1980s, Al Pacino, Arrow Video, Blu Ray, crime drama, cult, Drama, erotic, Gay, genre, https://www.facebook.com/scarletthefilmmagazine/, JOE SPINELL, Karen Allen, Mystery, New York City, nudity, review, SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE.WORDPRESS.COM, Serial Killer, sex, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, William Friedkin

CRUISING (Arrow Video Blu Ray)

CRUISING (Arrow Video Blu Ray) – released August 20,2019 Color. 102 min.
$39.95 U.S. REGION A/1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aezm39HOBY

Original Theatrical Release February ,1980 Lorimar /U.A. (production cost estimate: $11 million .domestic gross – $19,784,223) Rated R.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Cruising-Special-Blu-ray-Al-Pacino/dp/B07SJHGNVZ/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=2PYFLLZV3FOGR&keywords=cruising+blu+ray&qid=1566827996&s=gateway&sprefix=cruisin%2Caps%2C156&sr=8-1-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEyT0JVN1pUNjlJT1g2JmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUExMDQyNDQ5MjhXRlJQTjZXMTNXNiZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwMzMxMzA0MzlGOU1BWUZIUDVUSyZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2F0ZiZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU=

 

Ten years after directing THE BOYS IN THE BAND (National General ,1970), director William Friedkin took on another controversial gay themed subject, CRUISING. In the years since THE BOYS IN THE BAND, Friedkin had established himself as a director of thrilling films, such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION (Fox,1971) and the box office mega-hit THE EXORCIST (WB,1973).

 

At first, when producer Philip D’Antoni (THE FRENCH CONNECTION) broached the idea of a film based upon reporter Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, CRUISING (Stein & Day, hardback), the director was not interested. D’Antoni then tried to interest an upcoming new director called Stephen Spielberg, but who finally also gave the project a pass.


The novel deals with an undercover cop named John Lynch (renamed Steve Burns in the later movie adaptation). Lynch is asked to go undercover into the leather bar s&m scene of the gay bars in Greenwich Village. We learn that a serial killer who cruises the leather bars has already killed four men. A straight male who is repulsed by the gay lifestyle, he sees the assignment as one that can help him advance in his career quickly, so he accepts.

The Stonewall Riots were less than a year old at the time, and before then, homosexuality had been treated as a perversion, with police regularly rounding up homosexuals . Indeed, it wasn’t until 1980 that the NY Court of Appeals abolished laws against private consenting homosexual conduct between adults (New York v. Onofre). That this was the same year as CRUISING was released probably added to the tension/controversy of the film but more of that later.

Lynch has a relationship with a woman, but while he is undercover, he starts to develop feelings for one of his gay neighbors. Will he be able to solve the murders and prevent further killings, while he deals with his own personal confusion?

As a mystery, CRUISING the novel let’s us know who the killer is early on so it is just a matter of when Lynch will cross the murderer’s path. Also, Lynch seems to be a bit of an Archie Bunker, with a lot of stereotypical comment by our “hero” against Gays (“fags”), Puerto Ricans, blacks, etc. The picture it paints of New York City seems to be the same one that Travis Bickle would cruise in his vehicle years later in TAXI DRIVER (Columbia ,1976).


Indeed, New York had begun a decline that it took several decades to climb slowly back out from. Drugs, murders, homelessness, prostitution, rape, and urban flight caused the city that never sleeps to become what many viewed as Hell On Earth, an image not helped by films like DEATH WISH (Paramount ,1974).

 

The rights next went to agent turned producer Jerry Weintraub (NASHVILLE, Paramount, 1975) who approached Friedkin with the work. This time, the director was more receptive to a cinematic re-imagining of the novel.

In the intervening years, a series of murders of homosexual men had occurred in New York that were chronicled in The Village Voice by reporter Arthur Bell.

Friedkin was acquainted with undercover police detective Randy Jurgenson (who acted as a consultant on THE FRENCH CONNECTION). Jurgenson, a purple heart awarded veteran who had fought in the battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953, told the director that he had served uncover investigating the gay culture of New York.

Another odd co-incidence was that Paul Bateson, a doctor’s assistant who appears in THE EXORCIST (the hospital exam scene, which many find more frightening than the more supernatural occurrences) was charged in the murder of Variety Reporter Addison Verrill.

Friedkin worked upon the screen adaptation himself in consultation with Jurgenson and Salvatore “Sonny” Grosso (whose exploits with Eddie Egan inspired THE FRENCH CONNECTION, on which they also provided consultation). Both detectives  took small roles in the film . The writer-director, along with several of his team, made several trips to the various notorious hardcore gay clubs ,such as the Mineshaft and the Anvil, both located in the meatpacking district of the city. It was known as that as during the day that is where beef and other meats were delivered, while at night it became an area that most people stayed far away from. The clubs were closed during the height of the AIDS crisis in the Mid- Eighties, and now the district is gentrified and high priced shops, restaurants and hotels.

  The Liberty Inn now occupies the space of the infamous Anvil. 

 

 

Friedkin says all the details was accurate, no matter how far fetched they may have seemed. Friedkin gave camera operator James A. Contner (THE BRINKS JOB) his first chance to be Director of Photography. Contner wanted to shoot the film in black and white but drained the color down in most of the scenes in the clubs while shooting at night nearly accomplished the same effect.

Friedkin also brought on editor Bud S Smith (with whom he worked on SORCERER (Universal/Paramount ,1977 and THE BRINKS JOB (DeLaurentiis /Universal, 1978). An under acknowledged part of filmmaking is casting. Friedkin turned to Louis Di Giaimo who had worked with the director in the past. He presented the director with a short list of actors who he felt would be right for the roles, and Friedkin seemed to agree with the choices of mostly stage trained New York performers for the featured speaking roles. The people who are members of the club scenes are actual people who frequented the clubs, and as Friedkin said, they realized the filmmaker was not being judgmental but merely working almost as a documentarian in those scenes. The sex scenes were to give the MPAA and the filmmakers major headaches when it came to a rating.

The filmmakers had originally wanted Richard Gere for the lead role, probably due to his role in the 1979 Broadway production of BENT, wherein Gere had portrayed a gay man in a concentration camp. Al Pacino expressed interest and finally won the part. This would lead to some problems for the filmmaker, as he felt that Pacino came to set unprepared. It might have been that Pacino wanted to approach each scene like the character, surprised by what he experienced.


Filming was often disrupted by protests. Arthur Bell, whose articles had somewhat shaped the events within the screen play, somehow got a copy of the script and he urged the gay community to protest. To this end , production was disrupted by loud noises, requiring massive ADR work (dubbing). This may have worked to the film’s advantage, as several suspects and characters were dubbed by the same actor, helping to throw off audiences guesses as to who the killer was. Also, the sounds of keys and leather were amplified, both items of importance in this sub section of gay culture.

 

Several times there was need of police protection and escort for the actors to get to and from locations. Luckily, though there were a few arrests, there is no record of any violence or injury to anyone involved.

 

The plot involves several body parts found floating in the Hudson River. Fingerprints from one of the hands found leads them to discover that the killings are of several gay men. The police decide to send an officer deep undercover to see who is killing these men. Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) an ambitious officer sees this as a chance for advancement when he is picked for the assignment.

He moves down to the Village, and sets up a false persona, becoming friends with his next door neighbor, Ted (Don Scardino, SQUIRM, AIP ,1976).One of the people that Burns suspects of being a suspect gets brutalized by the police. Burns almost quits, but his captain (Paul Sorvino, THE BRINKS JOB). convinces him to stay and chastises all who harassed the hapless falsely accused man.

What Burns discovers during his investigations starts to play games with his mental well being ,as well as hurting his relationship with his girlfriend ,Nancy (Karen Allen, who would leap to international recognition for her starring role alongside Harrison Ford in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK ,Paramount ,1981).to whom he cannot tell what his assignment is or what it entails.

The film drops a lot of suspects and clues, but many find that the ending is a cop-out, leaving many frustrated as to who indeed is the killer. Revisiting the film again ,I now find that the ending is a perfect finish for this unique production

The cast includes a fine selection of character actors, including Joe Spinell (the same year he would also make New York extra creepy as a psychopath killer in MANIAC (Analysis,1980),appearing here as a cop who abuses the transvestites ; Ed O’Neill (tv’s long running MODERN FAMILY, ABC,2009- still running as of this writing) ,here as a detective, James Remar ( Dexter’s father on the long running tv series DEXTER ,Showtime, 2006-2013), portraying Ted’s abuser lover ; and Powers Booth (SIN CITY, Miramax ,2005) as a store owner who explains the significance of certain handkerchiefs and how they are worn in the gay world. Except for Karen Allen, women hardly exist in this society.

The attacks upon the film didn’t end with the end of production, as the MPAA kept slapping the film with an X, a kiss of death at the box office. Friedkin submitted about 40 minutes of graphic sex that he knew the MPAA would want cut, so he cut keep the majority of what he wanted as a compromise. There are subliminal flashes of gay sex during the murder sequences, with the idea of sex and the knife melded into one (two forms of penetration).

 

The critics also for the most part savaged the film, with few exceptions ,so it is surprising that the film, that cost nearly $11 million to make, nearly doubled its cost, making it, if not a hit, at least not a money loser.

It is also interesting that 1980 was also the year that Brian DePalma mixed sex and violence in his DRESSED TO KILL(Filmways/Orion). While there were protests about the combination in this film, audiences were more willing to be titillated by heterosexual love mixed with slashing, becoming an international hit, making about 5 times it’s budget.

By the way , did anyone ever notice that the 1982 Paramount film PARTNERS , written by Frances Verber, who created the original LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (French ,U,A,,1978) seems to be a buddy picture reworking of the plot of CRUISING?  In PARTNERS ,Ryan O’Neal is a straight cop assigned to go undercover to find a killer targeting homosexual men , only here he is paired with an actual gay officer ,played by John Hurt channeling Kenneth Williams.

 

Over the years, opinions have changed upon how the film is viewed, with many feeling it is among Friedkin’s best works.

It was released to VHS and seen widely at video stores, first released in a large box, and then a small box when it was reissued.

 

It became perhaps viewed when it was released to HBO cable, showing at midnight or later.

Finally, in 2007, it was released on DVD by Warner Brothers (who had acquired Lorimar) in a special edition version with extras like
• Commentary by director William Friedkin
• The History of Cruising
• Exorcising Cruising
• Theatrical trailer

and then later a burn on demand without extras from Warner Archives in 2013.

 

Arrow Video has now given us what may be the definitive version of this film.

First off, this is a Director Approved Special Edition with a 4K Scan H9 Def (1080p) Blu-ray of the original camera negative, supervised and approved by William Friedkin .

 

The sound has also been given a newly remastered 5.1. DTS-HD Master Audio track again supervised by Friedkin.

 

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. This follows the dialog and indicates sounds quite accurately for those wishing to use this captioning.

A new audio commentary with Friedkin and film critic Mark Kermode. Friedkin is very frank about the film, talking about how the opening title card has been removed for this release, since it was only put on as a sop for those who might have been squeamish or offended by the film. Kermode knows the director’s body of work pretty well, and prompts quietly the conversation, often commenting on actions on screen while diverting effortlessly of the behind the scenes problems and joys of the production.

Friedkin mentions that he felt Pacino would arrive seemingly unprepared for the day’s set ups, while talking about how he tried to keep the actors unbalanced and on their toes. It could be that Pacino, method actor that he was, wanted to go into the scenes with the same wide-eyed innocence that his character would feel walking into the strange new world that has such people in it.

Also original to this release is an enclosed booklet with an excellent overview by film historian F.X. Feeney, who talks about seeing the film on it’s opening day.

Reversible Blu Ray cover

Ported over from the 2007 DVD release are

An archival audio commentary by William Friedkin. It is interesting to compare the two commentaries. The original is fact filled but a bit dry, while the newer one as stated the director seems a lot more engaged and relaxed. Both are definitely worth listening to, so kudos for Arrow for making the extra effort.

The History of CRUISING -interviews with several of the people involved in the film such as Friedkin, Grosso, and many others.

Exorcising CRUISING -examines the controversy and aftermath of the film’s release. Many of the same people from the previous featurette appear, as well as actors like actor Richard Cox.

 

Original Theatrical Trailer- the trailer tries to avoid mentioning the homosexual aspects of the film, which makes the film seem more like a generic police procedural (though with lots of leather!).

CRUISING is not a film for everyone. It is a challenging film on a subject that many people will not wish to explore. The film’s ending is not an easy clear cut one, open to debate as to its meaning .

Those reason though also make the film Highly Recommended to those who appreciate films that challenge you and your perceptions .

In an age of superhero franchises, CRUISING is a film that no major studio would even consider creating, making it all the more unique and worth seeking out.

Another Arrow Video must buy release.

For fans of
AL PACINO
WILLIAM FRIEDKIN
POLICE PROCEEDURALS
NY BASED THRILLERS
ORIGINAL,THOUGHT PROVOKING FILMS

-Kevin G Shinnick

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HUSSY (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

 

HUSSY (TWILIGHT TIME Blu Ray,2019) original theatrical release UK-Watchgrove Films,1980. Color. Rated R. 95 min. 1080p High Definition / 1.85:1 English 1.0 DTS-HD MA.\No subtitles. REGION FREE. Extras -Original Theatrical Trailer. $29.95  https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/hussy-blu-ray/

 

In the 1970s, Joan Collins starred in two low budget soft core porn films, THE STUD (Brett Walker,1978) and THE BITCH (Brett Walker,1979). Both were low budget films, but based upon steamy novels by Joan’s sister Jackie, and done with style and enough sex scenes provided by Ms. Collins, the films were enormously profitable, especially when they were some of the first films licensed for the brand-new home video market.

 

Other producers looked at the profits and tried to come up with films of a similar nature. HUSSY seems to be a film that came into being with that idea, but the producers got a film with a lot more depth than they expected.

Writer /Director Matthew Chapman is the great great grandson of Charles Darwin, and who has written extensively on the creation-evolution debate, and in 2007 co-founded ScienceDebate.org, which has been trying to get Presidential Figures to discuss scientific issues (something the current occupant would fail dreadfully).

What he created for his first film was more of gritty drama than a seedy sex romp. Then 35-year-old
Helen Mirren, a naturalist at heart, had no problem with nudity, have appeared in the controversial 1979 Penthouse film CALIGULA. She also brought her usual intelligence and lots of character shading to her part of Beaty, the “hussy “of the title.

 

Actor John Shea (WINDY CITY, Fox,1984) had appeared on Broadway in YENTL opposite Tovah Feldshuh. HUSSY was his film debut, portraying Emory, a member of stage crew at the cabaret where Beaty works, and where he falls in love with her.

Basically, Beaty (Mirren) works as a call girl in this seedy club, where she falls in love for Emory (Shea). Complicating matters is that Beaty has a young son as well as a psycho strong arm pimp /ex-lover Alex (Paul Angelis, who in 1968, provided the voices of Ringo and the chief Blue Meanie in United Artists’ animated YELLOW SUBMARINE!), who is fresh out of prison. Meanwhile Emory’s friend Max (Murray Salem , who later wrote the screenplay for KINDERGARTEN COP ,Universal ,1990,died of AIDS complication at only age 47. ) wants Emory to join him on an upcoming drug deal.

Paul Angelis

 

Alex finds out about the deal and muscles his way in, further endangering Emory and Beaty’s future and safety. The result will end up in murder, but of whom?

 previous DVD release 2006

HUSSY had been released on DVD in 2006 in a rather dull flat print. This new Blu Ray from TWILIGHT TIME has given the film a 1080p High Definition clean up, with colors and images being much sharper, showing cinematographer Keith Goddard ‘s work to good advantage (this film seems to have been his biggest credit).

The 1.0 DTS-HD MA (English only) sound is clear, with dialogue and sound clear and free from pops and hiss. The score by George Fenton (DANGEROUS BEAUTY, WB,1998), his second theatrical soundtrack, is a mixture of club music and songs, as well as disco influence, very much a product of it’s time.

There are no subtitle options.

The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.

Limited to ONLY 2,000 copies,
This Blu Ray is recommended to
Those who like
British Noir and
Helen Mirren fans

 

 

 

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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THE NEW YORK RIPPER (Blue Underground Blu-Ray ,June 2019 release)

      THE NEW YORK RIPPER (Blue Underground) June ,2019

                                 original Theatrical release: 1982, Vidmark.

                                        Color. 93 mins. Unrated REGION FREE

         NEW YORK RIPPER, THE

(3-Disc Ltd Ed/4K REM)
1-BD + 1-DVD + 1-CD $49.95

http://www.blue-underground.com/product.php?product=294

 

When a film exists to shock, and succeeds beyond expectations, is it a good film ?

Surely there are many controversial films that do this –CALIGULA (Penthouse,1979) for one. THE NEW YORK RIPPER takes the Giallo archetype and extends it to a point where the misogyny of so many in that genre is multiplied and multiplied again. However, if that is what the killer’s mind set is and the film captures it, is it not then delivering upon its subject matter?

 


Lucio Fulci (1927-1996) was a director who seemed to invite controversy. Though he began as a writer director of documentary shorts in 1948 ,he got into full length features in 1959, working in all genres, from comedy (I LANDRI, ICM,1959) ,musicals RAGAZZI DEL JUKE-BOX (ERA,1959), and westerns (THE BRUTE & THE BEAST ,Mega,1968) with little notice.

 

In 1969, he made his first Giallo, Una sull’altra (ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER, Empire ,1969) shooting some of the film in California), and he had found his niche in the mystery /horror genre. These films proved successful and with each successful one he increased the gore and often the sexual content. His Gates of Hell horror trilogy (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, Dania ,1980; his masterpiece, THE BEYOND Fulvia,1981 and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, Fulvia,1981) put him on the horror /thriller map as a director to watch.

For good or bad, he became known as a Master of Splatter, and he delivered by the gooey bucketful. Shooting parts of his films within different regions of the U.S. probably set his films apart from a lot of other Italian productions of the time, and I am sure were used to sell the films as American movies to certain markets.

 


THE NEW YORK RIPPER (Lo squartatore di New York, Fulvia, 1982) continued his streak of lensing his films, at least good portions of them in the United States, here, of course, the title city. New York City thrillers were popular with the success of films like DEATH WISH (Paramount, 1974) due to the urban decay that the metropolis had declined into and remained in throughout the 70s,80s, and early 90s.

The world viewed the place as a petri dish where unimaginable crimes could happen almost anywhere, a belief that was solidified by events like the Son Of Sam shootings in 1976-7.

MANIAC (Analysis,1980) (also available in a beautiful Blu Ray Edition from BLUE UNDERGROUND http://www.blue-underground.com/product.php?product=291 ) amped up the ultra-violence (and yes, the objectification of women as victims ) in a powerful thriller .

THE NEW YORK RIPPER cranks it up to 11 with the sex and violence combo .

 


A dog out for a walk with its master finds a rotting human hand, later identified as having come from a local hooker. The lead Detective, Lt Fred Williams (British actor Jack Hadley, who had to take his stage name since there already was a famous Jack Hawkins, starred in the BBC series COLDITZ ,1972-4) begins interviewing people who may have known the unfortunate woman. In his search, he finds out that she had gotten a call from a person who spoke with an odd quacking sound and high-pitched voice.

Another young woman is murdered upon the Staten island Ferry by a knife welding unseen stranger, using the bizarre voice. The police suspect that there is a pattern to the crimes, tying into another murder that had happened previously. They realize that they are dealing with a serial murderer.

The Chief of Police (Lucio Fulci himself!) tells Williams to stop having press conferences that might panic the public (as indeed happened during the Son of Sam spree). Right after, Williams finds out that someone: sounding like a duck” called wanting to talk to him, like the taunts that Jack the Ripper gave the Police and Press.


Another victim is a live sex show performer, brutally murdered by a broken bottle into her genitals. That same night, another prostitute, Kitty (Daniela Doria, who was one of the victims Fulci’s THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) receives a call from the quacking killer.

Several more vicious killings occur by the mad person dubbed “The New York Ripper”, often involving seedy locations or sexual situations. The film has a rather grim as well as downbeat ending which is one more kick to the gut that the film delivers before the titles roll.

 

Fulci had felt the film was a tribute to Hitchcock, though it owes a great deal more to Dario Argento with its graphic gore.

 

The combination of sex and violence got the film banned in the U.K. until 2002, while in the U.S. it was barely released, getting most of it’s following from its 1987 Vidmark VHS release in an edited version.

BLUE UNDERGROUND had released THE NEW YORK RIPPER uncut since 2008 on DVD (out of print) as well as Blu Ray since 2009.

 

This new (June 25th,2019) Limited Edition is a must have for fans of the film. For one, this print is a 4K scan from an ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE. The image sharpness is amazing, and probably looks better than any version prior, including its limited theatrical run. The film makes good use of color ,thanks to cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN , BLOOD OF DRACULA (Bryanston 1973,1974; Dario Argento’s DEEP RED, Mahler ,1976 ) that show off the makeup effects of Germano Natali (DEEP RED; SUSPIRIA ,International Classics,1977) in all their gory glory .

 

The audio is available in English 7.1 and Mono DTS-HD, as well as French, Italian and Spanish. I sampled the other tracks, and all seem fine, probably closer to the original theatrical sound but the 7.0 is the way to go. The background city sounds give the film a richer bigger budget feel, with dialogue usually clear and hiss free. I had to turn down the speakers a few times with the screams, that seem to get a bit loud, but let’s face it, that is to be expected in this sort of film.

There are also optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

 

 

The film is given an incredible number of extras (which we have come to expect and treasure in these marvelous Blue Underground special 4K releases like MANIAC.)

 


A running Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth. Really one would be hard pressed to find a better commentator than Troy, who began writing for Fangoria, and is an expert on Italian Horror, having published at least three books that deal with the subject, including one on Fulci. That knowledge flows effortlessly in a conversational relaxed manner as he drops an amazing amount of info about the film’s production ,cast & crew  as well as the various censorship and release problems that it encountered .


NYC LOCATIONS THEN & NOW – a personal favorite, as I am a life-long denizen of the city, the too short featurette examines how the city looked then and now (well ,2009). With all the chain stores and Starbucks as well as aimless tourists nowadays, I am unsure which is preferable.

 

PAINT ME BLOOD RED– an interview with Poster Artist Enzo Sciotti, who has painted over 3,000 Italian film posters, including this film. To see some of his work: https://www.cvltnation.com/demons-death-color-art-enzo-sciotti/

 

THE ART OF KILLING -An interview with Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti (in Italian, subtitled), who worked with Fulci on several of his films, including HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and MANHATTAN BABY (Fulvia ,1982) and has worked with Mario Bava and Dario Argento.

 

THREE FINGERS OF VIOLENCE– Interview with actor Howard Ross.


– ‘THE BROKEN BOTTLE MURDER– Interview with actress Zora Kerova, who was on the receiving end of one of the most controversial “murders” in the film.

– ‘I’M AN ACTRESS!” – A 2009 interview with the Hungarian born Zora Kerova.

THE BEAUTY KILLERStephen Thrower, author of BEYOND TERROR: THE FILMS OF LUCIO FULCI, give a little more background on the director and the film. Between Thrower and Howarth’s comments, I feel I need to revisit Fulci’s films to better appreciate them.

The Original Theatrical Trailer – bizarre and violent.

Poster & Still Gallery

-A DVD version of THE NEW YORK RIPPER (should you find yourself wanting to watch on your laptop sans a Blu Ray Player).

 

-One of the biggest extras is the OST CD for THE NEW YORK RIPPER by Francesco De Masi. An eclectic mix, the score has lots of electronic guitar, some jazz horn, a bit of disco funk sound, lots of tambourine (what no cow bell? )- yet the score works well with the film that it accompanied. The limited-edition vinyl soundtrack that was available was going for about $25 in some areas, so this Bonus CD is a great addition to this release.

 

– Finally , A twenty-page booklet with essay by Travis Crawford from Indiewire with more information about the flick.

THE NEW YORK RIPPER admittedly is not for everyone’s tastes. However, for fans of
Lucio Fulci,

Italian horror/slasher films,

New York City set sleaze,

gore,

this BLUE UNDERGROUND belongs within your collection.

-KEVIN G SHINNICK

Also from BLUE UNDERGROUND mentioned in the article

MANIAC (ltd edition Blu Ray) https://www.amazon.com/Maniac-Blu-ray-Joe-Spinell/dp/B07FQ3RPND/

 

HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY https://www.amazon.com/House-Cemetery-Special-Catriona-MacColl/dp/B0057O6IMS/

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD https://www.amazon.com/City-Living-Special-Christopher-George/dp/B0036R92US/

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THE BELIEVERS (Olive Films Blu Ray and DVD releases)

THE BELIEVERS (Orion 1987) (0live Films,2019) R- Color. Region A. 114 minutes. 1:85:1 aspect ratio https://olivefilms.com/product/the-believers/ Available on Blu Ray $29.95 and DVD $24.95

THE BELIEVERS is a fascinating though at times frustrating film. The movie itself deals with religious beliefs and the supernatural beliefs in a modern, more secular world while the production tries to be a Val Lewtonesque film dealing with the subject but with flashes of modern grue effects to keep the punters paying attention.

The film’s pedigree made this a higher than normal profile project for the genre. Directed by John Schlesinger, C.B.E. (Oscar winning director of MIDNIGHT COWBOY, 1969, U.A.) with a screenplay by television writer Mark Frost (who two years later would change that media as co-creator, with David Lynch, with their groundbreaking TWIN PEAKS, Lynch/Frost Productions, 1990-91). The film was based upon the 1982 novel THE RELIGION (Dutton, written by Nicolas Conde. Conde is a pseudonym for the writing team of Robert Rosenblum and Robert Nathan).

 

The critical response, however, was less than kind. Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars, writing :

“I’m getting tired of the dingy tenements in Spanish Harlem with the blood-soaked chicken feathers on the floor, and the scenes where the shrink realizes he needs a witch doctor to save his child.”-June 10,1987.

How many films did he see that had such scenes? The only movie that even remotely comes to mind is the overlooked THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (Paramount ,1972).

 

THE BELIEVERS also generated controversy by making some of its more sinister events tie in with Santería (a Spanish word meaning “follower of saints”), a religion in NYC that is a mixture of Christianity and Afro-Cuban religious ideals.

When Lisa Jamison (Janet-Laine Green) is electrocuted in a home accident before her horrified son’s eyes, her husband Carl (Martin Sheen, THE DEAD ZONE, Paramount, 1983) moves himself and the young boy Chris (Harley Cross, MRS SOFFEL, MGM,1984) to New York City.

Cal is a police psychologist (an anthropologist in the novel), so he doesn’t have much time to grieve, for soon after he arrives in the city, he is drawn into a savage murder mystery.

Undercover Police Officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits, RUNNING SCARED, MGM,1986) is acting very irrationally after he finds the body of a young boy murdered by a religious cult. The cult knows who the officer is, and he is terrified. It turns out he is also a member of the group.

 

As Jessica Halliday (Helen Shaver, THE COLOR OF MONEY, Touchstone, 1986), the Jamison landlord, becomes more romantically involved, strange items start to appear in the apartment, left by the maid Carmen (Carla Pinza, who also acted as the film’s cultural advisor).

 

About the same time, Carl & Chris come across an animal sacrifice in Central Park. While Carl is distracted, Chris picks up an item left at the scene.

 

Things get more complex when a Haitian named Palo (Malick Bowens, OUT OF AFRICA, Universal,1985) arrives in the city with mysterious powers.

Meanwhile, Tom Lopez is in terrible pain, and goes to a Santeria shop, where he grabs a knife and stabs himself repeatedly in the stomach.

Police Lt McTaggert (the always reliable Robert Loggia, PRIZZI’S HONOR, Fox, 1985) along with Cal attend the autopsy, and are shocked and horrified to find that Tom Lopez’ stomach is full of squirming live snakes.

 

The mystery goes deeper ,with the religion being connected with local politics (out of towners saying, “Yeah well it is New York” ) , and the further they get involved , the more it endangers the lives of Cal ,his son and Jessica (who gets a very disturbing “pimple” ).

New York is a good setting for a mysterious religious cult. One of the most modern cities in the world, it still holds 6000 churches (2,000, with at least 4,000 unofficial places of worship), It is so busy, that a hidden cult can easily thrive in the impersonal activities of Manhattan and its boroughs.

“Wait. This Isn’t THE OMEN?”

 

THE SEVENTH VICTIM (RKO,1943), ROSEMARY’S BABY (Paramount ,1968), the already mentioned THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY -all make good use of this. THE BELIEVERS also does, but, like THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY, there is also the clash of cultures added within the mix.

OLIVE FILMS has given the film a sharp new 1080p release. Comparing it to my old MGM DVD, the colors are much sharper and the flatness of the image has been replaced with a much more vibrant one (note ,my review is based upon Olive Films Blu Ray ).

The sound also has been cleaned up as a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue and sound mix are clean with no noticeable pops or hiss.

There are also optional English Subtitles.

THE BELIEVERS, Martin Sheen, Lee Richardson, Harley Cross, Harris Yulin, 1987, (c) Orion

RECOMMENDED for Horror fans, Martin Sheen fans, fans of voo-doo thrillers, NYC based thrillers.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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1980s, Blu Ray, CAROLINE MUNRO, cult, exploitation, film, genre, gore, Horror, https://www.facebook.com/scarletthefilmmagazine/, independent film, JOE SPINELL, review, reviews, SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE.WORDPRESS.COM, thriller, TOM SAVINI, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, WILLIAM LUSTIG

MANIAC -Blue Underground 3 disc Ltd Edition Blu ray

                                                

 

                                                                MANIAC     

                                                     3 Disc Ltd Edition BLU RAY
-Blue Underground December 11,2018.

1980, originally released by Analysis Film Releasing Corp.87 min. Color .

Available as a 3-disc Limited Edition /4 K remaster (2BD plus 1 CD) $39.95 REGION FREE.

http://www.blue-underground.com/product.php?product=291

Back in the early 1980s, horror films were massive money makers. For relatively low costs, filmmakers of various skills could get a camera, an effects person, and maybe some women willing to shed their clothes, and even the feeblest efforts could get a theatrical release.

Then there were films that were done with the same miniscule budgets but with a bit more skill, darker tone perhaps, better actors, direction, and technical skills

MANIAC falls into that latter category. The film was inspired by the infamous Son of Sam. David Berkowitz began his wave of terror that terrorized the city of New York on Christmas Eve ,1975 with what was at first were considered random stabbings.

His first murder (and first use of his weapon of choice, a .44 calibre, thus his being dubbed at first the .44 Calibre Killer) was on July 29,1976. He finally was arrested on August 7,1977 after avoiding the biggest manhunt in NYC history, sending taunting letters to both the police and the press, having killed six people and wounded seven others by July 1977. When apprehended, he confessed but adding he was being ordered to telepathically by his neighbor Sam’s dog Harvey (thus, the ”son” of Sam.). Later ,he admitted he made up the dog story, but the legend continues.

When people found out that publishers were offering huge sums of money for his story, the Son of Sam Law, which was designed to keep criminals from further profiting from their crimes.

This did not stop newspapers, book publishers, television shows ,and even movies from cranking out their own money making attempts to exploit the story , one of the earliest is the nearly unwatchable ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977, which began in 1975 as a cheapie called HOSTAGES ).

 

Filmmaker William Lustig had grown up enjoying the exploitation smorgasbord offered up in the 1950s,60s and 70s that played in the grindhouses of 42nd Street. After taking some film classes, he found work on both mainstream film (as a P.A. on DEATH WISH,Paramount,1974) before moving into the profitable adult film market, where he worked as editor, producer, and director (and probably a lot of other jobs too) .

 

He saw the money that films like FRIDAY THE 13th (Paramount ,1980) were making ,and thus, taking his share of his latest adult title , he decided to make his own horror movie.

 

He was wise enough to get the wizard who created the effects that had made FRIDAY THE 13TH so memorable, namely Tom Savini . Lustig also cast actor Joe Spinell, who also co-produced ad co wrote the script. Spinell was a hard- working character actor who had worked in supporting roles in major films but this would be his first starring role. Finally, they hired actress Caroline Munro (after their first choice had dropped out), who had starred in several horror and fantasy films throughout the 1970s, as well as being featured in major films like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME ,U.A.,1977).

 

The film is a gritty time capsule of New York City. Tourists were afraid to come to the city, never mind walk the streets at night. Hookers, pimps and drug dealers stood aside sleazy motels and grind house movie theatres, trying to lure in the unwary to sample their wares – or simply rob them.

 

Cinematographer Robert Lindsay, who had worked with Lustig on his previous adult movies, perfectly captures that sense of dread and moral decay.

     (Warning – plot spoilers)

Frank Zito (a completely believable full on psycho performance by Joe Spinell) wanders the city and kills young women who he is aroused by, then scalping them and then taking his bloody souvenir home and attaching it to one of the many mannikins he has littering his apartment. It seems that he was abused as a child by his hooker mom and so he finds that beauty is punishable by death.

One couple is killed in their car when Frank jumps upon the hood of the vehicle and point- blank fires a double- barreled shotgun blast into the passenger (Tom Savini, who not only played the victim, but used his own sculpted head to blow apart. Savini also doubled for Frank and used an actual shotgun to blow up the sculpture, having the odd honor of shooting himself on camera! Since they did not have permits, Savini then tossed the gun into a waiting truck and was driven away in case of police investigating the reports of gunfire) before killing the young woman also in the vehicle.

Frank talks to his mannequins and sobs and wails when he sees the coverage of his latest murders upon his television. He is truly Norman Bates on speed in this film. Still, Spinell, while creepy and often veering dangerously close to overacting, never loses a sense of reality in his portrayal.)

Somehow, he meets a beautiful photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro), after she takes his photo. They oddly become friendly while Frank continues his killing spree, killing a nurse as well as one of Anna’s models, adding their scalps to his growing collection. Frank is starting to lose the small grip that he has on reality, for when he kills the mode, he first begins talking to her as his deceased mother.

 

Still, Anna goes out with Frank, stopping off at the graveyard where his mother was buried. Frank finally attacks Anna, but she bashes him with a shovel and escape. He tries to pursue her but suddenly imagines that his mother is rising from her grave. Terrified, he flees home. His apartment proves no safe sanctuary , however , as the mannequins come alive and throw him onto his bed, where they tear his head from his body!

The film has been a constant for collectors ever since VHS was the market staple.

This new BLU RAY is the must have version for collectors.

MEDIA VHS release

 

The movie is in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a magnificent 4k 1080p transfer. For a low budget film, the film has some superb cinematography, and this release does justice to its color photography. What is more amazing is when you realize the film was shot in 16mm and then blown up to 35mm. For decades, the original 16mm negatives were missing but now, they have been found. Prior prints were from a 35mm dupe, with all the inherit flaws that involves. The original camera negative used here seems less grainy (save for the usual grain of the format) and increases the sharpness of the images.

 

Comparing it to an old DVD release, the sharper clarity is so easy to see.

The original film was one of the first indies to use Dolby Stereo, but this release makes full use of the process. I heard no pops or hiss on the soundtrack, and the music, dialogue and sound effects are clear and make good use of the separate speakers on my system. I only listened to the 2.0 DTS-HD track, but you are offered the choice also of Dolby Digital 2.0 (which perhaps would reflect the original release sound) as well as 7.1 DTS-HD.

 

You can also experience the film in Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Italian, German, and Spanish audio, as well as Optional subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese,
Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Swedish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Thai (phew!).

There are six standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French: Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0, German: Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0. Optional English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Cantonese, and Thai yellow subtitles are provided for the main feature.

That would be more than enough for most major studio releases, but BLUE UNDERGROUND has piled on the extras to truly make this a special collectible 3- Disc Edition.

 

On the first disc, along with the film, we get a running audio commentary with Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni. This is a newly recorded commentary full of little insights as well as the how well the film holds up 38 years (!) later.

 

Also on the first disc is a second commentary track lifted from the previous 2007 DVD release from Blue Underground. On this track are Lustig, Tom Savini , film editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter (Spinell sadly dying way too early in 1989 ,at age 52). There are a lot of fond memories and humor as well as technical details on the making of the film.

 

This first disc also has the original Theatrical trailer, as well as tv and radio spots. One wonders if trailers such as this which show such graphic violence could be shown nowadays https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya7lVHk-qD8 .

Where else would you hear CALIGULA (Penthouse /1979) and MANIAC in the same sentence? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCCsMzpBQqA

 

Disc Two
There are several more extras that fill this second disc. The first two are newly made especially for this release. The others are ported over from the MANIAC 30th Anniversary of 2010 or previous DVD releases.

OUTTAKES- rough footage and alternate takes give a glimpse of the behind the scenes making of MANIAC. The outtakes are not restored nor cleaned up and thus seem a bit more grainy but are a treat nonetheless.

 

RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME- on camera interview with William Lustig.
He talks about the making of the film with an obvious pride and enthusiasm.

ANNA & THE KILLER- Caroline Munro talks about her career and working on this flick as well as other films with Spinell .

THE DEATH DEALER- Tom Savini (who else?) Always fun to see and hear Tom talk about his magic.

 

DARK NOTES- Composer Jay Chattaway talks about this Jazz Musician came about getting his first film score and how he tried to get into the head of a psychopath to create his score.

MANIAC MEN -Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky discuss the song that the film inspired and later popularized in the Paramount film FLASHDANCE (1983).

THE JOE SPINNELL STORY- this is ,for me ,the highlight of the extras as this nearly an hour long documentary covers the actor’s life with personal memories , home movies and appearances on ‘The Joe Franklin Show”. Success seemed to have hurt Spinnell and been somewhat responsible for his early demise. (Copyright-2001).

 

 

MR ROBBIE: MANIAC 2 PROMO REEL– Buddy (COMBAT SHOCK, Troma ,1986) Giovinazzo had planned a warped sequel of sorts, with Spinell as a children’s show host with a disturbing secret. Imagine Spinell as Krusty The Clown and you can imagine how warped that it is. They never were able to raise the funds.

PUBLICITY – featurette. Interviews with the cast and crew.

MANIAC CONTROVERSY – Like SNUFF (Monarch,1975) before it, the filmmakers used the complaints and horrific reactions to the film to get the curious into the cinemas and see what all the fuss was about. Unlike SNUFF, they got a powerful that wasn’t just hype.

Third Disc- MANIAC original Motion Picture Soundtrack cd. This is a big bonus, as the soundtrack by itself sells for about $20 at least at horror conventions.

Bonus Booklet by Michael Gingold (Fangoria, Rue Morgue)- a short essay about the production .

The film is to this day very hard to watch for many, due to its gritty atmosphere which captures the sense of NYC at the time , as well as it’s still powerful effects .It also does have a strong sense of misogyny that is hard to ignore but it does also capture the mind set of the character. Joe Spinell’s daring performance both repels us while he fascinates us, lifting the feature above the other stalk and slash films of the era.

 

JUMP TO 2018 –

Before Alek Minassian killed 10 people, the majority of them women, by driving his van into pedestrians on a Toronto street Monday, he posted on Facebook praising mass murderer Elliot Rodger and called for an “Incel Rebellion,” an uprising of men who are angry women won’t have sex with them.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/04/26/incel-rebellion-alek-minassian-sexual-entitlement-mens-rights-elliot-rodger/550635002/

Perhaps MANIAC was predicting a movement, a hidden dark secret, that we back then could not even imagine??

RECOMMENDED for fans of 80’s horror, JOE SPINELL, CAROLINE MUNRO, TOM SAVINI, WILLIAM LUSTIG, stunning effects.

Kudos to BLUE UNDERGROUND for this super -deluxe must have 3-disc collector’s edition.

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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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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1980s, Arrow Video, Blu Ray, cult, dvd, film, genre, gore, Horror, independent, monsters, reviews, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized

THE SLAYER,1982 (Arrow Blu Ray/DVD combo release)

THE SLAYER (Arrow U.S. DVD/Blu Ray Combo) $39.98 s.r.p. Color .1982. https://vinegarsyndrome.com/shop/the-slayer-arrow-films/

Back in 1985, while I was managing a video store, horror films were among the biggest rentals.

The major studios had started putting out more and more of their product, so indies had to think of new ways to make their titles stand out.

One of the ways was the larger sized video boxes. Continental Video (1984-87), one of the smaller companies, released 63 titles during their short existence, and quite a few were interesting titles for cult and horror fans, among them TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (Hammer ,1976), DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Gemini-Maron,1971) and THE RETURN OF THE ALIENS /aka THE DEADLY SPAWN (Filmline, 1983).

Their large boxes with often garish colors stood out on the shelves. The company also began to release double features (edited for time though not for gore or nudity to fit on one tape) and a lower price point to appeal to store owners.

One of them was SWEET SUGAR (Dimension 1972)/ESCAPE FROM WOMEN’S PRISON (aka HELL HOLE, Phillipines,1978), a woman in prison co-feature.

The other was THE SLAYER (21st Century Film Corp.,1982) and Fred Olen Ray’s SCALPS (21st Century Film Corp.,1983). Both had been edited down to 75 minutes each from 90 minutes and 82 minutes respectively.

Even in their edited forms, these two films were better than a lot of the indie horror stuff that was filling the shelves at the time.

Fred Olen Ray got the rights back to his third feature, and released a beautiful uncut blu ray of the movie through his company Retromedia. Now, thanks to Arrow U.S., we can give a proper evaluation to THE SLAYER.

Kay (Sara Kendall) is a surrealistic artist who has suffered from bizarre nightmares since childhood. Her husband (Alan McRae), a doctor, decides that she needs to get away, and so they go to a remote island, along with Kay’s brother Eric (Frederick Flynn) and his wife Brooke (Carol Kottenbrook). They are flown to the remote place by Marsh (Michael Holmes). Kay is disturbed to see that on the island that the house in which they are staying and an abandoned theatre both are featured in her dreams and her subsequent paintings. The others dismiss it as just an odd co-incidence.

As they are settling in, Marsh tells them that a storm is coming, and that they should all leave.

Of course, they decide to stay, and one by one, they are picked off in gruesome fashion.

The brief synopsis I gave I am sure does not sound that original, and indeed, it isn’t if you have ever seen a horror film involving a group of isolated people.

What makes this film stand above so many other films of the era is its execution (pun intended).

The film’s main characters, for one, are not just a bunch of horny teens but married couples with jobs (Eric even shoots television commercials). The actors are also better than many of the screaming teens featured in so many of the flood of Friday The 13th rip offs that invaded theatres and home video at the time (lead Sarah Kendall we are told on the commentary track had been a stage actress, and after a small role in THE KARATE KID PART TWO (Columbia,1986) she seems to have done no further film work. I cannot seem to find any stage credits for her, nor is she to be confused with an Australian comedienne with the same name.).

The film also has a slicker, more European style than other horror films made in the U.S., which we find out on one of the commentary tracks was intentional.

The film also has a dream demon that comes into our dimension while Kay sleeps, two years before Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (New Line,1984).

Indeed, the effects are still quite impressive, especially the final creature suit (this is not a spoiler, as it is featured on almost all artwork or video release covers previously, as well as in beautiful cover art on this new ARROW U.S. Blu Ray/DVD combo pack).

For one thing, the original theatrical release was a shoddy cheap print run, and the colors were quite muddy as well as quite dark imagery. On the Continental release, this was the print used for their full frame (and, as noted, edited) vhs edition.

Now, ARROW has gone all out and given this little sleeper (see what I did there?) the treatment that makes the film look better than it even did on its original release. (note: review is based upon BLU RAY screener.)

They have given us a REGION FREE High Definition (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation from a 4K scan of the original negative.

The 1:85:1 composition truly shows off the marvelous cinematography by Karen Grossman (who handled similar duties on 18 episodes of MONSTERS (Laurel Productions,1988-90), with rich colors, as well as being able to see information previously hard to discern in older prints.

The Mono audio sound is crisp and clear. There was no punching up the tracks nor was there need to.

As to extras:
The original theatrical trailer.

The optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing are excellent in their descriptive quality and match the dialogue perfectly.

There are two running audio commentaries:

The first features a fact filled track moderated by Ewan Cant (Arrow disc producer and knowledgeable horror fan) along with writer /director J.S. Cardone (this was his first effort, but he has continued in the genre with productions such as the vampire flick, THE FORSAKEN (Screen Gems,2001)), actress Carol Kottenbrook (later to marry the director,  now a producer in her own right) and executive in charge of production Eric Weston (producer/ director of EVILSPEAK, The Moreno Co.,1981). The discussion is lively, and their recollections of the production are for the most part positive and informative about shooting in Georgia, casting, and a great deal about the effects done live on set.

The second commentary track is from a group known as the Hysteria Continues podcast. I had never heard of them before, but they are a group of U.K. friends who are quite knowledgeable about genre films, especially slasher movies.

They comment about how they first discovered this movie, about the whole Video Nasty nonsense thanks to nutcase Mary Whitehouse, and that this was one of the 72 films outright banned in 1983, but was never prosecuted, and later reissued with 14 seconds cut of a pitchfork murder.

They are as of this week up to their 150 podcasts https://player.fm/series/the-hysteria-continues# if you would like to check them out.

There is an isolated selection of the score and an audio interview Michael Felsher (Red Shirt Pictures documentaries) with composer Robert Folk (a Julliard graduate, best known for the POLICE ACADEMY (Warner Brothers,1984) theme. Their discussion about how the score was constructed was very interesting and quite unique.

Not enough extras? How about these new documentaries:

Nightmare Island: The Making of THE SLAYER “- this a nearly hour long featurette that covers some of the info from the first audio commentary, but also builds and adds to it, with new interviews with Cardone,Kottenbrook,Weston ,as well director of photography Karen Grossman , camera operator Arledge Armenaki (HOWLING V,Vestron,1989) effects wizard Robert Short (who had begun on ALLIGATOR ,Group 1,1980 makeup effects and is active still on special effects for major films like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. ,W.B.,2015) and the man in the creature costume, Carl Kraines .

Return to Tybee: The Locations of THE SLAYER” – a return to the locations used in the film on Tybee Island, Georgia, including the original house which many of the crew thought was haunted.

The Tybee Post Theater Experience”– the theater used in the film held a recent screening and the locals react and have a Q & A with Ewan Cant and Arledge Armenaki.

-A slide show picture Gallery.

The first Pressing only will have a collector’s booklet featuring a film overview by Lee Gambin (horror historian, author of Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film; Midnight Marquee Press, Inc. October 8, 2012).

A Reversible sleeve featuring a beautiful cover by Justin Osbourn.

This is a must have for fans of horror films of the 1980s and kudos to ARROW U.S. for their amazing dedication to this film that is deserving of rediscovery.

-Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

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