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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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PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Twilight Time Blu Ray

 

PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Hammer/Columbia,1962) Twilight Time Blu Ray. 87 min. Color. $29.95. Region Free (A/B/C). https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/pirates-of-blood-river-the-blu-ray/ Limited to 3,000 copies.

Hammer in the late 1950s had found a popular and financially profitable niche with their now classic horror films. The studio, however, also produced a wide variety of titles in other genres. Powerful War films (YESTERDAY’S ENEMY, Hammer/Columbia 1959), Comedies (WATCH IT, SAILOR! Hammer/Columbia ,1961), even crime dramas ( HELL IS A CITY, Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1960).
They even made movies for the popular family market U certificate films. In England, to get the “U” (Universally suitable for all) certificate, a film was thought generally acceptable for ages four and up.

SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (Hammer/Columbia, 1960) was a surprise hit, and so Hammer decided more swashbucklers would do the same. Hammer had done a Robin Hood film back in 1954 (THE MEN OF SHERWOOD FOREST) but each of their Robin Hood tales were standalone stories. *

Oddly, Hammer waited two years to do another swashbuckler, but what they came up with was a winner. PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER was paired with the Ray Harryhausen adaptation of Jules Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and upon its release in July,1962, quickly became the highest grossing double bill in the U.K. that year.

To get that important “U” rating, a gory filmed scene had to be excised. In the film, actress Marie Devereux unfortunately flees into a river filled with piranhas, and as the vicious killers swarm around her, she screams as the water around her turns red with blood. This scene was returned in later versions of the film, including its DVD release in a 2-disc set called ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Sony Home Entertainment,2008. The other titles were Hammer’s THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1959) and TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961)). In fact, PIRATES at various times was rated ‘U’, ‘A’ (Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age) and even an “X” certificate (Suitable for those aged 16 and older (enforced by all councils) due to what scenes were edited in or out of a release.

 

The film opens with a stock shot of a 17th Century sailing vessel (anyone recognize from what movie this was lifted,let me know) and then we are told via credit crawl that the island is a refuge for Huguenots fleeing religious persecution and settling upon an island they named Devon. “But in the years to come, the just laws of the Colony began to yield to greed and tyranny. Happiness became an echo of the past. Freedom-just a memory.”

Now Huguenots were mostly Northern French Protestants who fled for their lives after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, wherein Catholics killed over 25,000 Huguenots in the country, only to have the murderers granted amnesty, as well as the edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 wherein the beleaguered religious sect had to convert to Catholicism or risk ruin, imprisonment of worse.

Devon is a British Iron age name derived from Dumnonia, so it is an odd name for French Settlers to choose. Then again, none of the islanders speak French nor even with an accent but sound very British indeed. Maybe they were some Huguenots who fled first from France to England and from there to the New World?

They are an island whose location is never exactly placed, but piranhas mostly reside in the Amazon and certain Brazilian or Venezuelan rivers. We can thus guess that this island is supposedly located in that general region. Not a wise area for the groups to settle, as the Spanish and Portuguese who occupied those countries were Catholics nations.

This, however could explain why they chose to remain so isolated, and established their harsh fundamentalist governing system. Then again, I am perhaps over thinking this fun romp, so back to the story.

Jonathan Standing (American actor Kerwin Mathews ,forever to be remembered for Columbia’s 1957 classic THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD ) is found with Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux in her final appearance in an Hammer film ),the wife of one of the town elders Godfrey Mason (Jack Stewart ,who had appeared in the early Hammer film A CASE FOR P.C. 49,1951), The religious leaders, led by Jonathan’s stern father Jason Standing (Andrew Keir, to me the best Professor Quatermass due to his performance in QUATERMASS & THE PIT for Hammer ,1967).They seek to arrest and punish the lovers but the poor Maggie flees into the river, suffering the fate of the piranhas mentioned earlier. Jason says that it is a judgement of God.

Jonathan is tried by the council, who, led by his father, sentences for him to be sent to a penal colony for 15 years. Jonathan’s sister Bess (Marla Landi, so good in Hammer’s HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES,1959) tells her father that the council is using him. It seems that Henry (American actor Glenn Corbett, who had starred in William Castle’s HOMICIDAL the year prior) says sarcastically says that Jason’s grandfather who helped found the colony and whose carved likeness stands above the courtroom, would be so proud. Jonathan asks that Henry, besides watching over his sister with whom Henry is in love, also watch over Jason’s father until the tyranny is brought down.

 

We then see the cruelty of the mining operations wherein the prisoners are forced to work and be tortured, including leaving Jonathan punished by having his hands tied to a cross beam and dangling above the ground (a form of crucifixion Hammer also used in 1965’s THE SECRET OF BLOOD RIVER). Thank goodness this is family friendly?

Jonathan escapes with an older prisoner who drops dead from exertion. Jonathan flees into the swamps and is presumed killed by the guards. He however, was shot in the arm, and is found by Mack (the great Michael Ripper, who appeared in more Hammer films than any other actor) Hench (Peter Arne, THE HELLFIRE CLUB, Tempean Films,1961) and Brocaire (Oliver Reed, right after his starring role in Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) and a group of pirates. They bring him to their boat (a wonderful Les Bowie glass matte) and to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, who does speak with a French accent). LaRoche is a soft-spoken, intelligent character, adorned with an eye patch and withered arm and Lee makes the most of his performance. Eleven years later , he donned and eye patch once again and demonstrated his wonderful swordsman skills , with Oliver Reed now an international star in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Salkind, 1973 ).

 

The pirates say that they would travel back to Jonathan’s colony, which has remained hidden for a 100 year, and help Jonathan establish a just rule, in exchange for a haven and a place they can safely refresh their supplies. They trudge through the river (Michael Ripper disappearing briefly below the surface, Lee trudging on, probably inwardly cursing once again being soaked and walking through muck in another film, like his end in THE MUMMY, Hammer ,1959). Brocaire gets into a fight in the water with another pirate, which is stopped by a stare from the Captain. Filmed in brackish water that smelt awful (Black Park), Oliver Reed got inflamed eyes while Lee got a stomach infection.

Of course, the pirates have no intention of a peaceful co-existence, believing that there is a hidden treasure within the colony. Can Jonathan and the settlers rid themselves of their occupiers?

The film is an exciting, thoughtful thriller. The underlying distrust of an oppressive religious leadership is heavy, considering this is again thought of a family film. Hammer would expand on the idea of Religious close mindedness in greater detail in their horror film TWINS OF EVIL (1971). For the most part, though, this is a thrilling and well-made period adventure piece, that once again Hammer’s wonderful technicians make look so much more expensive than their limited budgets should allow. Michael Ripper has a much larger role than many of his films, and you get to see what a truly fine actor he was. When drunk, he foolishly mocks his Captain, satirizing his bad eye and injured arm.

Now TWILIGHT TIME has released a magnificent blu ray of this fun Hammer action adventure.

The previous Sony DVD was fine, and a bargain when released with the other three titles.

This new Blu Ray release, however, is a revelation. A 1080p High Definition / 2.35:1 / Color print really shows off the Megascope cinematography (kudos to Arthur Grant ,who worked brilliantly at Hammer from 1957 to 1972 ). The colors are incredibly rich, and the sharpness makes this look like a new film rather than a 55-year-old movie.

The 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio is surprisingly rich, with the dialogue, soundtrack and effects all quite clear and crisp.

As for extras,

the optional English SDH subtitles are clear and easy to read, following the action and dialogue perfectly.

There is an isolated music and effects track, wherein you can really enjoy how much both add to the enjoyment of this film. Composer Gary Hughes seemed to be Hammer’s going to man for their 60s swashbucklers, as he also composed their THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963), THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964), THE VIKING QUEEN (1967) and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (1967). You also appreciate how much care Hammer put into their sound design, with not only gunshots and screams added in, but so many tiny details that perhaps go unnoticed by most moviegoers that subconsciously make the scene stronger. Kudos to Alfred Cox (sound editor) and Jock May (sound recordist). They also knew when to pull back on sound, as during the wonderfully suspenseful scene between Hench and Brocaire, wherein both men are blindfolded and have a sword fight. It is without music, and the sounds are dropped down to those of clashing blades and items scattered during the conflict.

An informative audio commentary runs the length of the picture (taken from a previous DVD release) with film historian Marcus Hearn (THE HAMMER STORY, co written with Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 1997), who keeps things going by dropping in some wonderful facts, and prodding the memories of writer Jimmy Sangster (who passed away in 2011) and art director Don Mingaye (who is as of this writing, still alive at age 88).

 

They discuss their experiences with the studio, writing and budgeting, memories of various actors (look for Desmond Llewelyn, later gain fame as Q in the James Bond series) and crew, and having to write a pirate movie without a ship (save for the opening stock shot and glass matte). They also verify that director John Gilling was while a brilliant craftsman was subject to mood swings wherein he could be quite nasty. Christopher Lee even found him difficult to work with.The commentators attribute this to a head wound that Gilling had, which left him with a large scar. Gilling did give us several horror classics, such as FLESH & THE FIENDS (Regal 1959) and the Hammer “Cornish “horrors, THE REPTILE and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (both 1966). They also talk about how surprised Sammy Davis Jr, a huge Hammer fan, was when he visited the set of this film.

Julie Kirgo as always supplies a nice overview appreciation of the film in the booklet enclosed with the blu ray.

Finally, we get the original theatrical trailer.

Today, to do a pirate film costs over $200 million dollar and is CGI crazy to the point wherein the actors often become ciphers to the visual chaos. However, releases like this show you what talent before and behind the camera could do with a very small budget.

Recommended to fans of Hammer, Christopher Lee, and adventure fans of all ages (just watch out for those piranhas!).

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

*-the other Hammer Robin Hood film was A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (Hammer/Warner Pathe ,1967). WOLFSHEAD: THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD was a failed tv pilot from 1969 that Hammer acquired but did not produce, and released theatrically as a B feature in 1973.

 

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STILL TIME TO ENTER TO POSSIBLY WIN A DVD/BLU RAY of BETTER WATCH OUT . December 1,2017 deadline. 

https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/11/22/win-a-blu-ray-dvd-combo-of-well-go-u-s-a-s-horror-comedy-better-watch-out/

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THE PRISON (blu ray) contest from WELL GO USA (update: CONTEST OVER.CONGRATS TO THE WINNERS-9.2O.2017)

CONTEST OVER.CONGRATS TO THE WINNERS-9.2O.2017

Win one of 4 blu rays of WELL GO USA ENTERTAINMENT‘s HE PRISON.

After a fatal accident, Yu-gon, a former police inspector, is sentenced to hard time in a prison he once helped fill. Once inside, he discovers the entire penitentiary is no longer controlled by the guards, but by a vicious crime syndicate that breaks out at night, using their prison sentences as the perfect alibi to commit intricate heists. Looking for revenge against the system that placed him inside, Yu-gon joins the syndicate… but with every man out for himself, how long can the perfect crime last?

Director: Na Hyun Producer:Lee Sung-Hun
Cast:
Choi Sung-Won, Joo-Wan Han, Han Suk-Kyu
Genre: Action & Adventure, Foreign
Run Time:125 mins.
Korean with English subtitles

See the trailer here :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFoLR2ARyBY

“The Prison is a ferociously effective genre film from Korea that feels like the kind of movie Hollywood will remake in its own image. But adding star power and the English language won t necessarily improve things, as The Prison is brutally entertaining just the way it is.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram

To enter, merely like and follow both

https://www.facebook.com/SCARLETreviews/

and

https://www.facebook.com/WellGoUSA/ ,

then send an email with the heading

Take Me to THE PRISON
to

scarletthefilmmag@yahoo.com

Include your name and mailing address in the body of the letter.

Deadline is September 19th,2017.

Four winners will be drawn at random .

THE PRISON will be released on BLU RAY from WELL GO USA ENTERTAINMENT on September 19th.

$29.95 value

 

 Thanks to WELL GO USA ENTERTAINMENT for sponsoring this contest .

(update : CONTEST OVER.CONGRATS TO THE WINNERS-9.2O.2017)

 

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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

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1950s, Action Adventure, Adventure, Blu Ray, CLASSIC, Classic Hollywood, cult, film, FILM HISTORY, genre, Horror, monsters, Phyliss Coates, Republic, review, reviews, serial, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized

PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (Republic,1955){Olive Films Blu Ray,2017}

PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (REPUBLIC,1955) {OLIVE FILMS BLU RAY,2017} 2 HRS 48 Min. B&W. DTS-HD Master Audio English. Optional English subtitles. $29.95. https://olivefilms.com/product/panther-girl-of-the-kongo/ (Also on DVD for $19.95

 

Olive Films has done a masterful job of releasing Republic’s penultimate movie serial (the final and 66th one, KING OF THE CARNIVAL, was released later in 1955).

 

Filmed between 16 August and 4 September 1954 as “Panther WOMAN of the Kongo”, the 12-chapter serial was filmed on a budget of $179,341. To put it in perspective, Roger Corman filmed the 69-minute APACHE WOMAN (ARC) that same year for $80,000 and Ed Wood shot his 75-minute BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (Banner) for $70,000.

 

To stretch their budget, Republic had star Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane for the first season of T.V.’s ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (Motion Pictures for Television,1952) wear the same outfit as Frances Gifford wore in the earlier 22nd Republic serial JUNGLE GIRL (1941) and a lot of footage was lifted from this earlier serial. By the way,14 years earlier the 15-chapter JUNGLE GIRL had cost $177,404!!

Jean Evans is a jungle adventurer who is handy with both a rifle and a camera. Due to a past incident wherein she saved the village, the Utanga tribe refer to her as Panther GIRL (Ms. Coates, who is still alive today at age 90, was 28 at the time.). While out on a photo shoot for a foundation, they spy some very large crustaceans. The natives suggest she get Larry Sanders (Myron Healey in a rare good guy role), a great white hunter.

 

Evil chemist Dr. Morgan (Arthur Space, a nicer doctor on T.V.’s LASSIE (20th Century Fox,1954-71)) has discovered an abandoned gold mine in the area is full of diamonds (when life gives you lemons….) which he covets. To scare of the natives and interlopers, he has developed is “hormone compound “(steroid abuse even then??) to turn ordinary crawfish into the giant ‘Devil Beasts”.

Since the monsters do not scare off Evans and Sanders, Dr Morgan enlists human goons Cass (character actor John Day) & Rand (Mike Ragan, more commonly seen in westerns) who use the personal touch of shooting at, and knock down fights with Sanders, with heroine often knocked out or tied up.

The Lydecker Brothers, wizards of special effects, did what they could to make crawfish look gigantic. Mostly it involved the hard-shelled stars on miniature sets or people against rear screen projections. The interaction involves one giant claw reaching from above rocks of from off frame to grab Panther Girl or some poor native. I wonder if Roger Corman somehow got it and used the claw for his late ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS(A.A.,1957). Probably inspired by the giant ants in THEM! (WB,1954), these creatures also have a mighty roar. Bert I Gordon must have studied this serial, as many of his effects seem to be inspired by the techniques used here (his first film KING DINOSAUR, Lippert,1955, used a lizard magnified via rear projection and double exposure).

What is interesting for a film of the period is that there is no romance between the two leads. Maybe the studio felt that the youngsters would not put up with “icky kissing” getting in the way of the monsters, fistfights, and perils. The villain, too, is not out to rule the world as many serial villains seemed to be trying to attempt, but was motivated by old fashioned greed.

 

What does date the film in many cringe worthy ways are its portrayal of the natives. Easily frightened and superstitious, they are often reliant on the white actors to protect them. They speak in pidgin English, and another tribe (The Returi) is bribed to attack the heroes after being bribed by an elixir (alcohol!).

Plus, for the title character, Panther Girl seems to spend a lot of time tied up, screaming, or knocked out while Sanders punches and shoots his way out of the situation. She is also grabbed by the claw at one point and later ape handled by a murderous gorilla (ape specialist Steve Calvert). A lot of Jean Evans‘ action are lifts from JUNGLE GIRL of her swinging from vines and riding an elephant. She does save Sanders (the name maybe a reference to “Sanders of The River” by Edgar Wallace (U.K. first edition by Ward, Lock & Co. (1911))?) from quicksand*, so she is not completely unhelpful.

The production has a very studio bound feel to it, like many television productions of the time. Republic, through its subsidiary, Hollywood Television Service, had been involved with the earlier COMMANDO CODY (1953). The 12-part serial had been originally envisioned as a television series with each chapter running about 25 minutes. The serial finally aired on NBC television in 1955, the year PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO was released. One wonders if this too was planned as a television series?

During the 1950s up to the 1970s, movie serials, especially those from Republic, were aired on television regularly. In 1966, it was edited into a 100-minute feature called THE CLAW MONSTERS. When Super 8 home theatre came out, it was released in silent and sound edits. In the 1990s, they started to receive less air time. The home video market kept the titles out in front of fans for many years thereafter, but few have been released in their entirety on DVD and Blu Ray.

The print quality is of the high standard we have come to expect from Olive Films. The picture is quite sharp with few blemishes. The sound is DTS-HD Master 2.0, though the sound has not been remixed to make use of the new sound systems but instead is a clear replica of the original track. The optional yellow English subtitles are very legible and follow the dialogue and action.

Oddly, there were no extras, not even a trailer. It is a shame, as the trailer is unique, with the star narrating part of it before an announcer takes over:

 

For fans of Republic Serials or the lovely Phyllis Coates, this is one you will want to add to your collection.

Kevin G Shinnick

*- Coates once recalled in an interview that after filming in the swamp, Healey insisted the two of them go get penicillin shots!

 

 

No animals were harmed during the making of the film, though I assume many of the monsters met a boiling pot of water for the wrap party .

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1940s, Adventure, Blu Ray, british, CLASSIC, dvd, Emeric Pressberger, film, FILM HISTORY, Michael Powell, OLIVE FILMS, review, safety pin, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, UNITED ARTISTS, WWII

ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (Olive Films Blu Ray)

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ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING ( Olive Films) -Blu Ray-b&w.1942. 103 Mins. $29.95 http://store.olivefilms.com/War.67/Olive_Films.38/One_Of_Our_Aircraft_Is_Missing__Blu-Ray_.6319.html also available on DVD

ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (British National Films/U.A. (U.S.)) is a classic WWII war films is a must see for anyone who is an history buff, classic cinema, British Cinema, war films- heck anyone who enjoys a superlative film.

This was the inaugural film by The Archers, the producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The two men would share directing credits on several films, including on another WWII drama, THE 49TH PARALLEL (General Films, Columbia ,1941) THE RED SHOES (General Films,1948), and BLACK NARCISSUS (General Films, U.I. ,1947) dissolving the partnership with one more WW II film, PURSUIT OF THE GRAF SPEE (J Arthur Rank,1956).

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Made as a propaganda film with full approval of the Ministry of Information, the film stands as an engrossing drama of courage of various types, with many exciting set pieces that are balanced by marvelous human moments. Done in a documentary style, the film has a marvelous sense of realism that is lacking in many other films of the period, even going so far as to shun a film score.

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It is hard to believe that the film went into production before a fully finished script was in hand, but Powell kept rewriting the film when the military consultants would mention new innovations. Powell would then work these ideas into the film. That the film seems seamless is a credit to all involved, editor David Lean (who had co directed parts of MAJOR BARBARA (General Films,1941) uncredited the year before).

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Also, major kudos to the effects team under Douglas Woolsey, who contributed realistic battle effects to several British films like CONVOY (Ealing,1940). The effects wizards could construct an amazing large scale replica of Stuttgart thanks to art director David Rawnsley who covered the entire studio floor with his miniatures. Effects Cameraman Freddie Ford filmed the sequence by laying on his stomach from the studio rafters floor ten hours a day to get some of the shots. So, convincing is it that it is easily blended with actual flying footage. That the film cost only £700,000 is a miracle.

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When the film was first released by United Artists in the United States, they edited out 20 minutes of footage, which, while probably allowing for more showings per day, probably robbed the film of much of its power. Still, the film is so well crafted, that it received two Academy Award nominations. Oddly, this was Michael Powell’s only Oscar nomination. Due to its critical as well as financial success J Arthur Rank offered Powell and Pressburger a film by film deal to choose any subject they wanted.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-movie-poster-1942-1020198733

 

The movie opens with a title letting the viewer know that the film was made with the full cooperation of the Royal Air Force, the Air Ministry, and the Royal Netherland Government in exile at that time in England. It is then followed by a telegram informing us that five farmers in the Netherlands were executed by the Nazis for helping several downed British Airmen escape the country. We then jump to an airfield in England where we see that a British bombing squadron is returning, all save one. The Vickers Wellington bomber designated “B for Bertie” has not returned.
We then see the plane flying over the ocean, but that it is completely empty of crew. Finally flying over land, the ghost plane crashes into some power lines and explodes.vlcsnap-00409
This opening is an exciting tease for the tale that unfolds as we jump back in time and are introduced to the brave crew of “B for Bertie”. The flight crew is made up of
– Sir George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle, memorable from Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS (Gaumont-British,1935)) the old man of the group, going on one last mission as the tail gunner,
-former pro soccer player tuned radio operator Bob Ashley (Emrys Jones in his film debut, who later did a lot of British television and stage work),
-pilot John Haggard (Hugh Burden, who years later appeared in the film ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING (Disney,1975), a title that references this film),
-farmer turned second pilot Tom Eanshaw (Eric Portman, who a year earlier was a fleeing Nazi in THE 49TH PARALLEL for the same production team. ONE …. is a variant of that film. In 49th, a Nazi U-Boat squad must try to evade capture in Canada when their vessel is destroyed, and flee to the then neutral United States. One of his earliest film roles Portman had appeared in a Tod Slaughter production (MARIA MARTEN, or THE MURDER IN THE RED BARN (George King Productions,1936)),
-Cockney front gunner Geof Hickman (Bernard Miles, later the second actor after Lawrence Olivier to be given a peerage)
-and former actor turned navigator Frank Shelley (Hugh Williams, who later with his wife Margaret Vyner wrote the stage play and later screenplay for THE GRASS IS GREENER), who is obsessed with his wife’s upcoming BBC radio performance.

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The squadron takes off, and soon they are over their target. The bombing mission is a mixture of actual flight footage mixed in seamlessly with effects sequences. After dumping their payload, “B for Bertie” is struck by anti-aircraft fire, and the crew is forced to bail out over occupied Holland. As we had seen earlier, the plane did not crash until it had reached England.

 

Five of the crew regroup, but find that Bob is missing. Trying to decide what to do next, they come across some Dutch children. Not sure if they will turn them in or help, the children explain that they support the British, and can be identified by the safety pins that they wear, a sign against oppressors and to keep together. Currently, this symbol is once again popular, first in England due to those who opposed Brexit (feeling that everyone was stronger together) and now in the United States as a symbol against oppression perceived in the Trump administration.

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The children bring the airmen to meet teacher Else Meertens (Pamela Brown, in her film debut. A successful stage actress, she would live with director Michael Powell until her death in 1975). She questions the airmen to see if they are not disguised infiltrators. Satisfied that they are who they say they are, the Dutch disguise them and try and slip them by the Nazis via bicycle. A brief stop at a church has them nearly caught when the Nazis stop there after they discover one of the parachutes. Look for a young Peter Ustinov (later to star in ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING) in his film debut as the priest. The organist Alec Clunes had given Ustinov his first stage acting break, and is perhaps best known for having played Hastings in Olivier’s RICHARD III (London Films,1955).

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Stopping at the home of the local Burgomaster (Hay Petrie, famous for playing many of Shakespearean clowns on stage during the 1920s,he had a long and varied film career, hoping from comedy to drama with ease),they are confronted by Dutch collaborator De Jong (ballet dancer/actor Robert Helpmann, perhaps best known for portraying a choreographer in the film THE RED SHOES (General Films/J Arthur Rank,1948)and who in 1978 broke his back while filming the Australian horror film PATRICK (Australian Int./Filmways)!)but who has the tables turned on him.swedish_one_of_our_aircraft_is_missing_r_ja00169_l                                                                                      (Polish  film poster)

Back on the road they see a football match being played, and among the players is their missing crewman Bob! Once again, the Nazis appear, and say that there are too many people at the gathering and 50 people must leave. The Burgomaster says that then they will all disperse, to annoy the Nazis sense of control and order. The Nazis allow them all to stay. The brilliance of this simple and courageous act of defiance is truly quietly moving.

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They are escorted out in some supply trucks, but when the Nazis wish to search them, they are confronted by Jo De Vries (Googie Withers, probably best known for appearing the haunted mirror segment of DEAD OF NIGHT (Ealing,1945) who with quiet authority gets the trucks safely through a check point. It should be pointed out that the women in this film have strength, intelligence and courage, and are in positions of authority. De Vries hides the airmen in her own home, letting the fliers know that she is thought to be pro German since she lets it be known that her husband was “killed” in a British raid, but she knows him to be safe in England working as a Voice of Freedom for Radio Orange). This is even more dangerous as the Nazis are garrisoned on her property.

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They are awaiting an air raid, when the German Soldiers are ordered into their bunkers and De Vries can slip them into the cellar unseen where there is a secret inlet that leads to the river and a boat awaits them. While they wait, there is some magnificent dialogue where courage, loyalty, and bravery are discussed.

Finally, the raid occurs, and the escape attempt begins in earnest. Will the brave air men get back home to England?

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The Blu Ray does not have any extras, but the film is so superior, it is worth the purchase price, as I feel it will be a film you would watch over and over. The movie has been out on the home video format since VHS, but the quality was always of a very washed out print. The Olive Films is the complete 103 British print from the best elements possible.   This release very sharp black and white images that complement the cinematography of Ronald Neame (later to become a producer with David Lean on such classics as BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Eagle Lion, Universal,1945) before becoming a director in his own right (POSEIDON ADVENTURE, Fox ,1972). The mono sound is clear and hiss free. Optional English subtitles are clean, easy to read and follow the action and dialogue.one-of-our-aircraft-is-missing-united-artists-1942-title-lobby-card

Highest Recommendation.
-Kevin G Shinnick4696633_l6

Thanks to John F Colaresi for catching some errors.

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