1980s, Blu Ray, CAROLINE MUNRO, cult, exploitation, film, genre, gore, Horror, https://www.facebook.com/scarletthefilmmagazine/, independent film, JOE SPINELL, review, reviews, SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE.WORDPRESS.COM, thriller, TOM SAVINI, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, WILLIAM LUSTIG

MANIAC -Blue Underground 3 disc Ltd Edition Blu ray

                                                

 

                                                                MANIAC     

                                                     3 Disc Ltd Edition BLU RAY
-Blue Underground December 11,2018.

1980, originally released by Analysis Film Releasing Corp.87 min. Color .

Available as a 3-disc Limited Edition /4 K remaster (2BD plus 1 CD) $39.95 REGION FREE.

http://www.blue-underground.com/product.php?product=291

Back in the early 1980s, horror films were massive money makers. For relatively low costs, filmmakers of various skills could get a camera, an effects person, and maybe some women willing to shed their clothes, and even the feeblest efforts could get a theatrical release.

Then there were films that were done with the same miniscule budgets but with a bit more skill, darker tone perhaps, better actors, direction, and technical skills

MANIAC falls into that latter category. The film was inspired by the infamous Son of Sam. David Berkowitz began his wave of terror that terrorized the city of New York on Christmas Eve ,1975 with what was at first were considered random stabbings.

His first murder (and first use of his weapon of choice, a .44 calibre, thus his being dubbed at first the .44 Calibre Killer) was on July 29,1976. He finally was arrested on August 7,1977 after avoiding the biggest manhunt in NYC history, sending taunting letters to both the police and the press, having killed six people and wounded seven others by July 1977. When apprehended, he confessed but adding he was being ordered to telepathically by his neighbor Sam’s dog Harvey (thus, the ”son” of Sam.). Later ,he admitted he made up the dog story, but the legend continues.

When people found out that publishers were offering huge sums of money for his story, the Son of Sam Law, which was designed to keep criminals from further profiting from their crimes.

This did not stop newspapers, book publishers, television shows ,and even movies from cranking out their own money making attempts to exploit the story , one of the earliest is the nearly unwatchable ANOTHER SON OF SAM (1977, which began in 1975 as a cheapie called HOSTAGES ).

 

Filmmaker William Lustig had grown up enjoying the exploitation smorgasbord offered up in the 1950s,60s and 70s that played in the grindhouses of 42nd Street. After taking some film classes, he found work on both mainstream film (as a P.A. on DEATH WISH,Paramount,1974) before moving into the profitable adult film market, where he worked as editor, producer, and director (and probably a lot of other jobs too) .

 

He saw the money that films like FRIDAY THE 13th (Paramount ,1980) were making ,and thus, taking his share of his latest adult title , he decided to make his own horror movie.

 

He was wise enough to get the wizard who created the effects that had made FRIDAY THE 13TH so memorable, namely Tom Savini . Lustig also cast actor Joe Spinell, who also co-produced ad co wrote the script. Spinell was a hard- working character actor who had worked in supporting roles in major films but this would be his first starring role. Finally, they hired actress Caroline Munro (after their first choice had dropped out), who had starred in several horror and fantasy films throughout the 1970s, as well as being featured in major films like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME ,U.A.,1977).

 

The film is a gritty time capsule of New York City. Tourists were afraid to come to the city, never mind walk the streets at night. Hookers, pimps and drug dealers stood aside sleazy motels and grind house movie theatres, trying to lure in the unwary to sample their wares – or simply rob them.

 

Cinematographer Robert Lindsay, who had worked with Lustig on his previous adult movies, perfectly captures that sense of dread and moral decay.

     (Warning – plot spoilers)

Frank Zito (a completely believable full on psycho performance by Joe Spinell) wanders the city and kills young women who he is aroused by, then scalping them and then taking his bloody souvenir home and attaching it to one of the many mannikins he has littering his apartment. It seems that he was abused as a child by his hooker mom and so he finds that beauty is punishable by death.

One couple is killed in their car when Frank jumps upon the hood of the vehicle and point- blank fires a double- barreled shotgun blast into the passenger (Tom Savini, who not only played the victim, but used his own sculpted head to blow apart. Savini also doubled for Frank and used an actual shotgun to blow up the sculpture, having the odd honor of shooting himself on camera! Since they did not have permits, Savini then tossed the gun into a waiting truck and was driven away in case of police investigating the reports of gunfire) before killing the young woman also in the vehicle.

Frank talks to his mannequins and sobs and wails when he sees the coverage of his latest murders upon his television. He is truly Norman Bates on speed in this film. Still, Spinell, while creepy and often veering dangerously close to overacting, never loses a sense of reality in his portrayal.)

Somehow, he meets a beautiful photographer, Anna (Caroline Munro), after she takes his photo. They oddly become friendly while Frank continues his killing spree, killing a nurse as well as one of Anna’s models, adding their scalps to his growing collection. Frank is starting to lose the small grip that he has on reality, for when he kills the mode, he first begins talking to her as his deceased mother.

 

Still, Anna goes out with Frank, stopping off at the graveyard where his mother was buried. Frank finally attacks Anna, but she bashes him with a shovel and escape. He tries to pursue her but suddenly imagines that his mother is rising from her grave. Terrified, he flees home. His apartment proves no safe sanctuary , however , as the mannequins come alive and throw him onto his bed, where they tear his head from his body!

The film has been a constant for collectors ever since VHS was the market staple.

This new BLU RAY is the must have version for collectors.

MEDIA VHS release

 

The movie is in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a magnificent 4k 1080p transfer. For a low budget film, the film has some superb cinematography, and this release does justice to its color photography. What is more amazing is when you realize the film was shot in 16mm and then blown up to 35mm. For decades, the original 16mm negatives were missing but now, they have been found. Prior prints were from a 35mm dupe, with all the inherit flaws that involves. The original camera negative used here seems less grainy (save for the usual grain of the format) and increases the sharpness of the images.

 

Comparing it to an old DVD release, the sharper clarity is so easy to see.

The original film was one of the first indies to use Dolby Stereo, but this release makes full use of the process. I heard no pops or hiss on the soundtrack, and the music, dialogue and sound effects are clear and make good use of the separate speakers on my system. I only listened to the 2.0 DTS-HD track, but you are offered the choice also of Dolby Digital 2.0 (which perhaps would reflect the original release sound) as well as 7.1 DTS-HD.

 

You can also experience the film in Dolby Digital 2.0 French, Italian, German, and Spanish audio, as well as Optional subtitles in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese,
Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Swedish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Thai (phew!).

There are six standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French: Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0, German: Dolby Digital 2.0, and Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0. Optional English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Russian, Swedish, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Cantonese, and Thai yellow subtitles are provided for the main feature.

That would be more than enough for most major studio releases, but BLUE UNDERGROUND has piled on the extras to truly make this a special collectible 3- Disc Edition.

 

On the first disc, along with the film, we get a running audio commentary with Lustig and Producer Andrew W. Garroni. This is a newly recorded commentary full of little insights as well as the how well the film holds up 38 years (!) later.

 

Also on the first disc is a second commentary track lifted from the previous 2007 DVD release from Blue Underground. On this track are Lustig, Tom Savini , film editor Lorenzo Marinelli and Joe Spinell’s assistant Luke Walter (Spinell sadly dying way too early in 1989 ,at age 52). There are a lot of fond memories and humor as well as technical details on the making of the film.

 

This first disc also has the original Theatrical trailer, as well as tv and radio spots. One wonders if trailers such as this which show such graphic violence could be shown nowadays https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya7lVHk-qD8 .

Where else would you hear CALIGULA (Penthouse /1979) and MANIAC in the same sentence? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCCsMzpBQqA

 

Disc Two
There are several more extras that fill this second disc. The first two are newly made especially for this release. The others are ported over from the MANIAC 30th Anniversary of 2010 or previous DVD releases.

OUTTAKES- rough footage and alternate takes give a glimpse of the behind the scenes making of MANIAC. The outtakes are not restored nor cleaned up and thus seem a bit more grainy but are a treat nonetheless.

 

RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME- on camera interview with William Lustig.
He talks about the making of the film with an obvious pride and enthusiasm.

ANNA & THE KILLER- Caroline Munro talks about her career and working on this flick as well as other films with Spinell .

THE DEATH DEALER- Tom Savini (who else?) Always fun to see and hear Tom talk about his magic.

 

DARK NOTES- Composer Jay Chattaway talks about this Jazz Musician came about getting his first film score and how he tried to get into the head of a psychopath to create his score.

MANIAC MEN -Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky discuss the song that the film inspired and later popularized in the Paramount film FLASHDANCE (1983).

THE JOE SPINNELL STORY- this is ,for me ,the highlight of the extras as this nearly an hour long documentary covers the actor’s life with personal memories , home movies and appearances on ‘The Joe Franklin Show”. Success seemed to have hurt Spinnell and been somewhat responsible for his early demise. (Copyright-2001).

 

 

MR ROBBIE: MANIAC 2 PROMO REEL– Buddy (COMBAT SHOCK, Troma ,1986) Giovinazzo had planned a warped sequel of sorts, with Spinell as a children’s show host with a disturbing secret. Imagine Spinell as Krusty The Clown and you can imagine how warped that it is. They never were able to raise the funds.

PUBLICITY – featurette. Interviews with the cast and crew.

MANIAC CONTROVERSY – Like SNUFF (Monarch,1975) before it, the filmmakers used the complaints and horrific reactions to the film to get the curious into the cinemas and see what all the fuss was about. Unlike SNUFF, they got a powerful that wasn’t just hype.

Third Disc- MANIAC original Motion Picture Soundtrack cd. This is a big bonus, as the soundtrack by itself sells for about $20 at least at horror conventions.

Bonus Booklet by Michael Gingold (Fangoria, Rue Morgue)- a short essay about the production .

The film is to this day very hard to watch for many, due to its gritty atmosphere which captures the sense of NYC at the time , as well as it’s still powerful effects .It also does have a strong sense of misogyny that is hard to ignore but it does also capture the mind set of the character. Joe Spinell’s daring performance both repels us while he fascinates us, lifting the feature above the other stalk and slash films of the era.

 

JUMP TO 2018 –

Before Alek Minassian killed 10 people, the majority of them women, by driving his van into pedestrians on a Toronto street Monday, he posted on Facebook praising mass murderer Elliot Rodger and called for an “Incel Rebellion,” an uprising of men who are angry women won’t have sex with them.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/04/26/incel-rebellion-alek-minassian-sexual-entitlement-mens-rights-elliot-rodger/550635002/

Perhaps MANIAC was predicting a movement, a hidden dark secret, that we back then could not even imagine??

RECOMMENDED for fans of 80’s horror, JOE SPINELL, CAROLINE MUNRO, TOM SAVINI, WILLIAM LUSTIG, stunning effects.

Kudos to BLUE UNDERGROUND for this super -deluxe must have 3-disc collector’s edition.

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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PATIENT ZERO (2018)

PATIENT ZERO (Vertical Entertainment) R -now playing limited theatrical and available as V.O.D. 87 Min. Rated R. horror/science fiction.
patient-zero-2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn-wBZwQdRA

Imagine if you will Bub from Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, U.F.D.) were fully cognizant of his situation, and able to have a full conversation about it (MY DINNER WITH BUB? ). Throw in a bit of 21 DAYS LATER (2002, Fox) and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from PATIENT ZERO.

Filmed in 2015 by Screen Gems, it sadly sat on a shelf until now. Why? Screen Gems opened the abysmal ULTRAVIOLET (2006) wide, and that was nowhere near as good as PATIENT ZERO.

In 2013, Mike Le’s script for PATIENT ZERO was called “the Most Liked “unmade script of the year in the annual Black List poll. A bidding war between several studios took place, with Screen Gems winning the rights to make a feature of the script. Matt Le had prior only worked on a few reality shows and later some forgotten thrillers like AMNESIAC (2014, XLrator) (get it? forgotten? Amnesiac?) and DARK SUMMER (2015, IFC). The frenzy was no doubt due to Paramount’s mega zombie blockbuster WORLD WAR Z that came out that year.
Patient+Zero

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky had directed the German horror thriller AUTOPSY (Sony,2000) and won the 2007 foreign language Oscar for his film THE COUNTERFEITERS (released in the US by Sony)and so there a bit of buzz around his second English language film (his first ,ALL THE QUEENS’S MEN ,2001,Sony,starred Matt LeBlanc & Eddie Izzard ,was a fun little film that came & went).

patient-zero

Adding to the buzz was the casting of Matt Smith (popular from DOCTOR WHO, portraying the character from 2010-13, with a guest appearance in 2014, BBC) and Natalie Dormer (GAME OF THRONES, appearing from 2012 to 2016 in the HBO series) and Stanley Tucci (Oscar nominated for THE LOVELY BONES ,2009, Dreamworks).

The majority of the film was shot in a massive set at Shepperton Studios that was built to resemble an underground military missle silo built into caverns.

In the near future, a new pandemic has broken out, driving people into a bloodthirsty rage. The world is so caught off guard by how quickly this spreads that a large group of survivors, men, women and children, take refuge in said underground military bunkers. There, they work frantically to try and seek some sort of cure, and if they can, discover Patient Zero, the first of the infected (Odd Doctor Who trivia (Matt Smith’s first full episode as the Doctor, “The Eleventh Hour”, he spent a good bit of time looking for PRISONER zero. Back to the review.).

Morgan (Matt Smith, sporting a Midwestern accent) has been bitten but unlike many, has not turned into one of the rampaging creatures (referred to as “the infected”). Instead, he can communicate with the transformed in their own language (that this is never explored in more detail made me wonder if the film had been drastically cut down) as well as using music to set off the murderous victims of the plague.

153694078162355269 Then one day, they bring in The Professor (Stanley Tucci), who not only is unaffected by the music, but also speaks in a calm clear manner. However, we also feel that underneath his demeanor is this seething rage, waiting to get out, and tear out the throats of all around.

The scenes between Smith and Tucci work wonderfully well, as if in a zombie film version of the Clarice /Hannibal Lector scenes from SILENCE OF THE LAMB (1991, Orion).

4E580E2B00000578-5962725-image-m-155_1531838122713

Scientist Dr Rose (Natalie Dormer) is trying to get Morgan to hurry up while trying to placate Col. Knox (Clive Standen, star of the recent NBC Universal series TAKEN (2017-18) based upon Luc Bresson’s films) whose attitude is shoot them all let god sort it out.

Morgan also wants to find a cure, not only for himself but also his wife Janet (model /actress Agyness Deyn). Can they before the bunker is overrun by the ever increasing infected? Plus, watch out for those damn raging rats!!!

I don’t understand the general dismissal of this film. The cast is good, and the production values are decent.

The accent that Matt Smith uses is a bit jarring, and since most of the cast is British, why didn’t they just set the story in the U.K.?

Also, as I mentioned, there are a lot of very interesting ideas brought up but then never fully developed in the finish film, making me feel that there was some drastic editing to the movie.

cPlBjz2
However, once Stanley Tucci shows up, PATIENT ZERO hums along quite nicely, with the exchanges between Morgan and The Professor holding our attention. The idea that the disease is merely releasing the rage contained in all of us is a good one and adds a bit of brains to the usual zombie fare.

I don’t think you will be disappointed if you watch this film without comparing it to films like DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978, UFD). It is a nice variation to the apocalyptic zombie film, with some novel additions.

I do hope that a Blu Ray with commentary track is in its future, as I would love to hear about the behind the scenes of PATIENT ZERO.

Currently, director Ruzowitzky is working on The Last Voyage of the Demeter, which is based on Bram Stoker‘s Dracula . I look forward to his new additions to genre films.

Check out PATIENT ZERO.
Kevin G Shinnick

ZOMBIES
Apocalypse
Matt Smith
Natalie Dormer
Stanley Tucci

Climax

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THE SONG OF SOLOMON (2018) MVD Blu Ray

             THE SONG OF SOLOMON (Released August 14,2018). MVD BLU RAY $24.95

https://www.amazon.com/Song-Solomon-Blu-ray-Gene-Palubicki/dp/B07CSLNHXM

(also available separately on DVD ($21.95) a Limited Edition (Blu-Ray/DVD of the film, and a CD soundtrack,3 discs) $39.98.)

Region A/1 NTSC. English. 1 disc .NR. 86 mins. Color. Unearthed Films. Dolby Digital 2.0. 1.85:1/16:9
The disc reviewed was the single Blu Ray disc.

When a film’s cover blurb has a quote: ‘In this critic’s opinion better than THE EXORCIST” (Spencer Evatt, House of Tortured Souls), you set expectations for something spectacular. Sadly, the film falls far short of the 1973 W.B. masterpiece. On its own, however, it is not a movie to be lightly dismissed.


T.S.O.S. is considered part of the American Guinea Pig series (begun in 2014 by Unearthed Films). The American Guinea Pig films are basically just gore effects and not much more. Wisely, they chose not to put the American Guinea Pig imprimatur on the cover, as it would perhaps limit its audience.

That said, gore fans will have a field day with a series of superior practical effects (no cgi snapping bones here, its on set splatter).


Indeed, the film is technically one of the better indie horror films that I have seen, with super sharp photography and cinematography, music and as mentioned in makeup trickery.

Where the film fails, and it is a problem that haunts a lot of indie films, is in the acting and pacing. Most of the cast either say their lines with an indifference that means they could as well just be going over their grocery list rather than a possession leading to many mutilations and murders, or with a stilted seriousness of trying too hard.

 

Writer/producer /director Stephen Biro is the founder / President of Unearthed Films. Besides his own work, unearthed has released several obscure Asian films, as well as an upcoming October 2018 release of the sadly neglected H.P. Lovecraft THE UNNAMEABLE (1988). Biro is also an author, who written several books about God and The Devil, as well screenplays for others.

 

T.S.O.S. opens with Mary’s father (one of the film’s make-up artists) having a screaming fit at his daughter, ending with him taking a knife, slitting his own throat, and then, reaching into the wound and pulling out his own tongue (sometimes referred to as a “Columbian necktie”, due to it being an act of mutilation done by drug cartels).

 

 

Mary (very busy actress /director Jessica Cameron; TRUTH OR DARE, Small Town Girl Productions,2013) is possessed by a demon and the Church sends in several exorcists to try and drive the Demon from the young woman.

The priests and their associates suffer several terrifying deaths (tearing out one’s own eyes, another pulls out his own tongue- this film doesn’t like tongues!) as the demon grows stronger with each attempt at driving it out.

However, we also begin to wonder is the Church trying to drive the Demon out, or bring about the return of the Anti-Christ?

There are a lot of interesting ideas in the film, but the performers, as I mentioned, for the most part, let the film down. A stronger cast would have made this a much more powerful film.


T.S.O.S. was produced in part due to a very successful Indiegogo campaign (over $52,000 raised, or 1497% of original goal), so there are a lot of fans who wish to see more of Biro’s work.

Those fans will be pleased at the 100 % all practical effects within the film, as well as appearances by people like Jim Van Bebber (THE MANSON FAMILY, Dark Sky,2005) as Father Blake getting a gory comeuppance.

The rituals of exorcism seem to try for a level of authenticity not seen in most films that deal with the subject, so kudos to the people going the extra mile.

The Blu Ray is superb transfer of the HD 4K cinematography by Chris Hilleke (ABC’s OF DEATH, Magnet Releasing 2012). The sharpness and color put many a larger budget film to shame. The Dolby 2.0 sound is good, with a nice mix of dialogue and music. Some of the sound effects needed a bit more punch to them, and some of the dialogue seems a bit echoey, due to shooting in real locales, but that is no fault of the transfer.

The music, by the way, includes some by Gene Palubicki from the group Angel Corpse, who portrayed Father Corbin in movie. The score works well with the picture, and one can see why they added a CD soundtrack to the limited special edition.

Extras on the disc include:

-A commentary track by director Biro and star Jessica Cameron. Their passion and pride for the final product comes through on the running commentary, as well as a mutual admiration for each other.

-A second commentary track has director Biro this time with effects whizzes Marcus Koch and Jerami Cruise.

-On camera Interview with actress Jessica Cameron
-Interview with writer/director Stephen Biro
-Interview with SPFX artist Marcus Koch
-Interview with DOP Chris Hilleke
-Interview with actor Gene Palluvicki
-Interview with actor David McMahon

-A behind the scenes documentary on how the practical effects were done. This goes from the planning stages, planning where the real person will bend and where the fake limbs for breaking bones will be added, the molding and life masks of the lead actress, on set touch ups, as well as the construction of the special bed used in the movie. One nearly gags watching the poor performers forcing fake intestines and things into their mouths to pull them out as the cameras roll. Who says show business is all glamor?

-An Outtake reel- scenes with clap boards and prepping of sequences as well as bloopers.

-Photo Gallery.

Overall, one of the more interesting variants on the exorcism horror genre, let down by the performances.

Still, for fans of grue, you will not be disappointed.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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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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1980s, Arrow Video, Blu Ray, cult, dvd, film, genre, gore, Horror, independent, monsters, reviews, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized

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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