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FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADE -Volume 1: THE SILENT ERA

FANTASTIC FILMS OF THE DECADE -Volume 1: THE SILENT ERA. By Wayne Kinsey. Ultra- Limited Printing (500 copies) 175 pages
Only £25 plus P+P

Fantastic Films of the Decades Volume 1 – The Silents

                                           Silents Cover Full               

                               (A Scarlet The Film Magazine Book Review by Steve Joyce )

When I first picked up Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1: The Silent Era and began browsing quickly through its pages, I had an immediate reaction. I was struck by the number of illustrations (many a full page is nothing but) and muttered to myself something like “Well. Given that silent films were even more visual than they are today; that seems appropriate, I guess.”

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Sure enough, when I started reading the introduction, I realized that author Wayne Kinsey and I were on the same page (so to speak). He states his book is “more pictorial in a fitting tribute to films that thrilled through pictures only” and is upfront in saying his volume was “designed to be an easy read” and “not designed to be … exhaustive”. Mr. Kinsey adds that he prefers holding a physical book and I’m onboard with that as well.

 

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This then, pretty much sets the parameters for what the whole thing is all about. In conforming to the above stipulations, the book’s format is fairly structured. Each film write-up comes with a “What’s it about?” section, a “What’s it like?” section, a “Did you know?” section, etc. (Obviously, readers wishing to avoid SPOILERS will appreciate the “What’s it about?” section labeled as such.)

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Not too surprisingly, in the “What’s it Like?” comments, the author provides his thoughts and opinions. It’s this reviewer’s opinion that when he describes 1916’s dated masterpiece, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as “rather plodding” and goes on to say relatively good things about the oft-maligned Sheldon Lewis take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) tale, that he’s spot on. His remarks left me with more than a couple takeaways; for instance, I have got to watch (and re-watch) more Old Dark House Mysteries one of these days (starting with The Last Warning (1929) which Kinsey states is superior to The Cat and the Canary (1927) which I thoroughly enjoyed). Movie tastes may vary but, at the very least, it’s clear that he’s carefully watched of which he writes.

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Any number of tidbits are provided through a “Did you know?” section. One of my particular interests is adaptations and remakes. Along these lines, I have the author to thank for pointing out the connection between The Monster (1925) and Poe’s ‘The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Fether ‘as well as that between Go and Get It (1920) and the sound film The Monster and the Girl (1941). And, on the trivia front, … goodness knows I would have never guessed that the lost Frankenstein film, Life Without Soul (1915), was shot in my adopted state in nearby
Dahlonega, Georgia (heck, I never knew Georgia had any vintage films shot there at all.) And as for the account on the making of Noah’s Ark (1928), I found it to be downright shocking. This might have been my favorite section and I could easily list many other factoids that tickled my fancy.

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Tangential to the films themselves are full page “Series Links” (e.g. the Frankenstein films, Poe films, Chaney/Browning films, etc.) and full page “Legend” bios for such luminaries as George Melies, Conrad Veidt, Lon Chaney, Paul Wegener and others. I particularly learned plenty about the
Westmore brothers who collectively did make-up work on everything from early classics like The Lost World (1925) and the talkie The Island of Lost Souls (1932) to The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and This Island Earth (1955) to Soylent Green (1973) and The Munsters (1964-66) TV show.

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There are also smaller thumbnail biographies written in the “Look For” section in the film write-ups themselves; so, everything is generally accessible, organized and weighted properly. (However, there is one mysteriously misplaced mini-biography of cowboy star Roy Rogers on the page devoted to 1922’s The Headless Horseman which, of course, starred Will Rogers. The reviewer’s copy is in PDF format; I am not sure if this miscue appears in printed copies.)

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Volume I of this series mainly covers extent movies but seven key lost films are included as well. Kinsey has apparently written extensively in the horror genre and there seems to be a slight emphasis on horror. Missing are mention of some important science fiction classics as The Unknown Purple (1923), L’inhumaine(1924) and Himmelskibet(aka A TRIP TO MARS ,1918).

Nonetheless, ” Volume 1″ succeeds in what it set out to accomplish.
Although lacking full comprehensiveness on silent era genre pictures, it provides a cogently written overview of the topic. I am looking forward to the next entries covering subsequent decades

There are some 60 to 70 films covered within the 175 pages of Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1. A number of illustration pages are in color. It’s limited to only 500 copies and only available direct from http://www.peverilpublishing.co.uk

(Steve Joyce is the co-author of American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913–1929.)

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CITY OF THE DEAD -blu ray from V.C.I. review

 

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CITY OF THE DEAD -VCI 78 min – BLU RAY s.r.p. $24.98 released March 29,2016 http://www.vcientertainment.com/City-of-the-Dead-Blu-ray

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When CITY OF THE DEAD was announced as a Blu Ray by V.C.I., there was a great deal of excitement about the release of this classic horror film. After years of dark, or overly gray public domain releases of this witchcraft gem, there was at last going to be a version on blu ray that would restore the movie to its original glory.

Since its release, fandom has turned into as rabidly critical as Comic Book Guy from The SIMPSONS (‘worse version- ever!’). Now it is possible that the framing of the film is not 1.66:1, but what most impresses me about the VCI print is how incredibly sharp the print is,
allowing you appreciate the superb cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (who was used to filming in fog, having lensed the Oscar winning Best Picture of 1948, Laurence Olivier ‘s HAMLET (Two Cities/Rank)). I have never seen this film look so superb, allowing us to see the wood grain on the door of the church and making the figures entering in and out of the smoke look nearly three dimensional. I have seen this film on television, beta, vhs, dvd and even on the big screen and have never been so in awe of its look.

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CITY OF THE DEAD began lensing in October 1959. It was shot over six weeks entirely in one of the largest of Shepperton Studios stages. With a budget of only £45,000 (approximately $126,427.24 in 1959 conversion), fog covered the limited set pieces. What the fog couldn’t cover was that it was lensed in a stage without sound proofing so that it sounds as clear as it does is a credit to sound mixer Richard Bird (later doing sound for MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1965, A.I.P.)

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For the five people who never seen CITY OF THE DEAD , the film opens in the late 17th as Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel, winner of a Tony Award in 1955 for playing the role of the wife in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, a role later made famous when Marlene Dietrich played it in the film) is burnt at the stake for being a witch. Yes, we know, no witches were hung in the colonies or buried under rocks, but let’s face it, burning is more cinematic.

Centuries later, a young woman, Nan Driscoll (Venetia Stevenson), at the urging of her college professor (Christopher Lee), goes to the town of Whitewood where the fiery execution took place. The cast, with one exception, are all British, so their accents are quite impressive (except on words like ‘going”).

Look at the sharper picture image. You can see the wood grain.Um,hello?

Look at the sharper picture image. You can see the wood grain.Um,hello?

There is much controversy about the similarities of certain plot points between CITY OF THE DEAD and Robert Bloch’s “Psycho”. Many said that C.O.T.D. began filming in several weeks before the Hitchcock film of PSYCHO (Paramount) and so that the British film could not have been influenced by the American picture. True enough, but Bloch’s novel was published earlier in the year by Simon & Schuster and was a best seller. Screenwriter and crime novelist could easily have been aware of the book and unknowingly incorporated parts of it into his story. Some sources say ex patriate Baxt had written the script for a Boris Karloff series (could it have been an unfilmed tale for ‘The Veil”?) but producer Milton Subotsky rewrote it into feature length. Subotsky was as a great reader as well as script doctor to many screenplays that he produced and perhaps he worked in the bits that reflect the other better known thriller.

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Milton Subotsky was also an American who moved to England to produce movies, and partnered with Max Rosenberg (with whom he had done an American films ROCK, ROCK, ROCK (1956, Vanguard /DCA) to form Vulcan Productions, which later became the better known Amicus Productions.

It was released in the U.K. by British Lion in September 1960. While it got positive reviews, it was not a big money maker. and thus was not released in the U.S. until September 1962 by small distributor Trans-Lux. Trans- Lux had begun as an art house company (releasing Fellini’s LA STRADA in 1954, but made most of their money distributing cartoons Felix the Cat, The Mighty Hercules, and Speed Racer to television. For its American release, the already short film (78 minutes) was trimmed by almost 2 minutes and retitled HORROR HOTEL, and given a garish campaign of ghouls staring out of the poster, with tag lines like ‘Ring for Doom Service”.

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Somehow, the film was allowed to slip into public domain and thus the various quality versions proliferated. Usually when a film slips into P.D., studios are less likely to spend money on restoring the film.

Luckily V.C.I. believed in horror fans willingness to spend a few extras dollars that they went all out on their beautiful Blu Ray. They went all out on their restoration of the original British CITY OF THE DEAD. You can hear the little snippets of dialogue that were cut so as not offend we poor Americans.

Besides the magnificent HD 1080p print (sorry ratio purists), the 2.0 audio lets you really appreciate the dialogue and the schizoid score (Douglas Gamley plus jazz by Ken Jones). The subtitles are accurate and let us know about all the chanting.

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Extras on the disc are plentiful and put major studios to shame.

First up is the shorter American version, HORROR HOTEL. For those who want to compare how the film used to look, check it out. Dupey, with washed out grays and lack of detail.

Next up is the info filled feature length commentary by film historian Bruce Hallenbeck (author such great film books as “The Amicus Anthology “, Hemlock Books,2014). He keeps the info flowing throughout the course of the entire film, commenting on the people who worked both in front and behind the camera.

The rest of the extras are from V.C.I.’s previous D.V.D. release of CITY OF THE DEAD. These include

A commentary by Christopher Lee and moderator Jay Slater. Some time is spent with Lee just watching but then the star (often with some prompting) will come out with some interesting tid bits about his co-stars.
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They also have an additional video interview with Lee where he discusses his career.

Next is director John Moxey with his commentary with how he got this, his first feature, as well as behind the scenes info. He too gets a separate video interview.

screw it .Im not waiting 'til the hour of 13. I'm toasting witches.

screw it .Im not waiting ’til the hour of 13. I’m toasting witches.

There is also a video interview with Venetia Stevenson, the only American in a film supposedly set the North East United States.

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Finally, rounding out the release are an altered theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery, along with some digital liner notes by film reviewer Mike Kenny.

This is a must have for any lover of classic horror films. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and big kudos to V.C.I.

– Kevin G Shinnick
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10 Rillington Place (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE BLU RAY REVIEW

10 RILLINGTON PLACE -Twilight Time -limited to only 3000 copies- Blu Ray 2016. 111 minutes. $29.95
http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/10-rillington-place-blu-ray/

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One of the creepier true crime films ever made, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE (Columbia ,1971) is a sadly overlooked gem that deserves to be rediscovered. Thankfully, the wonderful folk at TWILIGHT TIME agreed, and once again have gone all out to create a blu ray that movie lovers must have.

Richard Attenborough embodies John Christie, a serial murderer who murdered at least eight women including his poor wife Ethel (Pat Haywood, best known as the nurse in Franco Zefferelli’s classic telling of ROMEO & JULIET, Paramount 1968).

The film begins with Christie murdering one of his neighbors, Muriel (Phyllis MacMahon, who later had small roles in I DON’T WANT TO BE BORN (Rank, 1975) and SEAN OF THE DEAD(Focus,2002)) in 1944. She like many of the poor of the time, could not afford doctors and so would go to someone who would claim to have medical knowledge. Christie exploited this and it meant doom for the women who believed him. *

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The majority of the film then concerns itself with a young couple, Tim (a young John Hurt, four years before the tv film “The Naked Civil Servant” (Thames TV,1975) made him a star) & Beryl Evans (Judy Geeson (the biggest name to the overseas market due to her star turn in TO SIR WITH LOVE (Columbia ,1967). In 1948, they and their infant daughter move into the same address as Christie (who does not own the house, but acts as absentee landlord). Tim who is a bit slow, struggles at his menial job to pay for his family, though often falling in arrears on his bills. At the local pub, he tells big stories that no one believes but himself, which help him deal with his life. He and Beryl fight, with Christie once stopping a physical altercation. Beryl is pregnant again, and she knows that they cannot afford what they have now, never mind another mouth to feed.

The real Evans family

The real Evans family

British actor Richard Attenborough, centre, plays mass-murderer John Reginald Christie, in the lead role of "10 Rillington Place", in London, England, May 17, 1970. John Hurt, right, plays Timothy John Evans and Judy Geeson plays his wife Beryl Evans. (AP Photo/Staff/Dear).

British actor Richard Attenborough, centre, plays mass-murderer John Reginald Christie, in the lead role of “10 Rillington Place”, in London, England, May 17, 1970. John Hurt, right, plays Timothy John Evans and Judy Geeson plays his wife Beryl Evans. (AP Photo/Staff/Dear).

Christie insinuates that he learned how to perform abortions during the war, though of course they are highly illegal. He asks her to come to his apartment when his wife and her husband are away. At the last minute Beryl panics and Christie brutally beats her into unconsciousness before strangling her and then having sex with her corpse.

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Tim returns, but Christie says that Beryl died from complications. Christie tells Tim to flee or he will be charged as an accessory to her murder. Christie says he will place the baby with a childless couple, but in actuality murders the child.

Poor Tim is caught, but he keeps saying “Christie did it”. However, at the trial, when asked why he would do such a thing, Tim has no answer. Tim Evans is found guilty of murdering his family, and was hanged for the crimes in 1950.

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In 1952, Christie murdered his wife when she threatened to leave him. In 1953, he murdered at least three more women and walled them up in his apartment. Christie, however was broke and had to (illegally) rent out his apartment in 1953. When the new tenant tried to find the source of the horrible smell in the kitchen alcove, he discovered the corpses in various state of decay.

The actual murder scene

The actual murder scene

The police were called but Christie had fled at first to a hostel. Hearing the police were looking for him, he was finally apprehended by a policeman as he wandered homeless.

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He was tried and found guilty of murder. He admitted to seven murders, but denied having killed the child. He was executed in 1953 for the only murder he was charged with, that of his wife Ethel.

An end title informs us that Tim Evans was found innocently posthumously and removed from his prison grave and reburied (it was actually not until 16 years after he was wrongly executed).

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An odd fact the fail to mention in this highly well researched film is that Christie was tried in the same courtroom as Evans, and also executed by the same hangman.

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(the actual Christie)

The movie works very well at creating the era in which it is set, often filming as close to the actual locations as possible. The film, though moderately budgeted, looks superb and TWILIGHT TIME’s restoration works wonderfully. The film looks brand new, and the sound as well as the picture quality are crisp.
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The extras are a new audio commentary with star Judy Geeson, interviewed by Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. The trio cover both the real life case as well as the making of the movie, and even reference Geeson’s work on DOOMWATCH (1972). Her recollections are very happy ones of working on the project, as well as little memories as Attenborough’s relief at the movie’s completion that he wouldn’t have to occupy Christie’s skin any further. They also have high praise for American director Richard Fleischer . Fleischer was actually a perfect choice for this realistic crime drama, having done similar work on the highly praised THE BOSTON STRANGLER (20TH CENTURY FOX,1968).

A second audio commentary track is ported over from the U.K. DVD release in 2011 featuring John Hurt. His solo track is also informative (they drank real beer during the pub scenes, something you could not do on set today!).

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An odd third track is the isolated score. I say odd, as there is only about ten minutes of music in the film. However, kudos for going that extra mile , Twilight Time.

Finally, there is a short booklet about the making of the film by Julie Kirgo, setting it in the context of its time (the U.K. banned capital punishment in 1969).

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A fine, riveting, thoughtful thriller, I would recommend this to anyone who likes intelligent British films as well as great films in general.

Highly recommended.
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-Kevin G Shinnick

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*-Before you say that this is impossible today, here is a recent news story of a TEENAGER who pretended to be a DOCTOR for a year! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3450335/Doogie-Yowza-Florida-teenager-pretended-doctor-arrested-giving-medical-exam-undercover-cop.html

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