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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

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DAVID L HEWITT and his GALLERY OF HORROR

 

GALLERY OF HORROR (1967)
director: David L. Hewitt .American General Pictures. color .widescreen. 83 min.

Alternative Titles
Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors
Return from the Past
The Blood Suckers
Cast
Lon Chaney John Carradine Rochelle Hudson Roger Gentry Ron Doyle Karen Joy Vic McGee Ron Brogan Margaret Moore Gray Daniels Mitch Evans Joey Benson

PRESENTING
1 ‘The Witches Clock’
2 ‘King Vampire’
3 ‘Monster Raiders’
4 ‘Spark of Life’
5 ‘Count Alucard’

Here is horror anthology that you may have seen on late night television but thought that you had only imagined it .

Seriously, this film lifts clips from better Roger Corman  films, then inserts them throughout this picture to add production value (think of that- Corman giving production value!!).

 

Stiff acting, staging, accents that make Dick Van Dyke  in MARY POPPINS (Disney,1964) sound like Laurence Olivier ,the barest of sets ,often just a wall flat with windows ,or a darkened sound stage street with a lamp, helps give this film an impoverished look . Not to the level of an Ed Wood or Andy Milligan , but as off beat in its own peculiar way .

David L. Hewitt ,the auteur 0f all this, was the man behind THE WIZARD OF MARS  (John Carradine again)MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY(both 1965) JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME(1967 ),THE MIGHTY GORGA (1969 );all films with special (de)fects ,and the non fantasy The Girls from Thunder Strip in 1970.

 

He began as a stage magician ,until he met Forrest J Ackerman .  He had an idea for a film script, and Ackerman put him in contact with science fiction writer and filmmaker Ib Melchior (AIP’s 1959 ANGRY RED PLANET ,and the screenplay for the Danish REPTILICUS ,AIP 1961).  Melchior would later pen the short story “The Racer”which would be adapted to the screen as DEATH RACE 2000(New World,1975).

Melchior and Hewitt worked on reworking the ambitious story (originally known as “The Trap”) and shot some test footage to convince investors that they could make the film on a modest budget.  Hewitt was able to create several effects that could be shot live on set, as they were variations of several magician’s tricks. Forrest  J Ackerman even gets a nice cameo doing one of the tricks.

The film became THE TIME TRAVELLERS (AIP,1964),an ambitious tale of time paradoxes and the future,shot on a budget of $250,000.

Trying to go it alone, Hewitt created a film that ran only 33 minutes. Not wishing to lose his investment, he created a stage show involving magic tricks ,performers and people in costumes (probably some poorly underpaid usher) who would run through the theatre onto the stage. All this would then  seque into the film . The result was MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY (1965).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2crI6OdUOA0

 

Hewitt’s next picture was THE WIZARD OF MARS . Shot on a budget of $33,000 , the film was a science fiction retworking of  Wizard Of Oz set upon the Red Planet. John Carradine worked for Hewitt for the first time, shot against a blue screen as a transparent figure appearing against a star field . The money was raised by a group of vending machine operators . Since it was a cash business, the operators looked for ways to invest ,and felt that Hewitt was worth the risk.

THE WIZARD OF MARS was edited by Tom Graeff . If the name is familiar to you, he was the mad “genius ” behind 1959’s TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (W.B.). This was Graeff’s last known film work, with him committing suicide in 1970 .

T.W.O.M was an ambitious film filmed with effects, but it had no one willing to distribute it.  The investors, having no experience in film at all, started their own distribution company ,American General Pictures.

Knowing they did not have the resources to keep producing films, they picked up other movies that had limited release or had been sitting upon the shelves. One of the films they picked up was SPIDER BABY . The bizarre but original Jack Hill film starring Lon Chaney Jr  had been shot in 1964 , but not released until 1967 . Being in black and white made it a harder sell, even when changing the name often to The Liver EatersAttack of the Liver EatersCannibal Orgy, and The Maddest Story Ever Told.

The same year Hewitt created GALLERY OF HORROR ,he also made JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME . Very talkative ,with some effects lifted from other films, Scott Brady took on the John Carradine type role in this (was Carradine busy filming HILLBILLIES IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE??)  . Antony Eisley appears as the nominal hero.The film seems like a variation of the superior THE TIME TRAVELLERS.

As embarassing as some of these films were , none can reach the levels of ineptitude that is THE MIGHTY GORGA (1969).Poor Scott Brady and Anthony Eisley both appear in this jawdroppingly bad film. Long ago SNL did a sketch about dinosaurs, using purposely fake effects. It was hysterical.

 

Here, you feel that the team was serious about their use of force perspective toy dinosaurs and third rate gorilla costume work. How third rate?Hewitt, who constructed and wore the suit, never bothered creating the lower half .

American General folded after one of the partners disappeared and another partner died from a heart attack. The widow of the third partner felt it wasn’t worth the headache, and let the company fold in 1970.   American General did not make a lot of prints of their films, at best 35  copies for the entire country ,and so they were often played until they were worn so badly that they were unscreenable.

Wizard Of Mars Model work

After this, Hewitt became an effects man for hire ,ironically with some of his own space ship footage from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME ending up in the I.I. patchwork film HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970).

 

The 79 year old Hewitt (born December ,1939) is still with us, having worked on effects as late as 2003 on INSPECTOR GADGET 2 for Disney.

 

However, back to the “gallery ” :

John Carradine, in tux, is the host for several tales ,bringing to mind Boris Karloff in the vastly superior  BLACK SABBATH (AIP,1963). DR TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (Amicus/Paramount,1965) was also big hit  ,which is why one of the alternate titles for this film attached DR TERROR’s for one of its releases.

Lon Chaney appears in a tale wherein he references Dr Frankenstein . Chaney is a teaching professor who ,with the aid of two med students, revive a corpse. It must have been nice for him not to be the one on the slab for once. Oh, wait…

Though top billed, Chaney could have shot his whole part in a day .

Carradine probably shot his narrator role reading off of cue cards in front of a blue screen, with his part in the first story, THE WITCHES CLOCK, probably taking all of an afternoon.

 

Most of the rest of the cast seem to declaim their lines as if trying to reach the back of a theatre .

The sound at times is very echoey, meaning that sound proofing was not added to the studio wherein they filmed.

That it felt like inferior CREEPY comics stories may be because one of the screenwriters was Russ Jones,founder of that magazine. He had wanted to film to feel like a comic book, but the distributors and Hewitt vetoed that idea,except for the intentional splash wipes .Audiences would have to wait until CREEPSHOW (Laurel,1982).

The music and sound effects are stock ,coming from a company called COMMERCIAL SOUND RECORDERS ,which sound like a bunch of fans in a basement full of machines .

Wade Williams released a DVD of the film from a print that he owned . That the film looks as good as it does means it was not shown as often as many other copies of the title were .G.O.H. astonishly shot widescreen  ( 2.35:1 )and in color ,which added to the budget perhaps but somehow makes the picture as a whole  look a whole lot cheaper. http://www.wadewilliamscollection.com/ft-haunted.html 

I didn’t go into great detail about the film to allow you to “experience”it for yourself .

This film is Screaming out for a MST3K /Rifftrax treatment.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

ps- some information on David Hewitt, American General, and their films was taken from Fred Olen Ray‘s wonderful 1991 book from MacFarland : THE NEW POVERTY ROW  .https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/the-new-poverty-row/

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WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1970) Twilight Time Blu Ray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 czech poster WUTHERING HEIGHTS 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Turkish poster

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 


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

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


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

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


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

 

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

 


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

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


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

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

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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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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THE SPIDER (1931)

the-spiderTHE SPIDER (Fox Film Corporation, released September 27,1931) b&w. 59 minutes.  $15.00  DVD-R from 16mm print offered by John Carpenter. Contact him via email at pixthatmove@gmail.com .

THE SPIDER is a film that deserves to be better known. Released after DRACULA (Universal, February 12,1931) but before FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, November 21,1931), this film, while in the end a murder mystery, has several strong supernatural elements.thespidertc

The film was co-directed by Kenneth MacKenna and William Cameron Menzies. MacKenna was an actor who also directed several mostly forgettable films between 1931-1934. mackennaMacKenna, born Leo Mielziner, Jr, is today mostly remembered for sponsoring and helping his brother Jo Mielziner (Tony and Academy Award winning set designer). He also was an early “angel” (theatrical financial backer) who introduced his friend Richard Rodgers to the James A. Michener’s book “Tales of The South Pacific” (MacMillian, NY,1947), feeling it might make a good musical. He was right. It became the 1949 musical SOUTH PACIFIC (Majestic Theatre, April 7,1949).tales_of_the_south_pacific_michener

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The real visual director of THE SPIDER would be Menzies. Menzies entered films in 1919, after his service in WWI. Training in effects and 004_thiefstaircasefilm design, within a few short years he was the art director and production designer of classics like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (United Artists, March 18,1924). Pictured above his sketch and the fully realized design in the film. He is perhaps best known for his design of GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, December 15,1939). Not only did he design the look of the film, he even designed some of the famous shots like the massive pullback shot at the train station.

He also later directed the 3D horror film THE MAZE (Allied Artists, July 26,1953) and the classic science fiction film INVADERS OF MARS (20th Century Fox, April 22,1953). He was a visual stylist who made the most of his budgets, big or small.

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(Menzies ,as photographed by Karl Strauss)

 

The screenplay was written by Barry Conners. Conners was a former stage actor who was blacklisted when he tried to unionize actors against corrupt producers.barry-conners He turned to playwriting and had a few Broadway successes, including HELL’S BELLS (Wallack’s Theatre, Jan 26, 1925 – May 1925)which was the Broadway debut of both Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Booth.

He used his success to become a screenwriter for MGM and then Fox Films (later to merge and become 20TH Century Fox). Among his screenplays were an adaptation of his play THE PATSY (MGM,April 22,1928 ). At Fox, he exhibited a strong ability with mysteries, writing the screen adaptation of several of the early Charlie Chan films (including two “lost “Chan films (…Carries On, (Fox, April 12,1931), …. Chance (Fox, Jan 24,1932), as well as THE BLACK CAMEL (June 21,1931).

 

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Later, he would be one of a team of writers who adapted the radio series into CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, August 4,1932), another mystical adventure directed by Menzies and best known for starring Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor. Starring as Chandu was Edmund Lowe. Lowe had already gotten his magical bona fides, starring in THE SPIDER as the film’s star, magician Chatrand. Lowe had begun in vaudeville before getting into silent films. When sound began, his good looks and voice established him as a reliable leading man in the thirties and forties, right up to THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (Monogram, Jan 12,1946), wherein he starred as—a magician!!!!mv5bytu5yzhkogitngewns00yjy4ltk0nzgtmdqxyzc4zjg2mju0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mdewna-_v1_

THE SPIDER was adapted from a stage play by Lowell Brentano and Fulton Oursler that played Broadway at Chanin’s 46th St Theatre (3/22/1927- 5/28/1927) before moving to the Music Box Theatre (5/30/1927-12/17/1927) for a successful run of 319 performances. THE SPIDER: A Play of The Varieties, to give it its full title, was a three act Mystery Melodrama. The setting was the fictional Tivoli Vaudeville Theatre, where the action takes place. The play starred Broadway actor john-halliday(John Halliday )

John Halliday as Chatrand, and featured a lot of vaudeville performers Mack & La Rue, billed as The Skating Marvels of The Century, and Lytell & Fant, listed, intriguingly as The Chocolate Cake -Eaters.0002334_spider_the_300

Oddly, the play had several lawsuits brought against it for plagiarism, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1933 before it was dismissed.

Writer Brentano worked on Broadway writing thrillers as well as musicals, including the intriguing thriller ZEPPELIN (National Theatre, Jan14,1929-March ,1929), set aboard the cabins of the air vessel. He also worked in Hollywood on films like THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO December 9,1932).

 

 

 

Fulton Oursler was a magician who wrote for several pulp magazines. He joined Harry Houdini in discrediting fake mediums in the 1920s, going so far as to write an expose Spirit Mediums Exposed (New Metropolitan Fiction) under the pseudonym Samri Frikell. fulton_oursler_magicianoursler-a-spirit-mediums-exposed

After converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, he wrote THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (Doubleday,1949). It was later adapted into the 1965 movie by the same name.

The film of THE SPIDER obviously cut the play down to its barest storyline, as a three-act play would have run at least 90 minutes. With many of the within the show vaudeville routines cut, time was filled by adding the comedy of Elmer Goodfellow Brendel, better known as El Brendel. Born to an Irish mother & German father who entered vaudeville as a German dialect comic but when anti-German sentiments grew during WWI, he became a simple Swede, often named Ollie, Oley, or Ole.

He began working in films, appearing in the classic silent WINGS (Famous Players/Paramount, August 12,1927). After a brief return to vaudeville, he signed a contract with Fox Studios, taking advantage of the innovation of sound movies. His biggest starring role was in the musical/science fiction film JUST IMAGINE (Fox, November 23,1930). He was billed as the most popular comedian at the time but he soon was reduced to supporting roles and starring in B-comedies. To be honest, to modern audiences, a little El Brendel goes a long way. However, it was probably thought getting El Brendel for THE SPIDER was a good idea at the time.39

The film takes place in the Tivoli Vaudeville House, where the Great Chatrand (Edmund Lowe) is packing them in. Chartrand’s show is being broadcast, and he announces that assistant whom he calls Alexander (Howard Phillips, making his film debut. He only made 11 more films up to 1938, none of which was as good as THE SPIDER. ) is an amnesiac whom he found two years earlier. However, he seems to have lost his memory but developed psychic mind reading powers which they use in the act.vlcsnap-763909

Beverly Lane (Lois Moran, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character “Rosemary “in  F.Scott Fitzgerald’s TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1934 ) has been looking for her brother Paul who disappeared about the same time ,but her uncle John Carrington (Earle Foxe ,who began in silent films back in 1912.He had starred in an odd silent fantasy feature LAST MAN ON EARTH (Fox, November 2,1924) as well as the lost early talkie THE GHOST TALKS (Fox, February 24,1929 ) says it is only a publicity stunt and that it cannot possibly be Paul. However, she insists that they go to see the next performance and Carrington begrudgingly agrees.mv5bngq4nwi4ngitngyyos00mdnllwfly2mtmznindm3n2mymzfmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtq2mjqyndc-_v1_

During all this, we have comedy where Ole (El Brendel) and his young charge (Kendall McComas, who started in the silent Mickey McGuire comedy shorts and in 1932 appeared in some of the Our Gang comedy shorts) are considering what type of tickets to purchase. The ticket taker, by the way, is a cameo by co director MacKenna. When they finally do, and go to their seats, it ends with El Brendel putting a hole through the top of his bowler.48

Chatrand peers through the curtains and recognizes Beverly from a photo that Alexander has. The act begins, and Alexander is blindfolded as Chatrand walks though the audience and holds up various objects. When Chatrand holds up Beverly’s locket, which is like the one Alexander has, Carrington begins to try and take it away from Chatrand. The lights go out, and a someone shoots Carrington. The staging of this scene is quite well done, with rapid cutting between all the parties, and Alexander acting as if possessed, finally ending with the shooting, and Alexander collapsing.vlcsnap-763749

The police arrive and find a gun by the unconscious Alexander. Beverly recognizes Alexander as her lost brother. Now revived and out of his trance, Alexander/Paul blurts out: ‘He tried to kill me! I had to do it.” That’s all the police need to hear, and arrest Alexander. Chatrand escapes via a magic trick, and the police seal off the theatre. No one can leave. Can Chatrand, with his magic skills, find out who the killer is?72

The film moves along at a good pace, and it is a fun movie worthy of rediscovery. The highlight of the film is towards the end during a superbly staged séance sequence.32

The movie is a rarity, and as far as I know, it has not aired on any television stations for decades (indeed, there is hardly anything about it on the Turner Classic Movies site), and it is a shame.img259

It is a short, fast paced little thriller with supernatural elements that deserves to be better known.

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(announced but unmade version)

John Carpenter (no not the director, but this one is known as “The Movie Man” due to his extensive movie collection) is offering a special deal to SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE readers .The sound and picture quality is good, especially when you consider how truly are this film is . John will make a DVD-R of this rare film from his own 16mm print. Cost $15.00 within the continental U.S.A. Contact John directly at pixthatmove@gmail.com . Let him know that SCARLET sent ya!img258

Recommended.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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1930S, 1940s, 1950s, book, BOOK REVIEW, books, british, Classic Hollywood, crime drama, cult, Encyclopedia, fantasy, FILM NOIR, genre, ghosts, Horror, international, McFarland, obscure, rare, review, SCIENCE FICTION, Silent, SILENTS, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd

DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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