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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 STRANGERS:PREY AT NIGHT (March ,2018, theatrical Aviron) Review by Sean Fallon

For what I, Sean Fallon, consider to be the absolute all-time greatest acting performance by a teenage actress in a horror movie, I highly recommend THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT.

On March 9th, this sequel to 2008’s THE STRANGERS (Rogue), hit the big screen. Director Johannes Roberts does an amazing job with this horror movie that is written by Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai, and is based on true events.

Bailee Madison who was only seventeen at the time of the filming excels in the leading role of Kinsey, by convincingly selling every line, expression, emotion, and reaction. From sarcastic teenage rebelliousness to extreme panic that borders on hyperventilating, Bailee Madison delivers it all as if she was personally experiencing everything that Kinsey was enduring, whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally. Her acting was so strong that it never looked like acting, but like live footage of a terrified teenage girl fleeing for her life.

The premise behind the movie is that a family of four goes to an aunt and uncle’s trailer park, during the off-season, which leaves it vacant, to spend the night, on the way to bringing the daughter, Kinsey, to a boarding school, after Kinsey got in serious trouble for a behavior (minor spoiler alert) that remains undisclosed in the movie. When they arrive in the trailer park, the aunt and uncle are not there to greet them, but the keys are left for them to get into their trailer. Three masked homicidal maniacs, however, are lurking about.

Martin Henderson and Christina Hendricks portray Kinsey’s parents who are good with her, despite their frustrations. Their love for their children and love for each other is clearly demonstrated, making them both likeable and believable.

The Strangers 2 6-5-17-9807.dng

Actor Lewis Pullman plays Luke, Kinsey’s older brother. Luke and Kinsey have a typical sibling relationship, with the bickering in the car, the name calling and fighting, but with ultimately the love for one another that is above all their conflict. Luke is the central male character in this movie, and the one with whom a male audience will most likely identify with the most. Lewis Pullman’s strong acting performance makes Luke a very believable and relatable character.

The dynamic of a brother/sister relationship at the heart of the movie, rather than a romantic relationship enhances the genuine concern that a male audience has for the well-being of Kinsey, as well. There are no obnoxious teen fornication scenes, and Kinsey is always modestly dressed, never objectified the way teen actresses, or older actresses who portray teenagers typically are in movies and television.

It is much more cinematically effective to watch a fellow human being, an equal journeyer through life, fleeing for hers, than to watch an objectified bimbo making stereotypically stupid decisions. Identifying with Luke and how he wants to protect his younger sister out of genuine pure love furthermore, from a Christian perspective, makes it very easy to obey 1 Timothy 5:2 towards Kinsey. You end up truly caring about Kinsey as a person, irrelevant to whatever misbehavior she may have shown in the past. It no longer matters.

Music from the 1980s, mostly with female lead singers is heard throughout the movie. This is another dynamic shift that works quite well, as the backdrop for emotionally intense scenes.

 

This movie avoids those obnoxious quick cuts that in other horror movies often create viewer frustration by preventing the viewers from mentally processing what is happening on the screen. Instead, the action is clear and present, with intensity that draws the moviegoers right into the world of Luke and Kinsey, keeping us constantly on edge, in a good way, of wanting to see Luke and Kinsey overcome their three biggest obstacles, the three masked homicidal maniacs.

The writing, directing, acting, score, and editing all work together to create a truly great horror movie that contains all the positive elements of horror, while avoiding the stereotypical pitfalls. While there are some cuss words and scenes with blood, the quality of this movie is unmistakable. I highly recommend THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT.

Sean Fallon

The original THE STRANGERS (Rogue,2008)cost about $ 9 million and made over $52 million during it’s theatrical run .

The new film’s budget has not been released, but in it’s first four days, STRANGERS:PREY AT NIGHT has made $11,270,512 . This is Aviron‘s second release, the first being the Halle Berry thriller KIDNAP (2017) .That film broke even, considering it cost $21 million to produce ,and an estimated $9 million advertising. KIDNAP brought in $30,718,107

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Andy Milligan Double Feature (Alpha DVD) Body Beneath/Guru

Andy Milligan Double Feature: The Body Beneath (1969)74 min. / Guru, The Mad Monk (1970) 56 min. Color. $7.98 single disc DVD.Region “0”

https://www.oldies.com/product-view/8028D.html

Andy Milligan (Feb 12,1929- June 3,1991) was an interesting eccentric.
An avante garde theatre director. Born in the Midwest, his early life was troubled by an abusive alcoholic mother.

After serving four years in the Navy, he was discharged and move to NYC to run a dress shop. During that period, he became involved in the genesis of the original Off Off Broadway theatre movement at Café Cino and La Mama. He got involved with directing, writing, and even designing and creating the costumes for his productions. Some of them were so quickly put together that the costumes practically fell apart as actors exited the small stages.

It was a time of great freedom and creativity, though very little financial reward.

To make a bit of extra money, he did appear in some early television as an actor, though how many he appeared in is not quite clear (Imdb lists 4 shows, but not what he played in them).

The greater though secretive freedoms of homosexuality in New York City also allowed him to explore that aspect of his life.

Andy Milligan  

This led him into creating a 30-minute short called VAPORS (1965). Milligan assumed a lot of alias but seemed to have done almost everything but act to get this film made. It plays like a one act by writer Hope Stansbury (a member of his film family before and behind the camera). It is a sad tale of sex and a failure to connect with others (though only a male male kiss is shown, and a character opening his robe walking towards the camera is shown. In most prints, there is a black line across the nudity.) .

Like most of his films, the film deals with rejects, degeneracy, and a palpable gloom. VAPORS is probably one of his most thoughtful film and shows the direction that he could have gone.

Milligan moved to Staten Island to a large house where he would shoot a large portion of his NYC area made projects. As always, he handled almost every job, probably including the catering. His budgets were never very large, but his ambitions were.

Sadly, for him, he got involved with distributors who took advantage of him, so that he rarely saw any real money for his projects.

He ran a hotel in Staten Island (which probably provided some of his funding) as well as running a theater on West 39th Street for several years, from 1979 until he left NYC in 1985.

His move to California only produced three more films as well as briefly running a dress shop and another theatre company. Nearly penniless, ill health took him in 1991.

Since the early day of video, Milligan’s films have been offered on tape. The transfer was often taken from prints that were dupes. Milligan shot often on 16mm, with his films blown up to 35mm. The duplicates seem to have been reductions from 35mm to 16mm again, meaning the films had been through several transfers.

Framing was off, and grain was often a major problem, as well as color shifts and sound warbling. Mind you, these may have existed in the originals, but so many of his film negatives have disappeared (indeed many of his films have vanished as well, again due to shady distributors).

Having worked in a film storage house, it is amazing how films can be mislabeled and put within the wrong film cans. Perhaps one day we will find a cache of his original prints as well as his lost films and be better able to judge his works.

 

As I was researching this piece, I discovered that someone had posted a print of one of his “lost “sexploitation films, COMPASS ROSE (1967) https://youtu.be/00AS-GaLe78 . I reached out to playwright Robert Patrick, and identified the opening bedroom set as being one for a Landford Wilson play at Caffe Cino ! Just a little more info on this never released film .

 

That said, now to this Alpha DVD double feature. The prints are worn, and the sound has a bit of warble in places. That said, they are in better condition than copies of these films that I have seen in the past. The scratches on the film also increase the grindhouse feel of the theatres in which these films were unspooled.

GURU, THE MAD MONK was released September 1970. The film was shot for an incredibly small $11,000. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) was produced for only $10,000, but that was a modern-day project. GURU was an ambitious period piece, which required several costumed characters, as well as furniture, props and locations that would suggest the time.

 

The main part of the filming took place around and in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church ,346 W 20th St in NYC. The Church, established in 1832 on land donated by, among others, Clement Clarke Moore, author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas/The Night Before Christmas”.

 

The Church, which is still a major part of the Chelsea Community to this day, has dedicated outreach programs, food banks, and permit a lot of performances upon the property.

Nothing, I think, was quite like the craziness of GURU THE MAD MONK. One wonders what the director did to convince them to film this hysterical historical within these sacred walls?

The film was obviously shot with haste, with some shots carefully composed (a nice travelling shot is quite impressive within the Church) as well as many obvious one take blunders that remain in the final print (an actress stumbles upon her line, a character steps upon the train of Guru, a loud rip being heard. Nothing is made of this, so it appears to be unintentional. A light switch is quite visible in one shot in this medieval tale, as well as the title card for the screenplay is misspelled!

Some of the costumes are quite good, some, like the dress of the leading lady, are an obvious 1960s sun dress with alterations. The makeup is never blended, with one character playing an older man wearing obvious white and blue make up, while poor Igor, the hunchback, suffers most from non-blended applications to his face.

Producer M.A. Issacs ( whose initial form the first letters of Maipix Organization in what seems there only attempt at producing, the film later being released by Nova International Productions)seems to have suggested the story to Milligan, perhaps inspired by Hammer’s RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (Fox, 1966).

Milligan upgraded his equipment on this project to 35mm, which may explain why this film is a bit slicker looking than a lot of his earlier projects. However, it is also more expensive film stock, so even using short ends (left over unexposed film sold back to the labs from other productions), it increased the costs on his already tiny budget. Milligan, later in life, felt that this was his worst film. While it is not a classic, it is certainly far from his worst.

Set upon the fictitious island of Mortavia during the Middle Ages, a young woman named Nadja (Judith Israel, her only film credit) is imprisoned upon a false charge of having killed her baby.

Everything seems to center around the Lost Souls Church of Mortavia, which seems to contain the prison as well as the Church wherein sentencing is carried out.

Carl (a very monotonic Paul Lieber, who went on to a long successful career on television and on stage in L.A., winning 5 Dramalogue Awards and an L.A. Weekly Award for his performances), her jailer, is smitten with her, and seeks to save her.

He appeals to FATHER (not a mad monk as the title suggests) Guru, the religious leader. Guru is played by actor Neil Flanagan, who also appeared in Milligan’s SEEDS (Aquarian,1968,) and TORTURE DUNGEON (Constitution,1970, an earlier “period” film that was shot on 16mm with a $15,000 budget).

Flanagan was a staple of the Village theater scene, winning an Obie in 1967 for his starring role as an aging drag queen in Lanford Wilson’s hit ‘THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT” and a second Obie in 1976 for his contributions to over 10 years of Off Off-Broadway Theatre. He died from AIDS in 1986 at age 52. He relishes his plummy role in this film and plays it to the hilt.

 

Guru makes a deal with Carl to save the girl, but it involves Carl having to help finance the Lost Souls Church by a bit of body snatching. In exchange, Guru will keep Nadja hidden until his three-month morbid indenture is over.

Carl is sent to see Olga (Jacqueline Webb) who will provide a potion to make it appear that Nadja is dead (a la Juliet in Romeo & Juliet). Olga also requires a price, which is to supply human blood from the executed for her experiments. Carl reluctantly agrees, and Olga seals the deal by pricking his palm with a needle. It is almost laughable when he lifts his hand, for it is drenched in blood!

 


We see various accused brought before Guru within the Church, wherein he gives them a blessing and then brands them before they are dragged away. Igor (Jack Spencer) the deformed hunchback, stirs the fire and hands over the torture instrument. When Nadja is brought before him, he slips the drug into some sacrificial wine, and gives it to the young woman.

The medicinal works and Nadja is buried, only to be dug up by Carl, and hidden within the church. Carl is really not too observant, as both the mad mon…er.. Priest and Olga have plans for the young woman . Guru and Olga are, it seems bumping uglies, and enjoying torturing and killing others from Milligan’s stock company. Olga, it seems, doesn’t want the blood for experiments, but for herself, as, it is revealed, that she is a vampire! One thing about a Milligan film, is sometimes things can appear out of nowhere.

Next up on the disc is THE BODY BENEATH. In 1968, Milligan had gone to England after making a multi picture deal with producer Leslie Elliot. Eliot had been involved with producing the MGM film THE LIQUIDATORS (1965) but  he also ran the privateThe Compton Cinema), and ,having released some of Milligan‘s earlier work in the U.K.,  he may have been on the lookout for inexpensive product that he would own.


Their first production was NIGHTBIRDS (Cinemedia, released in 1970). The dark kitchen sink drama barely got a release and vanished for years. Thanks to Nicolas Winding Refn (director of NEON DEMON, Broad Green 2016) and the BFI, the film was been restored and released to DVD in England in 2013, where it has been getting mixed reviews but better than one often associates with Milligan’s work.

Refn is obsessed with Milligan’s work, buying up prints from various sources, including those in the private collection of author Jimmy McDonough, who wrote the must have biography of the director, THE GHASTLY ONE (Chicago Review Press,1st Edition, October 1,2001). For more on the fascination by the one director for the other, read
https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jun/14/obsession-andy-milligan-cult-movies .

For some reason, Leslie Eliot dissolved the partnership during the making of one of the remaining films (no doubt the director’s caustic personality) , and Milligan was forced to deal once again with William Mishkin.

Mishkin and his Constellation Films were known mostly for cheap nudies and sexploitation films. He was willing to help distribute films by Milligan because even if they just played the NYC grind circuit he could make his money back. Unfortunately, distributors could and would sublease titles out to other regional distributors, so filmmakers would be at the mercy of the original distributors for a full accounting. Neglect by the distributors is also how many of these and other films were lost (it is said that Mishkin’s son destroyed the films rather than pay for film storage fees). Is it any wonder after a lifetime of mistreatment that Milligan’s negative world view seeped so heavily into his work?

 

It is doubtful that Milligan ever saw more than what he spent on making his films, and, like poor Ed Wood, did not retain the rights to his own work. Mishkin had backs Milligan’s sexploiter THE PROMISCUOUS SEX (1967, “Made in Greenwich Village! “  for about $10,000, returning a profit over 13 times its budget), and so he was willing to back the four remaining British films, if they were exploitive.

The results were BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (released January 1970,on a whopping $18,000 budget, with certain scenes filmed when Milligan returned to the U.S.),THE RATS ARE COMING, THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE (released in May,1972, again an $18,000 budget ,with some footage shot in Staten Island to complete /pad the film after Milligan returned to the U.S. in 1970), THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS (released June 1972,shot on a “massive” $20,000 budget) ,and the film we are reviewing here THE BODY BENEATH (released September, 1970,again with a budget of $20,000 estimated).

THE BODY BENEATH is one of Milligan’s most uniformly acted production. There are less overly over the top histronics, though still many plummy performances. Like all his British films, this was shot with his 16mm Auricon camera. These cameras were popular with journalists as they were a single system machine that recorded sound DIRECTLY to the optical track, thus eliminating the need for a separate audio recorder. A major liability was the camera were parallax view, meaning you were not looking directly through the lens, but what you saw from your viewfinder was slightly off from what was really being filmed.

In a wide shot, this is not normally a problem, but Milligan’s style were tight shots to cover perhaps how little set decoration there was in the scene, giving the framing an often claustrophic effect. Plus, one of the characters might be barely in the shot due to the framing problem combined with the parallel view. Retakes, alas, would cost too much.

     Auricon 16mm camera rig used by reporter Tony Hamilton not Milligan

The film begins with Anna Ford (Susan Clark,NOT the Canadian actress of the same name who played Mary Kelly in MURDER BY DECREE ,Avco,1979. This British actress seemed to have done mostly minor roles, with this being her largest part.) going to place flowers at her mother’s grave just as the graveyard is about to close. Never a good thing, as Barbra (Judith O’Dea) found out in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD(Continental,1968).

Moments after the caretaker alerts her to the closure, Anna finds herself surrounded by several bluish tinged blonde women. “Hellloooo” says one with an almost childlike quality. This is a bit chilling, but the print has very warbly sound at this point (though I don’t know if any other print that I have seen is any better, so it may have been in the original recording and Milligan never bothered to redub it later.).

 


Just a side note: the original poster declared that the film was “filmed in the graveyards of England”. This was probably to make ticket buyers assume they were going to see a Hammer or Amicus Film. The one thing these films shared was filming in Highgate Cemetery, which was also used in Hammer’s TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970) and AmicusTALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE(1973).

 

      Highgate today and as it appears in TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA

 

 

Back to this film. Graham Ford (Colin Gordon.I think IMDB is mistaking him for another actor with the same name so I cannot tell what his credits are.) is awaiting his wife’s return when he is visited by the Reverend Alexander Ford (Gavin Reed,who had small roles in films like CARRY ON LOVING,Rank ,1969, relished his leading role here ) and his wife, Alicia (Susan Heard,who played a maid in Milligan’s NIGHTBIRDS as well as various crew roles on his other  U.K. films .).

 

                                          IMDB : not the same actor who appeared in this film !


Gavin Reed is delightful, making Milligan’s overwrought writing roll easily off his tongue as if he is in an Oscar Wilde play (who is referenced during their exchange), giving the part some much needed wit. His talk of the family genealogy reminds one of Ernest Thesiger in THE OLD DARK HOUSE (Universal, 1932). Graham we discover is Canadian and finds that the Reverend and his wife are freshly arrived from Ireland to re-open All Souls Church (a satellite of the LOST Souls church from GURU?) and he has a lease on Carfax Abbey (a clue for all you Dracula fans) next door. To put a point on it, Graham says that it is right next to Highgate Cemetery. In real life Carfax is near Whitby, nearly 264 miles from London.

 

Anna comes home but reacts startled by seeing the Reverend. We abruptly cut to another couple, Susan Ford (Jackie Skavellis,who also appeared in Milligan’s THE RATS ARE COMING….) and her boyfriend Paul (Richmond Ross,his only listed film credit). We find out that Susan is pregnant and that she is going to Carfax to meet a relative who recently contacted her, namely the Reverend.

We are introduced to one final relative, Candace Ford (Emma Jones,in her only major role). As she is about to leave her home, her maid answers the door a hunchback, Spool (Berwick Kaler ,who appeared in all of Milligan’s British films, and who since 1981 has appeared as The Grand Dame in York Theatre’s Royal!He has little recollection of his three day’s work on this, other than Milligan wanting him to stoop more) hands her flowers. When she turns, one of the blue faced woman is behind her. She sends the maid to deliver the flowers and steal some blood from Candace by pricking her finger.

Gavin Reed discusses with Berwick Kaler how to stoop lower

 

      Berwick today,in a costume that Milligan would have loved!

The basic plot unfolds that the Ford family line have been vampires, but they need to replenish. Thus, the gathering of the family to restore the bloodline with Susan popping out vampire babies while the other relatives supplying blood.

There is a lot of shaky camera work that is meant to add style but instead induces motion sickness, and many scenes are very ill lit. Gore is low in this film, though a second maid Jessie (Felicity Sentence,who played First Girl in NIGHTBIRDS) ends up with knitting needles to the eyes and dragged off by Spool, while the Reverend seems to need leeches applied to him to keep his blood pressure down, and poor Spool, perhaps the most sympathetic character, is cruelly crucified by the Reverend.

At the end of the film, there is a vampire gathering that shows that Milligan had seen several of Roger Corman’s films, particularly aping the Vaseline smeared lens that Corman employed for his dream sequences. While giving the scene an arty effect, it also perhaps helped hide the improvisational nature of the costumes, which often look they were made from grandma’s sofa!

      Hazel Court  hazy in Masque Of The Red Death

 Milligan’s attempt 

No one ever addresses why many of the vampires are blue skinned, while the Reverend is not (a question, though, that also comes be questioned about the superior RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, A.I.P.1971, wherein his brides look the worse for wear while he looks handsome, at least until he attacks).

I thought having a vampire as a priest was a unique idea, which allowed Milligan to express his feelings about religion through the character. However, it was pointed out to me that the title character in VARNEY THE VAMPIRE by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest (serialized beginning in 1845) posed as a monk (but was he mad??)at one point and he told his story to a sympathetic priest, before he hurled himself into a volcano . Varney’s subtitle would have fit a Milligan film by the way,  FEAST OF BLOOD.

Neil, are you wearing Grandma ‘s curtains? ” ” No, Ma….”

Andy Milligan’s films , unlike Ed Wood’s , are hard for many to take. One cannot certainly warm up to them as one does with Wood.

Wood, no matter how inept his films, had a certain positiveness to them, a definite “Let Me Entertain You” sincerity, no matter how many wobbly cardboard headstones one saw on display.


Milligan was a more complex individual, dealing with a lot of anger issues, a rage against the world, that he used his theatre work and his films to lash out at what he perceived a cruel world. From all he endured in his life, one is not surprised, but his cruel streak still emerges.

A few of his films have some animal torture which simply pure sadism is (THE RATS ARE COMING had Milligan himself mutilating a poor mouse in the Staten Island shot footage, as well as his killing a pigeon in NIGHTBIRDS) that cannot be condoned.

 

Luckily none of that is in these two films (just the poor abused actors!).

I cannot say that I find his films entertaining, but that said, they are hypnotically fascinating. Had he more money, a proper crew and support, one wonders what he might have accomplished? Maybe it would have tamed the anger in him. Perhaps he would have eased from the horror films into more films like NIGHTBIRDS and VAPORS, which seem to be where his heart truly was.


What we are left with is a collection of odd films that seem to become more and more a time capsule of what grindhouse truly was.

This ALPHA dual feature could have been called the Andy Milligan Deliver Us from Religion Co bill, and it is nice to get the two films on one affordable disc to recreate the original theatre release from Nova.

If you are curious about grindhouse, microbudget, or seeing what all the cult buzz is about Andy Milligan, then definitely pick up this release.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As to extras:
The original theatrical trailer.

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

There are two running audio commentaries:

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

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

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

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

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

Not enough extras? How about these new documentaries:

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

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

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

-A slide show picture Gallery.

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

A Reversible sleeve featuring a beautiful cover by Justin Osbourn.

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

-Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

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DE LIFT/THE LIFT and DOWN(THE SHAFT) Blu Ray/DVD Combo packs from Blue Underground

THE LIFT/DE LIFT 1983(Ltd Ed Blu Ray/DVD combo)Blue Underground $39.98 region 0
Color / 99 min. Dutch /English

https://www.amazon.com/Lift-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray-Stapel/dp/B074BNZP7G/

DOWN -2001 (Ltd Edition Blu Ray /DVD combo ) Blue Underground $39.98 region 0
Color /111 minutes English
https://www.amazon.com/Down-Shaft-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray/dp/B074BNB14B/

Back in 1982, ‘Twilight Zone” by Golden Earring was a music video in constant rotation on the new channel MTV. The catchy tune  referenced the
popular TV.series as a suspected spy is caught and interrogated . Several music video directors went on to make popular fantasy films ,such as David Fincher ,Russell Mulcahy, and Alex Proyas.

Also among them was Dutch director,writer,producer, and musician Dick Maas. Since then he has given us many Dutch thrillers and horror films like AMSTERDAMNED(1988,also available from BLUE UNDERGROUND https://www.amazon.com/Amsterdamned-Limited-Combo-Blu-ray-Stapel/dp/B071GW2L2Z/ ), SINT (SAINT) 2010,up to 2016’s PROII (PREY). His films are marked by their style as well as dark humor that permeates them.

His first film that drew him to international attention was DE LIFT . In a modern apartment building in Amsterdam, strange things are happening ,most of which seem to involve the bank of elevators . The company who are responsible for the maintenance of the three conveyers (or lift of the title ) send Felix Adelaar (Huub Stapel ,later to star in MaasAMSTERDAMNED )to check out the systems.

While working, he runs into reporter Mieke de Boer (Willeke van Ammelrooy, star of the art house hit and Oscar winning ANTONIA’s LINE ,1996)who is investigating the strange events.

Among the occurrences are two drunken couples who are trapped in an elevator while the heat increases to dangerous levels , a blind man who falls into an empty shaft (and which the building owners declare is a suicide) ,and the gruesome decapitation of a security guard .

The more the Felix & Mieke investigate, the more strange things become. Is the company RISING SUN,who provides microprocessors for the system ,somehow involved with the strange things?

 

Their detection leads to Adelaar’s wife leaving him and taking the children, thinking that he is having an affair with the journalist. His boss also suspends him. Felix has nothing to lose as he goes to building one final time to find out what is happening and confront the evil within.

DE LIFT seemed to have done well in Europe, but it was not as well received in the United States.

Released to a limited number of theaters in July ,1985 , critics were indifferent to the foreign title ( “Mr. Maas leaves the elevator’s potential fiendishness largely unexploited.”-NY Times,July 4,1985)and 6 year old distributor Island Alive folded shortly after .)

Luckily ,video stores were booming and Media Home Entertainment released it on VHS in 1986 in a dubbed version, and in 1988 through their foreign film division Cinematheque Collection in a Dutch language subtitled print.

Maas continued to create wonderfully off kilter films through his First Floor Features .He creates three popular Dutch comedies and a T.V. series (FLODDER)as well as the marvelous already mentioned AMSTERDAMNED (1988) and even an episode of the THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES (‘Transylvania Transmission”).

It seems that for years people kept after Maas to do a sequel or a remake to DE LIFT. Finally in 2000, Maas raised sufficient funds (fifteen million Euros) for a larger version that expands on several of the ideas from the original film, and hires American actors as the leads as well as several marvelous character roles.

While set in New York City , the majority of the film was shot in Holland on some of the biggest sets ever built for a Dutch film .Some street scenes and aerial photography were the bulk of the American footage. The blending is for the most part flawless, and even the Dutch actors blend in convincingly in this English language film.

In DOWN (also known as THE SHAFT ,which makes one expect it to be a film about Richard Roundtree ), the setting is in a modern NYC skyscraper. In the Millennium Building, one of the elevators malfunctions and traps a group of pregnant women ,overheating the air and several of them give birth !

The building managers call in the Meteor company that maintains the elevators, who send Jeff (Eric Thal ,Sam Nevins in Buena Vista’s adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s THE PUPPET MASTERS,1994 ) and his new young assistant Mark Newman (James Marshall ,who is best known for portraying James Hurley in the original and revival of TWIN PEAKS )to check them out. Newman wants to do a more in depth review of the systems ,but his partner feels that will be too much of an inconvenience to the building, and expensive. Mr Milligan (Edward Herrmann, LOST BOYS ,W.B. 1987),the building owner, agrees.

Not long after that , a blind man and his seeing eye dog fall (literally) victim to the killer machines. One of the security guards who finds the corpses hanging in the shaft gets his head caught in the door and decapitated when the elevator descends .

Reporter Jennifer Evans (Naomi Watts, later to star in Peter Jackson’s epic KING KONG ,Universal,2005) starts to investigate, and she interviews Newman ,quoting him in her article as saying “ 9 out of 10 people make it out of an elevator alive.”

Newman is chewed out by his boss ,Mitchell (the always wonderful Ron Perlman, HELLBOY,Columbia,2004). Shortly thereafter, another bizarre death happens ,when a skateboarder is pulled supernaturally into an elevator and within seconds hurled up to the 86th floor, and then flung out violently ,through a glass partition and off to the ground below .

A press conference is held by Milligan and Police Lt McBain (Dan Hedaya,THE USUAL SUSPECTS, MGM,1996). The official statement is that the skateboarder committed suicide, and that it had nothing to with the previous accidents .

Evans does not believe it ,and she visits Newman’s home .She has gotten several surveillance tapes, and it shows the skater’s death. Most mysterious, the elevator trip, which should take at least 40 seconds, is accomplished in less than two!

Jeff refuses to believe them ,and so they go to Evan’s newspaper office . Their research keeps bringing up the name of a researcher named Gunther Steinberg (Michael Ironside, forever typecast as a villain thanks to his brilliant work in SCANNERS,Avco Embassy ,1981). Gunther ,who had worked with the army on mixing dolphin brain mass with electronic circuits ,was hired by the elevator company to develop microchips .

The next morning Milligan is horrified when he has the body of Jeff drop through the ceiling of the elevator he was occupying. Jeff had probably been checking the elevators but Milligan and company use his death as a means of scapegoating. At the conference, they call Jeff deranged and say that he had been responsible for all the events, and probably died trying to set up another incident.

The story is believed and the building conducts business as usual. That is ,however, until one elevator speeds upward, the bottom dropping out and passengers, including a small child, fly helplessly downward to their doom . Those who hang on are not safe, as the container hurls at extreme speed through the roof ,stopping with a crushing Impact.

The President of The United States holds a White House press conference ,where he announces he feels that the events are due to terrorists and a terrorist team is sent to protect and prevent any further incidents.

Evans and Mitchell continue to investigate the bizarre history of the building, and the experiments of Steinberg .

Since the Army let him go, it seems that he has continued,only now their may be human DNA ,and the chips have become sentient, and evil.

Can they get in the building, pass the militia and Steinberg to stop the evil ? The film ends like a supernatural DIE HARD (Fox,1988)

DOWN was given a token release by Buena Vista International on May 20,2001. It seems to have come and gone quickly ,and the home video rights were acquired by Artisan . It seemed to have also made little impact on the dwindling video store market ,and with fandom .

Now BLUE UNDERGROUND has done stellar work on finding the best material possible on these two films, and put them on Blu Ray.

THE LIFT is a 1080p HD resolution print 2 K restoration from the original negative , presented in 1:66:1 wide-screen.The film is available in it’s original Dutch Language (5.1 DTS-HD or 2.0 DTS-HD) or English (2.0 DTS-HD). The sound is very clean and clear, with sound effects and original music jumping out at certain points.

Dick Maas also composed the score , and it is one of those now dated sounding synth scores as well as electronic whooshes and sounds .

The English track uses terms like “lift” (a direct translation of the title)rather the more common American usage.

The subtitles seem to be based upon a direct translation of the Dutch dialogue ,as it does not always match the English language dialogue. They are clear and easy to read. There are also English SDH and Spanish subtitles as well.

Other extras are :

-A running commentary by director Dick Maas and editor Hans van Dongen who talk about the difficulties of making this film on a 350,000 Euros budget.

-”Going Up” an interview with star Huub Stapel

-”Long Distance”-a short 4 minute short that has the feel of a Twilight Zone episode ,wherein a father who has had a car accident, calls his home and speaks to his daughter . Beautifully filmed and acted.

-Trailers from the U.S. and Holland

-A poster and still gallery .

-a nice newly written essay booklet by by writer /filmmaker Chris Alexander . He nicely covers the film ,plus discusses the more relaxed mores of European filmmakers about sex and nudity as well as comparisons to Stephen King works about machines gone wrong. He prefers the original film to the 2001 remake.

For DOWN , the film is also a brand new 2K restoration from the original negative, 1080p HD Resolution , presented in a 2.35.1 wide-screen all region print .

The audio is available in the original English as well as French in both 5.1 DTS-HD or Dolby Digital Stereo .

The sound is more mixed for multi speaker presentation (due no doubt to it’s larger budget ),with sounds being very crisp and clean.

The Yellow Subtitles are easy to read, though whomever wrote them , they need to learn the difference between “Your “ and “You’re” .

Spanish subtitles are also available.

Other extras include :

A running audio commentary with Maas and stunt coordinator Willem de Beukelaer . Maas at times seems to have forgotten how certain scenes were done ,but is reminded by de Beukelaer (an example is the opening shot that moves from C.G.I.  and model shots to the live action.On the extras ,we see how the shot was accomplished.More on that later.). It is fascinating to hear the two say how they have worked together since AMSTERDAMMED ,and the difficulties of doing a film like this. The recreations of New York interiors is perfect ,and it seems the diner was actual functional (too bad they didn’t move it to an actual building.I am sure it would have been a hit with tourists to have an American diner in Amsterdam!).

The same director of photography (Marc Felperlaan )worked on both films ,and they recreate some shots ,while using a little C.G.I. to blend between the real actors and effects(such as the beheading in the elevator).

The director seemed to have had disagreement with Marshall on the exact tone of the film, but it does not come across in the finished production.

Director Maas mentions that the film opened the weekend before 9/11, but he is referring to the European opening. It seems it opened well, but after the events, the film did no business.

It is easy to see why. A New York Skyscraper ,people falling to their death, the President referring to terrorists (dialogue was actually copied from President Bill Clinton referencing the Feb 26,1993 bomb attack on the Twin Towers). It is quite creepy ,and not in the way the film intended. Needless the film ended up being a financial failure.

The use of Aerosmith’s “Love In An Elevator” was a big expense but is a nice button to the film.

Other extras are

The Making of Down : a behind the scene look at the making of the film, including the construction of the huge sets, and the mix of CGI and live action,as well as the various stunts.

The Blu Ray exclusive is a more detailed behind the scenes documentary.

-There is also the American teaser and theatrical trailers.

-A poster and still Gallery

– A Collectible booklet with a new essay by Michael Gingold.

 

Both films have much to recommend them . The original has a nice gritty quality to it , though oddly, I lean more to the slicker American remake. It is probably because of the expanded story-line plus the dark humor comes more to the fore . The remake does seem to fluctuate as to whether there is a supernatural element or is it a sci fi A.I. story (or both) , but it doesn’t take away from the film.

Maas handles possessed machinery better than Stephen King film adaptations like MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986,D.E.P.). It also predated supernatural skyscraper films like the little seen  DARK TOWER (Sandy Howard, 1987 ;directed by Freddie Francis (as Ken Barnett), Ken Wiederhorn  (as Ken Barnett)(!!) starring Jenny Agutter and Michael Moriarty) and elevator terror films like DEVIL (Universal,2010) or ELEVATOR ( Inception ,2011) .

 

I would definitely recommend both films ,especially if you wish to see an example where a foreign director remakes his film in English and doesn’t mess it up (a la THE VANISHING (Argos Films,1988  and  Fox,1993).

Both Recommended.
.
-Kevin G Shinnick

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1970s, Action Adventure, AGFA, Blu Ray, crime drama, cult, dvd, exploitation, film, genre, gore, Horror, independent film, Mystery, obscure, rare, reviews, Serial Killer, SOMETHING WIERD, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd

THE ZODIAC KILLER (AGFA /SOMETHING WEIRD Blu-ray released July 25,2017) ANOTHER SON OF SAM $34.95

THE ZODIAC KILLER (Prudential Pictures ,1971) (AGFA /SOMETHING WEIRD Blu-ray released July 25,2017) Color 86 minutes /plus bonus feature ANOTHER SON OF SAM color 67 minutes $34.95

https://www.amazon.com/Zodiac-Killer-Blu-ray-DVD-Reed/dp/B06Y1C49BD/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1491924197&sr=1-2&keywords=zodiac+killer

 

Back in the early 1980s, I worked in a film storage company . While many television suppliers would keep their 16mm prints with us for broadcast, and studios would have their 35mm theatrical prints (mostly weekend children matinees ,like MAGIC OF LASSIE (Int. Picture Show Co, 1978) ,a large majority of our films sat in boxes and rotting film cans.

 

Located in a pier in Edgewater NJ , our storage facility had the original negative of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Fox,1939) as well as NIGHT OF THE GHOULS (Ed Wood ,filmed in 1957, no known release). How these two California produced films negatives ended up in our facility is a mystery. Both were in containers with only lab numbers,without identifying titles.

 

Shipping errors, mislabeling, human mistakes, hundreds of titles ended up misplaced in storage facilities around the country. Some prints were not returned at all ,and ended up remaining in movie theatres, in the hands of private collectors , or buried in cement .

 

 

Add to that film rot (deterioration ) and color shifts (prints turning pink) – it is little wonder that so many films vanish .

 

While major studios have started to preserve their heritage , the independent film, those made outside the system ,or taken by smaller distributors with either shady practices or /and firms that went belly up, a lot of film prints and original elements lay unclaimed in various film labs due to unpaid services or forgotten . Corruption of the film stock had many turn to jelly or dust ,others tossed due to storage fees unpaid.

 

 

Luckily ,in 1990 the late Mike Vraney began the painstaking and time consuming task of finding films in horror and sexploitation ,among the many genres, that he found ,saved from literal oblivion, and released onto the home video market .His hard work turned grind-house filmmakers like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman into cult figures .

 

The incredibly friendly Mike and his lovely wife Lisa Petrucci ,equally friendly as well as his business partner and who wrote up many of the synopses and designed the various covers, were always welcome dealers at various conventions across the country.

 

When he passed , Lisa continued the company , and has kept the legacy of SOMETHING WEIRD alive (check out https://www.somethingweird.com/ ) and now has teamed up with newcomer AGFA ( The American Genre Film Archive ) to restore and release some titles in her catalog onto Blu Ray .

AGFA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located founded in 2009 in Austin, Texas. AGFA exists to preserve the legacy of genre movies through collection, conservation, and distribution. (Want to donate? http://americangenrefilm.com/about )

 

After a successful Kickstarter campaign ,they are releasing THE ZODIAC KILLER . This is promised to be the first of dozens of titles that AGFA and SOMETHING WEIRD plan to release .

THE ZODIAC KILLER is an incredibly unique film . Created by Tom Hanson who was not involved in film making prior (owning a chain of successful Pizza Man Restaurants) ,his idea was not to make money or for any artistic ambition. Tom felt that his cinematic effort would be a huge aid in helping to capture the Zodiac Killer .

 

The infamous Zodiac Killer claimed his first known victims on December 20,1968 and his last known one on October 11,1969. There are other suspected deaths that are suspected to be the victims of the unknown assassin (he was never apprehended) that go back to 1963 and up to 1970 . The infamous executioner was self named due to a series of taunting and cryptic letters which they sent to the police and newspapers(that continued until April 24,1978) , signed with an enigmatic sketch that resembles a cross hair of a rifle.

 

Hanson thought that if he made a film about the events , the Zodiac Killer would be drawn to see the film ,at which point the filmmaker and friends would perform a citizen arrest!!

 

The plan was the following. Tom Hanson rented out the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco and premiered the movie on April 7, 1971 (the killer had written his Los Angeles Times letter just three-and-a-half weeks earlier). They thought that his ego would draw him moth-like to a flame to see how his story was portrayed.

Somehow ,he got Kawasaki to donate a motorcycle for a prize giveaway.Entrants would fill out questionnaires with the statement “I think the Zodiac Kills because …” and see if an of the entries matched the handwriting of the Zodiac.

To that end, they constructed elaborate and inane traps with which to apprehend their subject ,including a fake ice cream freezer which had an accomplice of Hanson’s within supposedly ready to leap out at the appropriate moment . He must have consulted Wile E Coyote ‘s beloved Acme products, as the person within the box nearly passed out due to insufficient air holes!

Hanson feels that the had indeed captured the mad man at one of the screenings,but had to let them go due to lack of evidence .

The film was also later handled by an unscrupulous distributor and so Tom Hanson ,needing to make money again, stepped away from the maverick world of indie film making. The film was reportedly shot for $13,000,an incredibly small sum to shoot a film even back in 1970.

 

What we are left with is this incredible document of the time .

 

The motion picture you are about to see was conceived in June 1970. Its goal is not to win commercial awards but to create an “awareness of a present danger”. Zodiac is based on known facts. If some of the scenes, dialogue, and letters seem strange and unreal, remember — they happened. My life was threatened on Oct. 28, 1970 by Zodiac. His victims have received no warnings. They were unsuspecting people like you…
Paul Avery. Reporter
San Francisco Chronicle

 

That is the opening credit to give the film it’s bona fides. Paul Avery was a real life police reporter for the San Francisco Examiner who was drawn into the investigation when he received a Halloween card with the cryptic symbol with the warning”you are doomed” . Avery was later heavily involved with covering the Patty Hearst kidnapping .

 

Having his name associated with the film was meant to lift it up from mere exploitation. The result ,however,while sincere ,is brought down by bad acting and inept technical aspects. That does not mean that the film is without merits.

For one thing, the killings are pretty brutal and sudden . The film also has a dark sense of evil lurking everywhere ,with the killer having the last words :”I’ll be seeing you”.

While claiming to be the true life events of the serial murders, certain facts are played with and a lot of characters who are not involved with the events were invented for the story line .

 

The film is in the end, in spite of all its good (?) intentions , an exploitation film (not that there’s anything wrong with that!!).

 

SOMETHING WEIRD had released THE ZODIAC KILLER prior with two other films on DVD , THE SEX KILLER (Barry Mahon,1967 ,about a Times Square psycho ) and ZERO IN & SCREAM (Lee Frost,1971,a man kills women who reject him in Hollywood). That release is now out of print .

 

This new Blu Ray is a 4K scan 1080p HD transfer from the surviving16mm blow up elements (it was shot in 16mm to be transferred to 35 for theatrical release). The audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2 channel track . While the picture quality and sound is improved ,AGFA is taking great pride in not altering or punching up sounds or pictures ,to give the closest presentation to the original release (take that George “let me C.G.I. the soul of it it “Lucas) . Therefore, flaws in the 48 year old film elements remain (some hazing common in 16mm blow ups,and a hair in the gate when it was printed. The sound too isn’t played to jump around your sound system.

 

Other extras on this AGFA/SOMETHING WEIRD release are

 

A brand new commentary track with several of the surviving creative team like Director /Producer Tom Hanson ,Producer Manny Nedwick and several of the AGFA team .

 

A four minute film interview with Nedwick and Hanson have the two discuss how the film came together is material covered in the audio track but it is interesting to put faces to the voices .

 

Finally, a second feature fills out the extras. Whether you think this is a bonus or not depends how much you enjoy ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977). This film was given a new 2K scan from a 35 mm print.

This film’s most interesting moments are the long list of serial killers going back to Jack The Ripper. I mean it goes on for quite a while. QUITE A WHILE . Almost as if they are trying to delay the start of the movie as long as possible. It finally runs out of murderers to name(though I kept expecting another title to pop up during the course of the film ,reading : “Oh we forgot to mention…”)and we take a leisurely journey down a river, to a couple’s boat house ,and then to a night club where a singer named Johnny Charro,portraying himself , in full lounge lizard attire ,sings “I Never Said Goodbye” ,a tune that rates with “The Words Get Stuck In My Throat”from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Toho,1966) as most responsible for killing nightclubs. Johnny ,by the way ,is still with us and performing .http://www.johnnycharro.com/about.htm

 

“L-l-l-ladies….Johnny Charro”

Finally, just when we think we are watching someone’s vacation films , we cut to a local mental institution . Our killer named Harvey (not a killer bunny) breaks free of his restraints (I wonder if Rob Zombie saw this to inspire his Halloween remakes ?) after receiving electro shock and a sedative (did he hear Johnny Charro??) . A quick flashback implies that Harvey was sexually abused by his mom, causing him to go off on a murder spree.

Somehow ,we try to follow a group of college girls ,whose lives meet up with the killer, and swat teams are called in, and a lot of running around happens ,a few odd freeze frames happen while the sound continues , and mother is called in to confront her son at a police stand off, where he is killed by multiple gun shots (with some of the most obvious blood packs ever used on screen).

The end.

Really.

I watched it twice just to make sure that I didn’t miss something. If anything it seemed more confusing the second time around. Were it not for the sync sound in certain scenes ,I might have thought it was made by Hal Warren of MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE ( Emerson ,1966 ) infamy. It was that level of ineptness. Warren ,however ,had an excuse as he had never made a film before (or after).

ANOTHER SON OF SAM (shot under the title HOSTAGES) was written,produced ,and directed by stunt man Dave A Adams ,who also handled the stunt co ordination .Adams had at least been on film sets before (TRUCKER’S WOMEN ,1975 ,which was released regionally,then on Paragon Video,before Troma picked it up), but you would never know it. Filmed in Charlotte,North Carolina , the film seemed to have been shot in 1975 before finally getting a nominal theatrical in 1977.

 

It is just 67 minutes but it seems ten times longer .This is a film that is crying out for a Rifftrax treatment.

 

 

ANOTHER SON OF SAM is at least much clearer than the old Neon Video VHS copy that was around for years at video stores. That said, poor sound work cannot be improved and this film suffers from a lot of that (though with some of the dialogue,maybe that is a blessing. “No,you can’t come into the shower with me,Henry!”may sound like something sexy is about to happen but the character is talking to a stuffed plush animal!!).

Kudos to AGFA and SOMETHING WEIRD for saving these film obscurities , though your enjoyment will depend upon your enjoyment of
SERIAL KILLER FILMS
1970s EXPLOITATION CINEMA

I assume that if you have read this far, then this Blu Ray /DVD combo is needed for your collection.

This Is Not The End (well actually it is ).

-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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