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BLUE MOVIE(1971) Cult Epics Blu Ray/DVD combo release

BLUE MOVIE (CULT EPICS Blu Ray DVD Combo, Feb 2019) Dutch,1971 89 mins. Color. Dutch, with optional English subtitles.
https://www.paypal.com/webapps/hermes?token=1E9409251B771762H&useraction=commit&mfid=1552229982906_40b8158c54ef8

 

                          “This is Holland Today.” -Michael (Hugo Metsers, BLUE MOVIE)

BLUE MOVIE is an interesting motion picture that became one of the most successful Dutch films ever made (it is still listed as number 5). Its importance cannot be overlooked, as it was a film that showed that an intelligent thoughtful film could be made that contained actual (as well as simulated) sex within it.

Indeed, were it not for films like BLUE MOVIE helping break down and through the censorship that films endured both in Europe and the U.S., it is doubtful that Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noe, and Lars Von Trier would probably not being creating their works today.

A “blue movie” was one that was considered racier than the standard film of the time. Andy Warhol had done a film also called BLUE MOVIE (1969), which became the first film with explicit sex that received a wide theatrical release in the U.S. and began what became in the 1970s as “porn chic”.

 

 

The 1971 film being reviewed here could have played like a comic sex romp similar to the popular Robin Askwith films from England that followed in the decade, such as CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER (Columbia, 1974), were it not for the thoughtful direction, script and performances. That said, the filmmakers do sometimes see the humor in the various couplings, with one sequence within an elevator showing the couple going at it within the box, while frustrated people gather below wondering what is holding up the lift.

 


Michael (Hugo Metsers*, at age 28 ,starring in his first feature after just two t.v. appearances) has been released from prison after five years ,due to having sex with an under-aged girl .His parole officer Eddie (Helmert Woudenberg )escorts Michael (oddly none of the characters seem to  have a last name, not even those who are married seem to have a surname) to a sterile modern apartment block. Michael’s small apartment seems almost as small as a prison cell, barely furnished. Eddie tells Michael that he will be keeping an eye upon him.

 

 

Still, Michael has urges, and, one night, peers around his balcony and watches his neighbors have sex. Later, he meets with the neighbors, and becomes sexually involved with the wife Elly (Carry Tefsen). He soon finds others within the building are open to sexual exploration, and he is soon having flings with several within the complex, including one amusing bit wherein a husband walks in on his wife and Michael, only to jump in and join them!

 

Michael, however, starts developing actual feelings for Julia (Ine Veen) ,an unmarried mother within the complex. He cares for her but skips a date with her rather than possibly hurting her.

 

He continues exploring the sexual mores of the time, and soon comes upon the idea of making money off the obvious fixations within the complex. He starts a private sex club and his neighbors stand about staring at black & white porn films (which have the most graphic sex of a few seconds that are depicted within Blue Movie), and later nude models walk about and finally a doctor is invited who examines the guests who wish to take part in an orgy .

One of the guests, Newman (Bill van Dijk, later to star on Broadway in the title role of CYRANO THE MUSICAL ,1994 as well as international pop star) commits suicide by leaping from the balcony of the apartment . Things start to fall apart, but Michael realizes that he truly has feelings for Julia. Can sex be truly satisfying without an emotional connection?

 

One of the Dutch Sex Wave, these films helped change how films were reviewed and censored. The producers released several other films that continued and expanded the trail blazed by BLUE MOVIE, and CULT EPICS has several of them available (see trailers mentioned below).

Though low budget, the film shows true talent both in front of and behind the camera.

The most notable is the director of photography is Jan de Bont .Mr. de Bont, after hopping back and forth from other European productions (most notably THE 4TH MAN ,Rob Houwer Productions,1983)and low to mid budget U.S. films ( CUJO, 1983;Sunn Classics/Taft) , he got major notice for his works on such blockbusters as DIE HARD (Fox,1988) before becoming a director himself on the megahit SPEED (Fox 1994),

 

The soundtrack by Juergen Drews (he played a street singer in the giallo SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS (Deter Geissler Filmproduktion ,1971) is a simple effective score, which at times reminds me of the music used in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (U.A.,1969) .

 

CULT EPICS has done a phenomenal job with their restoration.

A 1080p HD transfer (thanks to the Eye Institute in Amsterdam, using original 16mm and 35mm negative elements), the picture is clean ,with outdoor scenes having a strong blue tinge . This seems to be more due to the color stock used than any intentional referencing to the title. The film is as sharp as it has probably ever looked.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track on the blu ray Dolby Digital dual Mono sound is crisp and clear, with no noticeable pops in the Dutch language only soundtrack. Optional English subtitles are easy to read.
Extras on the discs include

-A 1971 Interview from the director Wim Verstappen (who passed way in 2004) who discusses (in Dutch, with burnt in English subtitles) about making the film, dealing with censors, raising funds outside of the country, and plans for a thriller.

-A 2018 interview with producer Pim de la Parra while he was attending a retrospective of the “Dutch Sex Wave “. We learn that the director based his film upon sexploitation films that he had seen when he had visited New York.

 

-Another 2018 interview (in English) with Hugo Metsers Jr, son of the lead actor. He talks about seeing this film when he was quite young, and how seeing his father was the star destroyed any eroticism the film might have had upon him. He also recalls his father is happier with stage work over film.

 

– A short piece on, the Eye Film Institute. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of film, particularly Dutch works. Also, in their collections are rare film books, posters, and publicity material, as well as screening rooms. By the way, should you wish to check out their website in English, https://www.eyefilm.nl/en . The structure, built near the river in Amsterdam, looks like the Sydney Opera House mated with the MOMA in New York!

– A poster and photo gallery for BLUE MOVIE.

-Four trailers for films by the same production team (Pim & Wim’s Scorpio Films), including

BLUE MOVIE (which gives you an idea of how the film may have looked before the restoration),

OBSESSIONS (1969 ,which shows a strong Hitchcock influence as well as a Bernard Herrmann score that he used from pieces he created back in 1957 for the CBS Music Library!) available from Cult Epics http://www.cultepics.com/product-detail/obsessions/

 

FRANK & EVA (1973, also starring Metsers) http://www.cultepics.com/product-detail/frank-eva/ ,

and MY NIGHTS WITH SUSAN, SANDRA, OLGA and JULIE (1975 ,that appears to be a more erotic variant of THE BEGUILED ,Universal, 1971) ,currently not listed as available from Cult Epics.

Recommended, especially for fans of foreign films, art house, and erotica.

Kudos to Cult Epics for the care that they give to these films.

Kevin G Shinnick

*- there is another Dutch actor, also named Hugo Metsers, who was only about 3 when BLUE MOVIE was made.

 

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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI)

3D-Boris-Karloff-Collection-500x500

 

BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI,2 discs, DVD) Released September 2018. Color.  $14.99

https://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1104

Many years ago, when the late great Boris Karloff passed away in February 2,1969, Jim Warren’s and Forrest J Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND provided two fitting tributes.

One, was issue #56 of FMOF with a beautiful  Basil Gogos cover of Karloff as his most famous role.

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The other was a paperback by FJA called THE FRANKENSCIENCE MONSTER (Ace,1969, a cover not by Gogos but paperback cover artist Verne Tossey.). At the time,before the ability to google, this was the source for any monster news. Many of us though that Karloff’s final film was a classic of modern cinema, Peter Bogdanovich’s   TARGETS  (August 1968,Paramount).

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However, thanks to Uncle Forry , we found out that 80 plus year old Karloff had signed with producer Luis Enrique Vergara and Azteca Films of Mexico (who in turn had a distribution agreement with Columbia Pictures) for a four-picture deal at a salary of $400,000. The actor could have said no to the projects and easily retired, having a comfortable sum saved up over the years. No one could have blamed him, either, as his lungs were barely functional (due to years of smoking as well as damage from pneumonia he contracted in Italy filming BLACK SABBATH,1963,AIP , leaving him dependent on oxygen tanks to aid his breathing) as well as crippling arthritis that made walking difficult.

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Still, as he often said, he wanted to die with his boots on, doing the job he loved if audiences wanted to see him. An example was when he filmed an episode of THE RED SKELTON SHOW (“He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash” aired September 24,1968, CBS), rather than do the show before the live audience in a wheel chair as rehearsed, he willed himself to walk with the aid of a cane rather than have the people see him so confined.

Thus, the quartet of Mexican horror films were jobs that he readily accepted, feeling fortunate that audiences still wished to see him.

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Difficulties for the productions arose when it was discovered that Karloff’s health would not permit him to film in Mexico, and his sequences were shot in a small studio in Santa Monica, California in April/May 1968, while the rest of the films were completed in Mexico, often with a double for the star.

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The four films were to be made over a 5-week period, so this extra expense of two crews, duplicating sets, and flying up some of the Mexican cast to work with Karloff must have frayed the already low budgets.  Juan Ibáñez directed the Mexican main unit, while cult director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY,1967, American General) handled the American Karloff unit, as well as contributing to the screenplays.

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Hill it seems was hampered because the producer wanted to use an early form of video playback by tying a primitive video camera to the top of the 35mm Mitchells used to film the movie. Jerry Lewis had pioneered the idea and it is now the common practice, but Hill felt that it slowed down his process.

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With all these problems somehow the four films were filmed and completed. Karloff did not live to see the release of these films, which seemed to have been held back until 1971 for their limited distributions (Cannon also got around to distribute Karloff’s 1967 Spanish lensed CAULDRON OF BLOOD the same year, which got a wider release in the U.S. than the four Mexican thrillers).

 

Over the years, the films have been released on various video labels, including MPI and United American budget label, as well as several of the titles getting a DVD release by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia label.

 

VCI has now for the first time put all four films together in an affordable (less than the cost of some single DVD releases) two-disc collection.

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The four titles in the collection are

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(Disc One)

DANCE OF DEATH (aka HOUSE OF EVIL, SERENADA MACABRA)

TORTURE ZONE (edited version of FEAR CHAMBER)

menu_boris_karloff_m02_blu-ray.

(Disc Two)

ALIEN TERROR (filmed as THE INCREDIBLE INVASION, Invasión siniestra)

CULT OF THE DEAD (edited version of ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE, La muerte vivente)

 

The discs seem to be sourced from the old MPI videos, with the same video generated titles (©1987 by the Parasol Group). The prints of the four movies are a bit dark and sometimes the color is a bit off.  The copy  of TORTURE ZONE seemed in the worst condition, with several visible splices.

fear_chamber_1968___5a53f0e99d7d4.mp4

 

It is a shame that they did not seek out the Retromedia or Elite release of FEAR CHAMBER, as both of those are in the original aspect ratio with sharp picture and color quality, as well as extras such as an audio commentary by Jack Hill and a deleted scene.MPI’s TORTURE ZONE is an edited version of this film ,so all of the nudity Is eliminated .

Fear Chamber 14

Only TORTURE ZONE was set in present day, with the rest set at around the turn of the 20th Century. ALIEN TERROR was supposedly the last one filmed, and the only one NOT starring Julissa, giving actress German actress Christa Linder a chance.

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The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound for the films is clear with no noticeable loss in quality of dialogue or the sound effects.

There are no extras to the discs, but again, to get these four films together at such a low price, one should not expect any special edition treatment.

While we would all like to get the best possible and most complete versions, certain films have limited audiences and the profitability is to say the least, narrow.

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One wonders, for example, if VCI had gone out of their way to get new prints, cleaned up and loaded with extras, would fans shell out $29.95 for each of these films?

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DANCE OF DEATH -this film is perhaps the most traditional horror film, with obvious influences of the Roger Corman Poe films. The film even claims to be based upon a Poe story, though none that I am familiar with.hoise of evil                                                  original Spanish language credit

 

Wealthy toymaker Matthais Morteval (Karloff) summons his family to his mansion to discuss how his estate will be divided. Recent murders in the nearby hills has a macabre touch, wherein the victims have had their eyes removed makes Matthais suspect that a member of his family is the killer.

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Karloff has an ancestral portrait that looks exactly like him (these old families have strong genes), and Karloff gets to play huge pipe organ. Matthais supposedly suffers a fatal heart attack half way into the film, and shortly thereafter, one by one his greedy relations die. Keeping with the Corman Poe- like feel, the film ends with a huge fire, as Matthais, obviously not dead, plays his final concerto as the walls burn around him. It is quite amazing that the octogenarian actor is working so close to such huge plumes of flames, controlled or not  .

firebug

 

Karloff perhaps passed away before being able to loop dialogue, or the final lines were an afterthought , but they are not his voice.

People who dismiss the Karloff Mexican quartet of films have obviously not seen them, as DANCE OF DEATH was quite entertaining.

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TORTURE ZONE – (which in the original titles also claimed to be Poe inspired, though I would say more Lovecraft, like Karloff’s own DIE, MONSTER DIE! 1965 ,A.I.P. ). This one is a bit of a mess, no two ways about it. Psychedelic zooms & colors, and jump cut edits do not make this film any more interesting, and indeed, show how little sense the plot has.  A living rock is discovered within the depths of the earth. Scientist Karl Mantell (Karloff), who spends much of this film either sitting behind his office desk or behind a lab computer table, discovers that the creature feeds on the blood of young women, particularly those who are frightened. Naturally, our loveable scientist and his staff create a fear chamber to terrorize young women who come seeking employment. The rock (no, no that one) starts to grow tentacles, and only then does Mantell seek to stop it.

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Mantell is supposed to be a kindly scientist, but his actions here are in opposition to that appearance. Still, at least, Karloff gets to survive to the end credits. The topless scenes that are edited out of this print were probably shot later, added to try and keep audience attention. Probably one of Karloff’s worst movies, though, as always, he is worth watching.                                                                              .firrreee

Karloff tries to blow up all prints of FEAR CHAMBER .

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ALIEN TERROR– Another period piece, this one is another science fiction/horror hybrid. In an 1890s European country, Professor John Mayer (Karloff) is working on a new power source, when a lab accident sends a pulse off into space, attracting the attention of an alien spaceship passing by. The alien comes across a Jack the Ripper style killer and takes over his body. More killings continue as the alien tries to get to the professor’s invention and destroy it. Mayer uses his invention to defeat the killer, and later, when the alien hops into his niece, he uses the machine again to drive it from her. Mayer lets the machine destroy itself and, in the process, burns down his home.c3f80e4ebb33139abba0d67198ef960c

 

The final shot of the surviving cast members watching the house burn has an obvious Karloff stand in facing away from the camera with hair that looks like it was streaked with shoe polish.

A confusing picture, as if two different scripts were dropped into a blender, yet it held one’s interest and it tried to be original. As mentioned, this was Karloff’s last work in a motion picture.karloff_at_03_dvd

An alien Spaceship, lit and designed to look like a Dario Argento sequence !

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CULT OF THE DEAD – On the island of Korbai, Carl Van Molder (Karloff) is a major plantation owner. A police captain comes to Korbai to try and bring order when it is discovered that voodoo is rampant. This is a much more entertaining film than Karloff’s earlier film VOODOO ISLAND (1957, U.A.), which was one of the only roles I felt the great actor seemed to walk through.

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In this film, Karloff seems fully invested in the part and brings his great screen presence to each scene.  The voodoo scenes are well staged, though once again at the end of the film, a voice not Karloff’s is used for the line: “I’m dying! “followed by some sputtering coughs. The picture ends with a big explosion as the hero and heroine escape with their lives. This too was an entertaining piece of cinema fluff and does not deserve all the scorn heaped upon it.

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To sum up, two of the films (DANCE OF DEATH and CULT OF THE DEAD) I would say are quite entertaining, a third (ALIEN TERROR) is just odd enough to hold your interest with a feeling of “WTF?” throughout and only one (TORTURE ZONE) is close to a complete disaster. Karloff is always giving his all in each work, and for that alone these are well worth seeing.

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Are the prints the best? No.  However, unless some deep pocket cinema collector seeks out original negatives, gives them a 2 K scan and restores them, and licenses the Elite and Retromedia commentaries, this VCI set will be the best way of getting affordable copies of these final films by the Master of Horror, Boris Karloff.

 

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Recommended for – Karloff completists. Fans of Mexican Horror. Cult films lovers.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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BOSS (Kit Parker Blu Ray/DVD combo)

BOSS (Kit Parker Blu Ray/DVD combo)
Dimension ,1975 color. Rated PG .87 mins. Region A/1. Release August 28,2018. Also known as BOSS NIGGER; THE BLACK BOUNTY HUNTER

https://www.amazon.com/Blu-ray-Williamson-DUrville-William-Armstrong/dp/B07C5K53N4/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

If you ever wondered what BLAZING SADDLES(1973,W.B.) might have looked like done as a straightforward film, BOSS should give you an idea.

Fred “The Hammer ” Williamson, the former football star’s initial forays into acting were in such films as M*A*S*H (1970, Fox) as well as Diane Carroll’s boyfriend on T.V.’s JULIA (1968-71, Fox/NBC). The Larry Cohen actioner BLACK CAESAR (1973, AIP) featured him as a man who climbs his way up in the underworld, and THREE THE HARD WAY (1974, A.A.) solidified his status as an action star.

 

 

Williamson decided the first film he would co-produce himself would be based upon 20-page treatment he showed to director Jack Arnold (they had worked together on the Warner Brother actioner BLACK EYE,1974). Dimension Pictures decided to release the film and so production began on a town set left over from the big budget Gene Kelly film THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970, National General) in Santa Fe New Mexico.

 

 THE CHEYENNE’S SOCIAL CLUB set used for BOSS

Boss (Williamson) and his sidekick Amos (D’Urville Martin, who directed DOLEMITE, Dimension,1975) a former slave, are two bounty hunters who decide to become the law in a small town when they save a woman named Clara Mae (Carmen Hayworth) from a pack of outlaws. On one of the men they killed while saving her they find a letter from the mayor of the town of San Miguel that invites the possessor of the letter to become the new sheriff. The bounty hunters also find out that a man they are tracking, Jed Clayton (cult baddie William Smith, best known for playing Falconetti on the miniseries RICH MAN POOR MAN ,1976, Universal TV, as well as the vampire hunting son in GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE ,1972, Millenium), also spends time in the town and so they decide to escort Clara Mae there.

Boss gives the letter to the mayor (western great R.G. Armstrong) who is forced to accept them as the new law. They set upon their task with zeal as they confront members of Clayton’s gang, killing and wounding several of them.

 

 

The new laws that the bounty hunters post does not make them popular with the racists town folk, resulting in a few well-dressed town folk (including the bank President) having to pay a fine or a stay in the cell in the sheriff’s office. The “N” word is tossed about as readily as at a trump rally, but the two bounty hunters put their bigoted butts behind bars or make them pay for their words. Not everyone is a racist in town, exemplified by local school marm Miss Pruitt (Barbara Leigh, who later co-starred with William Smith in SEVEN,1979,AIP).

 

Things escalate as they always do with a final showdown between boss and Clayton.

Black westerns were nothing new (going back as least as far as Norman Film Manufacturing Co’s CRIMSON SKULL ,1922), but in the 1960s and 1970s, they went from black only cinemas to mainstream theatres. Films like SGT. RUTLEDGE (1960, WB) began to finally acknowledge that people of color made up a lot of the history of the American West. Indeed, the character of The Lone Ranger may have been inspired by the exploits of the first black Marshall Bass Reeves.

The 1970s though allowed black stars to shine and take the lead in a variety of films, including westerns.

No longer the sidekick, black performers were front and center of the action.

Williamson was born to play the action hero, with his good looks and natural athleticism, one could readily accept him facing down the bad guys. He was wise enough to surround himself with familiar western faces like R.G. Armstrong (PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, 1973.MGM, as well as numerous Sam Peckinpah films) and Don “Red” Barry (star of many Republic Westerns, here playing a bad guy).

The direction by Jack Arnold is effective , using creativity to make his film look as exciting as possible. One example was clever editing when a horse was to run over a small child.

 

BOSS was released previously by VCI /Sprocket Vault /Kit Parker in 2008. This Kit Parker BLU RAY has been given a 1080p resolution release, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film has been cleaned up, but there are still some color shifts due no doubt from the negative fading. A full restoration for this film probably would have been prohibitively expensive, and the print is quite watchable, and I am sure in much better condition than the worn-out prints shown in many grindhouse and drive in theatres of the period.

The audio is an English 2.0 mono track. It is clear, and the dialogue is easy to understand, along with all the sound effects and music. For the hard of hearing, there is an optional white lettering subtitle in English.

The extras on this Kit Parker BLU RAY release are all ported over from the VCI release.

A CONVERSATION WITH FRED “THE HAMMER” WILLIAMSON with Joel Blumberg. Shot ten years ago, it is amazing that Williamson appears to have hardly aged in the 33 years since he shot the film. He brags that a film he did for Universal ,THAT MAN BOLT (1973), was the first major studio film to have a black action star, forgetting MGM produced SHAFT in 1971. Still, he was among the first, and indeed with his own production company (PO BOY) was able to call the shots that he was the hero and got the girl.

 

A BOSS MEMORY (8 min) with producer/ director & UCLA film prof Myrl A. Schreibman ( he was the associate producer on BOSS).Schreibman got into film working with Jack Arnold .After Arnold had directed BLACK EYE, Arnold brought Schreibman aboard for this film .He talks about their filming the big fight scene between Smith (who as cast because he looked like he would be an equal match in a fight) & Williamson while a dust devil storm raged outside with ho

wling winds.

JACK ARNOLD TRIBUTE by producer Myrl Schreibman– For any fan of 1950s science fiction, Jack Arnold was the go -to guy in the 1950s (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON,1954, Universal )before he transitioned to TV on such shows as GILLIGAN’S ISLAND ( 1964-1967,CBS).Schreibman lets us know that Arnold began as actor, but when in the Army ,trained in their film division under famed filmmaker Robert Flaherty(NANOOK OF THE NORTH, 1922,Pathe) .Returning to civilian life, he did a documentary called WITH THESE HANDS (1950 ,ILGWU ) about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The featurette was Oscar nominated, which led to his career at Universalhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=1OKcJcJ4TfA

 

The disc also has the original theatrical trailer :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWDTw7IjeiI

 

The BLU RAY also has a reversible cover, using the more politically safe version, or the or original poster and art.

This is a fun action adventure and a good addition to any fans of
Westerns
-Blaxploitation
-Fred Williamson.

Kevin G Shinnick

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NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE (Fox,1976,111 min.color) Blu-Ray Twilight Time $29.95

                                                                                NEXT STOP, GREENWICH VILLAGE

(Fox,1976,111 min.color) Blu-Ray Twilight Time $29.95 https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/next-stop-greenwich-village-blu-ray/ released May 22,2018 limited to 3,000 copies only.

 

While not as well known or as financially successful as AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (Fox,1978) or BOB &CAROL & TED & ALICE (Columbia ,1969), to me NEXT STOP GREENWICH VILLAGE is writer/producer/actor/director Paul Mazursky’s masterpiece that can be revisited again and again.

A semi-autobiographical work, N.S.G.V. perfectly captures the mood of a vibrant bohemian culture that defined the Village scene until the early 2000s, when the area grew too expensive and the quirky and energetic art, individualism, and yes, just plain fun crazy inhabitants were driven out, and the cozy brownstones and shops turned into expensive high-rises and expensive pretentious stores that lack any personality.

 

Much of the credit must go to the casting geniuses of Juliet Taylor and Sylvia Fay (background). Ms. Taylor and the late Ms. Fay (if you ever saw tv’s  FRIENDS(W.B.,1994-2004), actress June Gable obviously based her character of the chain-smoking Estelle on the late Sylvia Fay) were the unsung heroes of NY casting.

Unlike many casting directors today, they would attend Off -Off Broadway shows, seeking out new interesting faces and talent.

That is how Ms. Taylor came across actor Lenny Baker. The actor was busy working in Off Broadway shows, when she brought him to the attention of director Mazursky very close to the start of actual filming. The role fit the actor to a “t”, and he went on to win a Tony Award in 1977 for his role in the musical I LOVE MY WIFE. It is a major shame that illness took him from audiences too soon, dying from AIDS in 1982 at age 37.

   Ilene Graff as Cleo and Lenny Baker as Alvin in I Love My Wife

 

The film is also filled with a lot of New York stage actors who were still unknown at the time, including leading lady Ellen Greene (later most famous for her star turn both on stage and off as a blonde tressed Audrey in the musical LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS) and a blink and you’ll miss him Bill Murray. This film and many New York lensed films of the 1970s truly did live up to the maxim, ‘They had faces then”.

 

Surrounding the talented newcomers were seasoned stars and supporting actors like Shelley Winters, Lou Jacobi, and Mike Kellin (whose last film role was as Mel in SLEEPAWAY CAMP, American Eagle, 1983).

 

• The Lapinskis are a nice if eccentric working class Jewish family living in Brooklyn ,1953 when son Lenny Lapinski (Baker) decides it’s time for him to move to Manhattan and pursue his dream of becoming an actor, much as the idea brings agita to his mother Fay (Winters) and his somewhat henpecked dad Ben (Kallin).

• Finding a flat in a Village brownstone, he is soon surrounded by loving bohemian friends who are artistically hungry, assured self-centered intellectuals, or creating lives and backgrounds for themselves that help them survive the real world. Among this idiosyncratic crew are Anita (Lois Smith), a high-strung friend who contemplates suicide, Robert (Christopher Walken) as the smug poet Robert, and Bernstein a black gay man who is full of fanciful stories of his life (Antonio Vargas, whom if you only know him as Huggy Bear from tv’s STARSKY & HUTCH, Spelling-Goldberg,1975-79, you will be astonished by his brilliant and touching turn here), hanger on Connie (Dori Bremmer).

The cast and director Mazursky

 

Lenny also a girlfriend, free spirit Sarah Roth (Greene). Their relationship is very sexual, in contrast to the normal conformity of the era. She enjoys their relationship but doesn’t want to be merely someone’s girlfriend. The problem is she isn’t sure exactly where she fits in the world.

 

That is not an issue with Lenny, who goes to acting classes, hoping like so many to be the next Brando, while working in an health food shop run by Herb (Lou Jacobi) and his wife (Helen Hanft, a fixture in Off -Off and Off-Broadway productions).

 

Along the way, we have many funny and tragic events happen along the way to Lenny’s journey to achieve stardom. Moments perfectly capture what feel honest and true of the period, including rent parties (a $1 a head, when a flat could be had for $50 a month!).

 

Among the names mentioned above, keep an eye out for Jeff Goldblum as a self-centered actor who studied at “The Studio” whose big mouth costs him from even being able to audition, Joe Spinnell as a cop who watches Lenny performing on a subway platform, and Rutanya Alda as an uncredited party guest.

 

The film was lensed by Arthur J. Ornitz (son of one of the Hollywood Ten ,Samuel Ornitz),who had been behind the camera for such films as THE BOYS IN THE BAND (National General,1970),SERPICO (Paramount,1973) and DEATH WISH (Paramount,1974) ,which all used a similar grainy look and brown palette in color, but he was also the cinematographer on HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (MGM,1970), so he was not limited in his color use or cinematic style .

 

Bill Conti was the composer, the same year that he wrote his score for ROCKY (U.A.,1976). For N.S.G.V., his score is a bluesy jazzy score that perfect evokes the era, often using pieces from the Dave Brubeck Quartet (the 1953 set film has Brubeck’s 1959 composition ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk”) or Charlie Parker.

 

 Don’t you hate when your parents walk in during sex?                                                                    

 

 

The film was mostly shot on location in NYC, though you would be hard pressed to find many of the locations nowadays. A shot looking toward the city from the subway platform clearly shows on the far-left buildings that were not there in the 1950s, but this, like the Brubeck note, are so nitpicky, that if you notice them while seeing the film then you aren’t paying attention to the brilliance of the storytelling.

 

You can still recognize the location on 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street (Village Cigar is still there) and you can still a nice meal at Café Reggio on 119 MacDougal Street, as well as Julius’s Bar at 159 W 10th Street, which is NYC’s oldest Gay Bar (it was also used in a scene for the film of THE BOYS IN THE BAND).

The commentary track by Mazursky (more on in a bit) mentions that Alan Ladd Jr, then head of 20th Century Fox, gave the director a lot of input on the film, up to and including the poster design by graphic designer Milton Glaser. Mazursky leaves it at that, but I was curious as to why he felt that was important to reference.

 

 

Though his imagery is well known even when his name is not (the original Broadway production of ANGELS IN AMERICA, for Bob Dylan, and the I LOVE NY logo, this is one of the illustrators few movie posters.

 

The more Norman Rockwell-ish design is by artist Birney Lettick, whose artwork graced movie posters for many a major American film across the genres..

 

The Blu Ray from Twilight Time is another winner from this company. An upgrade in picture quality from the previous DVD release from Fox, this is a 1080p High definition transfer in 1:85:1 ratio. The original grain and dark colors perfectly capture the look of the film when it played theatrically in 1976, to critical praise but small audiences in the U.S. It found a more appreciative audience for its European screenings, but slowly and surely it has been discovered by new audiences with each release. This stands as the one that fans will want to own.

The sound is available to listen to in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo as well as the original mono sound. I really didn’t notice any major difference, but since this is a dialogue driven score, it really doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment.

 

There are optional English SDH subtitles.

 

Other extras include

A very warm and informative commentary track recorded for the 2005 DVD release by director Mazursky and Ellen Greene. Though recorded separately, they are very nicely edited together for a commentary track that you may wish to listen to more often than other more technical but cold commentaries heard on bigger budgeted new releases. The joy that each have on recalling the film, and how it affected each one, is engrossing.

 

Another audio track allows you to hear the music track isolated in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. This is a fun score to listen to while you are doing things, like perhaps writing a film review.

The Original Theatrical Trailer- this will give you an idea of how much the film elements have been cleaned, as well as idea of how the studio sold films at the time.

 

 

There is a reversible case sleeve as well as a nice booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo, ending with some more personal commentary than usual that shows the power of this film.

This is a must have addition to anyone who

-Loves Great Independent Style filmmaking (ironically, it was greenlit by Alan Ladd Jr, then head of 20th Century Fox)
-seeing famous actors in their early works
-Nostalgia
-Superlative Storytelling.

 

 

Heck, I think I am going to watch it again right now.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!
Get it now- remember -only 3,000 pressing.

-Kevin G Shinnick-

If you enjoyed this film, may I also recommend MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/moscow-on-the-hudson-blu-ray/
And
BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE
https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/bob-carol-ted-alice-blu-ray/
, also directed by Paul Mazursky.

Remember to like and follow us here: https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/

Also like and follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SCARLETreviews/

 

 

 

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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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THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (Arrow Blu Ray) THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; EVIL OF DRACULA

BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; and EVIL OF DRACULA; Toho, 1970-4)

Arrow Blu Ray set release .2 disc set. Color. Japanese with subtitles.

U.S. Release $49.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.com/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Vampire-Dracula-Special/dp/B07B12HN97

U.K. Release £ 29.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Blu-ray-Kayo-Matsuo/dp/B079VCZJC3/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1525722582&sr=1-1&keywords=bloodthirsty+trilogy

In the 1960s and early 1970s, vampire films were quite popular, Thanks to Hammer Films, Dracula and his many off-shoots invaded movie theatres and television sets internationally. Many countries made their own variations and even rip offs of the British horror studio’s output.

One country where fantasy films and horror were enjoyed by a wide audience was Japan.
Japanese theatre had a long history of popular ghost stories. Oddly, Japan seems to lack any legends of vampire folklore, the closest being the Yōkai, a malevolent spirit.

Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談 Ghost Story of Yotsuya), written in 1825, was a kabuki ghost story revenge play. So far it has  been adapted for films at least 30 times.

One year after the cinema camera was introduced in the country, local filmmakers made Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook / 化け地蔵) and Shinin no sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse),1898 ,both films currently presumed lost.

The first film adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan was made in 1912, and it was filmed some 18 times between 1913 and 1937. All but the 1936 and 1937 films were silent adaptations.

In 1933, a three-reel silent comedy Wasei Kingu Kongu (和製キング・コング, literally  Japanese King Kong) was made, also now sadly missing for modern viewers. Japan made silent films well into the mid-1930s. In 1938, Kong returned for another silent Japanese film, this time released in two parts, King Kong Appears in Edo (江戸に現れたキングコング Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu) .This film ,like so many Japanese films made before the 1950s, is also lost.

From the early to mid-1940s, most of Japanese cinema was turned to the propaganda for the war effort. Still, future great artists like Akira Kurasawa began their careers during this period.

In the 1950s, Japanese films began to get a wider release worldwide. Kurasawa’s brilliant RASHOMON (Toho,1950) won international praise and awards. Ugetsu, Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) was a 1953 ghost story from Daiei Studios that won great acclaim.

1954 ,The same year that people were introduced to Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai,Toho), the same studio released a film that would spawn sequels, remakes ,rip-offs ,and introduced the world to Kaiju (giant monster )cinema, Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira). Both films nearly bankrupted the studio but luckily the international box office rewarded the daring producers . Another supernatural film, The Invisible Avenger (透明人間 Tōmei ningen, literally Invisible Man), loosely based upon the H.G. Wells classic, was released by Toho that same year, but never was given international release.

Between all the monsters stomping all of Tokyo, supernatural tales continued to be popular. Nobuo Nakagawa directed a series of horror films, including The Ghosts of Kasane Swamp (Shintoho Films. 1957), The Mansion of the Ghost Cat (亡霊怪猫屋敷Bōrei kaibyō yashiki, Shintoho, 1958) and The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (東海道四谷怪談), another telling of the famous ghost story, Shintoho 1959), and Jigoku (Jigoku (地獄, “Hell”, Shintoho ,1960).

The 1960s continued to have more supernatural tales ,alternating between the giant monsters, and supernatural thrillers, including an interesting hybrid ,GOKE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (吸血鬼ゴケミドロ Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro ,which translates to Vampire Gokemidoro, Shochiku,1968).This hybrid vampire /ufo film has an alien invasion using bloodsuckers ,and has a rather bleak ending.

Finally, Toho, one of the oldest of the big four Japanese Film companies, saw the profits Hammer was making on their relatively modest budget horror films, and decided to take a chance on their own three vampire films.

All these films were directed by Michio Yamamoto ( 1933- 2004 ) . Yamamoto began as an assistant director to the great Kurasawa on THRONE OF BLOOD (Kumonosu-jô), the director’s take on the tragedy of Macbeth. He continued as an A.D. until 1969, when Toho let him direct Yaju no fukkatsu , a gangster crime drama.

He was given directorial control on the Hammer influenced but modern setting vampire films that the studio produced between 1970-4. Between films, he directed for Nippon tv some dramas, ending his career in 1976 directing episodes of a tv action drama.

First was The Vampire Doll (幽霊屋敷の恐怖 血を吸う人形 Chi o suu ningyo, Toho,1970, color ,71minutes). THE VAMPIRE DOLL was released in a subtitled form in NY and LA as THE NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE. THE VAMPIRE DOLL as also been known as BLOODSUCKING DOLL, THE GHOST MANSION’S HORROR: A BLOODSUCKING DOLL, FEAR OF THE GHOST HOUSE: BLOODSUCKING DOLL, and when released on VHS by Paramount, THE LEGACY OF DRACULA.

The film shows that the director and writer Hiroshi Nagano (who doesn’t seem to have any other fantasy credits and worked mostly on television) and Ei Ogawa (who wrote all three vampire films, as well as SPACE AMOEBA (Gezora, Ganime, Kamēba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijū  (ゲゾラ・ガニメ・カメーバ 決戦! 南海の大怪獣ba: , , translated as “Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas ”, Toho, 1970) seemed have studied THE OLD DARK HOUSE (Universal,1932), PSYCHO (Paramount ,1960), and CITY OF THE DEAD(Vulcan,1960), as well as Hammer’s vampire films.

Kazuhiko goes to an isolated house during a rainstorm to reunite with his fiancé, Yuko. Interestingly, the house and cab are depicted via model work.

Upon arriving, the young man is greeted by Genzo, the silent servant, as well as Yuko’s mother, Shido. Kazuhiko is told by Yuko’s mother that the young woman died during a landslide just a few weeks prior. Due to the storm, he must spend the evening, wherein he is awakened by the cry of a woman. It does not end well for him.

We cut to Kazuhiko’s sister Keiko and her boyfriend Hiroshi ,who are concerned that he hasn’t returned or even contacted
them to let them know how he is. They go to the same remote home and are greeted by Shido and Genzo. What they uncover leads to more deaths as the family curse is uncovered.

The film is a mix of Gothic horror (old dark house, stormy night) and Japanese Ghost Story. While the killer is called a vampire, they never spout fangs, instead using a very deadly blade to dispatch their victims. Still, the film is full of atmosphere, and at a brisk 71 minutes, it really moves.

Composer Ricchiro Manabe wrote the scores for all three Toho vampire films. Besides composing for the vampire trilogy, Manabe also wrote the scores for GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (ゴジラ対ヘドラ Gojira tai Hedora, Toho,1971) better known as GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER; and GODZILLA VS MEGALON ( ゴジラ対メガロ Gojira tai Megaro, Toho,1973).

His scores for this first film is harpsicord, piano, and organ, mixed in with discordant sounds to create a feeling of unease. It also includes some traditional Kokiriko (basically a pair of sticks struck together rhythmically) electric keyboard and flute. At one point it goes a little muzak, but overall, it is quite spare but effective. At times, it reminded me of some of the music from tv’s DARK SHADOWS (ABC TV 1966-1971) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Kh9z-mExk .

The cinematography by Kazutami Hara is effective, with nicely composed shots that help the mood of the piece. He would skip the next film in the series, only to return for the final entry.

The film must have done well, as the studio made another vampire film the following year with the same director, screenwriter (Ei Ogawa) and composer.

Lake of Dracula (呪いの館 血を吸う眼 Noroi no yakata-Chi o su me, Toho, 1971, also known as also known as Japula, Dracula’s Lust for Blood, The Bloodthirsty Eyes and Lake of Death). After it’s Japanese release, it was given a limited subtitled release in the U.S., followed up by a television dubbed version from UPA under the title LAKE OF DRACULA.

A young girl, Akiko, looking for her lost dog, wanders into a house, where she finds a dead woman and a vampire. We jump ahead years later, where Akiko is now a young woman. She thinks what happened to her was only a dream, until the vampire turns up again, and her dog once again goes missing, only now her sister Natsuko also disappears.

She is attacked by a friend who has been vampirized and brought to the original vampire. Just before he can bite her, two men interrupt the monsters, and they run away.

More near fatal events happen, wherein they discover that the original vampire chasing them is a descendent of Dracula himself!

This film is a more traditional vampire film, with an ancestor of the King of all Vampires playing heavily into the story. The vampire here has a ghastly pale complexion and yellow eyes. The final staking is effective (I understand that this was cut from some tv prints, making a very frustrating viewing for late night tv addicts). Certain points in the film made me think of BRIDES OF DRACULA (Hammer/Universal,1960).


The Hammer influence is strong in the design of the vampire’s mansion , which has a very European look, or at least strong Bernard Robinson construction (kudos to production designer Shigekazu Ikuno, who had worked on the horror film MATANGO, Toho ,1963). The film overall has a feel of a larger budget than its predecessor.

The camerawork by Rokurô Nishigaki is quite good, and it is a shame he didn’t do more genre work.

Three years later, the final film of the series was EVIL OF DRACULA ( 血を吸う薔薇 , literally The Bloodthirsty Rose, Toho,1974). The original cameraman returned to join the other original director, writer and composer.

 

Once again, BRIDES OF DRACULA seem to have had some influence on the plot, along with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (Hammer, 1971).

Shiraki, a new teacher at the Seimei School for Girls, finds out that he is to become the new Director. The principal has just suffered the death of his wife. That night, Shiraki, who is staying in the principal’s home, is attacked. He wakes up in his own bed, and at first assumes it was all a dream.

However, he goes down into the cellar and finds that the ghastly woman who attacked him the night prior is the occupant of a coffin, namely the principal’s late wife.


Later, one of the female students is attacked and left with two bite marks upon one of her breasts. The school Doctor Shimimura, who also collects local legends, feels that the violence and strange things going on are the result of a vampire.

The origin of this Dracula is quite original, to say the least. If you have seen Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE(Paramount,2016), you will be aware of the 17th Century attempt at bringing Christianity from Europe to Japan. Well, here, Dracula comes into being as a pious man who renounces his faith due to the tortures of the missionaries, and thus is cursed with vampirism! 

This film is a bit more violent and some semi nudity to spice up the proceedings. Once again, the team has done a great job of mixing Western culture with a Japanese spin.

These films were released sparsely in the U.S. in subtitled prints in limited release, as well as dubbed versions, somewhat edited for television by UPA.

Paramount Home Video released the films in the edited dubbed versions on VHS, but they have long been out of print. The prints were rather flat and the copies suffered from pan and scan .

Finally, ARROW FILMS has once again graced us with an amazing presentation of an unjustly obscure film, or in this case, three.  

First off, they have gone to the original film elements for a   1080p High Definition Blu Ray release. The color and image quality are amazingly sharp and clear, with no noticeable speckling or blemishes. Though supposedly low budget, the artisans and artists at Toho bring a professionalism and pride to their work.

The Mono sound is now in a clean uncompressed 1.0 PCM Audio.  The previous VHS release was on certain videos released in the LP (long play) speed, rather than the SP (Standard Play). This softened the picture image as well as flattened the sound.

Though not mixed in any fake stereo, the music and sound effects mix are clear.

The prints used are in the original Japanese, so you can hear the performances of the actors, with very easy to read new English language subtitles.

 

Kim Newman (film historian, as well as author of the delightful ANNO DRACULA book series) provides a nice little video appraisal of the trilogy on disc one.

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin (which also graces the discs), while on the flip side are some of the original Japanese theatrical posters.

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp (Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema; Scarecrow Press ,2011), illustrated with some beautiful photos from the movies.

Disc One consists THE VAMPIRE DOLL and Kim Newman’s video comments.
Disc Two consists of LAKE OF DRACULA and EVIL OF DRACULA.

The only thing that I could have suggested was perhaps adding alternate audio track of the English dubs from UPA , but perhaps they were too prohibitively expensive to license .

Once again, Arrow Films has given us another must have Blu Ray Collection.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

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WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1970) Twilight Time Blu Ray

Wuthering Heights ,1970 A.I.P ( Twilight Time Blu-ray – limited pressing of 3,000 only)
Region free. Color . 1 hr 44 mins List Price: $29.95
https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/wuthering-heights-blu-ray/

AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES never won an Academy Award. It was too busy making money on low budget features. While the larger studios saw their profits dipping due to changing audience demographics and the lure of television, A.I.P was able to make films that would appeal to certain demographics, seeing trends and making films cheaply and quickly.

Teenage themed -movies, horror movies, and later rebel outsider films were popular with the younger crowds who were filling drive -ins.

Then Roger Corman threw off their formula. He made a horror film, yes but it was as expensive as two of their regular films, in color and wide screen.

It made money. Lots of it. Better, it got good reviews. AIP was getting respectability.
It was a heady experience to finally stop being the Rodney Dangerfield of studios.

Oh, they kept grinding out Beach blankets stuffed into a wild bikini on wheels two headed transplants, but they also would continue to do, for them, a prestige picture, usually with the name of Edgar Allan Poe attached.

The zenith of these films was MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (AIP ,1964) which was incredibly stylish (thanks to the magnificent cinematography of Nicholas Roeg).

 czech poster WUTHERING HEIGHTS 1970

AIP kept grinding out films, doing quite well but reviews were of the nature of “good for its kind”.

In 1970, they took a chance again on some “prestige” pictures, picking up for distribution the independent produced feature JULIUS CAESAR (1970) starring Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, John Gielgud, Diana Rigg, and many others. It flopped both financially and critically.

However, Louis M.” Deke” Heyward, who oversaw A.I.P. productions lensed in the U.K. (and whose career included the tv animated series WINKY DINK & YOU ,1953)pushed for something more ambitious.

Franco Zeffirelli ‘s ROMEO & JULIET (Paramount,1968) had been a huge cross over hit with both young audiences as well as their parents, and Heyward felt that he had a classic romance that would appeal to a similar cross over crowd.  Also in 1970 , M.G.M. was going to release a big historical romance ,RYAN’s DAUGHTER, so A.I.P. probably felt that this would a trend worth taking part in.

With one of the largest budgets ever accorded an American International film (publicity bragged about 3 million dollars, equivalent to what United Artists spent on their 1971 prestige period film THE MUSIC LOVERS by Ken Russell. In comparison, another U.K. production from AIP in 1970, SCREAM & SCREAM AGAIN, cost about $350,000.).

Emily Bronte’s only novel, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, was published in 1847 with a pseudonym used for the author (“Ellis Belle”). Emily Bronte died the following year at age 30 from tuberculosis. Charlotte edited the novel and had the novel published again under her sister’s proper name in 1850. By then the name Bronte was known due to the other sister’s works, Anne’s AGNES GRAY (1847, under the pen name Acton Bell then under her own name in 1850) and Charlotte’s JANE EYRE (1947 under the name Currer Bell, then the following year in the United States by Charlotte Bronte)

The tragedy of Emily’s early death adds an air of tragic Romanticism that already permeates the novel. The work was received with mixed feelings, some due to its criticism of Victorian mores. It was, however, a big seller, and has become required reading in many college literature classes.

To me, revisiting the book recently, it seemed to me to be a story of a dysfunctional destructive relationship that would not be out of place in a 50 SHADES OF GRAY story! Her playing with his affections and his obsessiveness destroys them both, with events of mental and physical abuse that make a modern reader ponder, so one can imagine how readers of that more gentile time reacted.

 

Still ,the basic story stayed popular with readers ,and it’s basic structure served as a frame work for future popular novels as GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell (1936 ,MacMillan) REBECCA by Daphne Du Maurier(1938 ,Victor Golanz,U.K.) and DRAGONWYCK by Anya Seton (1944,Houghton Miffin ).Incidentally ,Twilight Time has just released a magnificent must have Blue Ray of the film of DRAGONWYCK https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/dragonwyck-blu-ray/

 

The first film version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS was a 1920 British silent, now sadly lost.

 

In 1939, often called the greatest year for movies, Samuel Goldwyn produced the version now best remembered telling of the tale, with director William Wyler guiding a superlative cast and crew through a stirring moving version of the tale. Laurence Olivier became a movie matinee idol (though he had starred in several films before as well as being a star of the stage in two countries) due to his brooding portrayal of Heathcliff. The director and star often clashed, but in the end, Olivier was glad that Wyler how to truly focus as a film actor. Merle Oberon embodied Cathy, David Niven the good but weak Edgar, Donald Crisp, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Flora Robson…. An embarrassment of acting riches. Add to that a literate screenplay by FRONT PAGE creators Charles MacArthur & Ben Hecht, a beautiful Alfred Newman score and cinematography by the magnificent Gregg Toland, it is little wonder that the film in 2007 was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.

Eliminated from this version was the son that Heathcliff fathered nor Cathy’s daughter, both of whom are major characters at the end of the novel. However, the ending of this film retains a powerful gothic and supernatural finale that leaves people weeping.

The BBC over the years has done various versions for tv and American television produced various adaptations , such as this heavily abridged production for CBS in 1950, starring a very stiff Charlton Heston as Heathcliff https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbiaEgjgJX8 .

 

The 1970 version had a screenplay by Patrick Tilley, who seemed to have had a limited career. An episode of an obscure U.K. tv series starring Patrick Allen called CRANE (1963-5, A.R.T.), additional dialogue for a 1968 caper film called ONLY WHEN I LARF(Paramount)and then this. Later he went on to write for Amicus /AIP the film THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977), the disappointing THE LEGACY (Universal,1978) and another supernatural obscurity, GUN OF THE BLACK SUN (2011).

Like many previous versions, the second half of the book is jettisoned to concentrate on the obsessive love/hate relationship of Heathcliff and Cathy.


Chosen to oversee this adaptation was former art director turned director Robert Fuest. Fuest had mostly done television, helming several episodes of THE AVENGERS (A.B.C.,1961-9). He changed his style for his directorial debut to a more subtle one in his superlative thriller AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970, Associated British/EMI) before moving on to WUTHERING HEIGHTS. A.I.P must have liked what he did, as they let him go back to his flashier style in the brilliant ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (1971) and its sequel.

Composer Michel Legrand gave the film an extra feeling of class, as he had worked on such major films as ICE STATION ZEBRA (MGM ,1968). Here, he writes a classical theme that underlines the tragedy and romance of the piece.

His choice of cinematographer John Coquillon had a wonderful feel for period, as he lensed AIP/Tigon’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL in 1968. The color and cinematography help create the sense of mood, of isolation and madness. Coquillon would go on to be a director of photography on several later Sam Peckinpah films, including STRAW DOGS (ABC/Cinerama ,1971).

The opening shot right away sets up the film. A close shot of a beautiful field and babbling brook, then the camera tilts up and, in the background, we see a funeral taking place. We observe the sad mourners as the body is lowered into the grave. One of the mourners looks up and the camera shows a lone horseman silhouetted against the gray barren sky. This is our introduction to Cathy (already dead) and Heathcliff (and aloof figure apart from the rest).
After the titles (by Maurice Binder, not what we expect from the dazzling eye of the designer of the magnificent James Bond openings), we flash back to a family awaiting the return of their father.

The children are awaiting gifts, and even the servant girl as been promised something special. However, when Mr. Earnshaw (the marvelous Harry Andrews) finally arrives, he has with him a small orphan boy, looking almost wildly feral, that he claims that he found in London. Mrs. Earnshaw (Rosalie Crutchley) is angry, feeling that the husband has in fact brought home the result of one of his affairs (adding a dark hint of incest to the rest of the tale, if true). Mr. Earnshaw says no, but that he has named the child Heathcliff, in memory of a son they had who died some time before.

Turkish poster

Their son Hindley takes an instant dislike to Heathcliff, as he sees that a gift that his father has brought him is broken, blaming his new “brother”. The mother implores her husband that he not forget Hindley in his inheritance, and not favor the cuckoo in their family nest. Their young daughter Cathy seems fascinated by the young man.

 

Years later (the film, like the original tale, is set during the mid-1700s), Hindley (now played by Julian Glover) is master and treats Heathcliff (now portrayed by Timothy Dalton) as little more than a servant.

The resentment between the pair is palpable, but the only thing that keeps Heathcliff there is his love for Cathy (Anna Calder-Marshall). Fuest’s first shot of the now adult young woman hints already at her unstable nature, which will see grow as the story goes on.

When Hindley’s wife dies in childbirth, his already sadistic nature comes out full force, sending all his pain and anger towards Heathcliff. Hindley’s drinking exacerbates the problem.

Catherine accepts the proposal of wealthy neighbor Edgar Linton (Ian Ogilvy) but confides to servant Nelly (Judy Cornwall) that she still loves Heathcliff. However, because of the social stigma, she cannot marry someone below her station.

This drives Heathcliff to his vow of revenge, which ends up in destruction for the main characters, with Heathcliff cursing his love to haunt him forever.

While the 1939 adaptation had a sense of heightened almost operatic passion, the 1970 version due to it’s location filming, has a feeling of being more grounded. Therefore, though the film was rated G, the brutality seems more violent. Bucking the trend of many films of the time, the sex is not shown onscreen but that the destructive passion between the two leads is quite palpable, with Heathcliff becoming a brutal Stanley Kowalski in ruffles dealing with his mad paramour.

 

This was Timothy Dalton’s first leading film role, after making his screen debut in THE LION IN WINTER (Avco Embassy,1968) as the scheming King Phillip of France. He also played the weak Prince in the big budget CROMWELL(Columbia,1970) and the next year the weak Henry, Lord Darnley in MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal ,1971). Here, he is a brooding, barely contained wounded animal, who slowly comes undone due to his obsession. While Olivier in the 1939 version always seemed to be thinking, Dalton is almost animalistic, with his moments of passion turning quickly into wounded anger, lashing out at all.

Anna Calder-Marshall is fascinating in her portrayal of Cathy. As mentioned, she hints at the inner demons that are growing within her, so when we see her eyes when she reappears at the end to tempt Heathcliff to his death, her eyes (in close ups shot during reshoots to patch up studio cuts) have an evil madness that would fit in perfectly with any Roger Corman Poe villainess. Sadly, she did not do a lot of film and television (she was a marvelous Cordelia to Laurence Oliver’s Lear in the 1983 ITV tv adaptation), seemingly satisfied to be married to David Burke (one of Jeremy Brett’s two t.v. Dr Watsons) and mother to actor Tom Burke.

The film was the first A.I.P. motion picture to premiere at the RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL. Critical reviews were mixed, and though the film did decently at the box office, it was not enough for A.I.P., and so several planned classic story adaptations were dropped.

 


When the film was released on VHS, the color was muted, and the image seemed compressed. Later, when MGM took over the A.I.P library, they released a much cleaner version of the film to DVD (including one that was sold along with the cliff notes of the book!!).

TWILIGHT TIME, once again, has released what perhaps is the best version of this film that we will ever see. The color palette seems to be a proper gray, brown and gray tone, conveying the feelings of the rustic and lonely wild countryside. The film is presented in 1:85:1 widescreen in a 1080p transfer.


The sound is 1.0 DTS-HD, which is fine for the film. There never were any major audio effects, but the music and sound are all crisp.

There are optional English subtitles that follow the dialogue and action and are quite easy to read.


Other extras include the isolated music score by Michel Legrand. Originally released on vinyl (on AIP’s short-lived AIR RECORDS, A-1039) and later a limited-edition CD from LA LA LAND, LLLCD 1087), you can now enjoy his beautiful score seeing how much it supports the imagery of the film.

 

The original theatrical trailer is also presented, where we are “introduced” to Timothy Dalton, and told Timothy Dalton is Heathcliff, Heathcliff is Timothy Dalton and Anna Calder-Marshall is Cathy while Cathy is Anna Calder-Marshall. Got that?

 


The greatest extra is the information packed running commentary by film historian Justin Humphreys (Interviews Too Shocking to Print, Bear Manor, 2016). While he gives some interesting background on the film’s history (including that director Curtis Harrington was originally developing the story before AIP moved him to WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO? (1971) and that Bryan Forbes of EMI recommended Fuest for the project, and that Ian Ogilvy and Hillary Dwyer are reunited after working on WITCHFINDER GENERAL), what is most fascinating is how he discusses the original cut of the film that seems no longer to exist.

Having a copy of the original screenplay, we are informed of sequences that makes us wonder why they were cut, while others we can understand their loss for clarity and running time. Sam Arkoff’s son does not think that a complete print exists, and that the original negative was cut to produce the version that stands. Humphreys also explains what is now missing, and that the voice overs were meant to patch over missing and reshot sequences.


Finally, once again Twilight Time provides us with a lovely booklet with an essay about the film by the always informative Julie Kirgo.

The disc is region free, and like most releases from the company, are a limited edition pressing of only 3,000.
Highly recommended for fans of classic Gothic Dramas.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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