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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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2017, cult, diy filmmaking, dvd, film, genre, independent, independent film, Joshua Kennedy, Mystery, OLDIES.COM, review, reviews, Rondo Awards, Sherlock Holmes, thriller, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized

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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Two Stocking Stuffers- RAY HARRYHAUSEN FAIRY TALES/STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

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RAY HARRYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES
– COLOR http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7875D.html

STRANGE AND UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS-Color/b&w -http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7871D.html

$7.98 each. Oldies.com

Just in time for the Christmas Season come two fun stocking stuffers from OLDIES.COM.

The first is probably the one that people will feel is the must have . Ray Harryhausen is a god to anyone who grew up watching fantasy films made between 1953 (BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (WB)) through 1981 (CLASH OF THE TITANS,MGM). You were at some time enthralled and in awe of the stop motion wizardry that this one man special effect auteur brought to the cinema screen. While ILM and others can do the same thing now via computer, recall that Harryhausen for most of his work was creator, camera person, and director ,single handedly doing what now takes teams of CGI experts to try and emulate.

However, unlike Athena born fully grown from the skull of Zeus, Ray Harryhausen’s artistry came from experimenting . Some of these experiments are to be found on RAY HARYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES.

After working as an animator on a George Pal Puppetoon (TULIPS WILL GROW,Paramount,1942),Ray continued to refine his talents as both cinematographer and animator on shorts produced for and by the U.S. Army.red-stare

After his service, he returned to his family home, where he got a 16mm camera and some Kodachrome color film to produce a series of shorts. It was a family affair, with his parents helping with costuming and set building. He completed five of his Fairy Tales between 1946 and 1953 ( a final film not on this collection ,TORTOISE & THE HARE, was started in 1952, but never completed when Harryhausen began making features. That is , it remained unfinished until 2002, when Ray and two fans who worked on tv’s ROBOT CHICKEN (Cartoon Network,2005-2015)decided to complete it.).

The films were released to schools as well as television filler but while they probably did not make Ray much money, he was able to learn his trade and improve his technique on each film .

The first film, THE MOTHER GOOSE STORY (1946) consists of very short vignettes, silent save for some public domain classical music. The influence of George Pal’s animated shorts is quite obvious in the style of puppetry design. The faces use a variation of Pal’s system of substitution faces rather than animating the features. A quick dissolve is used to smooth the transition of facial reactions.

The next film ,THE STORY OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1949) ,showed more confidence ,experimenting with camera movements ,and lighting. It also boasted a voice over narration by actor Hugh Douglas.

hanselTHE STORY OF HANSEL & GRETEL (1951)was once again narrated by Hugh Douglas ,has more reassured camera moves, and even uses some rear projection for a giant oven fire mixed with the stop motion animation figures .

THE STORY OF RAPUNZEL (1951), this time narrated by Del Moore ,seems a bit more stilted than the previous effort ,and the witch figure seems to be just a repainting of the witch from the previous film.

THE STORY OF KING MIDAS (1953),the final of Harryhausen’s short stories on this disc, is the most assured. Once again narrated by Del Moore, the character work on the faces is much more assured, and the villain of the piece is a marvelous piece of villainous design.midas

As a bonus, we get a variation of Little Red Riding Hood, this time via a short 1949 color film of the Wahmann Hand Puppets. The film was released by Encyclopedia Britannica Films, and was produced by Helen Wahmann Lanthop and Lee Wahmann Keel, co-founders of the Children’s Artist Series and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina (still in existence today). It is a straightforward recording of a well rendered puppet show telling of the familiar tale.

Back in 2005, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: EARLY YEARS (Sparkhill /Global Entertainment) was a two disc Special Edition that included the Harryhausen shorts on this disc, as well as a completed TORTOISE & THE HARE and many other extras. That collection is out of print and selling for over $100 . The Alpha/OLDIES.COM Collection is an affordable alternative to that release, and their prints are quite clean and acceptable.rh-the-early-years-collection-dvd-pal
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Next up is the well named STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS. The films are an odd mash up of color and black & white shorts made between 1945 through 1961. Many of them have been used and featured in recent Rifftrax Comedy Christmas specials, and once you see them, you will know why .

behind-scens-xmas-dreamThe 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen” was released in the U.S. to tv and home video by Castle Films in 1948 as A CHRISTMAS DREAM . This was the first film that director Karl Zeman mixed live action and stop motion animation . He later become world famous for fantasy films like THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (Czech: Vynález zkázy /The Deadly Invention,1958,released by WB in 1961).Consider that this short was made when there was devastating rationing due to Nazi occupation until April,1945, it is astounding that the film has such a magical feel.In effect, a young girl neglects her old toy for a new toy,and the older one comes to life.

The English dubbing, however, makes the film enter into the realm of creepy. The high pitched voice of the doll will make a younger generation think of Mr Hankie from tv’s SOUTH PARK (Comedy Central,1997-still running) .

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Next up is SANTA CLAUS‘ STORY (Board of Education,Buffalo,1945).In this story,Santa appears to two little children and tells them “A story you‘ ll always remember“ – about monkeys. That’s right, lots of footage of monkeys. Did I mention monkeys? These first two films have been satirized by the Rifftrax team during their various Christmas specials .

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS(Castle Films,1946) is a live action telling of the the classic Clement C Moore tale, with bits of cartoon animation thrown in. The only thing wierd about it is how it haphazardly jumps from cartoon animation to live action, but is probably the most “normal“ film on the disc.

SANTA IN ANIMAL LAND (Art Reels Production/Official Films,1948)- A bunch of big headed animals get together and go to the North Pole to ask Santa Claus for gifts. This is basically a puppet show that was filmed. However, the behind the scenes history is very interesting. Puppeteer Alfred Wallace (1914-1985) was a Native American puppeteer who had a strong career in the nightclubs during the 1930s through the 1950s. His specialty seemed to have been political satire ,using puppets such as FDR as a baby, or a Senator puppet with two faces. This production seems more like a work for hire piece.

 

 

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The 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen

 

 

SANTA & THE FAIRY SNOW QUEEN(Sid Davis Productions 1951)is probably the longest film in the collection(26 minutes) and the first in color .Sid Davis is a man best known for his public scare films, mostly about not talking to strangers ,running with scissors or you’ll impale yourself ,or the ‘dangers ‘of homosexuality .fairy Here, he seems to be showing you the dangers of community theatre telling a Christmas tale . Using public domain music , several annoying toys come to life(someone stop Jack In The Box,please!),an  female Elf named Snoopy and a drunk sounding Santa encounter a thick accented Snow Queen. This episode too has been spoofed by the Rifftrax team, but here you can experience it in all it’s bizarre glory.sfq100

THE ELF & MR. LITTLE (1953)seems to be a short made for local television (due to the chroma-key titles) Christmas tale shot in Arizona . It features marionettes by Rex Crum,better known as Rex Castle,who while Arizona based,toured and performed all over the world,even on Cruise ships and Las Vegas Night Clubs.In this a toymaker and his wife meet a Christmas elf.

 

SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE CHRISTMAS CAROL (Coronet ,1953)is a live action telling of how the famous song came into being.Though shot in color, the print appears at times to have faded almost to black and white.

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (CASTLE FILMS,1954)- Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 story was shot as a live action French short in 1952,that Castle Films re-dubbed and sold on 16mm as well as to television syndication. While many of us think of a the Danish story teller as making lively children’s stories, a lot of his tales are damn depressing ! The Brave Tin Soldier has the title character melted with his ballerina love, the Little Mermaid in its original incarnation had the title character wanting to murder the Prince to get his blood , and then there is this ,the most depressing and saddest of all his stories.

A little barefoot Match Girl is forced into the cold by her (unseen) father to sell her wares. Hungry and cold, she lights her matches for warmth to no avail.As she dies, she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary (in the original story, it is her grandmother who greats her )who floats her off to Heaven. Actually, Anderson was ,like his contemporary Charles Dickens ,was pointing out the inequities of the poor and wanted to show how we neglect our fellow humans.

THE LITTLE LAMB: A CHRISTMAS STORY (Castle Films/United World 1955) is a live action film where a mother (Maureen O’Sullivan), after having her brood of five children say their prayers, tells them a story of a lost lamb and the Nativity. Morris Ankum, known mostly for playing generals and judges, here plays Azur The Shepherd. Not so much strange as a straightforward Christian tale.

CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE (1961), seems to be a Canadian made film about a little girl who looks at a book and suddenly it dissolves to barely moving clockwork mechanisms. In fact, over 6 minutes of its nearly ten-minute running time is footage is of a revolving diorama with non-moving figures that have a narrator filling in the story!hqdefault

If you want another interesting animated stocking stuffer ,check out also the just released                                                                                 LOST COLD-WAR PROPAGANDA CARTOONS-Color –                                                                       http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7874D.html

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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     (Go Home,Santa, you’re drunk !)

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X MARKS THE SPOT (1931)

X MARKS THE SPOT (1931) B&W. 67 Minutes. Oldies.com $7.98
http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7792D.html

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Inspired by plays and films like THE FRONT PAGE (U.A.1931), X MARKS THE SPOT (Tiffany,1931) starts with peppy banter that was common in newspaper stories of the 1920’s and thirties.

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The film changes tone briefly when reporter Ted Lloyd (Wallace Ford) finds his younger sister collapsed in the street. Ted finds out he will need $5,000 to save his kid sister by sending her to this one Dr. Mueller in Germany.

He gets offers of $500 here and $600-$700 there from his friends, but says it’s not enough (hinted, if you take it and add it up, it’s closer to your goal!).

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Desperate, Ted goes to the local pool hall to meet with gangster Edward Riggs (Fred Kohler)to ask for the money. “Ha ha Ha-you don’t make five grand a year, says the gangster. Ted offers to get info on the district attorney if it helps save his sister. The gangster socks him saying he hates squealers but gives him the five grand.

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More stuff occurs in the newsroom before Ted meets with Sue(Sally Blane) for some quips and flirting before the film heads off to the Follies. Some pre-code dialogue (reporter offers to print an actress’ photo in the paper, only this time with her clothes on.).

Showgirl Vivian Parker (Mary Nolan) ends up murdered, and Ted becomes the main suspect as he was the last one to see her alive. Ted finds out that Riggs was responsible for the killing, but the gangster reminds him of how he helped with his sister’s medical bills.

How will Ted act when Riggs is put on trial?

X MARKS THE SPOT was one of the last three films made by Tiffany (along with DEATH KISS,1932 starring Bela Lugosi). The studio had been involved with a major prestige picture (JOURNEY’s END ,1930, James Whales ‘adaptation of the stage play), but like so many indie producers, they lacked proper distribution. When they folded, their films like so many independent productions, fell into public domain.

X … is a compactly made drama of the early sound era. The acting ranges from very good to stiff.

Lew Cody as editor George Howe is a strong competent performer. He had been acting in films since 1914, and had been married to actress Mabel Nomand. He died in 1934 at age 50.

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Wallace Ford is probably the best known actor from this film by today ‘s viewers, appearing a year later in MGM’s FREAKS as well as Frankie McPhillips in THE INFORMER(RKO,1935). His career last until 1965, with television making up the bulk of his later work.

Sally Blane also had a long career, usually in supporting roles in major films (CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND, FOX,1939) but here she is the female lead and makes one wish that she had larger parts in films.

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Mary Nolan as showgirl Vivian has a bit of a Midwest accent (“Git Outta heah!”) and is a bit stiff (no pun intended). Her life seemed to be one of those tales that warned of the dangers of show business. She had been a Ziegfeld showgirl who had been fired due to a scandal with a married man (who beat and abused her), but had a good career in silent films both in the U.S. and Germany. Under contract to Universal, she was loaned out to appear in the Lon Chaney MGM film WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) and received good reviews. She had another abusive relationship with Eddie Mannix (who also was possibly involved with the murder of George Reeves. Reeves had been having an affair with Mannix’ wife), who beat her so bad that she became addicted to morphine. This led to her contract being terminated at the major studios and thus struggled along at the indies. She died at age 45 from a Seconal overdose.

Clarence Muse made a career of playing butlers, porters, and servants, but the actor had starred and worked in theatre, as well as starring in HEARTS IN DIXIE (1929), the first all-black movie produced by Fox. Here he is trapped in embarrassing stereotype dialogue in his scenes.

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Helen Parrish also began in silent films, playing Babe Ruth’s daughter in BABE COMES HOME (1st National,1927; also released as a Vocafilm sound film, with added music and sound effects) as well as appearing in Our Gang films. Later she appeared in films starring Deanna Durbin, as well as the female lead in another film called X MARKS THE SPOT (Republic,1942), also available from OLDIES http://www.oldies.com/product-view/4748D.html . She died at only age 34 from cancer.

Fred Kohler had made a career playing baddies, most memorably in the silent John Ford THE IRON HORSE (Fox,1924).

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Director Earl C. Kenton directed over 130 films from 1916 to 1957. He is best known for ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Paramount,1932) and HOUSE OF DRACULA(Universal,1945). The camera work is very fluid at times with some dolly work showing that sound equipment was no longer holding directors to static shots that had plagued earlier sound films.

The film comes from the collection of John Carpenter and his THE MOVIE MAN’S MOVIE MATINEE https://www.facebook.com/groups/1117540858264025/ . Collectors like Carpenter have done much to save a lot of films from disappearing, as well as getting them out to the general public. The print is from a dupey 16mm, but to be fair, I would doubt a better print still exists. At one point, we see a notice about a reel change, which made me nostalgic for when the only way you could see these films was from a private collection.

While not a classic, it is an entertaining little drama, with some good 30s banter, a bit of pre code naughtiness, a shootout near the finale and a style that would later lead to film noir.

Kevin G Shinnick

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NO STOPPING THE STOVER

NO STOPPING THE STOVER – (ALPHA NEW CINEMA,2016). Color /B&W. 91 minutes. Documentary /DVD. $7.98
Available at

http://www.oldies.com/product-view/1100D.html

 

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2016 is shaping up to be the year of the Stover. Retromedia just released a limited edition of THE ALIEN FACTOR (reviewed recently https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/07/08/the-alien-factor-1978-limited-edition-blu-ray-1000-copies-only/ )

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and he has at least nine (!) films that he appears in awaiting release or currently filming, including MANOS RETURNS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: GENESIS (which stars Judith O’Dea from the original N.O.T.L.D (Continental,1968)) and RETURN OF THE DEVIL BAT (which co-stars Lynn Lowry (THE CRAZIES, Cambist Films1973), Ruby LaRocca (FLESH FOR THE BEAST, Media Blasters,2003), and Conrad Brooks (Ed Wood star). Now for his 70th birthday, we have a documentary of the life of the Baltimore Maryland cult film actor.

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One of the nicest and modest people whom you might ever wish to meet, George was in the forefront of self-publishing genre fanzines, publishing the tiny wonder BLACK ORACLE.BLACK O                                           For ten issues, this ¼ size fanzine sold bloody hair hunksBloodyHunksRev                     as well as wonderful articles overlooked by a lot of the larger genre magazines. cinemacabre7Later he followed it up with another slicker fanzine called CINEMACABRE that published at least seven issues.

Having acted in a college school authorized production of a STAR TREK play called ‘One Cube or Two?”, wherein he played an alien in heavy makeup, Star-TrekStover continues to appear in off beat film roles. His first was in John Waters classic FEMALE TROUBLE (Saliva Films,1974) and he soon became a staple in Maryland Indie filmmaking, while supporting himself working in a regular 9 to 5 job.

He endeared himself to genre fans when he began appearing in films by fellow fanzine publisher(CINEMAGIC) Don Dohler. He appeared in Don’s first feature length film THE ALIEN FACTOR (Cinemagic Visual Effects, 1978) and appeared in all of Dohler’s films in roles of various sizes throughout.

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  (I think my favorite Stover performermance in a Dohler produced film ,STAKES ,2002 Timewarp Films)

In February,2012, George was attacked and robbed in his own home by a career criminal who rather than just leaving, shot George and left him for dead. Even though he was in hospital, he made sure that he called the director of a film that he was working on (DANGEROUS DECEPTION, Lee Doll ,2012) to apologize that he would not be on set! Hearing the actual phone message is quite chilling and yet also shows the professionalism of Stover. Luckily, George survived this real life horror, and is still with us, still sharing his joy of appearing in films.

(You can read local coverage after the event here: 

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-county/towson/ph-tt-george-stover-1128-20121127-story.html   )

 

Several filmmakers and fellow performers are interviewed to talk about working with The Stover, including director Fred Olen Ray (ATTACK OF THE SIXTY FOOT CENTERFOLD, Concorde ,1995), writer director Mark Redfield (THE DEATH OF POE (Alpha New Cinema ,2006) and many others who have had the pleasure of knowing and working with the man himself.

jj northCenterfold(  George and the charming  J.J. North on set of 60 FT CENTERFOLD )

If you’d like to have a good idea of what it is like to work in low budget films, find out why there is NO STOPPING THE STOVER.

Recommended.9848bf_2c5af2d3381a4f409d509b65ec1873e8

-Kevin G Shinnick

(Full disclosure -I have known of George since subscribing to his original fanzine Black Oracle, and have had the pleasure of meeting him on many occasions.).

If you have a completed  film seeking distribution, contact BRIAN KREY at  briank@oldies.com .Alpha New Cinema has released films by cult directors such as Brett Piper  Mark Redfield to great success.

 

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TIME TABLE

TIME TABLE (1956) originally released by United Artists .79 minutes. Crime Drama. B&W.
$ 7.98 Alpha Video. Available from OLDIES.COM
(http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7594D.html )      POSTER ALSO AVAILABLE :  http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7594PS.htmlalp7594d

TIME TABLE begins on a train speeding through the night in Arizona. A physician (Wesley Addy, later the sheriff in HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1962)) is summoned from his compartment to check out a passenger who has taken ill. He goes and tells the waiting porter , conductor , and wife of the sick passenger that he suspects that the man has polio and is contagious .The doctor has the train car isolated and asks to be taken to the baggage car for his medical bag. Just as we think we are going to have a medical drama like PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950) TIME TABLE turns into a very fast paced heist thriller with a lot of unexpected twists and turns.

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Directed by actor Mark Stevens (FROZEN ALIVE (1964)), who also stars as insurance investigator, Charles Gorman, keeps this entertaining Film Noir moving at a quick pace. The script by Aben Kandel (later to write scripts for Herman Cohen
horror films from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) to CRAZE (1974)), from an original story by Robert Angus (producer of the first season of THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET!) has the well planned caper starts to fall apart almost as soon as it begins when unexpected variables begin to occur. Well photographed by cinematographer Charles Van Enger (who mostly worked on TV but did lens BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1952)), it is a shadowy world that befits the story and its characters.

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You may recognize two brief but important character appearances in the film. The first is Jack Klugman (TV’s THE ODD COUPLE) in his second film appearance * as a stoolie getaway driver. The other is Alan Reed, who looks like he was the template for James Gandolfini. His voice will sound familiar to many, as he was the original Fred Flintstone!

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I have been careful not to give away too much of the plot of this short but well-crafted little 79 minute b&w gem, so you can discover them for yourselves. This is a B film in the best possible sense, a super supporting feature done economically but quite effectively.11143730_1574048846167403_1992782247097042989_n

ALPHA VIDEO once again releases a film that other distributors overlook. The print is a bit muddy, but that is to be expected, and I am doubtful we would see a better quality print released to DVD.

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Kevin G Shinnick

*- Did you know Klugman’s first film role was in a Larry Buchanan quickie western in 1952 ?According to IMDBD ,he appeared in a $16,000 quickie called GRUBSTAKE for the director later made (in)famous for such films as MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967) . Stanley Kubrick was almost the cinematographer, but Buchanan would not meet his salary requests. Anyone ever see GRUBSTAKE aka APACHE GOLD?

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TRICLOPS

TRICLOP0S BIG

TRICLOPS– Alpha New Cinema / Oldies.com – Director Brett Piper– released May 17 ,2016 -80 min- Color DVD Region 0 – $ 7.98

http://www.oldies.com/product-view/1098D.html

Brett Piper is the Bert I. Gordon of the New Millennium. Like Mr. Big, Brett writes, directs, does cinematography, edits, and does the effects in his films. Doing Bert one better, Brett is an accomplished special effects stop motion animator (no enlarged iguanas* or grasshoppers here).

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Even more impressive, his average film budget** is about the same (or even less ) than that spent by Mr. Gordon on his first film in 1954 (that film was KING DINOSAUR, shot for $15,000 in black and white ,released by Lippert Pictures ).

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Brett’s latest effort is perhaps his most loving tribute to Bert ,the king of Do-it-Yourself Filmmakers . The film TRICLOPS is basically an homage/remake of B.I.G.’s THE CYCLOPS (Allied Artist,1957).

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Not to be confused with Brett’s earlier effort, PSYCLOPS (Edgewood Entertainment, MTI ,2002), TRICLOPS concerns Samantha Katzman (Erin Waterhouse) who is searching for her lost fiancé Glenn Edwards. Edwards’ plane supposedly crashed in a mysterious crater, and so she gets a team to help her in the manhunt. Flying over the crater, the plane is swarmed by a strange flock of bat like creatures that forces the plane] down. Landing, they find a lot of other freakish mutated bugs, killer plants and creatures.

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Searching the area, they encounter the Triclops (Kurt Jordan, though producer Mark Polonia donned the outfit on occasion), a gigantic three eyed mutants. Could this be Edwards?

The film is a love letter to the films Brett grew up with, containing visual and verbal references to many effects films from the 1950s and 1960s. Keeping his already tiny budget low, Brett recycles many animation models from previous films to populate the irradiated canyon.

To me, the Triclops is a bit of a disappointment. Since Brett is such a wonderful animator, I had hoped that her would animate the title creature. For time and to save himself the extra work, he put a mask and gloves upon a performer. Supposedly the makeup went through various permutations before the one used was picked.

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The actors in the film have appeared in previous films for Piper, except for Miss Warehouse’s gamely goes through the wringer for director Piper, and will be appearing in his next film, OUTPOST EARTH (currently in post-production).
The film is more entertaining than the majority of the films that I have come across on the SY FY channel, and with often better effects.

The DVD boasts an audio commentary with Piper and the cast (with Miss Waterhouse phoning in literally her comments). Also included is a blooper reel.

If you are one of those who says why can’t they make monster films like they used to, then seek out TRICLOPS.

-Kevin G Shinnick***

ALPHA NEW VIDEO

For any D.I.Y. filmmakers seeking distribution, ALPHA New Cinema is looking for your films.

In the last few years, they have distributed films as varied as DOCTOR MABUSE (2013), AMICUS HOUSE OF HORRORS, SAM Z ARKOFF FANEX FILES, ASTRO ZOMBIES M3 CLONED, COLD HARBOR, THE DEATH OF POE, MAGDALEN, THE SERPENT’S TONGUE, SEX LOVE & FANTASY, TALES OF DRACULA, and many more.

Contact Brian Krey at briank@oldies.com on how to submit your work for review.

*- I know it sounds like a sexual euphemism

**-THEY BITE (1996,MTI) was rumored to have had a budget of $130,000.

***- full disclosure – I appeared in Brett’s film SCREAMING DEAD(EI) in 2003.

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