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THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic 1945)(Blu Ray & DVD from Olive Films)

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic, June 1945) B&W 59 minutes (OLIVE FILMS Blu-Ray https://olivefilms.com/product/the-vampires-ghost/ $24.95. Also available on DVD $19.95)

 

Back in 2013, SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE ‘s print edition had an in-depth review of the Republic horror films (SCARLET #9, Feb. 2013). In that over view, one of the film’s covered was the neglected gem, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST.

Republic saw the success of the RKO horrors, and decided to get into lucrative monster market. Their films were always entertaining (THE LADY & THE MONSTER, Republic ,1944, is probably best known, due to it starring Erich Von Stroheim) but never received the respect and love that RKO or Universal’s horrors have gotten.

Luckily, Olive Films is hoping to remedy that with their release of various Republic titles. They have already released a magnificent THE QUIET MAN (Republic ,1952 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/the-quiet-man-olive-films-signature-blu-ray/ ) and MACBETH ( Republic 1948/1950 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/orson-welles-macbetholive-films-blu-ray/ ),and are also releasing their overlooked features like SABOTAGE (Republic ,1939 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/sabotage-1939/ ) and now THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST .

 

Set somewhere in Africa in a fictional village of Bakunda, a voice over narrator intones: “Africa, the dark land where Voodoo drums beat in the night…Africa… where men have not forgotten the evil they learnt in the dawn of time… I always come back to Africa… but even here there is no rest for me. The path of time is curved here like a sickle…I cannot die…I cannot rest. I cannot rest. I cannot rest…”

Right away, you can see the influence of Val Lewton films like “I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (RKO,1943), that also open with a voiceover.

The narrator is Webb Fallon (played with a weary sadness by actor John Abbott, the English character actor, who worked with the likes of Olivier on stage, and is perhaps best known as Ayelborne in the Star Trek episodeErrand Of Mercy “(Paramount, season one episode 26, March 1967).

 

As his story above unfolds, we see a map of Africa, then a drawing of the village that fades into the “actual city” of Bakunda (what looks like a cleverly disguised Spanish village set from countless Republic westerns). The camera prowls through the streets, until we come upon a door, wherein a hand enters the frame and opens the door.
There we see a sleeping native woman, who awakes in horror. Fade to black.

The town of Bakunda is the latest village to suffer a mysterious death, with each victim having been partially drained of their blood. Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers, who often played villains or police officers for Republic, Monogram or PRC) suspects that another village has reverted to voodoo, and may be responsible for the killings.


Roy (Charles Gordon,for whom it seems this was his largest role of his ten-year career), greets his fiancé Julie Vance (Peggy Stewart, born in 1923, is still working, having appeared in  THAT’S MY BOY (Columbia ,2012) as Grandma Delores) who has just returned from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thomas Vance (Emmett Vogan, who appeared in over 500 films and television shows in his career, including appearing as the Coroner in THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Universal ,1944) invites them all to his home.


They discuss how the murders are affecting the natives, who are fearful, and abandoning the fields (so, not so concerned about their safety as how they affect production??). Roy decides to visit Webb Fallon, who owns the local dive bar. Fallon has a knowledge of the rituals and superstitions that often surpasses those of the natives themselves.

 

 


We jump to the club and witness a sensual dance by Lisa (Adele Mara, a former dancer/singer for Xavier Cugat who in 1946 appeared in Republic’s horror film THE CATMAN OF PARIS). Fallon is winning at the crap tables in the club, which angers gruff Captain Jim Barrett (Roy Barcroft, whom Leonard Maltin once described accurately as “Republic’s number one bad guy”). Roy shows up to invite Fallon over to Vance’s to discuss the murders, but Barrett and his crew accuse Fallon of cheating, and a fight breaks out. Roy is knocked down quickly, but Fallon does a lot of damage himself with single punches. When Barrett is about to stab the unconscious Roy, Fallon grabs the Captain’s wrist and stares intently at him, at which point the Captain drops his weapon.

 

Roy and Fallon go to Fallon’s room to clean up, and Fallon shouts at Roy when he touches a small wooden box. Upon it, we read “E.R. WEBB FALLON 1588”. Fallon says it was a gift given to his ancestor after whom he was named by a grateful Queen Elizabeth.

Fallon and Roy go to Vance’s and are chatting after a meal. Father Gilchrist at one point puts his hand upon Fallon’s shoulder, and Fallon collapses into a chair claiming it to be a bout of malaria. They decide though to go out to visit the village which may be causing the trouble. Simon Peter (Martin Wilkins, who appeared in RKO’s 1943 classic I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE), Vance’s servant, notices that when serving Fallon some coffee, that Fallon has no reflection in the mirror, notices too, and the mirror shatters. When the others question what could have caused that, Simon Peter declares Evil.

 


Has any other vampire smoked so much ?

They set out at dawn to explore the area near the village they suspect the trouble is coming from. Roy sets off a gun trap, which seems to miss Roy and Fallon, but hits one of the bearers, Tara, in the arm (Zack Williams). When they encamp for the evening, Taba tells Simon Peter that he was behind Fallon and wonders how Fallon did not get shot. Simon Peter checks out Fallon’s tent, and sees that the bullet did indeed pass through him, but left no blood.

“Vampire!”, intones Taba. Simon Peter says the one way to stop the vampire is a spear dipped in molten silver ,which they quickly make (where did they get all that silver? Is the cutlery gone ?).They are attacked by the evil villagers (with bones through their noses.at least one of whom appears to be a white actor in dark makeup!) ,and Simon Peter is hit . He, however, hurls the spear into Fallon, who is impaled in the chest as he turns. Roy brings Fallon to his tent, and removes the spear. There is no blood on the tip of the weapon, and Roy realizes the truth. Fallon tells Roy how he was cursed 400 years ago for causing the death of a young woman, which cursed him as one of the undead.

(white actor in dark makeup ? )

He hypnotizes Roy, and keeps him from being able to tell what he knows. Fallon wishes Julie to join him in his undead eternity. Will Roy be able to break the curse and save Julie?

 

The film is a remarkably subtle one from Republic (the bar fight is short, and battle scenes are kept to a minimum). Mood is key to the film, and director Lesley Selander does a superb job with ensuring that. A fine example is when later in the film Fallon stalks and kills Captain Barrett, his shadow falls upon the stunned sailor, the shadowy hands reaching for the victim’s neck. Selander was mostly a director of westerns but rose to the occasion when the story required. He also directed Republic’s THE CATMAN OF PARIS, and handled sensitive stories like RETURN FROM THE SEA (A.A.,1954), as well as 54 episodes of the long running television series LASSIE (Lassie Television/Columbia 1955-1974).

 

He was blessed with a strong screenplay by Leigh Brackett (based upon her story) and John K Butler. Butler spent most of his career writing westerns for films and later for television, with an occasional foray into mystery (THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, Republic,1945). His work was efficient but nothing memorable. Most of the credit must therefore go to Brackett.

Brackett began as a science fiction writer (‘Martin Quest”, Feb 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction) and indeed was the first woman nominated for a Hugo Award (started in 1953, Brackett was nominated in 1956, though she didn’t win).

 


She also wrote crime fiction, starting with “No Good for A Corpse” (Coward McCann, Hardcover,1944) as well as western novels. Her “No Good for A Corpse” brought her to the attention of Howard Hawks, who wanted “this guy Brackett” to work with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman for THE BIG SLEEP (W.B. 1946). She later wrote other screenplays for Hawks, like RIO BRAVO (W.B.,1959, again with Furthman). She is best known for having submitted the original draft for the STAR WARS sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Fox ,1980) before she passed away from cancer in March ,1978.

 

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was her first credited screenplay, and I wonder if Butler was assigned to work with her to show her how to write an efficient (and budget conscious screenplay). If so, the pair succeeded superbly.

Rather than following the rules of most vampire films of the era, they had a few of their own (the silver tipped spear). Some feel that John William Polidori’s 1819 story “The Vampyre” (The New Monthly Magazine, April 1,1819) was the inspiration. Polidori wrote his tale that same summer at Lake Geneva, wherein a telling of ghost tales led to this story and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (Lackington Hughes, 1818). The original story featured Lord Ruthven and was set in England and Greece. It also had a vampire able to walk about in daylight, and moonlight could heal Ruthven.

 

The cast, for the most part, does a superb job. Outstanding, of course, is John Abbott. He brings a wonderful world weariness to his role. When he wins at the dice table, he looks at the wad of money that he has won, and tosses it to a drunken sailor. The only thing that seems to move him is the idea of Julie joining him as an eternal companion.

Personally, I would have gone with Lisa. Mara bring a vitality and energy to her role, and indeed a sensuality. By her looks and body language, you feel that she is in love with Fallon.

Barcroft, Withers, and Vogan are all solid performers who make their characters interesting. Speaking of interesting, Zack Williams, and especially Martin Wilkins, despite being a native porter and servant respectively, play their roles strongly and without playing the commonplace quivering stereotypes that were the norm of the period. Indeed, they are the first to question Fallon and discover his secret and try to destroy him. At the end, the character of Simon Peter does indeed do that (with the aid of the priest and a cross).


The two romantic leads are good looking but to be honest not much beyond that. Poor Roy as portrayed by Charles Gordon, is sort of the Jonathan Harker of the tale. The titular romantic lead who does get the girl at the end, but is knocked down immediately in the bar fight, is as even he acknowledges saved twice by the vampire and spends most of the film under Fallon’s control. Peggy Stewart’s Julie is -the girlfriend. Perhaps due to the short running time, her character development was sacrificed for pacing.

 

 

(Anyone remember which other film used this statue? I cannot recall)

 

 

When the film came out, it was dismissed by the critics of the time (see Variety Wednesday June 6,1945- “script, setting and camerawork just so-so.” On the same page, co -screenwriter’s John K. Butler’s THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, also from Republic, is much more favorably reviewed.). This is more than likely because of the common feeling that horror films weren’t worth serious study. https://archive.org/stream/variety158-1945-06#page/n11/mode/1up

 


Olive Films has done a superlative job of restoring this neglected gem to a lustrous presentation. A 1080p transfer 1:33:1 aspect ratio shows the images in extremely sharp black and white, with varying levels of gray. The audio is a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel track. No effects have been added to move sound around speakers, but it is crisp and clear with dialogue, music, and effects track coming across clearly.

The optional English subtitles are white and are easy to read, following the dialogue and describing audio cues clearly.

No other extras are added, but again, that such a rarity has gotten such a superlative transfer makes this a must have for collectors of classic horror that they need to add to their collections.

Recommended.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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DEATH LINE from Blue Underground Blu Ray/DVD combo

DEATH LINE (aka RAW MEAT)Blue Underground Blu Ray/DVD combo (DEATH LINE ,K.L. Productions/released by Rank (U.K.)1972; A.I.P,1973 as RAW MEAT ). color. 87 minutes. Region Free. $39.98 https://www.amazon.com/Death-Line-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray/dp/B06ZZZN1TS/

“MINDDADOORS!”

The 1970s was a time when horror films were changing. Hammer Films biggest hits were their t.v. based comedies,while their final pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee was the barely released THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA . Traditional horror was on it’s way out ,as major studios would soon be pouring millions into the type of films that smaller studios used to make .,among them THE EXORCIST (W.B.). Still ,there were still several intelligent and interesting British horrors made although they too got minimal releases outside of the U.K.,such as THE WICKER MAN (British Lion)and DEATHLINE (K.L.Productions,released by J.Arthur Rank in the U.K. ,aka RAW MEAT via A.I.P. in the U.S.).

 

When people start vanishing in the London subway system ,the police ,led by Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasence ,seemingly having a grand time in the role) is put in charge of the investigation. What he discovers involves a cave in from the late 19th century and cannibalism.

The film was writer /director Gary Sherman’s debut feature (he had made a short film in 1966 called THE LEGEND OF BO DIDDLEY). Sherman had the original story idea which was expanded by Ceri Jones into the screenplay. Producer Paul Maslansky had previously backed Michael Reeves debut features (CASTLE OF THE LVING DEAD (1964 Italy,released by Tigon in the U.K. and Woollner Brothers in the U.S. IN 1965;and SHE BEAST (1966 Italy,released by Europix in the U.S. in 1967)as well as John Hough’s debut SUDDEN TERROR(1970,MGM- EMI,NATIONAL GENERAL in the U.S. 1971),so he was a producer willing to take a chance on a creative novice.

 


J.Arthur Rank Film distributed the film in the U.K. where it had some success as a co-bill to the Mark Lester starrer NIGHT HAIR CHILD . However, in the U.S., it was re-titled as RAW MEAT in 1973,with a misleading poster that made it seemed that the underground was swarming with a group of near naked zombies,and the film did sluggish business.

When it was released to television in the early 1980s ,it was in dark murky prints and edited for broadcast. It seemed to have been completely over looked in the U.S. VHS release marketplace, only getting a bare bones (get it?) DVD release by MGM in 2003.

                                                                      BARE BONES-get it?

 

Now ,BLUE UNDERGROUND has done horror fandom a great resurrection, restoring the film and releasing it in a BLU RAY/DVD All Region combo pack.

 

The film has been cleaned up and given a new 1080p transfer from a 2k master,restoring it to a Wide-screen 1.85:1 / 16×9 ratio . The film has some grain,due to it’s low budget but the miracle that the lighting crew did on lighting vast areas of the subway with little lighting equipment is addressed in the commentary track.

Indeed, the commentary track is one of the most fun and informative that I have heard in some time. It involves director Sherman, producer Maslansky, and a.d. Lewis More O’Ferrall discussing the genesis of the film ,its cast, shooting and distribution. There recollections are quite vivid for a project that they worked on some 46 years years ago,and you can sense the affection that they have for the project.

One interesting bit was the cameo by Christopher Lee . It was hard to shoot a dialogue scene between he and Pleasence due to their height difference and so the director used it to his advantage ,for they shot the men in separate takes, and the camera edged higher on Pleasence to show that he was being diminished by his bowler hatted superior, Stratton-Villiers, MI5 (Lee).

Donald Pleasence is credited for a lot of the humor that the character he portrayed displayed in the film.The actor seemed to have been universally revered and respected.

 

Also discussed is Norman Rossington (best known to American viewers for his role as The Beatles ‘ manager Norm in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT(U.A.,1964) but in the U.K. he was a very well regarded and well known performer.

Actor Hugh Armstrong is  rightfully given credit for his exceptional sympathy that can switch to savagery quickly in the role of “The Man”. I doubt he ever forgot his dialogue, as his lines consisted of the one phrase :”Minddadoors” (Mind The Doors,which was often shouted as the doors on the railway carriages closed) .That he can put so many different feelings and emphasis on that one phrase is a credit to his acting skill.

The film script had to be submitted to the London Underground for approval ,and so a false script was provided and given approval. The film’s U.K. release poster also caused some stir with the London Underground as well.

Vic Flair’s original Transparency Art

Interestingly, Marlon Brando was attached to the production but dropped out when his son Christian became ill.

Back to the BLUE UNDERGROUND release. The sound DTS-HD Mono / Dolby Digital Mono .It is perfectly adequate and quite clear,with no need to play around with shifting speakers.

 

Tales From The Tube – is a short video Interview with Co-Writer/Director Gary Sherman and Executive Producers Jay Kanter & Alan Ladd Jr.

From The Depths – another short video Interview with Star David Ladd (grandson of the legendary Alan) and Producer Paul Maslansky.

Mind The Doors -An Interview With Hugh Armstrong. The charming gentleman talks about how he became an actor and his role in DEATH LINE, which involved a lot of improvisation.

Also included are original RAW MEAT TV and radio spots ,both U.K. and U.S. movie trailers,and a posters and still gallery.

If that isn’t enough for you ,there is a marvelous bonus collectible booklet written by Michael Gingold of Fangoria as well as author Christopher Gallo (THE FILMS OF DONALD PLEASENCE http://www.bearmanormedia.com/the-films-of-donald-pleasence-softcover-edition-by-christopher-gullo).

The DVD cover can be reversed ,as one side is for DEATHLINE and the other is the RAW MEAT poster.

The sound DTS-HD Mono / Dolby Digital Mono .It is perfectly adequate and quite clear,with no need to play around with shifting speakers.No Head Splitting Sound…

DEATH LINE was screened at Lincoln Center as part of their Horror Series in 2002, and director Guillermo Del Toro declared it to be one of his all time favorites. That is a pretty major endorsement for the film.

I think that if you pick up this BLUE UNDERGROUND release of DEATH LINE, that it may become one of your favorites as well.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNVVjYhketY

Highly Recommended !

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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

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VOTE FOR SCARLET

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WAX MASK (blu ray)

7737_tnTHE WAX MASK(aka M.D.C. – Maschera di cera ,Italian 1997) (Blu Ray) release date Jan 31st,,2017 by One 7 Movies .$29.95 .color 94 minutes.      https://www.amazon.com/Wax-Mask-Blu-ray-Robert-Hossein/dp/B01N40CACQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1485396004&sr=1-1&keywords=wax+mask

wax-mask-07

THE WAX MASK is a wonderful throwback to the Italian Gothic Horrors of the 1960s, mixed in with considerably more graphic gore and nudity as was more permissible in 1997 when this film was made.

1999: DARIO ARGENTO, FILM DIRECTOR

                       DARIO ARGENTO

Dario Argento, the reigning king of Euro Horror ,had tried for a year to raise funds to produce a film to be directed by Lucio Fulci. Fulci , who had his own niche in gory Italian horror (ZOMBI 2, aka ZOMBIE ,1979) ,had fallen out favor ,due to lending his name to projects that he was not involved with ,as well as Fulci being ill at various times from the early 1980s .

 

At first, they had thought of an update of THE MUMMY (Universal,1932) before deciding on a semi remake of HOUSE OF WAX(WB,1953, itself a remake of the 1933 WB classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM) .Fulci wrote a screenplay ,but more delays occurred due to Argento’s THE STENDAHL SYNDROME (1996.)

images

 Mystery Of The Wax Museum (WB ,1933)
Fulci passed away March 13,1996 from diabetes . Argento had the script reworked by Daniele Stroppa (who had worked on the screenplays for two of Fulci’s later films ,HOUSE OF CLOCKS(1989) and VOICE FROM BEYOND (1991) .How much the scripts  vary is unknown by this reviewer .
However ,to quote an interview with Massimo F Lavagnini (printed in DRACULINA # 24)
Fulci said:

lucio-fulci

 

…. I think we start shooting in September. About the story, I can say it isn’t a carbon copy of the original HOUSE OF WAX, which obviously inspired us. Our story is settled in 1915 in Torino. The protagonist is a frustrated artist who kills and becomes a monster, because of the faults of society. …………..We have seven or eight ultra-violent scenes . *

 

 

 

Sergio Stivaletti, who had handled effects for Argento on PHENOMENA(1985,aka Creepers) ,OPERA(1987) and THE STENDAHL SYNDROME, as well as DEMONS(1985) and CEMETERY MAN (1994),stepped into the director’s chair . Having directed second unit for Argento, Bava, and Soavi, he had picked up a few pointers on how to director horror with style. Supposedly, Stivaletti, who had been preparing the films effects, had only two weeks’ prep time. If so, it makes the film even more impressive.

dir-in-1996

The film opens December 31,1900 in Paris (why does every room in Paris seem to look out upon the Eiffel Tower in movies?). However, the new year brings the discovery of a gruesome double homicide, and the police find that the only witness is a frightened 12 year old girl.the-wax-mask-1

 

The film then jumps 12 years ahead to Rome. At a brothel, Luca (Daniele Auber, who also works in effects, later winning an Emmy in 2002 for Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Prosthetic)) bets others there that he can spend the night in a newly opened Wax Museum which recreates some of history’s most notorious killings. The idea of spending the night in a spooky place seems to be lifted from CASTLE OF BLOOD(DANZA MACABRA,1964),showing that the filmmakers know their classic horror films. Sadly, it does not end well for Luca,who supposedly dies frightened to death.

the-wax-mask-2
Museum owner Boris Volkoff (the name a nod to Boris Karloff?)(portrayed by French actor Robert Hossein (THE BURGLARS/Le Casse,Columbia 1971)plans a series of new exhibits to exploit the press that the unfortunate death brings to the museum .

4567894_l3
Volkoff, however, has a dark secret -he and his assistant Alex (Umberto Balli,who seems to have only done one other film)are creating their lifelike figures by capturing people and then injecting them to keep them alive and immobile under the wax!

the-wax-mask-6

Volkoff hires Sonia (Romina Mondello, later in Harry Alan TowersDEATH, DECEIT, & DESTINY ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2001)) to create costumes for the figures. Sonia however, happens to be young girl from the film’s opening, and the violent tableaux’s bring buried memories of her parents murder back. Luckily , Inspector Lavin (Aldo Massasso,later in Argento’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998) and SLEEPLESS( Non ho sonno ,2001))who had investigated the murders of Sonia’s parents is in Rome . With the help of Andrea( Riccardo Serventi Longhi,who appeared in the t.v. film CAVE OF THE GOLDEN ROSE 4 aka Fantaghio 4,1994,for Lamberto Bava) they start to see if they can uncover the mystery of the wax museum .

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The ending is wildly delirious, and lurches into TERMINATOR (Hemdale,1984) territory. Up to then ,however, it is a gory tribute to older horror films with some marvelous effects (though the early CGI, in particular, the fire effects ,were not effective even when the film first came out).

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Reviews were for the most part positive  like this one :

(Variety April 20, 1997 )
Gothic horror is alive and kicking in “Wax Mask,” a luridly entertaining return to the style of Britain’s Hammer productions of the ’60s)

 

and the film appears to have done decent business throughout most of the world, but only garnering a token home video release via Image Entertainment a few years later.mv5bmje1odeyodc0ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwnde1mdkymq-_v1_uy268_cr60182268_al_
The French-Italian co-production looks stunning. From costumes to set designs, the film looks so much more expensive than it’s reported $1.25 million budget (though some estimates put it as high as $3 million). Adding to the sweep and grandeur is the magnificent orchestral score( with choir ) by Maurizio Abeni (who would also compose for Stivaletti’s THE THREE FACES OF TERROR (I tre volti del terrore,2004 ) . The English dubbing is good ,though some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.

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The original VHS/DVD releases back in 2000 had very muddy colors and a dark print ,and though Dolby mixed the sound was very flat .

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Now One 7 Movies (whose DVD release of JESTER’S SUPPER we reviewed back in 2015 https://www.facebook.com/SCARLETreviews/posts/1584658468439774 ) have released WAX MASK in a glorious 1080p version in 1.85.1 (original aspect ratio) blu ray .The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound really lets the score fill your room ,and the sound effects are quite effective. Most impressive are the truly vibrant and rich colors and the clean almost three dimensional photography by Sergio Salvati (who shot many of Fulci’s as well as many Empire films produced by Charles Band). I cannot say how marvelous the transfer is and it puts many a major studios release to shame.
Extras on the disc includewax-mask-00-jpgcgi
Backstage Scenes– some raw video behind the scene footage shot during the making of the film . It is a fun look at the cast and crew working and relaxing during the production. In Italian.

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Special Effects Scenes– the effects team working on the practical on set effects used throughout the film .At one point they get a package from Tom Savini ,and look through his makeup book GRAND ILLUSIONS(Imagine,1983).Producer Argento watches fascinated as they test a mechanical robot arm . In Italian .

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If you are a fan of Italian Horror, this is a must get disc for you. Many fans may have head of the film but up to now may never have seen it. Now is your chance to scoop this film up.
Recommended!

-Kevin G Shinnick

*- DRACULINA issue 24 appears to be sold out but you can always see if some valuable issues turn up by visiting http://www.draculina.com/draculina2.htmldraculina-24

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2000s, Anita Page, Athena Demos, CAMP, cult, diy filmmaking, dvd, fantasy, film, genre, gore, Horror, independent, killer brain, Nazi, nudity, Randal Malone, review, Ron Ford, SCIENCE FICTION, Stephanie Beaton, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd

THE CRAWLING BRAIN

 

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THE CRAWLING BRAIN (2002) released 2016.Blood Banquet Theatre.
$10.99. DVD. Color. Shot on Video. Available from
http://bbtheatre.xyz/collections/1423514-blood-banquet-theatre-distribution-dvd-titles/products/18388604-the-crawling-brain-dvd

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   “Has he health insurance?”Behind the scenes photo

 

If Andy Milligan (GURU THE MAD MONK, Nova Int.,1970) made movies for Independent International that were produced by John Waters, it would give you an idea of the craziness that is THE CRAWLING BRAIN.

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The term “camp” was made for films such as this. The film is a loving if inept tribute to classic b movie camp like THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (Paragon/Gold key ,1968), BRAIN OF BLOOD(I.I.,1971) MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND(Hemisphere,1968) and most obviously, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (MGM,1958). Gore and nudity are sprinkled liberally throughout.

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The story has Stefan (Randal Malone) finding out his grandmother is the former nurse/lover of Franz Kindler (the name of the Nazi from Orson Welles classic THE STRANGER(RKO,1946)), a mad Nazi scientist who has his spine and brain placed into a tank until a new body can be found for him.

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        (Young Anita Page Ziegfeld Follies;92 year Ms Page in this film)

 

The grandmother Anita is portrayed by then 92-year-old Anita Page, who starred in the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, BROADWAY MELODY (MGM,1929). She passed away in 2008, her last film being released posthumously in 2010, FRANKENSTEIN RISING (Sterling), which also starred Malone.

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The brain suddenly decides to take over Stefan, who manipulates his brother (Mark Shady) into helping him. Every once and awhile the brain crawls from its tank and takes things into its own-err— spinal column, and kills people itself.

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People visit the house end up being used as experiments for surgery, until a new nurse named Jillian (Heather Beaton, EYES OF THE WEREWOLF, Leo Films,1996) arrives to care for Grandma. Jillian, it seems, looks exactly like Anita did when she was young (also played in flashback by Beaton) and it seems once the evil brain finds a new body for itself, Anita may have herself a new host body as well.

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The whole film has a “Hey I got a camcorder, let’s make a movie” feel to it. Shot on video, the entire budget wouldn’t stretch to craft services for one meal on a T.V. show. That said, the film is unlike a lot of s.o.v. product at least competently put together, though the dialogue suffers at times from microphones being too far away.

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Hey there IS a script!

 

Music (credited to Ronald Stein) sounds like it is mostly lifted from DEMENTIA 13(AIP,1963) with certain sounds effects taken directly from FIEND WITHOUT A FACE.

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As to the “acting”, always a major bugaboo of mine in these s.o.v. films:

Randal Malone, who it seems has more than 50 films to his credit, minces through his part like a bitchy Divine wannabee.randal-malone

At the other end of the spectrum we have Stephanie Beaton, who never seemed to get a film that truly showcased her actual acting talent.

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The effects are a fun throwback to the onset physical effects of the films that inspired them (at points reversing the film has the spinal column appear to wrap around its hapless victims).

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(Because You’re Mine, I’ll steal your spine ….)

A well -staged car crash surprised me, although I was left wondering did they just do the stunt and leave?

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               (How dis-arming !)

Indeed, I wish there was a commentary track from those involved, to hear what it was like on set and their thoughts of the final product (and indeed, how they got Anita Page to be in their film).

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Extras are limited to an alternate opening (full nudity as it stands now, topless nudity in the alternate, both supplied by actress Athena Demos) and an alternately edited flashback sequence (which I admit I saw no difference).

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Also included is an over the top trailer that would have put people into their local drive ins had it been made in the 1970s. Finally, there are trailers for other films to be released by BLOOD BANQUET (including DEVILS’ NIGHTMARE(French,1971)).img_20170117_114835
Blood Banquet also sells a 3D version of MANIAC (Roadshow,1934), GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (Ent.Pyramid,1972), as well as other S.O.V. titles by Ron Ford.

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Should you wish to see a modern-day exploitation film, leave your brain outside as you watch THE CRAWLING BRAIN.

Trailer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMBNzl1tIsc

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Kevin G Shinnick

              (note:some photos courtesy BLOOD BANQUET,some Frame Grabs from the DVD).

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1940s, 1950s, 1960s, ALPHA NEW CINEMA, animation, CAMP, Classic Hollywood, cult, dvd, fantasy, film, FILM HISTORY, French, genre, Holiday, international, magic, obscure, OLDIES.COM, rare, review, STOP MOTION ANIMATION, t.v., tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd

Two Stocking Stuffers- RAY HARRYHAUSEN FAIRY TALES/STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

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RAY HARRYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES
– COLOR http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7875D.html

STRANGE AND UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS-Color/b&w -http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7871D.html

$7.98 each. Oldies.com

Just in time for the Christmas Season come two fun stocking stuffers from OLDIES.COM.

The first is probably the one that people will feel is the must have . Ray Harryhausen is a god to anyone who grew up watching fantasy films made between 1953 (BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (WB)) through 1981 (CLASH OF THE TITANS,MGM). You were at some time enthralled and in awe of the stop motion wizardry that this one man special effect auteur brought to the cinema screen. While ILM and others can do the same thing now via computer, recall that Harryhausen for most of his work was creator, camera person, and director ,single handedly doing what now takes teams of CGI experts to try and emulate.

However, unlike Athena born fully grown from the skull of Zeus, Ray Harryhausen’s artistry came from experimenting . Some of these experiments are to be found on RAY HARYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES.

After working as an animator on a George Pal Puppetoon (TULIPS WILL GROW,Paramount,1942),Ray continued to refine his talents as both cinematographer and animator on shorts produced for and by the U.S. Army.red-stare

After his service, he returned to his family home, where he got a 16mm camera and some Kodachrome color film to produce a series of shorts. It was a family affair, with his parents helping with costuming and set building. He completed five of his Fairy Tales between 1946 and 1953 ( a final film not on this collection ,TORTOISE & THE HARE, was started in 1952, but never completed when Harryhausen began making features. That is , it remained unfinished until 2002, when Ray and two fans who worked on tv’s ROBOT CHICKEN (Cartoon Network,2005-2015)decided to complete it.).

The films were released to schools as well as television filler but while they probably did not make Ray much money, he was able to learn his trade and improve his technique on each film .

The first film, THE MOTHER GOOSE STORY (1946) consists of very short vignettes, silent save for some public domain classical music. The influence of George Pal’s animated shorts is quite obvious in the style of puppetry design. The faces use a variation of Pal’s system of substitution faces rather than animating the features. A quick dissolve is used to smooth the transition of facial reactions.

The next film ,THE STORY OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1949) ,showed more confidence ,experimenting with camera movements ,and lighting. It also boasted a voice over narration by actor Hugh Douglas.

hanselTHE STORY OF HANSEL & GRETEL (1951)was once again narrated by Hugh Douglas ,has more reassured camera moves, and even uses some rear projection for a giant oven fire mixed with the stop motion animation figures .

THE STORY OF RAPUNZEL (1951), this time narrated by Del Moore ,seems a bit more stilted than the previous effort ,and the witch figure seems to be just a repainting of the witch from the previous film.

THE STORY OF KING MIDAS (1953),the final of Harryhausen’s short stories on this disc, is the most assured. Once again narrated by Del Moore, the character work on the faces is much more assured, and the villain of the piece is a marvelous piece of villainous design.midas

As a bonus, we get a variation of Little Red Riding Hood, this time via a short 1949 color film of the Wahmann Hand Puppets. The film was released by Encyclopedia Britannica Films, and was produced by Helen Wahmann Lanthop and Lee Wahmann Keel, co-founders of the Children’s Artist Series and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina (still in existence today). It is a straightforward recording of a well rendered puppet show telling of the familiar tale.

Back in 2005, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: EARLY YEARS (Sparkhill /Global Entertainment) was a two disc Special Edition that included the Harryhausen shorts on this disc, as well as a completed TORTOISE & THE HARE and many other extras. That collection is out of print and selling for over $100 . The Alpha/OLDIES.COM Collection is an affordable alternative to that release, and their prints are quite clean and acceptable.rh-the-early-years-collection-dvd-pal
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Next up is the well named STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS. The films are an odd mash up of color and black & white shorts made between 1945 through 1961. Many of them have been used and featured in recent Rifftrax Comedy Christmas specials, and once you see them, you will know why .

behind-scens-xmas-dreamThe 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen” was released in the U.S. to tv and home video by Castle Films in 1948 as A CHRISTMAS DREAM . This was the first film that director Karl Zeman mixed live action and stop motion animation . He later become world famous for fantasy films like THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (Czech: Vynález zkázy /The Deadly Invention,1958,released by WB in 1961).Consider that this short was made when there was devastating rationing due to Nazi occupation until April,1945, it is astounding that the film has such a magical feel.In effect, a young girl neglects her old toy for a new toy,and the older one comes to life.

The English dubbing, however, makes the film enter into the realm of creepy. The high pitched voice of the doll will make a younger generation think of Mr Hankie from tv’s SOUTH PARK (Comedy Central,1997-still running) .

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Next up is SANTA CLAUS‘ STORY (Board of Education,Buffalo,1945).In this story,Santa appears to two little children and tells them “A story you‘ ll always remember“ – about monkeys. That’s right, lots of footage of monkeys. Did I mention monkeys? These first two films have been satirized by the Rifftrax team during their various Christmas specials .

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS(Castle Films,1946) is a live action telling of the the classic Clement C Moore tale, with bits of cartoon animation thrown in. The only thing wierd about it is how it haphazardly jumps from cartoon animation to live action, but is probably the most “normal“ film on the disc.

SANTA IN ANIMAL LAND (Art Reels Production/Official Films,1948)- A bunch of big headed animals get together and go to the North Pole to ask Santa Claus for gifts. This is basically a puppet show that was filmed. However, the behind the scenes history is very interesting. Puppeteer Alfred Wallace (1914-1985) was a Native American puppeteer who had a strong career in the nightclubs during the 1930s through the 1950s. His specialty seemed to have been political satire ,using puppets such as FDR as a baby, or a Senator puppet with two faces. This production seems more like a work for hire piece.

 

 

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The 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen

 

 

SANTA & THE FAIRY SNOW QUEEN(Sid Davis Productions 1951)is probably the longest film in the collection(26 minutes) and the first in color .Sid Davis is a man best known for his public scare films, mostly about not talking to strangers ,running with scissors or you’ll impale yourself ,or the ‘dangers ‘of homosexuality .fairy Here, he seems to be showing you the dangers of community theatre telling a Christmas tale . Using public domain music , several annoying toys come to life(someone stop Jack In The Box,please!),an  female Elf named Snoopy and a drunk sounding Santa encounter a thick accented Snow Queen. This episode too has been spoofed by the Rifftrax team, but here you can experience it in all it’s bizarre glory.sfq100

THE ELF & MR. LITTLE (1953)seems to be a short made for local television (due to the chroma-key titles) Christmas tale shot in Arizona . It features marionettes by Rex Crum,better known as Rex Castle,who while Arizona based,toured and performed all over the world,even on Cruise ships and Las Vegas Night Clubs.In this a toymaker and his wife meet a Christmas elf.

 

SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE CHRISTMAS CAROL (Coronet ,1953)is a live action telling of how the famous song came into being.Though shot in color, the print appears at times to have faded almost to black and white.

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (CASTLE FILMS,1954)- Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 story was shot as a live action French short in 1952,that Castle Films re-dubbed and sold on 16mm as well as to television syndication. While many of us think of a the Danish story teller as making lively children’s stories, a lot of his tales are damn depressing ! The Brave Tin Soldier has the title character melted with his ballerina love, the Little Mermaid in its original incarnation had the title character wanting to murder the Prince to get his blood , and then there is this ,the most depressing and saddest of all his stories.

A little barefoot Match Girl is forced into the cold by her (unseen) father to sell her wares. Hungry and cold, she lights her matches for warmth to no avail.As she dies, she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary (in the original story, it is her grandmother who greats her )who floats her off to Heaven. Actually, Anderson was ,like his contemporary Charles Dickens ,was pointing out the inequities of the poor and wanted to show how we neglect our fellow humans.

THE LITTLE LAMB: A CHRISTMAS STORY (Castle Films/United World 1955) is a live action film where a mother (Maureen O’Sullivan), after having her brood of five children say their prayers, tells them a story of a lost lamb and the Nativity. Morris Ankum, known mostly for playing generals and judges, here plays Azur The Shepherd. Not so much strange as a straightforward Christian tale.

CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE (1961), seems to be a Canadian made film about a little girl who looks at a book and suddenly it dissolves to barely moving clockwork mechanisms. In fact, over 6 minutes of its nearly ten-minute running time is footage is of a revolving diorama with non-moving figures that have a narrator filling in the story!hqdefault

If you want another interesting animated stocking stuffer ,check out also the just released                                                                                 LOST COLD-WAR PROPAGANDA CARTOONS-Color –                                                                       http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7874D.html

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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     (Go Home,Santa, you’re drunk !)

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