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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Other extras on this AGFA/SOMETHING WEIRD release are

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

“L-l-l-ladies….Johnny Charro”

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

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

The end.

Really.

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

-Kevin G Shinnick

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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 RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (2016)

THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Alpha New Video) DVD-r. Region 0. Released March ,2017. $ 7.98. 69 Min. Color. BONUS:  Lost in Limehouse (1933) B&W. 20minutes 33 seconds.

http://www.oldies.com/product-view/1103D.html
Sherlock Holmes continues to be popular with fans of mysteries ever since his first appearance in Beeton’s Christmas Annual ,1887. Stage plays, movies, radio, television shows, books continue to explore and exploit the Master Detective’s adventures in both canonical and original works. New fans discover the tales of Holmes and his Boswell, Dr. Watson, and celebrate his tales.
One of those is 22-year-old Joshua Kennedy. Beginning at the tender age of five, Kennedy has made a dozen projects, including this his latest. Kennedy is obviously a true classic movie buff, as his previous efforts have been inspired by the output of Ray Harryhausen ,1950s science fiction, and Hammer films. The director has been twice nominated for a Rondo Award.


THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is perhaps his most accomplished piece of cinema. The opening titles and uncredited music suggest the great Holmes adventures like THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (U.A.,1970). The cinematography and editing throughout the film are first rate. Camera set ups reference THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Hammer,1959) and the Jeremy Brett series (Granada ,1984-94). The choice of locations (shot on or around Pace University, NY) for the most part suggest Edwardian London. The costuming is serviceable, considering the ultra-low budget under which that the film was shot. The story is a good one that weaves in elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Empty House” (1903) and “The Adventure of The Six Napoleons (1904), both later part of the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905).


Where the film fails for me is a common bugaboo in no and low budget films is one of the most important- the acting. Joshua Kennedy gives himself the lead role, and acquits himself quite nicely. He is energetic, quirky, and holds the viewer’s attention with his portrayal. Sadly, the rest of the cast is defeated by British accents, often cockney, that would make Dick Van Dyke wince.

(‘Oi!”)

 

The range of performances go from monotonic to wildly gesticulating. The best actor in the film, Mark Redfield, appears in a blink or you’ll miss it cameo as Professor Moriarty. Dr. Watson is played by actress Bessie Ellis. Having a female Watson follows the precedent set by James Goldman’s stage play THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (London,1961, later the basis for the 1971 Universal film) and more recently delightfully played by Lucy Liu on TV’s ELEMENTARY (C.B.S./Paramount ,2012-). Interestingly, all the women Dr. Watsons are intelligent companions to Holmes, often providing essential information to the Master Sleuth.
I wish that these films would take that extra step and audition performers who can perform. For me, a grating performance takes me out of a film faster than an ineffective special effect.


It would have been nice had there been a commentary track on the making of the film, as I am sure that many like myself would be interested in the director/writer’s process. There is a blooper reel (8 minutes 23 seconds) that shows that the cast and crew had an appropriate time making the movie, as well as how carefully shots had to be set up or modern traffic would be shown rolling by.

An interesting extra is the two-reel comedy short LOST IN LIMEHOUSE or LADY EMSERELDA’S PREDICAMENT (Masquers Club ,1933). The Masquers Club is an L.A. group founded in 1925 by former Broadway actors who moved West to make motion pictures and would be instrumental in helping to form The Screen Actors Guild in 1933.Their motto is “We Laugh to Win” and they would often put on skits or “Revels “of which proceeds went to various charities. From 1931 to 1933 the Masquers produced a series of comedy shorts that were co-produced by R.K.O. Radio Pictures. Their best remembered work is THE STOLEN JOOLS (1931) which had a large cast of major film stars, such as Laurel & Hardy.The Masquers,note Boris Karloff

LOST IN LIMEHOUSE is a broad spoofing of Victorian melodramas with British Stiff Upper Lip clashing with cads and dastardly Tongs. Lady Esmeralda (Laura LaPlante, best known for Universal’s 1927 silent THE CAT & THE CANARY and 1929’s SHOWBOAT (released silent and sound)) seeks help from Sheerluck Jones (Olaf Hytten, later to appear in a small role in Universal’s 1942 SHERLOCK HOLMES & THE VOICE OF TERROR) and Hotson (Charles McNaughton). Her father, the Duke of Dunkwell (Ivan F Simpson) is held captive by mustache twirling Sir Marmaduke Rakes (John Sheehan). The trail takes them to Limehouse, where they meet tongs led by a Fu Manchu like evil mastermind.

 
The film is pure silliness, full of lines like: “It was then I realized my dear Hotson that the victim was dead.” “How did you deduce that?” “His head was missing.” Plus, when someone sneezes at one point, they are clearly saying “Hashish!”. The film ends with everything blowing up (via some stock footage). Silly but fun.

 
How much you enjoy this disc depends on how much you are willing to overlook budgetary constraints (I was) and the mixed acting (I couldn’t for the most part). That said, Kennedy has a loyal fan base and I am sure that this disc will be well received.

 

 

See the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I47tddDo8UA

Kennedy already has another film finished (his last as a Pace University student, a remake of THE OMEGA MAN, W.B.,1971) and was doing a Kickstarter campaign to do a tribute to Harryhausen in an upcoming story of THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR.
I understand that Kennedy is planning on moving to England. Perhaps when there, Kennedy will do a Holmes sequel using actual London locales and a stronger cast.

Kevin G Shinnick

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