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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker
Roberto Curti Price: $45.00 40 photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
376pp. softcover (7 x 10)McFarland  2017                                                http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6970-0

Like many American film fans, my knowledge of director Ricardo Freda was mostly limited to his
Horror films I Vampiri /THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT (Titanus,1957),Caltiki il mostro immortale /CALTIKI,THE IMMORTAL MONSTER(Lux,1959),L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock /THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HITCHCOCK(Panda,1962) and Lo specttro /THE GHOST (Panda,1963).

• However, Freda had a career in cinema that lasted from 1937 (Lasciate ogni speranza /LEAVE ALL HOPE ,Juventus Film) until 1994 (La fille de d’Artagnan /REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS ,Canal+ )starting and ending his career as a writer.

• Writer Roberto Curti of Cortona Italy has done a remarkable job tracking down an amazing amount of information on Freda’s life and career.His love for the subject comes though with his very detailed synopses of these rarely seen (outside of certain countries), providing the history behind many of them, production facts, and their success or failure in various territories as well as changes made to them .

Curti uses Freda’s memoir Divoratori di celluloide (Emme Edizioni (1981),164 pages)as a starting point ,but also researching though film magazines and newspapers from several countries, as well as tracking down and watching the titles from the director’s long career. Curti points out that the director could often be petty and recall incidents that might not always match the facts.Curti’s interviews and research sometimes contradicts what Freda put into his book.

• Still ,the Egyptian born Italian director lived La Dolce Vita, being an extravagant personal spender and gambler as well as womanizer. It is ironic that he despised films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Riama,1960) as well as the entire neo-realist movement of films like Ladri di biciclette/THE BICYCLE THIEF(Ente Nazionale,1948).

He was more a storyteller who felt that film should be escapist,and take us out of reality. Not only did he have those skills, he was also able to make limited budgets look richer than they were, due to his understanding of film editing and camera placement ,as well as working with innovators like the great Mario Bava. Indeed, the short tempered Freda walked off the set of a I Vampiri ,leavinng it to be  finished by Bava. We see throughout the book that Freda had a habit of walking off set, much to the detriment of his films and career.  I Vampiri has an important place in Italian horror films ,as it was the country’s first true sound horror film (the first Italian horror film may have been Il monstro di Frankenstein(1920) a now sadly lost silent picture).

Freda had prior to I Vampiri had done a lot of regional comedies ( he cared little for the comics in many of his films ,but put in many physical gags inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton ,historical dramas and swashbucklers . Indeed ,his love of classic novels and adventure tales seemed to have merged into Caccia all’umo /LES MISERABLES( Lux,1952) ,making it more of an action thriller!

His swashbucklers seemed to have broken new ground in storytelling in Italy, being more inspired by American filmmakers than the home grown artisans. His love of tracking shots to get a lot of detail within a long take was developed during this period .Having reviewed the Italian historical drama La cena delle beffe / THE JESTER’s SUPPER* (Società Italiana Cines,1942 ,not by Freda, but by a contemporary),I would love to see more these  rarely motion pictures                (see review at https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/the-jesters-supper-dvd/ ) .

Freda also was one of the first to leap into the sword and sandal films ,even telling an earlier version of the tale of SPARTACUS(Spartaco(API,1953),released in the U.S. by RKO as SINS OF ROME ). He hopped from genre to genre with various budgets and varying success. Comedy (at which he seemed to have a lot of success),drama ,spy thrillers ,Krimi( he faced off and WON against the antagonistic Klaus Kinski) ,swashbucklers,historicals, and of course horror.

His indifference to some parts of the movies he made show with some sloppy work (in ROGER LA HONTE( Comptoir Francais du Film Production ,1966,one of his later films with a decent budget, he allows a major stunt to show clearly that a “woman” passenger is actually a stunt man since his trousers are clearly visible ),as well as his indifference to actors (he was notorious for using doubles when actors gave him any grief). Yet in staging ,he often surpassed the budget with strong imagery and tracking shots that convey a lot of information .Plus several actors who worked with him praised the director .

Curti’s book makes me want to revisit several of Freda’s films and seek out some of his rarities. Curti has done what any film researcher should do, and that is evaluate and place into historical context the work of the subject.

McFarland is to be commended once again for putting out such a detailed volume about a filmmaker not as well known as perhaps he should be. Each film has b&w illustrations of the film posters or on set photographs, The graphics are sharp and easy to see.

This is a MUST HAVE for lovers of film, especially for those who love Euro-Cinema.

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

                  "Acquista il libro o ti farò del male ..."

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THE VAMPIRE BAT(Restored)

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) –FILM DETECTIVE (BLU RAY ) $19.99. Restored. Release date : April 25,2017 . 63 min. Region 1. B&W with tinted sequences. https://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Bat-Special-Detective-Restored/dp/B01LTIAUJ2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490377335&sr=8-1&keywords=vampire+bat+the+film+detective+restored+version

Also available on DVD for $14.99.
Throw out those other public domain videos and DVDs that you may have of this 1933 film. Film Detective has just released a magnificent UCLA Film and TV Archive restoration that reveals details often lost in murky and dark copies of this film. Not only that, there is an hereto unseen (at least by this writer) hand tinted sequence that alone makes this disc a must have.

Majestic Pictures began releasing films in 1925 under the state’s rights system of distribution. Unlike the major studios who had hubs throughout the country ,smaller independents would sell or lease their product on a local, territorial basis . The distributors would each handle a certain region (or sometimes just a certain state) and release the films in that territory.

In 1935, Herbert J Yates, who owned the Consolidated Film Industries film developing laboratories, decided that he wanted to get into direct film production .Six smaller independents were forced to merge under the new Republic banner or face foreclosure on outstanding lab bills. Among the studios that were folded under the new banner was Majestic. Until then, Majestic produced slicker fare than many of their other rivals, using bigger name stars and renting out space from larger motion picture companies.

Among Majestic’s releases were THE SINS OF NORA MORAN (1933) starring Zita Johann (best remembered for starring in Universal’s 1932 classic THE MUMMY), THE WORLD GONE MAD(also 1933, with Pat O’Brien,Evelyn Brent ,and Neil Hamilton (later tv’s Commissioner Gordon on BATMAN) and the first sound version of THE SCARLET LETTER(1934) starring Colleen Moore and Henry B Walthall (a D.W. Griffith stock company star,who had played the same role of Chillingworth in the 1926 silent version). Certain Majestic Pictures were produced by real estate developer Phil Goldstone . Goldstone was wealthy enough that he could invest in movies while the rest of the country was suffering through the effects of the Stock Market Crash and Depression.

That may be one of the ways that he was able to afford to rent the Universal European Street sets (destroyed in a fire in 1967) as well as many studio interior sets, giving their low budget THE VAMPIRE BAT such a polished look. Also helpful was their hiring of such well known stars as Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill (making this their third hiss and scream pairing, the previous being W.B.’s DOCTOR X (1932) and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933),as well as Dwight Frye (Broadway star now doomed to forever play variations of twitchy half mad characters due to his outstanding performance in Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (both1931) )and Melvyn Douglas (fresh off of Universal’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and playing in a similar light disbelieving manner) .

Director Frank R Strayer had been directing films since the mid 1920s and had done the poverty row THE MONSTER WALKS (Ralph M Like Productions,1932) prior to getting this assignment. He directed in a fast ,no nonsense style, but also had some fairly elaborate camera set ups and moves in this picture that are quite effective .

Later, Strayer would direct CONDEMNED TO LIVE (Invincible ,1935 )another vampire film variant that like THE VAMPIRE BAT also at one point used Bronson Canyon.

 

Screenwriter Edward T Lowe,Jr had written the earlier mentioned WORLD GONE MAD and later moved up to bigger studio productions, writing several Charlie Chan and Bulldog Drummond films , before returning to vampires with his one two punch of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal,1944)and HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal ,1945).

 

Cinematographer Ira H. Morgan had begun with Gaumont News before switching to lensing features . His sound era films seem all to be for smaller studios like PRC (FOG ISLAND,1945),his last work being for Bert I Gordon,THE CYCLOPS(Allied Artists,1957),filming once again around – Bronson Canyon!! His other work is always competent, but never as assured as it seems to be in THE VAMPIRE BAT.

 

Charles D Hall is credited with art direction, but his work on this project may have been minor, as again it mostly standing sets on the Universal backlot.

 

Set in a fairytale -like Teutonic Village of Kleinschloss (German for small castle,so even the budget affected the name ! ),the setting,like many Universal horror films of the 1930s, is a mix of modern day (the outfits and medical equipment )and unnamed past era (the village and villagers).

 

Several of the local villagers have been found drained of blood with two puncture marks upon their throat. The Burgomeister (Lionel Belmore, the Burgomeister from FRANKENSTEIN, and a council member in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN(1939,Universal),talking of type casting!)and the village elders suspect it to be the work of a vampire. The Police Chief Karl (Melvyn Douglas) pooh poohs these notions . He turns to Dr Niemann (Lionel Atwill) . Niemann does not dismiss the villagers ideas out of hand ,much to Karl’s annoyance. Making it easier is Karl’s romance with the lovely Ruth (Fay Wray).

 

Suspicion falls on village simpleton Herman (Dwight Frye)who has the innocence of a child ,but has an odd habit of keeping bats as pets .

 

Padding the film out to a feature length is (not very) comic relief is Karl’s hypochondriac Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne,theatre trained actress who often played humorous characters, and appeared in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (United Artists,1930)and the little seen Columbia thriller FOG (1933). Here, you really want the killer to get her,though it is more the writing than her performance.

THE VAMPIRE BAT title is a bit misleading, as the ending veers a bit into a science fiction explanation. Still, it remains a superb example of early Gothic horror,and at a crisp 63 minutes, does not overstay its welcome.

As stated earlier ,the FILM DETECTIVE print comes from a restored fine grain print and it is indeed a revelation.The image is incredibly sharp ,and details often lost in more murky prints now stand out. For example, early in the film, the town lamplighter Kringen (George E Stone) looks up at the rooftops late at night. In the past, we could never see what he was staring at, but now we see a shadowy leap from one roof to another ! Miss Wray is photographed beautifully,with her natural red hair rather than the blonde look so familiar to all from KING KONG (RKO,1933).

 

 

Most interesting is seeing a sequence with the villagers carrying torches ,the flames of which have been hand tinted red yellow and orange. It is quite eye catching and I was unaware that it had ever been done to this film. Hand tinting had been used in other films to give them a bit of punch . Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS (K.B.S.,1932)hand tinted a few frames of a gun firing for a shock effect . Other films were often tinted for effect, but not so easy was the hand tinting used in these films.

 

Besides the magnificent print, FILM DETECTIVE has also for the first time that I am aware of added a commentary track. They have chosen film historian (he had worked on the film magazine SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED) and film producer/director Samuel M Sherman (Independent International). Sam is a very nice and knowledgeable man, but he needed a co-commentator to keep him focused. His commentary track is quite monotonic and often sounds as if he is reading from notes ,and for lengths of time does not comment on the action on screen.

 

What he does do is provide incredible research on producer Phil Goldstone (how he generously allowed soldiers to stay gratis in his hotels rather than have them stay on the streets,as well as how he got into film production) as well as who did the actual hand tinting of the film (Gustav Brock).

The other extra is a newly shot featurette with the son of Melvyn Douglas, Gregory Hassleberg.
(Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg was born in 1926 to Douglas and his first wife Rosalind Hightower .When they divorced, Gregory stayed with his mother and did not see his father for years. Douglas married actress Helen Gahagan (SHE ,RKO,1935)and later Douglas petitioned and won the right for Gregory to live with them . Gregory Hassleberg has fond memories of his father,coming to discover how truly talented he was by watching him perform. It is a nice little insight into the fine actor.

FILM DETECTIVE is to be highly commended for this release, and it deserves to be added to the collection of every classic horror film buff.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

Don’t forget to vote for SCARLET for this year’s RONDO AWARDS (2016) under category #17, best website or blog of 2016. Thank you.

http://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/

 

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SABOTAGE (1939)

sabotage

SABOTAGE(Republic,1939) B&W.67 minutes – Blu Ray released by Olive Films. $29.95 http://olivefilms.com/product/sabotage/ (also available on DVD $19.95 )

 

 

SABOTAGE is one of those films that very few film fans may be aware of. Not to be confused with Hitchcock’s earlier SABOTAGE (aka A WOMAN ALONE, General Film Distributors,1936) or his later SABOTEUR (Universal,1942), it does have certain parallels with those two films, especially the latter film.

 

While not a classic, it is a solid example of film making that came out of the Hollywood Dream Factory regular to fill cinemas.

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Filmed under the title ‘HEADLINE NEWS’, it had been announced that Sidney Salkow was supposed to direct. When it went into production on August 12,1939 (wrapping by the end of the month), it was under the direction of Harold Young (who had directed the Leslie Howard THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (London Films,1934) and later several Universal horror films like THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

 

At the time, studios were being cautious of making product that might end up banned in Europe, and the U.S. was going through an isolationist mood.

 

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Republic made most of their films for rural America, keeping their budgets low to make profit easier. Not being as dependent on overseas income, they were freer to tackle issues of spies. They may also have been encouraged by the box office returns by the then daring CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (Warner Brothers, released in May,1939), which did outstanding business despite being banned in certain countries.

 

War began September 1,1939 when Germany invaded Poland and in response England and France both declared war in response. Within a month and a half (October 13,1939) SABOTAGE was on movie screens.

 

While the Republic film does not name who is doing the espionage (as the United States would not officially enter the conflict for over two more years), audiences would infer that it was German interference going on in American factories.

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Tommy Grayson(Gordon Oliver ,a good looking character actor who later switched back and forth from acting and producing for television on shows like PETER GUNN(Spartan,1958-1961) ,a mechanic at the Midland Aircraft Corporation ,has convinced actress Gail(Arleen Whelan, who played Sarah Clay in YOUNG MR LINCOLN,Fox,1939) to leave showbiz and marry him .She was afraid of the small town reaction to actors (we see later how they look down on her, so she was not being paranoid) but is convinced to stay when Tommy’s family goes out of their way to embrace her and welcome her.

 

The day before their marriage, a new plane is being tested, and the whole town turns out to watch the test flight. However, the test ends in disaster, with the plane crashing and burning (superb as always model work by the uncredited Lydecker brothers).img_20170118_150639

 

There have been other failures due to engines from the plant, and tests point to Tommy, as all the failing pistons came from his bench.

 

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Major Matt Grayson (Charley Grapewin,most beloved as Uncle Henry in THE WIZARD OF OZ(MGM) from the same year) , and his Civil War Vet friends Mel(J.M. Kerrigan, THE INFORMER(RKO,1935)) ,Smitty (Frank Darien (Uncle John in THE GRAPES OF WRATH ,Fox,1940),and Eli (Lucien Littlefield(Dr Horace in SONS OF THE DESERT (Hal Roach,1933)) investigate to clear Tommy’s name .

 

The film surprisingly shows the dark side of Middle America (they readily turn on the Grayson family, blaming them for the factory closing). However, it also shows that when we work together we can defeat evil (subtly done by having vets from both side of the Civil War working together).

 

 

SABOTAGE is full of wonderful character actors, including Joe Sawyer as Gardner, who also works at the factory with Tommy. Sawyer is one of those actors who could go from good guy to bad guy with ease, and be acceptable as both.

 

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Towards the end of the film, there is a scene that harkens back to the underworld capture of M(Nero-Film,1931), though here it is the vets from the various wars who capture the spies and bring them to the factory. Extra tension is within the scene as there is a bomb planted by the terrorists that is set to go off shortly.

The old vets are played very slapstick to provide comic relief throughout the movie so that they solve and fix everything is a nice twist.

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One little continuity goof at the very end of the film has the happy hero & heroine flying off for the honeymoon. You see that a string of pots and pans afe attached to the tail as it taxis for takeoff, but when the plane is in flight the items are not there.

Olive Films has released a superlative clean and sharp print of SABOTAGE. The mono sound is pop and hiss free. The optional English subtitles ae clear and easy to read. There are no extras, though that such an overlooked film is released in such a magnificent print is reason enough to buy it.

I don’t recall seeing this film airing on Turner Classics Movie, so for many, this will be the discovery of a small gem of a film.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

(note -frame grabs are not mine and do not do justice to the sharpness of the actual print).

 

PS- for those surprised that there were still Civil War Vets in 1939, here is a photo from that same year of an actual Civil War Survivor .http-%2f%2fa-amz-mshcdn-com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2015%2f04%2fcivil-final-15

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ANY WAY I CAN: 50 YEARS IN SHOW BUSINESS by John Gay with Jennifer Gay Summers

SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE BOOK REVIEW

ANY WAY I CAN: 50 YEARS IN SHOW BUSINESS by John Gay with Jennifer Gay Summers

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$19.95 BEAR MANOR MEDIA 240 pages

Available via

http://www.jennifergaysummers.com/book.php

or
Available at BEAR MANOR MEDIA

 http://www.bearmanormedia.com/any-way-i-can-50-years-in-show-business-by-john-gay-with-jennifer-gay-summers

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Many people know the actors who star in their favorite shows and movies, and others know the directors. The person who is most forgotten is the writer, the person who basically creates the world in which the stories take place.

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One of these artists is screen, teleplay, and stage play writer John Gay. Now Mr. Gay, with the assist of one of his children, daughter Jennifer Gay Summers, has put out his autobiography.jennifer-gay-summers1

 

And what a fascinating life it is. The California born Mr. Gay talks about the lure of acting and how it drew him across country (after serving our country in WWII ) to become an actor. Working in summer stock, he soon gained a great deal of experience as well as meeting his partner and wife Barbara “Bobbie” Meyer.

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Venturing to New York, their attempts at gaining acting work led them to entering the new media of television ,broadcasting live several nights a week from the top of the New Amsterdam Theatre (the former home of the Ziegfeld Follies and now the House of Mouse where the hit musical ALADDIN currently resides).o

 

The show, APARTMENT 3C had only two actors (the husband and wife team) and due to the low budgets, Gay had to also write the shows himself! The program became the second show broadcast from fledgling station WOR in 1949. A modest hit, it gave John Gay not only an extra avenue for revenue but a career for which he would greatly excel.brewster_fig35

Their second show ,MR & MRS MYSTERY had a larger budget (they were allowed to hire other actors ) and Mr. Gay was able to parlay those into other writing assignments for the Golden Age of Television (KRAFT TELEVISON THEATRE ,PLAYHOUSE 90 )and crossing paths with such greats as Rod Sterling and Sidney Lumet.wor_tv_xmtr_room_color

 

His first screenwriting assignment was for the Burt Lancaster /Clark Gable submarine drama RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958/UA). His second screenplay earned him an Oscar nomination (along with co-writer Terrence Rattigan) for SEPARATE TABLES (1958/UA).h

 

From there he was now a full-fledged screenwriter, working with the likes of Vincente Minnelli (twice, neither of which were happy experiences) as well as actors like Rod Steiger (twice, in two gems well worth seeking out (NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (1968 Paramount) and HENNESSY (AIP 1976)) and Paul Newman (SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION 1971/Universal).gd

 

He nearly worked with science fiction great Ray Bradbury on the troubled production of WHITE HUNTER BLACK HEART, which remained unmade until Clint Eastwood and different writers turned it in a feature.

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In the 1970s, when television really began turning out movies of the week and adaptations of classics, Mr. Gay seemed to have been involved with almost every great production. Many of my well-remembered favorites had a title mentioning John Gay as the Adaptor or Teleplay By credit. KILL ME IF YOU CAN (NBC,1977) had Alan Alda embody killer Caryl Chessman ; Anthony Hopkins as THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (CBS HALLMARK ,1982) ; LES MISERABLES (CBS HALLMARK 1978) and so many others. Plus he did superior TV remakes of mystery classics DIAL M FOR MURDER (ABC, 1981) WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (CBS HALLMARK 1982), and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (NBC HALLMARK 1991). The list goes on and on .f

 

 

He took his skill as a story teller to the stage, having VINCENT PRICE remind people what a brilliant and versatile actor he truly was in DIVERSIONS & DELIGHTS, a play about Oscar Wilde. Price took the play all over the world, doing well everywhere but NYC (when the New York Times critics could still kill a show).

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Mr. Gay is a wonderful writer, telling his life story with wit, good grace and honesty. Indeed, it is one of the few books that I have read lately that I wish had been longer (Mr. Gay dismisses his work on the troubled George Pal science fiction film THE POWER (MGM, 1968) with just a line or two).b

Having turned 92 this past April,2016 , we are pleased that he and his daughter have shared his wonderful story with us. I have been careful not to give too much away so that you can discover the wonderful life of John Gay within the pages of ANY WAY I CAN.a

 

RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

Full Disclosure: I have been in contact with the author and his charming daughter for several years now as I attempted and finally successfully directed the first NYC Equity Production of DIVERSIONS & DELIGHTS in 35 years. The chapters 40 and 43 deal with this wonderful gem of a play.

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originally published March 30,2015  SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE Facebook page

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THE SPIDER (1931)

the-spiderTHE SPIDER (Fox Film Corporation, released September 27,1931) b&w. 59 minutes.  $15.00  DVD-R from 16mm print offered by John Carpenter. Contact him via email at pixthatmove@gmail.com .

THE SPIDER is a film that deserves to be better known. Released after DRACULA (Universal, February 12,1931) but before FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, November 21,1931), this film, while in the end a murder mystery, has several strong supernatural elements.thespidertc

The film was co-directed by Kenneth MacKenna and William Cameron Menzies. MacKenna was an actor who also directed several mostly forgettable films between 1931-1934. mackennaMacKenna, born Leo Mielziner, Jr, is today mostly remembered for sponsoring and helping his brother Jo Mielziner (Tony and Academy Award winning set designer). He also was an early “angel” (theatrical financial backer) who introduced his friend Richard Rodgers to the James A. Michener’s book “Tales of The South Pacific” (MacMillian, NY,1947), feeling it might make a good musical. He was right. It became the 1949 musical SOUTH PACIFIC (Majestic Theatre, April 7,1949).tales_of_the_south_pacific_michener

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The real visual director of THE SPIDER would be Menzies. Menzies entered films in 1919, after his service in WWI. Training in effects and 004_thiefstaircasefilm design, within a few short years he was the art director and production designer of classics like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (United Artists, March 18,1924). Pictured above his sketch and the fully realized design in the film. He is perhaps best known for his design of GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, December 15,1939). Not only did he design the look of the film, he even designed some of the famous shots like the massive pullback shot at the train station.

He also later directed the 3D horror film THE MAZE (Allied Artists, July 26,1953) and the classic science fiction film INVADERS OF MARS (20th Century Fox, April 22,1953). He was a visual stylist who made the most of his budgets, big or small.

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(Menzies ,as photographed by Karl Strauss)

 

The screenplay was written by Barry Conners. Conners was a former stage actor who was blacklisted when he tried to unionize actors against corrupt producers.barry-conners He turned to playwriting and had a few Broadway successes, including HELL’S BELLS (Wallack’s Theatre, Jan 26, 1925 – May 1925)which was the Broadway debut of both Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Booth.

He used his success to become a screenwriter for MGM and then Fox Films (later to merge and become 20TH Century Fox). Among his screenplays were an adaptation of his play THE PATSY (MGM,April 22,1928 ). At Fox, he exhibited a strong ability with mysteries, writing the screen adaptation of several of the early Charlie Chan films (including two “lost “Chan films (…Carries On, (Fox, April 12,1931), …. Chance (Fox, Jan 24,1932), as well as THE BLACK CAMEL (June 21,1931).

 

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Later, he would be one of a team of writers who adapted the radio series into CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, August 4,1932), another mystical adventure directed by Menzies and best known for starring Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor. Starring as Chandu was Edmund Lowe. Lowe had already gotten his magical bona fides, starring in THE SPIDER as the film’s star, magician Chatrand. Lowe had begun in vaudeville before getting into silent films. When sound began, his good looks and voice established him as a reliable leading man in the thirties and forties, right up to THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (Monogram, Jan 12,1946), wherein he starred as—a magician!!!!mv5bytu5yzhkogitngewns00yjy4ltk0nzgtmdqxyzc4zjg2mju0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mdewna-_v1_

THE SPIDER was adapted from a stage play by Lowell Brentano and Fulton Oursler that played Broadway at Chanin’s 46th St Theatre (3/22/1927- 5/28/1927) before moving to the Music Box Theatre (5/30/1927-12/17/1927) for a successful run of 319 performances. THE SPIDER: A Play of The Varieties, to give it its full title, was a three act Mystery Melodrama. The setting was the fictional Tivoli Vaudeville Theatre, where the action takes place. The play starred Broadway actor john-halliday(John Halliday )

John Halliday as Chatrand, and featured a lot of vaudeville performers Mack & La Rue, billed as The Skating Marvels of The Century, and Lytell & Fant, listed, intriguingly as The Chocolate Cake -Eaters.0002334_spider_the_300

Oddly, the play had several lawsuits brought against it for plagiarism, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1933 before it was dismissed.

Writer Brentano worked on Broadway writing thrillers as well as musicals, including the intriguing thriller ZEPPELIN (National Theatre, Jan14,1929-March ,1929), set aboard the cabins of the air vessel. He also worked in Hollywood on films like THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO December 9,1932).

 

 

 

Fulton Oursler was a magician who wrote for several pulp magazines. He joined Harry Houdini in discrediting fake mediums in the 1920s, going so far as to write an expose Spirit Mediums Exposed (New Metropolitan Fiction) under the pseudonym Samri Frikell. fulton_oursler_magicianoursler-a-spirit-mediums-exposed

After converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, he wrote THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (Doubleday,1949). It was later adapted into the 1965 movie by the same name.

The film of THE SPIDER obviously cut the play down to its barest storyline, as a three-act play would have run at least 90 minutes. With many of the within the show vaudeville routines cut, time was filled by adding the comedy of Elmer Goodfellow Brendel, better known as El Brendel. Born to an Irish mother & German father who entered vaudeville as a German dialect comic but when anti-German sentiments grew during WWI, he became a simple Swede, often named Ollie, Oley, or Ole.

He began working in films, appearing in the classic silent WINGS (Famous Players/Paramount, August 12,1927). After a brief return to vaudeville, he signed a contract with Fox Studios, taking advantage of the innovation of sound movies. His biggest starring role was in the musical/science fiction film JUST IMAGINE (Fox, November 23,1930). He was billed as the most popular comedian at the time but he soon was reduced to supporting roles and starring in B-comedies. To be honest, to modern audiences, a little El Brendel goes a long way. However, it was probably thought getting El Brendel for THE SPIDER was a good idea at the time.39

The film takes place in the Tivoli Vaudeville House, where the Great Chatrand (Edmund Lowe) is packing them in. Chartrand’s show is being broadcast, and he announces that assistant whom he calls Alexander (Howard Phillips, making his film debut. He only made 11 more films up to 1938, none of which was as good as THE SPIDER. ) is an amnesiac whom he found two years earlier. However, he seems to have lost his memory but developed psychic mind reading powers which they use in the act.vlcsnap-763909

Beverly Lane (Lois Moran, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character “Rosemary “in  F.Scott Fitzgerald’s TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1934 ) has been looking for her brother Paul who disappeared about the same time ,but her uncle John Carrington (Earle Foxe ,who began in silent films back in 1912.He had starred in an odd silent fantasy feature LAST MAN ON EARTH (Fox, November 2,1924) as well as the lost early talkie THE GHOST TALKS (Fox, February 24,1929 ) says it is only a publicity stunt and that it cannot possibly be Paul. However, she insists that they go to see the next performance and Carrington begrudgingly agrees.mv5bngq4nwi4ngitngyyos00mdnllwfly2mtmznindm3n2mymzfmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtq2mjqyndc-_v1_

During all this, we have comedy where Ole (El Brendel) and his young charge (Kendall McComas, who started in the silent Mickey McGuire comedy shorts and in 1932 appeared in some of the Our Gang comedy shorts) are considering what type of tickets to purchase. The ticket taker, by the way, is a cameo by co director MacKenna. When they finally do, and go to their seats, it ends with El Brendel putting a hole through the top of his bowler.48

Chatrand peers through the curtains and recognizes Beverly from a photo that Alexander has. The act begins, and Alexander is blindfolded as Chatrand walks though the audience and holds up various objects. When Chatrand holds up Beverly’s locket, which is like the one Alexander has, Carrington begins to try and take it away from Chatrand. The lights go out, and a someone shoots Carrington. The staging of this scene is quite well done, with rapid cutting between all the parties, and Alexander acting as if possessed, finally ending with the shooting, and Alexander collapsing.vlcsnap-763749

The police arrive and find a gun by the unconscious Alexander. Beverly recognizes Alexander as her lost brother. Now revived and out of his trance, Alexander/Paul blurts out: ‘He tried to kill me! I had to do it.” That’s all the police need to hear, and arrest Alexander. Chatrand escapes via a magic trick, and the police seal off the theatre. No one can leave. Can Chatrand, with his magic skills, find out who the killer is?72

The film moves along at a good pace, and it is a fun movie worthy of rediscovery. The highlight of the film is towards the end during a superbly staged séance sequence.32

The movie is a rarity, and as far as I know, it has not aired on any television stations for decades (indeed, there is hardly anything about it on the Turner Classic Movies site), and it is a shame.img259

It is a short, fast paced little thriller with supernatural elements that deserves to be better known.

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(announced but unmade version)

John Carpenter (no not the director, but this one is known as “The Movie Man” due to his extensive movie collection) is offering a special deal to SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE readers .The sound and picture quality is good, especially when you consider how truly are this film is . John will make a DVD-R of this rare film from his own 16mm print. Cost $15.00 within the continental U.S.A. Contact John directly at pixthatmove@gmail.com . Let him know that SCARLET sent ya!img258

Recommended.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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NINE YEARS ON

NINE YEARS ON

It is hard for me to grasp still but that it has been nine years since writer, playwright, editor, publisher, actor, and friend RICHARD VALLEY passed away.

richard-valley

What I wrote quickly then
http://scarletstreet.yuku.com/topic/4623/SADDEST-NEWS-I-VE-HAD-TO-POST-HERE?page=1#.V_47YvkrLIU

kevin g shinnick
SADDEST NEWS I VE HAD TO POST HERE-

Posts: 15257
Oct 12 07 11:37 AM

RICHARD VALLEY, SCARLET STREET EDITOR, has passed away at age 58.

He leaves behind a beloved mother, and his love of over a quarter century,
Tommy Amorosi.

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Since then, many other fanzines have ceased publications, many other friends in the genre have gone on to join him in the great beyond, and many of the issues that were important to him have become political fodder once again.

To me, though, it is a personal loss of a man who was a great true and loyal friend who could irritate the hell out of me and then move one with his extreme generosity and kindness.

I have been lucky to have had four truly great friends in my existence, and though now two have departed, I still cherish them all.

I hope that each and every one of you is fortunate enough to know or have known such a shining presence in your life.
-Kevin G Shinnickscarlet-issue-55

Feel free to share any memories that you have of Richard and SCARLET STREET.

I hope you enjoy the https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/    and share it with your friends.

richard-valley

BIG THANKS to JOHN C STOSKOPF for preserving SCARLET STREET and painstakingly scanning them to post them online for people to enjoy the work of Richard and so many contributors.  http://scarletstreetmagazine.blogspot.com/

https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/remembering-where-we-come-from-rest-in-peace-richard-valley/?preview_id=2richardvalley

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