Now Film Detective has given the 4K cleanup restoration to GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN. G.F.T.U. was a low budget quickie that came and went to theatres back in 1958. It was often a co-bill with SHE-DEMONS, another Astor Picture, both directed by Richard E. Cunha (1922-2005). Cunha also directed two other Astor horror flicks that year, FRANKENSTEIN’S DAUGHTER and MISSLE TO THE MOON.
G.F.T.U. is most notable today for it being one of the low budget films that make-up genius Jack Pierce worked upon after Universal International booted him from the studio in 1946. The man who created the definitive look of Frankenstein’s creation was now working on films shot with extraordinarily little resources and less time for creative experimentation. Pierce’s output for 1958 included applying hair to 51-year-old stuntman Gil Perkins to turn him into the TEENAGE MONSTER (Howco,1958) as well as the fuller’s earth coating of 6’ 6” actor Buddy Baer for G.F.T.U.
The plot: A series of animal mutilations have recently happened in an area called Devil’s Crag (one of the working titles for the film were “Giant of Devil’s Crag “) and now a local known as old man Harold Banks (an inside joke, as that was the name of the picture’s special effects man, as well as visual effects on MISSLE TO THE MOON) has been found murdered.
The body is brought into town by Sheriff Parker (western star BobSteele, who had portrayed Curly in the classic OF MICE AND MEN, Hal Roach, 1939) The townspeople talk of the area being cursed, and Indian Joe (western actor Billy Dix, in a wig. Dix also had a small part as a storm trooper in SHE DEMONS.) talks about the area being a burial ground for his ancestor and talks of the curse.
Sheriff Parker goes to Geologist Wayne Brooks (Ed Kemmer ,who had starred in the ABC-TV science fiction classic SPACE PATROL from 1950-5. In 1958, he also headlined Bert I. Gordon’s THE SPIDER, AIP) who has been working in the area. Brooks is also a suspect since it seems he did not get along with the late Banks.
Brooks becomes friends with Professor Cleveland (Morris Ankrum, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, AIP, 1958, as well as a gruff military type in many 1950s sci fi films), an archeologist, and his daughter Janet (SallyFraser, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, AIP,1958, as well as THE SPIDER, both for Bert I Gordon). Both had arrived when the townsfolk were discussing the murder of Banks as well.
Cleveland has been studying the history of the area to a group of Spanish Conquistadors led by Vargas (Baer). Vargas, a giant of a man, was a violent man who broke away from the main expedition and vanished with a few followers up in the Devil’s Crag some 500 years ago. Meanwhile, Brooks makes an amazing discovery about the soil in the area, wherein he finds a lizard long thought extinct preserved and alive. He theorizes that the soil induces a sort of suspended animation and preserves living creatures.
Having found an old broken cross that he believes is from Vargas’ party, they use a metal detector to search the area for other artifacts. Janet is the one who finds the location of the burial area of the lost Spaniards. A thunderstorm comes through and freshly cleared soil shows more of that preservative dirt that saved the lizard, as well as spotting a giant battle axe. They decide to retire to their camp site for the night and investigate further in the morning.
During the night, Vargas comes alive, and stumbles down to their campsite. Janet, however, has a gun with her, which she fires off, startling the giant. The man out of his time goes staggering off, only to find other victims.
The film has a lot of plot and continuity errors. We hear of animal mutilations and the murder of Banks as the film begins, but Vargas is not shown rising from the earth until 36 minutes into the 77-minute film. Who then was responsible for the killings before Vargas arises? During a climatic fight, it begins snowing but in certain shots there is no snow, etc. The joys of low budget filmmaking. The budget for the film was $54,000 for a six-day shoot, so retakes and time are not luxuries afforded to indie filmmakers. The budget was 30K on hand as well as $24K deferred. That includes renting locations, transport, feeding, housing, as well as film stock, cast and crew salaries, plus optical effects costumes and makeup.
The film has long since slipped into public domain and thus has been seen in prints on television and home video releases varying from good to very scratchy and splice ridden.
Now, FILM DETECTIVE has gotten the original camera negative and made a brand new 4 K transfer. The print is incredibly sharp, complimenting director Cunha’s photography (he did double duty on the picture).
They also have provided yellow easy to read optional subtitles, though there are a few misspellings in the extras section (the director’s name, for instance, or Grauman’s Chinese Theatre).
Other extras with this blu ray release are
A running audio commentary by Tom Weaver, filmmaker, and film fan/filmmaker Larry Blamire (LOST SKELTON OF CADAVRA, Columbia, 2001, inspired by films like G.F.T.U.). Weaver reveals a personal connection to this film, and the kindness that the filmmakers bestowed upon him. The commentary also uses audio clips of the late filmmaker, and some sound effects that seem influenced by Ghoulardi.
A second running commentary with co-star Gary Crutcher, who has fond memories of his first film role some sixty-two years later.
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures provides two new featurettes.
The first is YOU’RE A B-MOVIE STAR, CHARLIE BROWN -an interview by Daniel Griffith with co star Gary Crutcher, covering some of the same territory as his running commentary, but fascinating and fun, nonetheless.
THE MAN WITH A BADGE: BOB STEELE IN THE 1950s- C. Courtney Joyner (screenwriter of PRISON, Empire ,1987) and how big a deal it was to have Steele (January 23, 1907 – December 21, 1988) in this film.
A Booklet enclosed inside the disc case written by Tom Weaver about the making of the picture with some nice photos.
If you love 1950s B movies, this looks to be a must have to add to your collection.
Film Detective has truly gone all out on this one.
John Martin Feeney ,better known as John Ford, was and remains one of the cinemas greatest storytellers. From 1917 until 1976 , he was able to tell adventure filled stories with a lot of humanity and heart, developing a stock company of performers and technicians who would work with him again and again, bringing a uniformity of quality to his numerous projects.
He basically saved John Wayne from low budget B movies and turned him into an international star with STAGECOACH(Walter Wagner/U.A.,1939) and Wayne would return again and again to work with “Pappy”(his nickname for the director),with both delivering some of the best films of their respective careers , reaching their apex with the romance comedy THE QUIET MAN (Argosy/Republic ,1952, was also available from Olive Signature on Blu Ray ,and has become a sought after collector’s item).
Ford and Wayne made three films that have come to be known as the “Cavalry Trilogy”, made up of FORT APACHE ( Argosy/RKO ,1948), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (Argosy/ RKO ,1949) ,and this film ,RIO GRANDE (Argosy /Republic,1950). Though not directly related to each other, and made at two different studios ,with Wayne and various actors reappearing in the films, there is a unity in the stories about courage and honor .
The film was also the first of five films that Wayne would co star with the wonderful Maureen O’Hara , three of which Ford directed them together in.
In 1879, Texas settlers are being attacked by Apache warriors who after the skirmishes, flee over the border to Mexico, outside of U.S. jurisdiction. During a recent attack, they have captured an Apache leader . Lt Col Kirby Yorke (Wayne), is hampered in his efforts due to lack of adequate troops. He is sent a group of mostly raw recruits to deal with this problem, among them is his son Trooper Jeff Yorke (16 year old Claude Jarman,Jr.,who had won an Academy Award for his wonderful work in 1946 for THE YEARLING,MGM). Jeff had flunked out of West Point, which does not make the relationship between father and son any better.
Adding to the tension is the arrival of Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara), Kirby’s estranged wife. She has arrived to buy out her son’s enlistment , only to discover her son does not want her to. Adding to the frisson is Sgt Major Quincannon(Victor McLaglen , Oscar winner for THE INFORMER ,RKO,1935),Kirby’s right hand man, who, during the Civil War, set torch to Bridedale, Kathleen’s Southern Estate.
The troops experience another attack from the Apaches who free their leader. Lt General Phillip Sheridan (JCarrol Naish , HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN ,Universal ,1944 ) orders Kirby decides to pursue the Apaches even into Mexico.
Yorke goes with two of his older troopers, Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson ,a former ranch hand who turned stunt man and small uncredited film roles, before Ford gave him a nice role in THREE GODFATHERS,Argosy/MGM ,1948 and becoming one of Ford’s stock company) and Daniel “Sandy”Boone (Harry Carey Jr ,the son of an actor who also was part of Ford’s reliables and was active until 2005,age 84 ). Also along is Jeff.
To complicate matters, they find out that a group of children have been taken hostage.
RIO GRANDE was a film that wasn’t originally planned by Ford. He was desperate to do THE QUIET MAN(finally made at Republic, 1952), but he could not convince any studio to produce it for him. Finally ,studio head Herbert J Yates made a deal with the director – he could make his passion project ,which Yates felt would be a prestige film but money loser , if he made RIO GRANDE for the studio as a more likely money maker.
Oddly, while RIO GRANDE did well , the little prestige film THE QUIET MAN was the bigger hit, becoming one of 1952’s top ten money makers. Still , RIO GRANDE made back double it’s cost for the studio .
The Olive Film release was previously released in a bare bones 1080p release in 2012. Now it has been given a special edition (Signature) release full of extras. The film is presented in DTS-HD 1.0 Mono that is very clear, whether it be the songs of The Sons of The Pioneers ,the battles, or a quiet scene between Wayne and O’Hara.
Ported over from Olive FilmsDVD release in 2002 is an informative Leonard Maltin documentary on THE MAKING OF RIO GRANDE .
– Audio commentary track by Nancy Schoenberger (author of Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero,Deckle Edge Publishers, 2017 ) who goes into great detail about the relationship of the director and actor, as well as the making of the film). Newly recorded for this release.
STRENGTH & COURAGE – Patrick Wayne ,who made his uncredited debut as one of the kidnapped kids in the film, talks about his father.
New mini featurette ,BIGGER THAN LIFE –Claude Jarman Jr talks about working on this film which he says is his personal favorite.
New mini featurette TELLING REAL HISTORIES – Actor Raoul Trujillo (native actor, JAMESTOWN ,Sky ,2017-19) discusses how Native Americans were depicted in films.
• New Interview –SONGS OF THE RIO GRANDE – film historian Marc Wanamaker (Early Poverty Row Studios by E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker ;Arcadia ,2014)discusses The Sons of The Pioneers and their work in this film.
Booklet by Paul Andrew Hutton (American Cultural Historian,who has acted as historical consultant on several films, like THE MISSING ,Columbia, 2003) with original essay about the film.
Original Theatrical Trailer
RIO GRANDE is indeed a classic of American Moviemaking , and should be in the possession of any lover of films.
He Came from the Swamp: The William Grefé Collection [Blu-ray] Region Free 4 discs. 12 hours and 16 minutes. Color. 7 films (1966-1977) and a brand-new documentary (THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP-THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFE produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures) plus lots of extras. $99.95 https://www.amazon.com/He-Came-Swamp-William-Collection/dp/B08GVJLKZL
William Grefe does not have the cult following that a lot of independent filmmakers have. Indeed, my knowledge of him was limited to two of his earliest horror films and little else.
This collection from Arrow is a great correction to that for me and other film buffs. In the set are 7 of the director’s works, along with another brilliant full-length documentary by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures on the Grefé’s career.
Seven of his works from the beginning and the end of his career are not included, probably due to rights issues, or perhaps if this set is popular enough, that there will be a second collection?
Drive-in movie theatres have been around since around 1915, but officially began with the first dedicated site for that purpose in Camden, NJ in 1933. In the 1940s, after the way, cars became more of an American way of life, and drive ins began to truly take off. At the same time, the Paramount Act in 1948 caused studios to divest themselves of theatres in a landmark antitrust suit.
This opened the doors for many independents in the 1950s to begin producing films to supply drive ins, as those theatres were looked upon as secondary markets or at least the destination for a film that had run its course financially prior.
American Releasing Corp (which morphed into the more familiar American International Pictures) was one of those that benefitted, aiming for the newly mobile teenage audiences that made drive ins profitable.
Independents would deal with local sub distributors who would handle territories that the country had been broken into. Some of these sub distributors would even make their own ultra-low budget films like the Texas-lensed THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and THE KILLER SHREWS (McLendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company, both 1959).
In the 1960’s, more maverick filmmakers started to shoot their low budget films around the country, many of them working in Florida. Among the first was H.G. Lewis and his BLOOD FEAST (Box Office Spectaculars, 1963).
Another was William Grefé. A Florida native, he began making films in 1963 as well for the local drive- in film circuit. Two racing films (THE CHECKERED FLAG, Motion Picture Investors ,1963 and RACING FEVER, A.A.,1964, the second of which was built around an actual horrible boat accident caught by an amateur photographer) came and went. His third film (and the first in this collection) was a horror film set within the Everglades.
Disc One of this Arrow Blu Ray collection has STING OF DEATH and DEATH CURSE OF TARTU.
STING OF DEATH (Thunderbird,1966)) was an ultra-low budget color (all Grefé’s films were in color, except for THE DEVIL’S SISTER, Thunderbird ,1966) that was intended for the drive-in market. For couples looking for an excuse to make out in the privacy of their cars, this film was a good reason to do so. A humanoid/ jellyfish hybrid (poor Bill Hobart, in a diving outfit slightly altered and a plastic bag over his head which in one scene almost caused him to suffocate to death!) is out killing people in Florida. A group of young people (including Deana Lund, prior to her stint on tv’s LAND OF THE GIANTS, Fox ,1968-70) draw the attention of Egon (John Vella), who is the evil genius who has a machine attached to an actual Portuguese Man of War that allows him to transform into the creature that is killing everyone. Oddly, the film seemed to inspire ZAAT (Clark, 1971) , another Florida lensed man into mutant aquatic monster hybrid film .
Needing a second feature, Grefé wrote a quick script, got a team together, and filmed his co-feature in a week.
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (Thunderbird ,1966) was an ultra-low budget color (all Grefé’s films were in color, except for THE DEVIL’S SISTER, Thunderbird ,1966) horror film that got a decent release upon the drive-in circuits, as well as some spots on late night movie channels in syndication. I recall first seeing a black and White picture of Tartu (Bill Hobart, who designed his own makeup, and became one of Grefé’s stock company behind and in front of the camera.) in an early issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS and becoming intrigued by it.
An explorer (Brad Grinter, later to direct Veronica Lake’s sad swan song FLESH FEAST, Viking,1970 & the bizarre killer turkey flick BLOOD FREAK, Sampson ,1972) uncovers a crypt wherein he is confronted by Tartu and killed. A short time later, Sam (Frank Weed, who also handled all the exotic animals that appeared in Grefe’s films) and a group including a Professor, his wife and their students exploring old Indian sites soon are the next to become involved with the Death Curse.
Tartu can transform himself and pops up as various swamp creatures to pick of various members of the party, including a shark (!) before the final showdown. Grefé claimed that he dashed the script out very quickly and it shows. Lots of long passages of nature shots where nothing happens, followed by some brief dialogue then back to padding before something happens for a few seconds. Still, the film had a long life, as director Frank Henenlotter recalled it still playing in the 42nd Street Grindhouses as late as 1976, but how much of receipts reached Grefé is unknown. Actress Mayra Gomez moved to Spain, where she became a bit of staple of Spanish tv in the 1970s.
These two films have quite a cult following, having gotten released on video and DVD by Something Weird video in prints that had gone through the projectors quite a few times, with faded color and scratches.
The Arrow releases have presented the films in such sharpness as to make them look brand new. The colors are vibrant, and the overall pictures are quite sharp. The studio has gone to the original film elements and given us new 2K scans. it is astonishing the care that went into their restoration.
Extras include new intros by the director, as well as running commentaries by Grefe and Henenlotter (the commentaries ported over from the original Something Weird DVD releases). Find out how Neil Sedaka ended up contributing the song “Do the Jellyfish “to STING OF DEATH .
A new mini doc by filmmaker C Courtney Joyner called BEYOND THE MOVIE-MONSTERS A GO GO! which examines rock n roll monster movies from the 1950s onward, including the AIP Beach Blanket films that added horror stars like Karloff and Price in cameos.
Doug Hobart talks about his experience with running his own spook show in the fascinating THE CURIOUS CASE OF DR. TRABOH: SPOOK SHOW EXTRAORDINAIRE. For those like myself too young to have experienced these, this is a fascinating piece of movie /theatre history and is true ballyhoo (the extras on these discs are all by the film history doc specialists, Daniel Griffith ‘s BALLYHOO MOTION PICTURES, who consistently make some of the best DVD/BLU RAY extras).
Also, on disc one is the some of the original theatrical trailers for STING OF DEATH and DEATH CURSE OF TARTU.
Disc 2 has Grefe’s reaction to the Swinging’ Sixties, THE HOOKED GENERATION (A.A.,1968) and THEPSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (Allied International ,1971).
THE HOOKED GENERATION has three low lifes who want to break into the big time of drug dealing and go full Scarface by killing a bunch of Cubans for their boatload of drugs (it seems while drugs were crimes in Cuba, they had no problem making money off selling them to the Americans), then killing members of the Coast Guard, before having to turn and flee for a final show down between them in the swamps and the police. It is a gritty film with truly unlikeable characters (a rape scene thankfully is not shown).
THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST (original title: Electric Shades of Gray) is an interesting film. Grefé on the commentary tells us that producer Stewart (Terry) Merrill wanted to make a film about a priest in the Height Ashbury drug scene. The only problem is he had nothing beyond that idea. Grefé found that it was not a problem, and, with money in hand, began to improvise his film with actor John Darrell (who IMDB seems to feel moved to England and later appeared in several episodes of the Shakespearean series THE WAR OF THE ROSES, BBC 1990-91 !) and mostly a cast pulled off the streets and campuses.
Father John (Darrell) is seen talking to several college students about pot smoking and drugs. They offer him a soda, with him unaware that it is spiked with L.S.D. He goes back to church where he has a bad trip, convincing him to drop out (becoming the embodiment of Timothy Leary’s famous 1966 phrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out”). He decides to take a car and travel the open road, wherein he picks up a young hitchhiker who travels awhile with him. He rebukes her admission of love, which is followed by her death. John also witnesses a racial murder perpetrated by some small-town sheriffs, causing John to spiral downwards into harder drugs.
In the final act, he finds his faith again before the end credits crawl, making one think of those religious scare films so “popular “in the 1960s ,70s and 80s. For example: here is a clip from Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982), wherein a young man finds being denied access to rock n’ roll saves him from…. SATAN. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_aHgKWwAy0 .
However, after finishing the film, producer Merrill got into a fight with the distributor, and so the film ended up shelved for decades, until it was saved by Something Weird Video in 2001.
Both films have been remastered from the best elements available and given a 2K scanning. That said, the films could only be improved so much, especially the 16mm PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST.
new introductions to each film by the director
Running commentaries by Grefé and Henenlotter wisely carried over from their old Something Weird releases (the late Mike Varney and his wife Lisa Petrucci saved more films from vanishing forever that they deserve a special Oscar for film preservation, though the movies they preserved would not be nominated for Academy Awards, playing instead in grind houses, drive ins and even in porn theatres).
A new mini documentary by film historian Chris Poggiali called BEYOND THE MOVIE: THAT’S DRUGSPLOITATION! that explores films that would be called counterculture.
Another new mini doc, again by Poggiali, called BEYOND THE MOVIE: THE ULTIMATE ROAD TRIP-which gives you the history behind THE PSYCHEDELIC PRIEST.
BEHIND THE SCENES footage from THE HOOKED GENERATION.
A still gallery from THE HOOKED GENERATION.
• THE NAKED ZOO (1971) This was Grefé’s attempt to cash into the WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (WB,1962) style of thriller (also known as “Hag Horror”, a cruel comment about films where aging Stars and Actresses were forced into material they once may have turned up their noses at). This SUNSET BOULEVARD (Paramount ,1950) type film has Rita Hayworth (GILDA, Columbia, 1946) as Mrs. Golden, who is taking care of her wheelchair bound husband (Ford Rainey, a reliable character actor who appeared on television in various series from 1951 up to 2017!). When a young writer Terry Shaw (Steve Oliver, who appeared the following year in WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS, Fanfare,1971) shows up, the love starved woman’s infatuation leads to seductions and murder. The lovely Fay Spain (HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS, SpA Cinematografica,1961, who died way too young from cancer in 1983) adds a bit of sex appeal.
Poor Hayworth looks older than her 52 years in this film, due no doubt from a lifetime of abuse both mental, physical, emotional, and financial from her husbands, driving her into alcoholism as well as possibly the first stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Indeed, 2 years later, her scenes in WRATH OF GOD (MGM,1972) had to be shot one line at a time.
MAKO: JAWS OF DEATH (Cannon, 1976) -having had a hit with STANLEY (Crown Int, 1972) Grefé wanted to do another nature gone wild film. He had an idea to use a shark as the main creature but at the time, no one would foot the bill for such a film. Then JAWS (Universal,1975) shattered all box office records, and suddenly everyone wanted a film featuring the finned terrors. Grefé obliged with this film.
Richard Jaeckel (who won an Oscar nom for his role in SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION, Universal,1971) is Sonny Stein. During the Vietnam War, he was saved from the enemy by a Mako Shark. Now working as a marine salvager, a shaman gives him a charm to help him have a psychic link between the sharks and himself. Oddly , none of the sharks shown in the film are Mako sharks.
Seeing how people around him treat the sharks, he uses them to extract revenge, including killing an underwater dancer (an attraction totally unique to Florida) when a shark is introduced into her tank.
Also in the film is Harold “Odd Job” Sakata, who had almost really died while filming Grefe’s IMPULSE (Camelot,1974). Here he ends up on the wrong end of a fishhook.
Once again, ARROW gives us a 2K restoration of both films from original film elements. Also new to these releases are brand new audio commentaries by director Grefé.
New intros for each film by Grefé.
An interesting offering is a 92-minute DIRECTOR’S CUT of THE NAKED ZOO, as well as the version released theatrically and altered by the distributors, who added a performance by Canned Heat as well as some nude insert shots, so I guess the Non-Director cut.
A new mini doc BEYOND THE MOVIE: THAT’S SHARKSPLOITATION! By film historian Michael Gingold about the spawn of JAWS, including piranhas and alligators.
New to this release: THE AQUAMAID SPEAKS! – An audio interview with Jennifer Bishop, the hapless actress almost bitten by a shark for real in MAKO.
Another new audio interview: SHARKS, STALKERS, AND SASQUATCH, with Mako writer Robert Morgan, who has spent decades talking about Bigfoot, whom he claims he first saw in 1957.
MAKO-The Super 8 Digest version. For you kiddies, before vcrs, streaming, the internet, this was often the only way to get your hands on a film.
Still and Promo Galleries
DISC 4 WHISKEY MOUNTAIN (1977) is an action thriller film set in the backwoods. A group of young people go into the mountains looking for a stash of old Confederate gear, only to come across a bunch of hillbilly drug dealers who do not take kindly to interlopers. Fast paced with lots of stunts, starring Christopher George (tv’s RAT PATROL, U.A. 1966-68) as well as the indie ecological horror film GRIZZLY (Film Ventures,1976).
THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE FILMS OF WILLIAM GREFE (2016) -this for me was the highlight of the collection. Daniel Griffith, of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, has done this 127-minute tribute to William Grefé, highlighting the take any risk but get it on film style of the filmmaker, and indeed, of many indie cinema makers. This is an extended version of this documentary tribute that had been previously been released in a special two-disc DVD edition (the second disc featured WHISKEY MOUNTAIN).
Interviews with Grefé, and many of the surviving cast and crew of his films, as well as filmmakers like FrankHenenlotter (BASKET CASE, Analysis, 1982) and Fred Olen Ray (THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, American Independent Productions 1988). Besides his own films, Grefé worked as a second unit director on major films shot in Florida like LIVE & LET DIE (U.A.,1973) as well as promotional shorts for various companies. It is a fascinating look at D.I.Y. guerilla filmmaking.
Extras on this disc include
2K restoration of WHISKEY MOUNTAIN from original film elements.
New audio commentary by Grefé on WHISKEY MOUNTAIN.
New intro to WHISKEY MOUNTAIN by Grefé.
THE CROWN JEWELS– A new mini documentary about Crown International, who released several of Grefé’s films, like STANLEY (1972).
ON LOCATION: GREFE IN MIAMI– a new archival tour of various locations used by Grefé.
BACARDI AND COKE BONANZA (1981) a short film shot by Grefé about how-well – Bacardi & Coke go together.
WHISKEY MOUNTAIN trailer.
Bonus Exploitation trailer Gallery.
Each of the discs has reversible disc cover sleeves with original artwork
Collectors Booklet with an interview with the director.
The films not in the collection by the way are for the Grefe completists THE CHECKERED FLAG (1963), RACING FEVER (1964), DEVIL’S SISTERS (1966), WILD REBELS (1967), STANLEY (1972), IMPULSE (1974), THE GODMOTHERS (1975).
POSSESSOR is a 2020 science fiction psychological horror film written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. An international co-production of the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada, the film stars Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Using brain-implant technology, corporate assassin Tasya Vos , using brain implant technology m takes control of other people s bodies to execute high-profile targets. As she sinks deeper into her latest assignment, Vos becomes trapped inside a mind that threatens to obliterate her.
POSSESSOR -104 minutes Color . Well Go USA Entertainment Language: English with English SDH REGION “A”
Blu Ray Extras BONUS FEATURES: Deleted Scenes Behind the Scenes Trailers
Review “This sleekly executed work is of its time, exhibiting the chilly aesthetic and psychotropic overlay seen in some of the best indie sci-fi/horror films of recent years.” —Hollywood Reporter
“mind-melting visual impact and an elegantly cruel atmosphere” —Screen Daily
“Brandon Cronenberg s ultra-violent thriller is unlike anything you’ ve ever seen before” —SlashFilm
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Back before we had non stop reality show and true crime recreations , including entire T.V. networks and podcasts dedicated to same, there were a lot of films released in the late 1960’s and 1970’s that dealt with shocking murders, a few being made by Hollywood, but more often rushed and amateurish , concentrating on salacious details to pad out the running time, or just making things up around the few details that were known at the time.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER (Fox,1968) and IN COLD BLOOD (Columbia,1967) were two of the big budget studio pictures that set the tone about true crime recreations, having the benefit of big budgets and major studio backing. Independent filmmakers were not going to leave such a profitable subgenre go unmined.
THE ZODIAC KILLER (Adventure ,1971, which has been restored and released on Blu Ray by AGFA/Something Weird) was made with the idea that it might even capture the infamous murderer , making it quite unique , though wildly conjectured . GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1979) was another quite inaccurate and exploitive film based upon the Jim Jones/Jonestown massacre, that got distribution by a major studio (Universal).
Somewhat in between is THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS, now being released on DVD and Blu Ray by Film Detective in a 50th Anniversary Edition. The film was possibly the first* to deal directly with the CharlesManson cult , the savage murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate and four others in her home, and then two other murders soon after ( all taking place between August 8-10,1969). So savage and senseless were the killings , that it became an international fixation on the police search and eventual arrest and trials of Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox) and his insane cult followers.
Manson had spent at least half of his life in and out of institutions, he ended up in California in 1967. The changing mores and the urge of many to question authority as well as explore alternative ideas was perfect for a con artist like Manson. People who feel adrift often join gangs or cults to feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, and Manson was obviously able to convince several people, mostly women, that he was the solution.
Manson’s dogma was a Doomsday Cult that would result in a Race War (Manson was a White Supremacist), that would somehow end up with Manson and his true believers leading the remnants of the human race. A failed musician, he read dark meaning into the Beatles song ‘Helter-Skelter”. In British English, a helter- skelter is a fairground attraction consisting of a tall spiral slide winding round a tower, but the phrase can also mean chaos and disorder . The murders were supposed to start the war. Later, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, another cult member tried and luckily failed to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
On July 15, 1970, the trials of Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Arkins and Patricia Krenwinkel began (Tex Watson was tried later). One of the people who was fascinated by the case and attended the actual trials was producer /film collector Wade Williams. Williams was so fascinated by the case that he somehow even got to interview Manson in prison, even buying the rights to two of his songs. He chose first time director Frank Howard(who also was the cinematographer and editor on this, his only credit) to helm the script written by J.J. Wilke Jr. (screenplay), Duke Howzer (additional dialogue). They gathered a cast of unknowns for whom the majority that this film would also be their only known film credit.
The film was shot in black and white to give it the look of a documentary, as had been used in IN COLD BLOOD or THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (Cinerama, 1970). The film chooses to jump back and forth from the courtroom (using actual court transcripts) to the events leading up to the murders, wherein Manson gathers his followers. There is a surreal moment wherein we are shown what to expect when the projected race war happens, with black militants murdering everyone in the suburbs(one wonders if this film was viewed by donald trump ?) , but it is rather clumsily staged.
The director fades into color for a brief sequence about Sharon Tate’s acting career. The costumes used are obviously referencing Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (MGM ,1967). Interestingly, since the trials were still going on while the film was being made, the real names were not used , and thus Tate is only referred to as ‘The Starlet “. Debbie Duff, the actress who portrayed her, certainly has a resemblance to Sharon Tate. Duff is one of the few performers who had more than one credit (HONKY, Getty & Fromkess Pictures Corp,1971). The name Charlie is used several times, though actor Brian Klinknett (who appeared in SLIME TOWN BLUES, NB Releasing,1974) is only referred to as “Killer “in the credits.
The actual murders, which, while not gory, are staged with almost fetishistic attention to details. The poor acting detracts from the frisson that the film works so hard to create. One character, after escaping from his bonds, stiffly walks toward the insane killers saying, ‘What the hell is going on?” before being shot dead is a prime example. The film often has stretches without dialogue (which, given how bad some of the actors are, is a bit of a blessing), with the court room scenes doing most of the heavy lifting in that area.
Much of the score is by Sean Bonniwell ,but Charles Manson himself is heard singing his composition “Mechanical Man “, a monotonic recitation with twangy guitar joined halfway through by mournful chanting ,showing Manson was also delusional about his dreams of being a rock star. The new Film Detective release has a bonus CD of “Mechanical Man “and “GarbageDump” for you to listen apart from the film to judge for yourself.
The film ends with a credit crawl that makes one think of REEFER MADNESS (G& H, 1936) with its warning about the need to control drugs, which completely avoids the complexity of cults.
In a 1970 Box Office article, producer Williams stated that the film was in post-production for a November ,1970 release. The film’s production company, Auric Ltd, had announced it would be in “Auramation”, a “special cellular film treatment designed to heighten or depress the emotions …by subliminal monochromatic suggestions.”. Checking out the Blu-Ray, I saw no subliminal effects, so it may have been either ballyhoo or dropped.
Of note is that some parts of the film were shot on the actual Spahn Movie Ranch, where the Manson Cult had lived from 1968-69. Indeed, some of the remaining Manson followers appear in the footage. Shortly after the scenes were shot, the Spahn Ranch burnt to the ground. The ranch, established in 1947, had been used in several films, including THE CREEPING TERROR (Crown Int.,1964). Spahn was 80 years old, going blind and living at his ranch when he allowed the Manson Family to move in, rent-free, in exchange for labor .He was unaware of their nefarious activities.
The film was submitted to the MPAA in October ,1971 and slapped with an “X’ rating. To give it a chance for wider distribution, some further cuts were made to the film, garnering a re-release an R Rating. No record of what was cut, but the film went from an announced 91 minutes at a Cannes screening to its present length of 81. The film’s original rating may have hurt its box office originally, so the later R rating probably was too little too late. In 1976, the film was retitled as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS. For a time, the film was banned outright in Los Angeles.
Released theatrically by Prestige Pictures (BLACKENSTEIN,1973), it sat virtually unseen after it is 1976 reissue until the ever- hungry video market was born, which was desperate for product, any product. Media HomeEntertainment released it on VHS as THE HELTER-SKELTER MURDERS (1989) before Wade Williams took it back, releasing it on his Englewood Entertainment label in both VHS and DVD.
Now, Film Detective has made a new deal with Wade Williams to release his vast library in brand new restored versions for the current DVD /BLU RAY market. THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is their first release to mark it is 50th Anniversary in 2021.
First off, they have gone back to the original 35mm camera negative, they have given a clean up and a new 4K transfer that is a vast improvement over the previous home video releases. Sound is in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Optional subtitles are available in either English or Spanish.
Then there are the extras
There is the already mentioned CD of Manson performing “Mechanical Man” & “Garbage Dump”, taken from the original 7” vinyl soundtrack.
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures has created two original featurettes for this release:
– ‘The Other Side of Manson: An Interview with Producer Wade Williams”-an interview with the producer.
– “Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson” – the story of how he got to have a meeting with the madman.
Two Trailers: the original release and as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS.
A 12-page booklet packed in the case with liner notes by filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski (MISSION CALIGULA ,2018) examining the film and its history.
THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is of interest to those who wish to study the infamous history of Manson and his followers, especially from the context of it’s closeness to the actual crimes and trials, as well as use of actual songs by the master monster himself and footage of the Spahn Ranch.
-Kevin G Shinnick
*-A film called THE COMMUNE (1970) was purportedly the first to deal with the actual crimes, but I can find no information about this picture .
Ray Bradbury often felt his only science fiction story was FAHRENHEIT 451. “I use a scientific idea as a platform to leap into the air and never come back.” Most of his stories were not hard science fiction, but just the launching point for the story that he wished to tell. SILENT RUNNING is quite like that. While filled with wonderful imagery of a future world of spaceships and androids, the story is more an allegory of our relationship with our planet and our need to protect it.
The story of SILENT RUNNING is that in the near future (a voice over tells us that “at the beginning of a new Century” ),Earth has launched all their remaining forests and surviving species into space in the hope of preserving them .
Among the Fleet is the Valley Forge, run by a crew of four with support by various Droids. It seems that they have been in space for quite a while, and boredom has set in among three of the crew. They race around the ship with reckless abandon. The fourth, Freeman Lowell (Free man, sort of on the nose), played by Bruce Dern, is introduced to the audience swimming among what appears to be a forest, but is within one of the domes. He dons a robe, giving him more of a Christ like image as he cuddles a rabbit.
The fleet receives word that they are to destroy the domes and return the space crafts to commercial service.
Lowell snaps and kills his three coworkers, then plunges his ship through the rings of Saturn to make it appear that his ship is lost. He then programs the three remaining droids (whom he names Huey ,Dewey ,and Louie) first to perform surgery on his injured leg and then ,as his isolation sets in, to interact with him in such things as playing cards. Lowell starts feeling the loneliness again and takes to speeding around the station like his former co- workers did, smashing into one of the droids.
The forests also begin to die, and he does not know what he can do to help them. Then, he gets a radio message that the fleet has found his location and are racing to save him.
Realizing that the forests need more light, he rushes about to install lamps to correct this problem. He then jettisons the forest into space and to prevent it being followed, he commits suicide by destroying the Valley Forge with one of the nuclear bombs aboard. The final shot is the forest floating and flourishing in space, cared for by Dewey.
Back in the 1970s, the studios were looking for films that would appeal to young movie goers. EASY RIDER (Columbia 1969) was a film that made oodles of money, and the suits could not figure out why. Their solution was to give up and coming filmmakers a limited budget and see what they could come up with. Warner Brothers gave George Lucas financing to expand his student film ELECTRONIC LABYRINTH: THX 1138 4EB into a full length feature.
Universal seemed the most willing to risk money on filmmakers, setting budgets of $1 million dollars and creative control. They even thought that bringing in two of the EASY RIDER actors would guarantee better returns. Dennis Hopper went off in many ways with his money for THE LAST MOVIE (Universal,1971), a financial and critical disaster. Peter Fonda directed a more traditional western, THE HIRED HAND (Universal ,1971) was also a flop, playing in many areas as the bottom half of THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (Universal,1971).
Another young filmmaker who was given a chance to go off and create something for a million dollars was Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull had been instrumental in the mind-boggling visuals and effects seen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (MGM,1968). After doing some of the effects for Robert Wise’s adaptation of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (Universal,1971)*, Universal was so impressed as to offer him a chance to direct a sci- fi film.
Douglas had the original outline ,which was expanded into a screenplay by Steven Bochco ( later a T.V. industry unto himself ,with such shows as HILLSTREET BLUES (MTM,1981-87)) Deric Washburn (an off- Broadway playwright turned screenwriter), and Michael Cimino (later to co-write with Washburn the classic THE DEER HUNTER ,Universal , 1978, and direct films like the film that sank United Artists, HEAVEN’S GATE ,1980) , Trumbull was able to stretch his budget by film aboard Korean War aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge (LPH-8), which was docked at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, California. The domes were filmed on a studio set in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California.
The film was basically a showcase for an actor, and he wisely took a chance on Bruce Dern. The stage trained performer was mostly cast as villains in films, so this was a great change of pace for the actor. The three other visible performers were Cliff Potts (who was a Universal contract player at the time),Ron Rifkin (who is currently a recurring character on LAW & ORDER: SVU ,Universal 1999-present) , and Jess Vint III (Dern recommended him for the role in SILENT RUNNING after seeing his work at an Actors Studio class . Since then Vint has worked as an actor, director, screenwriter for both major studios and indies) .
Two voices heard over the radio belong to Roy Engel (President Grant on the tv series WILD WILD WEST ,CBS,1966-69) and Joseph Campanella, who seemed to appear in every T.V. series during the 1960s and 70s (including playing different characters in IRONSIDE,Universal,1969-75) .
The most brilliant bit of casting was for the four droids. To get away from the man in the suit look, the droids’ design led many to believe that they actual working AI. In fact, the four suits were worn by 4 amputees (Mark Persons, Steven Brown, Cheryl Sparks, and Larry Whisenhunt) with the casings built to accommodate them. That they were able to imbue the blank shells with personality is a credit to the performers inside, Dern, and the director.
The cinematographer Charles F Wheeler had worked a lot with specials effects films (like TORA! TORA! TORA! Fox,1970) and this was one of the first films to use fluorescent lights for a film, since they were filming on an actual aircraft carrier. Wheeler later did similar duties on STAR TREK: THE MOTIONPICTURE (Paramount, 1979).
Another big plus was the music by Peter Schickele (best known for his brilliant comedy albums as P.D.Q. Bach). Indeed, I still own the Green Vinyl Varese Sarabande album.
Joan Baez ,who had worked with Schickele provided two songs to the film’s soundtrack.
The film was released in the U.S. on March 10, 1972 to mixed reviews and disappointing box office. Over the years, the film has gained a well-deserved cult following, due to its various television showings, as well as video and DVD releases.
Now, Arrow Video gives us the best presentation of this movie that we have ever seen.
The movie has been given a 2K restoration supervised by Trumbull himself in 1080p Hi Definition. The film is flawless, with beautiful color.
The sound is presented in crisp DTS-HD mono. The effects, music, and dialogue are clear.
The optional white English subtitles are clear and easy to read.
Arrow also packs the release with several extras.
First off, there are TWO commentary tracks.
The first is carried over from the 2002 Universal DVD release, featuring Dern & Trumbull. You can hear their deserved pride in the film and friendly banter as they watch the film .
The second and new to this release track features Kim Newman (the author of the wonderful ANNO DRACULA books) and Barry Forshaw (BRITISH GOTHIC CINEMA book). This track, I must admit, annoyed me quite a bit. Both are knowledgeable on film and literature, but they seem to talk around the subject of the film rather than about it. They also do not seem to regard the film too highly. They seem to miss that the film is more allegory than hard science fiction. One wishes that Arrow had gotten someone with more respect for the film, like Mark Kermode, who lists it as among his favorite movies, and even wrote a book about it.
Also new to this release is an isolated music and sound effect track, for those who do not have the o.s.t. album of Schickele’s score, plus one can see how much the sound effects of forest and mechanics sounds mix to make the film work .
NO TURNING BACK -A short 14-minute featurette with Movie Music historian Jeff Bond discusses the importance of Peter Schickele’s score to the film.
FIRST RUN -Another short featurette examines the script and how it changed with the input of the various writers.
A Theatrical trailer is included, which makes the film look more like an action sci-fi adventure, plus plugs Joan Baez’ contributions.
A photo gallery is also available .
Other extras carried over from the 2002 DVD are :
THE MAKING OF SILENT RUNNING – A promotional film made to promote the film prior to it’s release , showing the actual Valley Forge , and the behind scenes of making the film, including the robot concepts ,designs and actors working within the molds.
SILENT RUNNING BY DOUGLAS TRUMBULL –Trumbull looks back on the film.
DOUGLAS TRUMBULL THEN & NOW –Trumbull examines his career, including his ideas on theme park rides video games, and his Showscan process. Trumbull directed the four-minute film for the BACK TO THEFUTURE ride at the Universal Theme Parks, which he says is how to bring the audiences into the action. It is not mentioned here, but back in 1895, inventor and early effect film maker R.W. Paul had a remarkably similar idea, to be based upon H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE that had been published the previous year. People would get into an enclosed ride box, where it would be tilted and moved as various projections were shown inside.
A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE DERN -the actor discusses his role in the film and its importance to his career.
First Pressing Only: An Illustrated collector’s booklet written by Barry Forshaw and Peter Tonguette (PICTURING PETER BOGDANOVICH) .
SILENT RUNNING is a unique film ,whose message of ecological preservation has become more important today, as we have experienced political leaders who have rolled back dozens of hard won protections of our air and water, and we are rushing toward ecological disasters with the world heating up and ice caps melting.
THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is a pre-code above average programmer probably mostly known for it’s beautiful poster by Alberto Vargas. The beautiful artwork really has nothing to do with the film, but oh does it draw your interest.
That said, THE SIN OF NORA MORAN is an entertaining drama from the early 1930s. At times, while watching it, I kept thinking of I WANT TOLIVE (U.A.,1958). The film is told in flashback form to tell the tragic story of Nora, played by Broadway actress Zita Johann. This was one of the seven films that she made between 1931-34, the best known being THE MUMMY (Universal,1932).
Nora ‘s early life was filled with tragedy, so when the star struck woman gets the chance to join the circus as part of a lion taming act for Paulino (John Miljan) she accepts. Paulino is a sadistic bastard, whose act it seems to consist of whipping and even punching a lion! It is no surprise then that Paulino is not above raping the poor woman. She survives and goes onto becoming a dancer in a small night club. There, she meets D.A. John Grant (Alan Dinehart). Things look like they are going better for her at last. Alas, it was not to be. It seems that Nora will die because of love.
The film is very daring for the period, with a woman who seems to be suffering from the aftereffects of the sexual attack upon her. Add to that, the unique jumping from present to past and back again in telling her story is quite unique. It had been done before (Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, Triangle, 1916) but very rarely, and I cannot recall any other sound films of that period doing so. The Griffith connection continues with the casting of with Griffith regular Henry B Walthall as Father Ryan, as well as Johann herself who appeared in THE STRUGGLE (U.A. ,1931).
Writer Willis Maxwell Goodhue had written several Broadway shows, mostly comedies. The film claims to have been based upon a Broadway play, but I can find no record of it playing upon the Great White Way. I suspect it is based upon an unproduced script of his called “Burnt Offering”. Filmed under the title of THE WOMAN IN THE CHAIR, its publicity claimed that it took five months to make the picture, a claim that I find a bit hard to believe. KING KONG (RKO,1933) took EIGHT MONTHS to make, and that was due to its extensive effects.
Majestic Pictures was a poverty row studio that was active from 1930 until 1935, when it and several other studios were absorbed into RepublicPictures. During their time, they produced THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), perhaps their best-known picture, as well as THE SCARLET LETTER (1934). Larry Darmour, the founder of Majestic, had begun releasing the Mickey McGuire shorts in 1927, starring an incredibly young Mickey Rooney. After Majestic folded, Darmour went on to take over Columbia Pictures serial unit from 1938 until her passing in 1942.
Producer /Director Phil Goldstone worked in the industry from 1920 until 1942. His best-known contributions were as a producer for both WHITEZOMBIE (uncredited; Halperin/ UA ,1932) and THE VAMPIRE BAT (Majestic ,1933). His most infamous title as director seems to be DAMAGED GOODS (Grand National,1937), a film about sexually transmitted diseases.
It is therefore quite surprising to witness his adventurous camera set ups and editing tricks of playing around with the timeline as he does. A scene near the end reminds one of Hitchcock whereas we see from a character’s point of view as he commits suicide by pistol (though not as successfully as the Master, it is indeed impressive for a small indie of the period).
The film fell into obscurity for many decades until film historian and filmmaker Sam Sherman (editor of the late lamented SCREEN THRILLSILLUSTRATED ,and head of Independent International Pictures) was shown a 16mm print of THE SIN OF NORA MORAN and became fascinated with the picture. He even went so far as to get a print for himself and tracked down the lead Zita Johann, who was at that point already retired and living in West Nyack NY. She herself did not care for the film’s playing with time, preferring the original straightforward narrative that had been planned. Over time she began to appreciate the ambition of style that the film possessed. She even briefly came out of retirement to appear in a cameo in one of Sherman’s I.I. titles.Sherman also was able to repackage the film under a new title for tv distribution, VOICE FROM THE GRAVE, making it sound more like a horror film.
Now, thanks to Sam Sherman, film preservationist David Shepard, The Film Detective, and the UCLA FILM & TELEVISION ARCHIVE, an original 35 mm camera element was found, and a new 4K print was struck.
This release from The Film Detective is the definitive version of this film. Unlike other prints found elsewhere, the film is incredibly sharp and clear. The cinematography by Ira H. Morgan (who also filmed THE DEVIL BAT and DAMAGED GOODS, as well as working on Chaplin’s MODERNTIMES(!) (U.A.,1936) is as clear as many a major production of the era, with strong blacks and clear levels of gray shadings. The mono sound has been cleaned up and was as far as I noticed crackle free. Dialogue, sound effects and music did not blur or overpower each other as many indie films of the period do.
There are optional English subtitles for the dialogue.
The music by Heinz Roemheld is uncredited. In fact ,it seems that for most of his career, his music was written for stock music libraries ,being used into films into the 1960s. One of the films he did receive screen credit was for THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (U.A.,1957) . The unusual thing about his score here is that it is used throughout the films entire 65 minutes running time.
Many films of that period were still coping with sound, and many used music sparingly, if at all. KING KONG (RKO,1933) was a major film that same year that showed a running musical score could work with a film’s storytelling.
Roemheld’s score is no where near as memorable as Max Steiner’s classic compositions. Indeed, at times it sounds a bit like music one would hear in an Our Gang short of the period, especially in a sentimental moment. At other times, it is quite sparse and effective.
As a bonus on the disc, Ballyhoo Pictures put together a nice 20 minute documentary, ‘The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann” (“mysterious” being misspelled on the back cover of the case )wherein Samuel M. Sherman talks about Johann and his connection to the film and the actress.
Inside the case there is also a booklet written by Sherman and illustrated with some rare movie clippings, lobby cards and photos.
All and all, a nice little collectable of a by gone era of filmmaking.
If that is not enough, for the limited edition blu ray release (1500 copies) ,within one of the packages will be a special certificate for one lucky purchaser to win a free 27” x 41” hand pulled lithograph of the Vargas poster , printed on Coventry 100% cotton archival paper with a certificate of authenticity .
No, it was NOT me.
the original Vargas sketch (here in a Lithograph) was more undraped
Kudos for all involved for the extraordinary amount of care given to this picture. Would that every movie be given this kind of treatment.
A comedy duo (officially since DUCK SOUP, Roach,1926, even though they had appeared together in THE LUCKY DOG, 1921,Sun-Lite) who remained friends until Oliver Hardy’s passing in 1957,and who will forever be linked in the minds of film fans as a tandem force.
Their films can be watched and enjoyed by all ages, due to their child like innocence as well as their constant battles with everyday events.
Now, a collection of their works has been restored and presented to both new and old fans alike in a release that should please all. The shorts are well represented, with some odd omissions. For example, they do a magnificent job on the one silent presented, THE BATTLE OF THECENTURY (Roach/MGM,1927),but skip their first talkie (UNACUSTOMED AS WE ARE, Roach/MGM ,1929),as well as many other classics . Were there legal issues or lack of acceptable elements, or just the ones that UCLA has restored so far? Perhaps if this set sells well, we might expect a second edition, or even a third that would include their silent (yes please).
The restorations of these films are nothing short of miraculous. New 2K/4K masters have been made from the best elements available, and while they still have a few specks here and there, plus the sound is variable due to the technology of the time , one is doubtful one will ever see these classics in any better presentation.
THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (Roach /MGM ,1927), on Disc One, to me, made the disc a special delight. Robert Youngson used the remaining footage available in his 1965 compilation LAUREL & HARDY’s LAUGHING 20s (MGM,1965). For years, that tantalizing footage had fans wishing to see the entire short.
In the 1980s, most of the first reel was discovered. Missing still is a sequence wherein Eugene Pallette (best known as Friar Tuck in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, WB,1938) is an insurance agent who sells Ollie a policy ,wherein if Stanley sustains injury, there will be a nice payout. This footage is set up nicely with a few remaining stills and a title card explaining the set up. It then jumps to Ollie dropping banana peels to make Stan fall, only to have it backfire and make long suffering foe Charlie Hall as a pie man topple, leading up to the huge street filling pie fight. In the extras, Anita Garvin identifies herself as the woman who falls and sits upon a pie, stands, and tries to regain her dignity. She did this brilliant comic gem of a moment in an unpaid appearance during her lunch break as a favor to Stan!
Also, on Disc one, there is BERTH MARKS (Roach/MGM,1929) their SECOND talking picture. Even though sound had just become popular and wider used just two years earlier, the team was already using it and drawing attention to its humorous potential. Notice how they use the stationmaster (Pat Harmon, a familiar face in films ,often in unbilled roles) who yells out the train destinations in an incoherent though loud way, then asked if Pottsville is one of the stops, he yells louder and even less coherently!
BERTH MARKS is available in two versions on this disc ; the 1929 release version with original sound, as well as the 1936 re issue with added music and different sound effects. The 1929 version has not been seen for 84 years so it is a real significant find.
The brilliant fourth L&H feature, SONS OF THE DESERT (Roach,MGM ,1933) was called “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2012 and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Once you watch this pre-code comedy, you will see why. The print is so much sharper than previous releases, with nice shades of gray and good sound.
There are extras galore on this and the other discs .
There are fact filled running commentaries by either Randy Skretvedt or Richard W. Bann on the various shorts and films. Seriously, you will learn about where certain sequences were shot, actors who appear, often as uncredited extras, just a wealth of information.
Also included are video interview from the 1980s.
Actress Anita Gavin (1906- 1994) gushes with real affection for her time at Roach, and of her working with Stan.
Producer/actor/director Joe Rock (aka Joseph Simberg,1893-1984). Rock basically saved Stan from an unhappy marriage that was ruining his career. Freed of her, Stan starring silent vehicles included the wonderful spoof DR PYCKLE AND MR PRIDE (Selznick,1925). It is too bad that the sound is so terrible in this interview, with a buzz so loud that words are often drowned out.
Roy Seawright (1905-1991) was Hal Roach Studios Head of Animation , the man responsible for all of those animated effects in the films, as well as the stop motion in BABES IN TOYLAND /MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Roach /MGM ,1934) .
(not from the blu ray, but an interesting bit of film history below )
A shipboard interview with Oliver Hardy (1950). This was when the boys were going with such high hopes to film ATOLL K/UTOPIA (1951), a disastrous final film for the comedy team.
The only known existing original trailer from SONS OF THE DESERT (Spanish).
A plug for Skretvedt’s book (which appears on several of the discs.)?
That is just the first disc!
Extras on Disc 2 include audio interviews with many associated with the comedy team, while disc 4 has several of the comic duos’ feature trailers, as well as music tracks from Marvin Hatley (1905-1986), best known for his work for the team.
There are also thousands of rare photos posters, scripts, and production notes from their many shorts and features.
(TWICE TWO ,1933 )
Disc 2 also has BRATS (1930, available in two versions) ,HOG WILD (1930) ,COME CLEAN (1931), ONE GOOD TURN(1931),and ME & MY PAL (1933) ,all Roach/MGM releases , all looking vastly sharper than they have in other releases.
Disc 3 has 8 shorts, including THE MUSIC BOX (Roach/MGM,1932), winner of the FIRST Academy Award for Best Short Live Action (Comedy) and was preserved in 1997 in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The other shorts on Disc 3 are HELPMATES(1932) , THE CHIMP (1932) ,COUNTY HOSPITAL (1932) ,SCRAM! (1932), THEIR FIRSTMISTAKE(1932) ,THE MIDNIGHT PATROL(1933) ,and BUSY BODIES (1933) (all Roach /MGM ).
Disc 4 has the feature WAY OUT WEST (Roach/MGM,1937). This is the comedy which will have your sides ache in the sequence where they chase each other around the room with a purloined deed. This is the film that is referenced so perfectly in the beginning of STAN & OLLIE, with an exact copy of their dance.
It also has three other Hal Roach produced shorts(TOWED IN A HOLE(Roach/MGM 1932) ,TWICE TWO(Roach/MGM 1933),THAT’S THAT(1937 , a private reel of out-takes compiled for Stan’s birthday and was not publicly distributed), as well as their only existing professionally shot color footage in TREE IN A TEST TUBE, a 1942 short made for the U.S. Dept of Agriculture!
The packing really beings up my one tiny nitpick – the case has a flip book to hold the various discs, which often shift making the box hard to close. Be careful so as not to scratch or damage the discs.
This is hours and hours of entertainment and information in a well-made release. Hopefully, it will be a success so that we may see 4 K releases of their other Hal Roach films (including the silent era) to Blu Ray.
Stan: What do you want? Policeman: I don’t want you. I want that other monkey. [Stan whistles to Ollie] Ollie: What? Stan: He doesn’t want me! He wants the other monkey! [Ollie looks around] Stan: You! Ollie: Oh. -from THE MUSIC BOX
You don’t want that other monkey. You want this collection!! Must own.
JAKE SPEED is a super fun action adventure film that never takes itself too seriously and lets you in on the joke. Indeed, the whole film is based upon the idea of “What if the heroes we read about in pulp fiction existed”? This flick makes the whole premise work.
A young woman, Maureen Winston (Becca C Ashley in her only theatrical role) is abducted while she is in Paris by white slavers (a plot later used in the better known TAKEN, Fox,2008). Her family back in the United States are understandably upset. Maureen’s parents (Monte Markham, PROJECT X, Paramount 1968, and Millie Perkins, THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, Fox,1959) blame Maureen’s sister Margaret (Karen Kopins, ONCE BITTEN, Goldwyn,1985) for encouraging her to go out and see the world.
Margaret’s crusty grandfather (Leon Ames, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, MGM,1946) says that there are very few real men anymore, such as Remo Williams, or Jake Speed. He feels Jake Speed would be the best man to handle this.
The thing is Maureen discovers that Jake only exists in a series of pulp novels that her grandfather reads. Or does he?
A note is slipped under Margaret’s door that instructs her to go to a bar at the San Pedro Docks at midnight if she wishes to find her sister. Going along is her friend, Wendy (Donna Pescow, SATURDAYNIGHT FEVER, Paramount, 1977).
The bar is the type of dive that might make pirates feel unsafe. They are soon joined by Desmond Floyd (Dennis Christopher, BREAKING AWAY, Fox,1979) and Jake Speed (writer producer Wayne Crawford, who also co-wrote /co-produced the indie hit VALLEY GIRL, Atlantic, 1983) himself.
It seems that they base their pulp stories upon actual events and that Margaret’s story connects with a case that Desmond and Jake are pursuing , involving white slavers in Africa and Jake’s arch-nemeses, the gleeful Sid (John Hurt, ALIEN,Fox,1979) and his somewhat foppish brother Maurice (Roy London, one of the top acting teachers in Hollywood ,who died in 1993 at only age 50).
London was the subject of a 2005 documentary
What follows are a series of wildly over the top adventures that Margaret becomes part of as a struggling country’s different faction fight a Civil War all around them. John Hurt looks like he is having the time of his life playing the baddie, and he never takes his character too seriously (though when he slits the throat of an innocent civilian near the end, it is a bit of a shock).
Shooting in Africa gave the picture much grander production values than a medium budget picture of the time would have had filming elsewhere. Plus, as we learn from the disc extras (more later in the review), they were given use of actual military vehicles, troops and helicopters, mixed in with some amazing Australian stunt people.
Watch for one little editing boo boo near the end at the airport, where all the background extras behind John Hurt stand perfectly still and then start moving as if they got their cue late .
The film was released by New World Pictures while COBRA (WB) and TOP GUN ( Paramount) were dominating the U.S. box office in May 1986. JAKE SPEED was not a successful picture, making most of it’s money on it’s release to video and cable. There were plans to make more but the failure to find a wide theatrical acceptance put an end to that idea.
New World did do a clever bit of promotion for the film, releasing an actual paperback on June 1,1986 by Gold Eagle/Harlequin, under the pseudonym Reno Melon, which is the fake name Jake and Des’ author their pulp novels in the film. The thing is, they should have released the book in advance of the film, not after it had disappeared from theatres.
A vinyl LP was released of Mark Snow’s score by sound track by Varèse Sarabande . The very 80s synth score is very infectious and the flute sound adds a sense of whimsy to the theme.
I have to admit that I have been a fan of this film since it first came to video on the old New World Video. This new Arrow Video Blu Ray is an incredible improvement over any prior release on this film. Arrow Video has gone back to the original 35mm interpositive prints and given it a 2K Hi Def (1080p) clean up that makes this picture look even more impressive. The stunning African vistas and colors show that more care was given to this movie than one would assume from prior prints.
The mono sound from prior releases has been cleaned up and given a lot more audio punch (2.0 stereo), with the crashes, punches, gunfire and music all jumping out at you while still never overpowering the tongue in cheek lines as the film zooms along.
There are optional English subtitles that are easy to read and follow the action and dialogue quite accurately.
Other Extras include –
PAPERBACK WISHES, CINEMATIC DREAMS– a brand new Ballyhoo Motion Pictures interview with director Andrew Lane. Ballyhoo Motion Picture extras on any disc are always top notch and this one keeps the fine record by the company.
Lane and Crawford worked together since 1977 (starting as a writing producing team on the 1977 Dimension Pictures’ TOMCATS). Their idea was to make each succeeding picture just a little bit better, culminating with JAKE SPEED. They worked upon a few more films after this, but none seemed to be as personal as this picture.
THE HARD WAY READS BETTER-Another made for this release Ballyhoo Motion Pictures extra, this time producer William Fay offers his insights into making JAKE SPEED, including budget restraints, and other problems of having to bring practically all equipment into the country to make the picture.
The Blu Ray Sleeve has a reversible cover, with newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys, whose magnificent work has graced several other collectible Arrow Video releases.
This is a fun independent action adventure that merely asks that you relax and have a good time.
Warning -review illustrated with gruesome effects shots. No animals and we suspect few actors were harmed
When TWO EVIL EYES came out, George Romero had just worked with a major studio on MONKEY SHINES (Orion,1988) but had a bad experience wherein his work was edited without his permission. *
Argento ‘s last feature OPERA (aka TERROR AT THE OPERA) was a huge success in his native Italy but was denied a theatrical release in the U.S. by Orion, instead letting the small video company Southgate release the film in an R and Unrated version.
The two filmmakers decided to go independent again to retain control of the final product and picked two different Edgar Allan Poe tales to adapt.
Romero chose “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (published simultaneously in The American Review and Broadway Journal ,December 1845) . The story had been adapted previously in an Italian short film (Il caso Valdemar,Italy,1936 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3qGwCPKhdI ) as well as segments in the portmanteau films MASTERWORKS OF TERROR (Argentina ,1959, redubbed and released by Jack H Harris as MASTERS OFHORROR ,1965) ,Roger Corman’s TALES OF TERROR (AIP,1962) and on the Spanish horror series Historias para nodormir (Stories to Keep You Awake, Televisión Española 1966). It also is one of the stories in the recent EXTRAORDINARY TALES (Mélusine Productions 2015 ).
a 1969 Japanese Illustration, inspired by TALES OF TERROR
The Black Cat by Alphonse Legros 1860
Argento chose “The Black Cat” (first published August 19, 1843 in The Saturday Evening Post). The story has been adapted with varying degrees of faithfulness, starting in 1934 with both Universal’s THE BLACK CAT as well as MANIAC (Roadshow), Universal again in 1941, AIP’s TALES OF TERROR again, the 1966 THE BLACK CAT (Falcon) ,Lucio Fulci’s 1981 version(Italian Int.) and recently a marvelous independent short in 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKN_I6ouswg .
The film :
Warning -turn your sound down for the opening credits of Pino Donaggio’s dissonant title theme.
The film opens with a succession of quick shots of Edgar Allan Poe’s statue, one of the great author’s home and burial plot, as a narrator intones: “To Edgar Allan Poe, whose stories have inspired this motion picture.”
We then immediately go to
THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF M. VALDEMAR (screenplay by Romero ; Dir of Photography Peter Reniers, who has worked on such television series as LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, Dick Wolf /Universal ,1999- ).
Jessica Valdemar (Adrienne Barbeau, returning to work with Romero again after CREEPSHOW, Laurel/WB ,1982) is hoping to inherit the money from her mortally ill husband Ernest (the wonderfully named Bingo O’Malley ,who also appeared in CREEPSHOW, and sadly in real life passed away June 2 ,2019).
To that extent, she gets Dr Robert Hoffman (Ramy Zada, tv’s DARK JUSTICE, Lorrimar,1991) to hypnotize the sickly Ernest to better control him. Dr Hoffman is most willing to do so, partly from a past relationship with Jessica, and partly from the desire to share in the millions that she will inherit. The problem is that Jessica has been taking money from Ernest’s account, so much so that if anything were to happen to her husband over the next three weeks, the police will surely investigate the wife.
E.G. Marshall as a lawyer warning Barbeau
Of course, Ernest dies, and the pair dump his body into a basement freezer. During the night she hears moaning and discovers that due to the hypnosis, the spirit of her dead husband is trapped between worlds, and that other entities wish to use his corpse to enter our sphere!
THE BLACK CAT (Screenplay by Argento & Franco Ferrini, who worked together on OPERA ; director of Photography Beppe Maccari, who was the camera operator on the Visconti classic THE LEOPARD, Titanus 1963)- Argento’s take on the famous tale is a delirious and trippy over the top gorefest that references several other Poe tales.
Keitel in a Corman-like dream sequence with an Argento touch
Rod Usher (Harvey Keitel, TAXI DRIVER, Columbia,1976) is a police crime scene photographer who we first meet when he is taking pictures at a murder scene. This killing was a bit extraordinary, since it is a scene of a nude women bifurcated by a huge pendulum blade. To Usher, it is just work as usual, and he tries to frame the scenes with a sense of aesthetics that belie the horror of the scene.
At home, his girlfriend Annabel (Madeline Potter ,THE SUICIDE CLUB, Angelika Films ,1988) has brought in a black cat that Rod takes an instant dislike to. This mutual hatred comes to its zenith when Rod viciously and cruelly strangles the animal during a photo shoot. Rod, however, in a sort of A BUCKET OF BLOOD (AIP,1959) moment, decides that the murder deserves to be the over of his newest photo collection.
Sally Kirkland has a new kitty for Rod .
When Annabel sees the cover some time later in a store window, she realizes what has happened, and rushes home to confront Rod. Rod , in the interim , has been given a cat that is identical to the one he killed ).He takes the animal home to destroy it once and for all, but Annabel comes home ,saves the creature but she herself is killed gruesomely.
Rod conceals the body behind the wall, but suspicion continues to grow against him, resulting in more murders and gore before Rod receives poetic justice.
John Amos as a detective who grows suspicious of Usher
A huge title assures us that none of the animals were harmed in the making of the film as the picture’s end credits roll.
The film, which reportedly cost over $ 9 million to make, opened in only 150 theatres throughout the U.S. for just one week, taking in only $349,000.
It was released on VHS through various companies (Anchor Bay, budget label Video Treasures) as well as DVD and Blu Ray previously by Blue Underground.
Now , Blue Underground has gone back to the original camera negatives and given it a 4K 1080p restoration. The colors, especially in the Argento segment, really seem to jump out.
Martin Balsam & Kim Hunter,Spanish Lobby Card
The audio is available in either English: 7.1 DTS-HD, or to duplicate the theatrical release sound, English: 2.0 DTS-HD (or in French: Dolby Digital Mono). Again, watch that opening bit of music in the beginning!
Optional subtitles are English SDH, French or Spanish.
Where this becomes the must have edition of TWO EVIL EYES is the immense number of extras, some ported over from BLUE UNDERGROUND’s previous release of the title, but many brands new and exclusive to this limited edition.
Disc One Blu Ray- a brand new audio commentary by Troy Howarth (author of the upcoming book “Murder ByDesign: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento “). Troy has done audio commentaries on other Blu ray releases, and his love and well researched talks always have the feel of a well-informed fan joyfully sharing his thoughts and insights throughout the running time of a film, and this one is no different.
Poster & Still Gallery
Disc 2 Blu Ray
• Two Masters’ Eyes – Interviews with Directors Dario Argento & George Romero, Special Make-Up Effects Supervisor Tom Savini, Executive Producer Claudio Argento, and Asia Argento. These are ported over from the 2003 Blue Underground 2-disc Blu Ray release.
Savini as a Poe like character who digs up corpses to steal teeth.Or is it just his character from THE RIPPER (United Ent.,1985 ) reprised?
• Savini’s EFX – A Behind-the-Scenes look at the film’s Special Make-Up Effects. Also, from the 2003 release, Savini takes us on a behind the scene tour of how some of the effects work was done.
• At Home With Tom Savini – A personal tour of Tom Savini’s home. From 2003, this segment is not only a master of his craft but also a fan sharing with fellow fans.
• Adrienne Barbeau on George Romero.- From 2003. The still lovely and charming actress shares her thoughts about working with the director.
Tom Atkins makes a horrific discovery
NEW! Before I Wake – Interview with Star Ramy Zada. The actor talks about his career and working with Romero.
NEW! Behind The Wall – Interview with Star Madeleine Potter. The very busy actress, who shuttles back and forth from the U.S. and London to perform, talks about Harvey, Dario and cats.
NEW! One Maestro And Two Masters – Interview with Composer Pino Donaggio. Subtitled. The composer talks about his career
NEW! Rewriting Poe – Interview with Co-Writer Franco Ferrini, who has often worked with director Argento, as well as upon the screenplay ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (W.B.,1984) .
NEW! The Cat Who Wouldn’t Die – Interview with Assistant Director Luigi Cozzi (who also directed the cult hit STAR CRASH, New World, 1978).
NEW! Two Evil Brothers – Interview with Special Make-Up Assistant Everett Burrell (who has worked with Savini several times, as well as Greg Cannom, and Kevin Yagher.).
NEW! Working With George – Interview with Costume Designer Barbara Anderson who worked with Romero from KNIGHTRIDERS (Laurel/UFD, 1981) up to THE DARK HALF .
Disc 3-A CD of Pino Dinaggio’s score. This alone might be enough for some to wish to buy this collection, as this soundtrack it seems has never been issued legitimately before. It is a sharp moody score, which fits the film perfectly, but many pieces can be listened to and enjoyed on their own.
Adding to the welcome extras is an informative booklet by Michael Gingold, who was one of the guiding forces of Fangoria magazine from 1990 (when the film came out) until 2015.
Fango #95 ,which covered the film
Once again, BLUE UNDERGROUND has put to shame many major studios Blu Ray releases, due to the care and multiple goodies adding entertainment, value and collectability for horror film lovers.
For fans of ROMERO ARGENTO EDGAR ALLAN POE BLU RAY EXTRAS!
-Kevin G Shinnick
*-right after filming TWO EVIL EYES, he worked upon THE DARK HALF for Orion, which sat on a shelf for two years.