the more upset with its coarse, overplayed minuses. Its narrative rewind gimmick reminds us twice that we’re just watching a movie, while also indirectly telling us that what we see on the first pass isn't the whole story, hence can’t be trusted at face value. The gimmick also detracts from what could have been a more genuinely clever arrangement of the narrative with simple fades to an earlier moment. It begins so well and goes so wrong, even giving us some glimpses of the movie it might have been. 

I think Michael Reeves and George Romero would agree with me on this: if you’re going to make a horror film to take a serious, defiant, political stand about something (say, rich white men and child abuse), do your audience a favor and find a metaphor. Furthermore, never make your heroes dubious (much less crazy and borderline evil from the get-go); if you must villainize something, make it something bad rather than something admirable like education and achievement; and finally - if blood must have blood - never leave your audience chuckling smugly. 

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


Kirk Douglas as the embittered, withdrawn hero, William Denton.

Last night, I made a spontaneous decision to go back and check out LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, an early (1971) Alexander and Ilya Salkind production made in concert with Kirk Douglas' company Bryna Productions. It's based on Jules Verne's THE LIGHTHOUSE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, one of Verne's last novels, one of his few to be written in the 20th century, when he was recovering from an attempt on his life by a family member and in his most cynical and disillusioned state of mind. To find Verne's name emblazoned on the advertising for any post-1960s film is usually shorthand for cheesy family entertainment - but, suffice to say, LIGHT is anything but.

If anything, it's a counterpart to the savage streak found in other contemporary releases, ranging from Cy Endfield's SANDS OF THE KALAHARI (1965) and Elliot Silverstein's A MAN CALLED HORSE (1970) to Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS (1971), while also anticipating the even greater extremes of Umberto Lenzi's THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972) and other Italian adventure films to follow. To condense a gratifyingly intense and complex response, it was nothing like what I expected. 

The film opens very slowly - indeed, I would have to say it feels juvenile and borderline asinine for its first 10-15 minutes, with that stale sense of remove one feels with some cheaply post-produced international co-productions. I was actually on the point of reconsidering my decision to watch when the film suddenly bit down hard, refusing to let up for the remainder of the sometimes hallucinatory, often harrowing adventure.

Douglas (and monkey companion Mario) sights unwelcome visitors. 
In short, it’s a film about a man named William Denton (Douglas) who has retreated from life due to a broken heart, who has retired to an isolated island to serve as an assistant lighthouse keeper with two other men, one of them a retired sea captain played by Fernando Rey, speaking English in his own voice for a change. His idyllic, monastic evasion of life is then suddenly challenged by the arrival of a ship of pirates, led by the serenely imperious Captain Jonathan Kongre (an implacable Yul Brynner, whose birthday it is today). His band of raucous cut-throats (including future Jess Franco repertory players Aldo Sambrell, Luis Barboo, and Tony Skios, Jean-Claude Druout as a flamboyantly decadent gay member, and Victor Israel to boot!) cruelly overtake the island, which Kongre intends to use as an ideally placed base from which to misguide, wreck, and plunder other ships.

Douglas makes the acquaintance of his island captor.
To say more would ruin the surprise of the often horrific shifts that take place in the narrative. Suffice to say, this is a sometimes shockingly perverse and Sadean adventure, that includes one moment of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST intensity that I presume was faked but does not play that way - and is one of several reasons why this film should be kept away from children. I've learned that Verne himself did not shy away from animal violence in his novels of survival, and also that his reputation as a writer for all ages was largely rooted in the often barbarically reductive translations of his work - so the content of this film may well be a plausible adaptation of his original novel - for a long time available here only in a more child-friendly version revised by Verne's son, Michel. 

Yul Brynner with Samantha Eggar.
Much like Burt Lancaster in THE TRAIN, this film presents a 50-something Douglas in most impressive physical condition, doing many of his own stunts in a highly physical performance shot entirely on location. The film finds its dramatic crux when the wreckers overtake a ship whose unfortunate passengers include a lookalike for Will's lost love (Samantha Eggar), a subplot that - rather admirably - plays out in a manner quite opposite to what we may expect, further confirming the hero’s disillusionment with mankind. The flashbacks to this backstory stylistically evoke the similar structure of Sergio Leone’s FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), and director Kevin Billington's handling of the picture - photographed by Henri Decaë (PURPLE NOON), with second unit special effects photography by Cecilia Paniagua (LISA AND THE DEVIL) - evokes Leone more than once. The score by the usually reliable Piero Piccioni is frankly uninspired, not one of his best.

Original US half-sheet.
All in all, though admittedly erratic and downbeat, THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is a nonetheless strangely rousing and uneasily shaken adventure, worthy of rediscovery. I understand this film's current US DVD release is quite poor in quality and a must to avoid; alternately, there is a region-free Spanish DVD import with optional English audio with 2.1 stereo sound which Amazon user comments seem to think is quite good, though it's reportedly missing a few seconds involving a vicious stunt overturning a horse. Clearly, a definitive Blu-ray edition is much needed.

In related news, please be aware that Walt Disney has finally just issued their classic 1954 film of Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, starring Kirk Douglas, on Blu-ray. Though it's Disney Movie Club exclusive, it is also available from various eBay sellers for those with aversions to membership.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

20 Years, 100 Commentaries

What I've assembled here is a newly updated list of my audio commentary work, numbered for the first time. It's been awhile since I've amended the list originally posted here; in fact, as I started working on this post, I thought I'd be using it to announce the fact that I was now working on my 100th commentary assignment - but as I looked the list over more carefully, I realized that I'd failed to number one of the titles, so my count was off! I'm presently at work on my 101st and missed my opportunity to celebrate! 

The order presented is more or less in the order I recorded them, but I can't promise the ordering is absolutely true. It's certainly truer with the most recent releases, but some earlier ones were dragged from the year they were recorded to that in which they were released. I've numbered each commentary except for those listings that denote reissues of earlier commentaries; there may be some international reissues of which I'm unaware. I have also highlighted the various awards and recognitions that various of the commentaries have received or been part of.

Please note this list includes titles due for imminent release, and a few that have been done but - for various reasons I can't explain - are presently "on hold." If there are any DVD or Blu-ray releases from regions around the world that you know of, which are not listed here, please drop me a line at

I'd like to thank my principal employers - Bret Wood and Frank Tarzi of Kino Lorber, and Francesco Simeoni of Arrow Video and his team of ace disc producers (James Blackford, Michael Mackenzie, Ewan Cant, and Anthony Nield) - for their ongoing custom and encouragement, and also my late and much-missed friend Michael Lennick, who - twenty years ago, in the late summer of 1999 - recorded my first two commentaries up in Bala, Ontario, thereby setting me on the path to a side-career at which he would have excelled himself. 

Here's a guide to my first 100 titles. Thanks for your good words of encouragement.  


1. Black Sunday, Image Entertainment 
2. Kill, Baby... Kill!, Image Entertainment (unreleased)


3. Blood and Black Lace, VCI Entertainment (reissued 2005)
4. The Whip and the Body, VCI Entertainment, Kino Lorber (2014)


5. Danger: Diabolik, Paramount DVD - with John Phillip Law
6. Monster Kid Home Movies, "The Gentle Old Madman" - with Tom Abrams, PPS Productions


7. Kill, Baby... Kill!, Dark Sky Films (2007, withdrawn)
8. The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Anchor Bay Entertainment
9. Black Sabbath (international version), Anchor Bay Entertainment
10. Knives of the Avenger, Anchor Bay Entertainment
11. Rabid Dogs, Lucertola Media (Germany)
12. Black Sunday, Anchor Bay Entertainment


13. Baron Blood, Anchor Bay Entertainment
14. Lisa and the Devil, Anchor Bay Entertainment
15. Bay of Blood, Anchor Bay Entertainment
16. Erik the Conqueror, Anchor Bay Entertainment - with excerpts from Cameron Mitchell interview


17. Thriller: The Grim Reaper, Image Entertainment (with David J. Schow and Ernest Dickerson)
18. Thriller: The Premature Burial, Image Entertainment (with David J. Schow and Ernest Dickerson)


Bay of Blood, Arrow Video (UK)
19. Das Geheimnis des Doktor Z (The Diabolical Dr. Z), Subkultur Entertainment (Germany)
20. Hatchet For The Honeymoon, Kino Lorber


Black Sunday, Kino Lorber, Arrow Video (UK)
21. Five Dolls for an August Moon, Kino Lorber
22. The Awful Dr. Orlof, Redemption
23. Nightmares Come At Night, Redemption
24. A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Redemption
Baron Blood, Arrow Video (UK)
Lisa and the Devil, Arrow Video (UK)
Black Sabbath (international version), Anchor Bay Entertainment
Black Sabbath (international version), Arrow Video (UK)


25. The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Arrow Films (UK)
Rabid Dogs, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Rabid Dogs, Arrow Video (UK)
26. Trans-Europ-Express, BFI (UK) - 26 - 30 are collected in the BFI box set ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET: SIX FILMS 1963-1974
27. L’Immortelle, BFI (UK)
28. The Man Who Lies, BFI (UK)
29. Eden And After, BFI (UK)
30. Successive Slidings of Pleasure, BFI (UK)
31. Pit and the Pendulum, Arrow Video (UK)
32. Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Arrow Video (UK)
33. The Whip and the Body, Odeon Entertainment (UK - new revised recording)
34. Planet of the Vampires, Kino/Scorpion Releasing 


35. Tales of Terror, Kino Lorber 36. Blood and Black Lace, Arrow Video (new revised recording)
37. Evil Eye with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Kino Lorber - 2007 commentary with new added material
38. X - The Man with X-Ray Eyes, Kino Lorber (includes trailer commentary as Easter Egg)
39. The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Redemption
40. Videodrome, Arrow Video (UK)
41. Eyes Without a Face, BFI (UK)
42. Black Sabbath (AIP version), Kino Lorber - different to the 2013 International Cut commentary 


44. Valentino, Kino Lorber (US), BFI (UK) - minor editing differences between the two
45. Journey to the Seventh Planet, Kino Lorber
46. Death Walks On High Heels, Arrow Video (in the Death Walks Twice box set)
47. Death Walks At Midnight, Arrow Video (in the Death Walks Twice box set)
A Maldiçao do Demônio/Black Sunday, Versatíl (Brasil)
48. Blood Bath (Arrow Video), "The Trouble With Titian - Revisited" audio essay
49. Daughter of Dracula, Redemption
50. Destiny, Kino Classics
51. Dr. Orloff's Monster, Redemption
52. The Skull, Kino Lorber
53. One Million Years B.C., Kino Lorber


54. Lifeboat, Kino Lorber - Winner of the 2018 Saturn Award for Best Classic DVD/BD Release
55. Caltiki the Immortal Monster, Arrow Video
Baron Blood, Koch Media (Germany)
Lisa und der Teufel, Koch Media (Germany)
Die drei Gesichter der Furcht/Black Sabbath, Koch Media (Germany)
56. Der Mude Tod / Destiny, Eureka!/Masters of Cinema (UK) - a re-recording of 2016 Destiny commentary with minor alterations in content
57. Compulsion, Kino Lorber
58. Die Toten Augen des Dr. Dracula / Kill, Baby... Kill!, Koch Media (Germany) - new revised commentary
59. Erik the Conqueror, Arrow Video - new revised commentary 
60. Kill, Baby... Kill!, Kino Lorber - new revised commentary
Kill, Baby... Kill!, Arrow Video UK - new revised commentary
61. Vibrations (Film Movement) 
62. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
63. Sin In The Suburbs (Film Movement)
64. Confessions of a Young American Housewife (Film Movement)
65. Moonlighting Wives (Film Movement, on hold)
66. The Witches / Le Streghe (1967; Arrow Academy)
67. Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (Kino Lorber)
68. The Incredible Shrinking Man (Arrow Video)
69. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "The Production and Decay of Strange Particles" (Kino Lorber)


70. The Diabolical Dr. Z  (Redemption/Kino Lorber (re-edited version of 2012 commentary) 
71. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "The Invisibles" (Kino Lorber) - Both OUTER LIMITS SEASON 1 and 2 were Winner of the 2018 Rondo Award for Best DVD Extras
72. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "The Forms of Things Unknown" (Kino Lorber)
73. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "The Zanti Misfits" (Kino Lorber)
74. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "The Bellero Shield" (Kino Lorber)
75. The Outer Limits, Season 1: "ZZZZZ" (Kino Lorber)
76. Neurosis/Revenge in the House of Usher (Kino Lorber, on hold)
77. A Fistful of Dollars (Kino Lorber)
78. Death Smiles on a Murderer (Arrow)
79. Jack the Giant Killer (Kino Lorber)
80. "2" - I, A Woman Part II (Film Movement)
81. The Outer Limits, Season 2: "The Duplicate Man" (Kino Lorber)
82. The Outer Limits, Season 2: "The Premonition" (Kino Lorber)
83. The Night Stalker (Kino Lorber) Winner of the 2018 Rondo Award for Best Audio Commentary
84. The Night Strangler (Kino Lorber)


85. Four Times That Night (Kino Lorber)
86. Vampire gegen Herakles/Hercules in the Haunted World (Koch Media - Germany)
87. Knives of the Avenger (Kino Lorber) - new revised recording with excerpts from Cameron Mitchell interview
88. For A Few Dollars More (Kino Lorber)
89. Scream and Scream Again (Kino Lorber)
90. The Beast with a Million Eyes (Scorpion Releasing, on hold)
91. The Possessed (Arrow Video) Winner of 2019 Il Cinema Ritravato DVD Award for Best DVD Extras
92. Whirlpool (Arrow Video - BLOOD HUNGER: THE FILMS OF JOSE LARRAZ box set)
93. Dead of Night (1946; Kino Lorber)
94. Double Face (Arrow Video)
95. Fantomas (1964, Kino Lorber) 
96. Attack of the Robots (Redemption/Kino Lorber)
97. Lost Highway (Kino Lorber, withdrawnGo to for link to free commentary
98. Alphaville (Kino Lorber, forthcoming)
99. Last Year at Marienbad (Kino Lorber, forthcoming)
100. Blackmail (1929 sound version, Kino Lorber, forthcoming)

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Hear My Lost LOST HIGHWAY Audio Commentary

Last Tuesday, June 25th, Kino Lorber released David Lynch's LOST HIGHWAY (1997) on Blu-ray. For some reason, the disc is proving hard to find on Amazon, but you can use this link to order directly from the Kino Lorber website where the disc is currently on sale at substantial savings. 

I'm very happy to report that - despite David Lynch's forewarnings of a release that did not meet his standards - early reviews of the disc have been extremely enthusiastic, with Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver calling it "the definitive edition" of the film, and Dr. Svet Atanasov of noting that "the technical presentation is vastly superior" to prior releases both here and abroad. Dr. Atanasov also notes, "Most unfortunately, there are no supplemental features to be found on this release."

As you may have heard, or read here previously, supplementary materials had originally been planned for this release. I recorded a feature-length audio commentary that - along with some other materials - had to be scrapped at the last minute, owing to discovered contractual agreements made between Universal and Mr. Lynch that forbade any such supplementation.

Since the rights to my work have reverted to me, and since my time and effort have been remunerated, I've decided to make the unused track freely available as an mp3 download, which can be synched up to the Kino Lorber disc by anyone who may be interested.  

Here is a link (right click, download linked file) to a zip file of my commentary, as well as a separate text file with some background and instructions. 


(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.