1970s, American International Pictures, Blu Ray, BLUE UNDERGROUND, british, Christopher Lee, cult, Donald Pleasence, dvd, fantasy, film, genre, gore, Horror, independent film, international, monsters, review, reviews, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, wierd

DEATH LINE from Blue Underground Blu Ray/DVD combo

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

“MINDDADOORS!”

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

 

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

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

 


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

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

                                                                      BARE BONES-get it?

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Vic Flair’s original Transparency Art

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Recommended !

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

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

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THE CRAWLING BRAIN

 

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

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   “Has he health insurance?”Behind the scenes photo

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Hey there IS a script!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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               (How dis-arming !)

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

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

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

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

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

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Kevin G Shinnick

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

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