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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI)

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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI,2 discs, DVD) Released September 2018. Color.  $14.99

https://www.vcientertainment.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=1104

Many years ago, when the late great Boris Karloff passed away in February 2,1969, Jim Warren’s and Forrest J Ackerman’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND provided two fitting tributes.

One, was issue #56 of FMOF with a beautiful  Basil Gogos cover of Karloff as his most famous role.

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The other was a paperback by FJA called THE FRANKENSCIENCE MONSTER (Ace,1969, a cover not by Gogos but paperback cover artist Verne Tossey.). At the time,before the ability to google, this was the source for any monster news. Many of us though that Karloff’s final film was a classic of modern cinema, Peter Bogdanovich’s   TARGETS  (August 1968,Paramount).

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However, thanks to Uncle Forry , we found out that 80 plus year old Karloff had signed with producer Luis Enrique Vergara and Azteca Films of Mexico (who in turn had a distribution agreement with Columbia Pictures) for a four-picture deal at a salary of $400,000. The actor could have said no to the projects and easily retired, having a comfortable sum saved up over the years. No one could have blamed him, either, as his lungs were barely functional (due to years of smoking as well as damage from pneumonia he contracted in Italy filming BLACK SABBATH,1963,AIP , leaving him dependent on oxygen tanks to aid his breathing) as well as crippling arthritis that made walking difficult.

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Still, as he often said, he wanted to die with his boots on, doing the job he loved if audiences wanted to see him. An example was when he filmed an episode of THE RED SKELTON SHOW (“He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash” aired September 24,1968, CBS), rather than do the show before the live audience in a wheel chair as rehearsed, he willed himself to walk with the aid of a cane rather than have the people see him so confined.

Thus, the quartet of Mexican horror films were jobs that he readily accepted, feeling fortunate that audiences still wished to see him.

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Difficulties for the productions arose when it was discovered that Karloff’s health would not permit him to film in Mexico, and his sequences were shot in a small studio in Santa Monica, California in April/May 1968, while the rest of the films were completed in Mexico, often with a double for the star.

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The four films were to be made over a 5-week period, so this extra expense of two crews, duplicating sets, and flying up some of the Mexican cast to work with Karloff must have frayed the already low budgets.  Juan Ibáñez directed the Mexican main unit, while cult director Jack Hill (SPIDER BABY,1967, American General) handled the American Karloff unit, as well as contributing to the screenplays.

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Hill it seems was hampered because the producer wanted to use an early form of video playback by tying a primitive video camera to the top of the 35mm Mitchells used to film the movie. Jerry Lewis had pioneered the idea and it is now the common practice, but Hill felt that it slowed down his process.

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With all these problems somehow the four films were filmed and completed. Karloff did not live to see the release of these films, which seemed to have been held back until 1971 for their limited distributions (Cannon also got around to distribute Karloff’s 1967 Spanish lensed CAULDRON OF BLOOD the same year, which got a wider release in the U.S. than the four Mexican thrillers).

 

Over the years, the films have been released on various video labels, including MPI and United American budget label, as well as several of the titles getting a DVD release by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia label.

 

VCI has now for the first time put all four films together in an affordable (less than the cost of some single DVD releases) two-disc collection.

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The four titles in the collection are

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(Disc One)

DANCE OF DEATH (aka HOUSE OF EVIL, SERENADA MACABRA)

TORTURE ZONE (edited version of FEAR CHAMBER)

menu_boris_karloff_m02_blu-ray.

(Disc Two)

ALIEN TERROR (filmed as THE INCREDIBLE INVASION, Invasión siniestra)

CULT OF THE DEAD (edited version of ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE, La muerte vivente)

 

The discs seem to be sourced from the old MPI videos, with the same video generated titles (©1987 by the Parasol Group). The prints of the four movies are a bit dark and sometimes the color is a bit off.  The copy  of TORTURE ZONE seemed in the worst condition, with several visible splices.

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It is a shame that they did not seek out the Retromedia or Elite release of FEAR CHAMBER, as both of those are in the original aspect ratio with sharp picture and color quality, as well as extras such as an audio commentary by Jack Hill and a deleted scene.MPI’s TORTURE ZONE is an edited version of this film ,so all of the nudity Is eliminated .

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Only TORTURE ZONE was set in present day, with the rest set at around the turn of the 20th Century. ALIEN TERROR was supposedly the last one filmed, and the only one NOT starring Julissa, giving actress German actress Christa Linder a chance.

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The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound for the films is clear with no noticeable loss in quality of dialogue or the sound effects.

There are no extras to the discs, but again, to get these four films together at such a low price, one should not expect any special edition treatment.

While we would all like to get the best possible and most complete versions, certain films have limited audiences and the profitability is to say the least, narrow.

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One wonders, for example, if VCI had gone out of their way to get new prints, cleaned up and loaded with extras, would fans shell out $29.95 for each of these films?

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DANCE OF DEATH -this film is perhaps the most traditional horror film, with obvious influences of the Roger Corman Poe films. The film even claims to be based upon a Poe story, though none that I am familiar with.hoise of evil                                                  original Spanish language credit

 

Wealthy toymaker Matthais Morteval (Karloff) summons his family to his mansion to discuss how his estate will be divided. Recent murders in the nearby hills has a macabre touch, wherein the victims have had their eyes removed makes Matthais suspect that a member of his family is the killer.

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Karloff has an ancestral portrait that looks exactly like him (these old families have strong genes), and Karloff gets to play huge pipe organ. Matthais supposedly suffers a fatal heart attack half way into the film, and shortly thereafter, one by one his greedy relations die. Keeping with the Corman Poe- like feel, the film ends with a huge fire, as Matthais, obviously not dead, plays his final concerto as the walls burn around him. It is quite amazing that the octogenarian actor is working so close to such huge plumes of flames, controlled or not  .

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Karloff perhaps passed away before being able to loop dialogue, or the final lines were an afterthought , but they are not his voice.

People who dismiss the Karloff Mexican quartet of films have obviously not seen them, as DANCE OF DEATH was quite entertaining.

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TORTURE ZONE – (which in the original titles also claimed to be Poe inspired, though I would say more Lovecraft, like Karloff’s own DIE, MONSTER DIE! 1965 ,A.I.P. ). This one is a bit of a mess, no two ways about it. Psychedelic zooms & colors, and jump cut edits do not make this film any more interesting, and indeed, show how little sense the plot has.  A living rock is discovered within the depths of the earth. Scientist Karl Mantell (Karloff), who spends much of this film either sitting behind his office desk or behind a lab computer table, discovers that the creature feeds on the blood of young women, particularly those who are frightened. Naturally, our loveable scientist and his staff create a fear chamber to terrorize young women who come seeking employment. The rock (no, no that one) starts to grow tentacles, and only then does Mantell seek to stop it.

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Mantell is supposed to be a kindly scientist, but his actions here are in opposition to that appearance. Still, at least, Karloff gets to survive to the end credits. The topless scenes that are edited out of this print were probably shot later, added to try and keep audience attention. Probably one of Karloff’s worst movies, though, as always, he is worth watching.                                                                              .firrreee

Karloff tries to blow up all prints of FEAR CHAMBER .

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ALIEN TERROR– Another period piece, this one is another science fiction/horror hybrid. In an 1890s European country, Professor John Mayer (Karloff) is working on a new power source, when a lab accident sends a pulse off into space, attracting the attention of an alien spaceship passing by. The alien comes across a Jack the Ripper style killer and takes over his body. More killings continue as the alien tries to get to the professor’s invention and destroy it. Mayer uses his invention to defeat the killer, and later, when the alien hops into his niece, he uses the machine again to drive it from her. Mayer lets the machine destroy itself and, in the process, burns down his home.c3f80e4ebb33139abba0d67198ef960c

 

The final shot of the surviving cast members watching the house burn has an obvious Karloff stand in facing away from the camera with hair that looks like it was streaked with shoe polish.

A confusing picture, as if two different scripts were dropped into a blender, yet it held one’s interest and it tried to be original. As mentioned, this was Karloff’s last work in a motion picture.karloff_at_03_dvd

An alien Spaceship, lit and designed to look like a Dario Argento sequence !

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CULT OF THE DEAD – On the island of Korbai, Carl Van Molder (Karloff) is a major plantation owner. A police captain comes to Korbai to try and bring order when it is discovered that voodoo is rampant. This is a much more entertaining film than Karloff’s earlier film VOODOO ISLAND (1957, U.A.), which was one of the only roles I felt the great actor seemed to walk through.

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In this film, Karloff seems fully invested in the part and brings his great screen presence to each scene.  The voodoo scenes are well staged, though once again at the end of the film, a voice not Karloff’s is used for the line: “I’m dying! “followed by some sputtering coughs. The picture ends with a big explosion as the hero and heroine escape with their lives. This too was an entertaining piece of cinema fluff and does not deserve all the scorn heaped upon it.

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To sum up, two of the films (DANCE OF DEATH and CULT OF THE DEAD) I would say are quite entertaining, a third (ALIEN TERROR) is just odd enough to hold your interest with a feeling of “WTF?” throughout and only one (TORTURE ZONE) is close to a complete disaster. Karloff is always giving his all in each work, and for that alone these are well worth seeing.

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Are the prints the best? No.  However, unless some deep pocket cinema collector seeks out original negatives, gives them a 2 K scan and restores them, and licenses the Elite and Retromedia commentaries, this VCI set will be the best way of getting affordable copies of these final films by the Master of Horror, Boris Karloff.

 

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Recommended for – Karloff completists. Fans of Mexican Horror. Cult films lovers.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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BOUND (Olive Signature Blu Ray)

 

BOUND (Olive Signature Blu Ray) 1996, Gramercy, color. 108 min Theatrical & 109 min unrated. 1:85:1 aspect ratio. 1080p Resolution. DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo .1-disc $39.95 Limited edition 3500 pressing only. Region A. August 28,2018 release.

https://olivefilms.com/product/bound-olive-signature-blu-ray/

 

Back in 1996, a new and exciting film noir thriller opened to nearly universal raves. It reminded one of the excitement from 12 years earlier, when BLOOD SIMPLE (1984, Circle Films) won the praise of critics due to its clever plot and style.

 

Like BLOOD SIMPLE, this film was also the work of a dynamic brother writer/ director duo.

BLOOD SIMPLE was our introduction to the dazzling Coen Brothers Joel & Ethan while BOUND was the brainchild of Andrew (now Lilly) and Laurence (now Lana) Wachowski.

While BOUND was a critical darling, it failed to make back it’s $4,500,000 estimated production budget. However, when it was released to video by Republic video, the film was a major seller and was discovered on cable by an even larger audience.

 

The video remained popular, being released by Republic in 2001 on DVD. This release was the uncut version that had trailers, a behind the scene featurette, a commentary with the brothers, Tilly, Gershon, Pantoliano, film editor Zach Staenberg and tech advisor Susie Bright. However, the print was not the best, with a rather flat look that did not do the movie justice.

 

Paramount bought the Republic library and they licensed OLIVE FILMS to release a DVD and Blu Ray of the title in 2012. Unlike the previous releases, the Olive Film version was released in an anamorphic print that showed off the superb cinematography of Bill Pope (who would dazzle people with his work on the MATRIX trilogy for the Wachowskis for Warner Brothers) along with an improved picture along with the choice of viewing either the theatrical or unrated cuts (really, only 14 seconds difference). The extras were dropped in favor of offering the two versions. There were complaints at the time by some tech fans that the Olive Films release was only Dolby Digital 2.0, while oversea versions had an DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.

 

These people will be disappointed,then, as this release is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. However, I found nothing to complain about with the sound, as it was clear and clean, and a wide range (so much so that I had to turn the sound down during one of the more violent sequences). Indeed, I had no complaints with the audio or indeed anything about this presentation.

 

Both versions of the film are presented in a beautiful 1080p transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with optional easy to read white English SDH subtitles.

BOUND tells the story of Corky (a superbly confident performance by Gina Gershon), an “out” lesbian (whom we first see IN a closet!)  an ex-con now doing repair work in a mob owned apartment building. When she meets Violet (Jennifer Tilly, an often-underrated actresses), the girlfriend of mobster Caesar (the always marvelous Joe Pantoliano), they begin a torrid affair. Violet wants out of her 5-year-old relationship with Caesar, who launders money for the mob.

Shelly (Barry Kivel) is caught and tortured for stealing money from the mob, and then killed by Johnnie (Christopher Meloni), son of Mob Boss Gino (Richard C Sarafian). Caesar returns to the apartment with a bag full of bloody bills and will now have to literally launder the money!

Violet hatches a plan to steal the $2 million and leave Caesar to face the wrath of the mob, but of course, like all good noir stories, things spin out of control, with a lot of people being brutalized and murdered.

The film was praised (as well as condemned by conservatives) for its lesbian romance, wherein the characters enjoyed their relationship (indeed sex consultant Susie Bright loved the characters. And had high praise for the main sex scene that was shot in a single take).

This plot point made it difficult for studios to back the film (all wanted it if they changed Corky to a man), but the Wachowskis stuck to their guns, being saved when Dino DeLaurentiis backed the project. The 38-day shoot was carefully planned, even though their original cinematographer quit feeling he could not do the film in the time allotted. Bill Pope stepped in and indeed helped plan some of the films visual look.

The film is a superb example of style serving the story. The colors often reminded me of a Dario Argento film, and often the camera often takes a god like view looking down on the action.

 

The original leads were Linda Hamilton as Violet and Tilly as Corky, but when Hamilton had to step out, Tilly switched roles and Gina Gershon was cast as Corky. Gershon then recommended Joe Pantoliano. The rest of the cast is top notch with Christopher Meloni as the not too bright but violent Johnnie stealing every scene he is in. No easy feat, when you consider marvelous performers as John P. Ryan (as mobster Mickey Malnato) are also in the cast.

As noted earlier, the previous OLIVE FILMS release had no extras. This Limited Edition goes out of its way to correct that.

 

Besides the Hi-Def digital restoration the original Republic audio commentary has been restored. One of my favorite things is hearing how the creatives behind a project feel about their finished work and the enthusiasm runs throughout this commentary.

Ported over from the 2014 Arrow U.K. Blu Ray /DVD release by Red Shirt Pictures in conjunction with Arrow :

• “Here’s Johnny!” – with Christopher Meloni– “My character had poor impulse control” is the first thing Meloni says about his character, which must be a major understatement in this new video interview with the actor and how he gives major credit to Joe Pantoliano for his career and how he infused humor into his character.

• “Femme Fatales” – with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly -new interviews with the two leads on how they got cast and their work process. 

• “Modern Noir: The Sights & Sounds of Bound” – with cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, and composer Don Davis) the crew speak with great pride of their involvement with the project, and how they became attached to it. . Pope, for example, got hired due to his work on ARMY OF DARKNESS (Universal,1992) and he worked cheap!

New for this release:
• “Part and Parcel” – with titles designer Patti Podesta – a (2017) video interview with the  designer on how she created the noirish titles in the era before CGI took over.



• “The Difference Between You and Me” – with B. Ruby Rich (Prof of Film/Digital Media U, C, Santa Cruz) and Jen Moorman (Prof of Film Studies & Gender Studies, Loyola Marymount U., L.A.) discuss BOUND and its importance in Neo -Noir ,as well as an examination of Film Noir.


• Theatrical Trailer-the original Gramercy Theatrical trailer which makes it look like a RESERVOIR DOGS (Live,1992) rip-off.


• Essay by Guinevere Turner -an interesting 4 page read as to why this film is so important to LGBTQ cinema, and especially for its portrayal of lesbians.

 

 

 

 

This is a MUST HAVE for anyone who loves classic thrillers, well-made cinema done with style and dark humor, superbly acted and directed in an engrossing story.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!

-Kevin G Shinnick

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THE SONG OF SOLOMON (2018) MVD Blu Ray

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Extras on the disc include:

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

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

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

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

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

-Photo Gallery.

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

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

-Kevin G Shinnick

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THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (Arrow Blu Ray) THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; EVIL OF DRACULA

BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (THE VAMPIRE DOLL; LAKE OF DRACULA; and EVIL OF DRACULA; Toho, 1970-4)

Arrow Blu Ray set release .2 disc set. Color. Japanese with subtitles.

U.S. Release $49.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.com/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Vampire-Dracula-Special/dp/B07B12HN97

U.K. Release £ 29.99 s.r.p. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloodthirsty-Trilogy-Blu-ray-Kayo-Matsuo/dp/B079VCZJC3/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1525722582&sr=1-1&keywords=bloodthirsty+trilogy

In the 1960s and early 1970s, vampire films were quite popular, Thanks to Hammer Films, Dracula and his many off-shoots invaded movie theatres and television sets internationally. Many countries made their own variations and even rip offs of the British horror studio’s output.

One country where fantasy films and horror were enjoyed by a wide audience was Japan.
Japanese theatre had a long history of popular ghost stories. Oddly, Japan seems to lack any legends of vampire folklore, the closest being the Yōkai, a malevolent spirit.

Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談 Ghost Story of Yotsuya), written in 1825, was a kabuki ghost story revenge play. So far it has  been adapted for films at least 30 times.

One year after the cinema camera was introduced in the country, local filmmakers made Bake Jizo (Jizo the Spook / 化け地蔵) and Shinin no sosei (Resurrection of a Corpse),1898 ,both films currently presumed lost.

The first film adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan was made in 1912, and it was filmed some 18 times between 1913 and 1937. All but the 1936 and 1937 films were silent adaptations.

In 1933, a three-reel silent comedy Wasei Kingu Kongu (和製キング・コング, literally  Japanese King Kong) was made, also now sadly missing for modern viewers. Japan made silent films well into the mid-1930s. In 1938, Kong returned for another silent Japanese film, this time released in two parts, King Kong Appears in Edo (江戸に現れたキングコング Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu) .This film ,like so many Japanese films made before the 1950s, is also lost.

From the early to mid-1940s, most of Japanese cinema was turned to the propaganda for the war effort. Still, future great artists like Akira Kurasawa began their careers during this period.

In the 1950s, Japanese films began to get a wider release worldwide. Kurasawa’s brilliant RASHOMON (Toho,1950) won international praise and awards. Ugetsu, Tales of Ugetsu or Ugetsu Monogatari (雨月物語) was a 1953 ghost story from Daiei Studios that won great acclaim.

1954 ,The same year that people were introduced to Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai,Toho), the same studio released a film that would spawn sequels, remakes ,rip-offs ,and introduced the world to Kaiju (giant monster )cinema, Godzilla (ゴジラ Gojira). Both films nearly bankrupted the studio but luckily the international box office rewarded the daring producers . Another supernatural film, The Invisible Avenger (透明人間 Tōmei ningen, literally Invisible Man), loosely based upon the H.G. Wells classic, was released by Toho that same year, but never was given international release.

Between all the monsters stomping all of Tokyo, supernatural tales continued to be popular. Nobuo Nakagawa directed a series of horror films, including The Ghosts of Kasane Swamp (Shintoho Films. 1957), The Mansion of the Ghost Cat (亡霊怪猫屋敷Bōrei kaibyō yashiki, Shintoho, 1958) and The Ghost of Yotsuya (Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (東海道四谷怪談), another telling of the famous ghost story, Shintoho 1959), and Jigoku (Jigoku (地獄, “Hell”, Shintoho ,1960).

The 1960s continued to have more supernatural tales ,alternating between the giant monsters, and supernatural thrillers, including an interesting hybrid ,GOKE BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (吸血鬼ゴケミドロ Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro ,which translates to Vampire Gokemidoro, Shochiku,1968).This hybrid vampire /ufo film has an alien invasion using bloodsuckers ,and has a rather bleak ending.

Finally, Toho, one of the oldest of the big four Japanese Film companies, saw the profits Hammer was making on their relatively modest budget horror films, and decided to take a chance on their own three vampire films.

All these films were directed by Michio Yamamoto ( 1933- 2004 ) . Yamamoto began as an assistant director to the great Kurasawa on THRONE OF BLOOD (Kumonosu-jô), the director’s take on the tragedy of Macbeth. He continued as an A.D. until 1969, when Toho let him direct Yaju no fukkatsu , a gangster crime drama.

He was given directorial control on the Hammer influenced but modern setting vampire films that the studio produced between 1970-4. Between films, he directed for Nippon tv some dramas, ending his career in 1976 directing episodes of a tv action drama.

First was The Vampire Doll (幽霊屋敷の恐怖 血を吸う人形 Chi o suu ningyo, Toho,1970, color ,71minutes). THE VAMPIRE DOLL was released in a subtitled form in NY and LA as THE NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE. THE VAMPIRE DOLL as also been known as BLOODSUCKING DOLL, THE GHOST MANSION’S HORROR: A BLOODSUCKING DOLL, FEAR OF THE GHOST HOUSE: BLOODSUCKING DOLL, and when released on VHS by Paramount, THE LEGACY OF DRACULA.

The film shows that the director and writer Hiroshi Nagano (who doesn’t seem to have any other fantasy credits and worked mostly on television) and Ei Ogawa (who wrote all three vampire films, as well as SPACE AMOEBA (Gezora, Ganime, Kamēba: Kessen! Nankai no Daikaijū  (ゲゾラ・ガニメ・カメーバ 決戦! 南海の大怪獣ba: , , translated as “Gezora, Ganimes, and Kamoebas: Decisive Battle! Giant Monsters of the South Seas ”, Toho, 1970) seemed have studied THE OLD DARK HOUSE (Universal,1932), PSYCHO (Paramount ,1960), and CITY OF THE DEAD(Vulcan,1960), as well as Hammer’s vampire films.

Kazuhiko goes to an isolated house during a rainstorm to reunite with his fiancé, Yuko. Interestingly, the house and cab are depicted via model work.

Upon arriving, the young man is greeted by Genzo, the silent servant, as well as Yuko’s mother, Shido. Kazuhiko is told by Yuko’s mother that the young woman died during a landslide just a few weeks prior. Due to the storm, he must spend the evening, wherein he is awakened by the cry of a woman. It does not end well for him.

We cut to Kazuhiko’s sister Keiko and her boyfriend Hiroshi ,who are concerned that he hasn’t returned or even contacted
them to let them know how he is. They go to the same remote home and are greeted by Shido and Genzo. What they uncover leads to more deaths as the family curse is uncovered.

The film is a mix of Gothic horror (old dark house, stormy night) and Japanese Ghost Story. While the killer is called a vampire, they never spout fangs, instead using a very deadly blade to dispatch their victims. Still, the film is full of atmosphere, and at a brisk 71 minutes, it really moves.

Composer Ricchiro Manabe wrote the scores for all three Toho vampire films. Besides composing for the vampire trilogy, Manabe also wrote the scores for GODZILLA VS HEDORAH (ゴジラ対ヘドラ Gojira tai Hedora, Toho,1971) better known as GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER; and GODZILLA VS MEGALON ( ゴジラ対メガロ Gojira tai Megaro, Toho,1973).

His scores for this first film is harpsicord, piano, and organ, mixed in with discordant sounds to create a feeling of unease. It also includes some traditional Kokiriko (basically a pair of sticks struck together rhythmically) electric keyboard and flute. At one point it goes a little muzak, but overall, it is quite spare but effective. At times, it reminded me of some of the music from tv’s DARK SHADOWS (ABC TV 1966-1971) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Kh9z-mExk .

The cinematography by Kazutami Hara is effective, with nicely composed shots that help the mood of the piece. He would skip the next film in the series, only to return for the final entry.

The film must have done well, as the studio made another vampire film the following year with the same director, screenwriter (Ei Ogawa) and composer.

Lake of Dracula (呪いの館 血を吸う眼 Noroi no yakata-Chi o su me, Toho, 1971, also known as also known as Japula, Dracula’s Lust for Blood, The Bloodthirsty Eyes and Lake of Death). After it’s Japanese release, it was given a limited subtitled release in the U.S., followed up by a television dubbed version from UPA under the title LAKE OF DRACULA.

A young girl, Akiko, looking for her lost dog, wanders into a house, where she finds a dead woman and a vampire. We jump ahead years later, where Akiko is now a young woman. She thinks what happened to her was only a dream, until the vampire turns up again, and her dog once again goes missing, only now her sister Natsuko also disappears.

She is attacked by a friend who has been vampirized and brought to the original vampire. Just before he can bite her, two men interrupt the monsters, and they run away.

More near fatal events happen, wherein they discover that the original vampire chasing them is a descendent of Dracula himself!

This film is a more traditional vampire film, with an ancestor of the King of all Vampires playing heavily into the story. The vampire here has a ghastly pale complexion and yellow eyes. The final staking is effective (I understand that this was cut from some tv prints, making a very frustrating viewing for late night tv addicts). Certain points in the film made me think of BRIDES OF DRACULA (Hammer/Universal,1960).


The Hammer influence is strong in the design of the vampire’s mansion , which has a very European look, or at least strong Bernard Robinson construction (kudos to production designer Shigekazu Ikuno, who had worked on the horror film MATANGO, Toho ,1963). The film overall has a feel of a larger budget than its predecessor.

The camerawork by Rokurô Nishigaki is quite good, and it is a shame he didn’t do more genre work.

Three years later, the final film of the series was EVIL OF DRACULA ( 血を吸う薔薇 , literally The Bloodthirsty Rose, Toho,1974). The original cameraman returned to join the other original director, writer and composer.

 

Once again, BRIDES OF DRACULA seem to have had some influence on the plot, along with LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (Hammer, 1971).

Shiraki, a new teacher at the Seimei School for Girls, finds out that he is to become the new Director. The principal has just suffered the death of his wife. That night, Shiraki, who is staying in the principal’s home, is attacked. He wakes up in his own bed, and at first assumes it was all a dream.

However, he goes down into the cellar and finds that the ghastly woman who attacked him the night prior is the occupant of a coffin, namely the principal’s late wife.


Later, one of the female students is attacked and left with two bite marks upon one of her breasts. The school Doctor Shimimura, who also collects local legends, feels that the violence and strange things going on are the result of a vampire.

The origin of this Dracula is quite original, to say the least. If you have seen Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE(Paramount,2016), you will be aware of the 17th Century attempt at bringing Christianity from Europe to Japan. Well, here, Dracula comes into being as a pious man who renounces his faith due to the tortures of the missionaries, and thus is cursed with vampirism! 

This film is a bit more violent and some semi nudity to spice up the proceedings. Once again, the team has done a great job of mixing Western culture with a Japanese spin.

These films were released sparsely in the U.S. in subtitled prints in limited release, as well as dubbed versions, somewhat edited for television by UPA.

Paramount Home Video released the films in the edited dubbed versions on VHS, but they have long been out of print. The prints were rather flat and the copies suffered from pan and scan .

Finally, ARROW FILMS has once again graced us with an amazing presentation of an unjustly obscure film, or in this case, three.  

First off, they have gone to the original film elements for a   1080p High Definition Blu Ray release. The color and image quality are amazingly sharp and clear, with no noticeable speckling or blemishes. Though supposedly low budget, the artisans and artists at Toho bring a professionalism and pride to their work.

The Mono sound is now in a clean uncompressed 1.0 PCM Audio.  The previous VHS release was on certain videos released in the LP (long play) speed, rather than the SP (Standard Play). This softened the picture image as well as flattened the sound.

Though not mixed in any fake stereo, the music and sound effects mix are clear.

The prints used are in the original Japanese, so you can hear the performances of the actors, with very easy to read new English language subtitles.

 

Kim Newman (film historian, as well as author of the delightful ANNO DRACULA book series) provides a nice little video appraisal of the trilogy on disc one.

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Griffin (which also graces the discs), while on the flip side are some of the original Japanese theatrical posters.

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Japanese film expert Jasper Sharp (Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema; Scarecrow Press ,2011), illustrated with some beautiful photos from the movies.

Disc One consists THE VAMPIRE DOLL and Kim Newman’s video comments.
Disc Two consists of LAKE OF DRACULA and EVIL OF DRACULA.

The only thing that I could have suggested was perhaps adding alternate audio track of the English dubs from UPA , but perhaps they were too prohibitively expensive to license .

Once again, Arrow Films has given us another must have Blu Ray Collection.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

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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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ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES/D.O.A.-A RIGHT OF PASSAGE special editions Blu Rays from MVD REWIND

ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978) (MVD Rewind) 2-disc special edition Blu Ray/DVD combo. 87 minutes color.

https://www.amazon.com/Attack-Killer-Tomatoes-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B075MYG9XC

Back in the 1970s and 80s, it was possible for independent films to get theatrical releases. A lot of these films would play their one week run and then disappear, unless they would end up as second features later for another film, or, perhaps a sale to television.

 

With the advent of the home video market, people were able to program their own films, whenever they wanted to view a film. Magnetic Video was one of the first companies to license titles (most were from major studios) and offer them for sale to consumers. The high mark up (many were $100) meant that people were more likely to rent than purchase, thus giving rise to video rental stores.

The offerings available on Beta (then VHS) were limited, due to studios wishing to prevent bootlegging of their titles. Smaller companies lept into fill the void for demanding renters (as well as the adult video market, which drove a lot of business for the video marketplace, but that is a different part of the story).

Suddenly, older public domain titles were appearing on store shelves, along with many independent films that had pretty much vanished after their original run. One of those indie labels was Media Home Entertainment, started in 1978 by filmmaker Charles Band. In 1981, one of the titles the company released was ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (Four Square Productions).

ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, unlike a lot of independent films, had a bit of name recognition. Johnny Carson, then at the height of his popularity as the star of THE TONIGHT SHOW, had mentioned the film on the program, and interviewed star Jack Riley (who at the time was known for his role in tv’s THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MTM Productions) who survived an accidental helicopter crash that ended up in the final cut of the film.

 

It was one of the first films that I ever owned on video, and thus it has fond memories for me.

Who would have thought that the film would spawn three sequels (so far), a video game, comics, a novel, and an animated television series?

For the five people who have never heard of the film, the film is a spoof inspired by the bad horror films that the filmmakers grew up loving.

A series of mysterious killings (including one that spoofs JAWS ,Universal,1975) baffle everyone, until it is discovered that Tomatoes have become sentient and are murdering people in various ways. At one point, one knocks a helicopter down, causing it to crash. They say tomatoes can’t fly and the response is well tomatoes cannot kill people either!

Finally, it is discovered that an obnoxious teen song “Puberty Love” causes the members of the nightshade family to flee in horror. People size their chance and smash and mash them, until they are vanquished. However, just at the end, we see that the carrots are now preparing to arise….

The film is like the big budget spoof THE BIG BUS (Paramount,1976), which exaggerates and satirizes their respective genres (THE BIG BUS spoofs the popular “disaster films” of the 1970s) and were the forerunners of the everything AND the kitchen sink humor of AIRPLANE (Paramount,1980).

A.O.T.K.T. was inspired by a short film that the filmmakers had done years earlier and raised the funds to expand on the simple premise into a full-length feature. That they were able to raise between $90,000 -$100,000 is an amazing feat.

At times, though, the film feels a bit padded to fill it’s running time. Indeed, some of the best scenes are recreations of those that appeared in the original Super 8 short (plus the astounding helicopter accident of course). Also, a major drag is the use of many non-professionals in featured roles. Working with people like Jack Riley shows how uneven the performances are.

That said, the film hits the mark more often than misses, which is more than many bigger budgeted films can claim (I’m looking at you, VAMPIRE ACADEMY (Weinstein,2014, $30 million budget). Indeed, some of their throwaway jokes may be missed by the non-genre fan, but truly tickle the horror aficionado. My personal favorite is the dubbed Japanese scientist, which no one in the scene notices or comments upon!

The film’s fame even extends to being referenced in a foodie festival! 

 

Now, MVD/REWIND has given the film the deluxe treatment, giving it the kind of extras one would expect and find on the DUNKIRK (WB,2017) blu ray release.

First off, MVD REWIND has given the film a 4k remastering, with a hi-def (1080p) Blu-Ray as well as a standard definition of the film for DVD. The aspect ratio is 1.85.1.

Pulling out an old vhs copy shows how much the film has been given a facelift. Gone is the heavy grain that made me always think that it had been shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm.

Now you can see the sharpness of the original 35mm photography, which is impressive for an independent production. HALLOWEEN (Compass,1978) also was shot in 35mm (as well as Panavision), which also elevated it from many indie films of the period.

Grain remains in some of the effects sequences, but that is from the original negative.

The sound is presented in LPCM 2.0 mono that is clean of pops and hisses. Some of the dialogue is low, but that is due to the original recording rather than any loss in the mix. The music does not drown out any of the dialogue or effects, which is a good or bad thing, depending upon how much of a fan that you are of the film.

We have a tomato basket full of extras for this release though I am unsure of how many of these are ported over from the long out of print Rhino 25th Anniversary .

There is a running audio commentary from the original team of John DeBello, Steve Peace, and Costa Dillon. The team recall their long friendship their original friendship that endures, and the process of putting together this cult feature. some 38 years ago.

There are three scenes that were deleted and while it is interesting to see these (which are in rougher form than the rest of the release), they would have added nothing to the film and in fact might have slowed the picture down.

LEGACY OF A LEGEND -is a collection of interviews with the team who created the original, as well as John Astin (who would star in the three sequels as well as provide his voice to the animated series), film critic Kevin Thomas and fan Bruce Vilanch, among others.

CRASH AND BURN is a brief discussion of the accidental helicopter crash, how the secondary camera kept rolling while the first shut off as the crash began, and how the actors came up with a way to work the incident into the plot, and work in one of the funniest lines about flying tomatoes.


FAMOUS FOUL– the San Diego Chicken reminiscences how he ended up in the film.


KILLER TOMATOMANIA – a man on the street interview with people walking along to see what they know of the film.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW– This was to me quite interesting. Many returned to their regular jobs ,but Steve Pearce went on to be a Democratic Senator in California (not to be confused with the New Mexico G.O.P. Congressman, who as far as I know, has never met a killer tomato , that the film had the first appearance of Dana Ashbrook , now best known for playing Bobby Briggs in the various incarnations of TWIN PEAKS, made his debut as an uncredited boy in boat ,and that the teenage vocalist of “Puberty Lovehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jViBFzytVXo is drummer Matt Cameron (Soundgarden ,The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yO2FzVvA3TQ )!

WE TOLD YOU SO– a spoof investigation into killer tomato conspiracies.

    An actual NY POST cover also referenced the film for a salmonella scare!

SLATED FOR SUCCESS -a short bit about the original film’s slate woman.

ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES” – the original super 8mm short film. Running about 18 minutes, it begins with the scene of the tomato coming out of the sink and killing the woman, and several other major scenes that were later recreated in the feature. There is even the model tank sequence with miniature houses, and the surprise ending. There is also a commentary track by the original team.


GONE WITH THE BABUSULAND– another super 8mm short by the team. This one is over 32 minutes long but seems more self-indulgent. Having done my own super 8mm shorts, sometimes improv would bring out unexpected brilliance, and other times, well, editing comes in handy. A silent film made for a Kodak Film Festival  (which yours truly also submitted films) this also comes with commentary by the original team.

The original theatrical trailer.

Production Design Photo Gallery -six images.


Radio spots– these play over images from the film.

Vintage Retro Video Store Style Slipcover /O -Card (first pressing only). -For those old enough to remember the joy of discovering films lined along the video shelves, this was a nice touch.

Collectible Poster– to replace your long-tattered poster that you got when the video store was done with it.

In a press release, MVD Entertainment Group’s Eric D. Wilkinson , in charge of the MVD Rewind Collection , explains, “I’m a dedicated collector of movies on disc, with over 8,000 plus discs in my collection and I want collectors to know that the MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray + DVD sets are being overseen by a collector and I will do my best to create the kind of releases you will look forward to adding to your collection every month.”

The other inaugural release from MVD REWIND is

D.O.A.: A Right of Passage Special Edition, 2-Disc Special Edition
https://www.amazon.com/D-Passage-2-Disc-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B075DSLWFS

D.O.A.: A RITE OF PASSAGE is a raw gritty Super 8 documentary about the 1978 Sex Pistols tour of the U.S. that ended with the group breaking up, practically all captured on camera as it happened. Mixed into the mix is footage of other bands like The Dead Boys, The Rich Kids, and others, plus some The Clash and Iggy Pop music tossed into the mix.

This title has long been unavailable, so for fans of Punk Music, this is a must have.

The film has been cleaned up as much as possible, but its graininess also feels right for the subject matter. It is a great time capsule of the period, though seeing Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen sends a chill down the spine (Spungen died in 1978 from a stab wound to the stomach. Sid was charged with the crime but died from a drug overdose before he could be tried. The Hotel Chelsea, where it happened, has been closed since 2011, but is scheduled to re-open this year).

Besides the feature (on separate Blu Ray and DVD discs), they have also added a feature length documentary on the making of the feature, with new interviews with people who were involved with the original production, as well as Sex Pistol Historian Mick O’Shea, and Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure.

A 12-page booklet by John Holmstrom, founding editor of PUNK magazine.

A photo Gallery

Reversible Cover Artwork

A collectible two-sided poster (I am going to need more wall space)

The original Theatrical Trailer.

 

In a press release, MVD Entertainment Group’s Eric D. Wilkinson , in charge of the MVD Rewind Collection , explains, “I’m a dedicated collector of movies on disc, with over 8,000 plus discs in my collection and I want collectors to know that the MVD Rewind Collection Blu-ray + DVD sets are being overseen by a collector and I will do my best to create the kind of releases you will look forward to adding to your collection every month.”

Should MVD REWIND  can continue the quality of these two-disc sets, the company  will be the Criterion of B Movies and Obscure Titles to watch out for.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

For more tomatoes merchandising go to
https://killertomatoes.com/

 

The Master of Disguise from ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES  .

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ONE MILLION B.C. (V.C.I. Blu Ray)

ONE MILLION B.C. (Roach, 1940) (V.C.I. Blu Ray) B&W,82 minutes. S.R.P. $29.95

https://www.amazon.com/One-Million-B-C-Blu-ray/dp/B071XF71PD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513128658&sr=8-1&keywords=one+million+b.c+1940

Hal Roach (1892-1992) began producing short silent comedies in 1915 after receiving a small inheritance. He became the second largest producer of silent comedy shorts ,right after Mack Sennett.

After distributing through Pathe ,he switched over to MGM selling his product in 1927.

 

He began producing talking short subjects in 1929,often re-shooting in several language, his casts(including the Our Gang kids) learning the foreign languages phonetically.

 

In 1931 he began making some full length features (PARDON US) ,and except for The Our Gang/Little Rascals ,which he sold to MGM completely in 1938 ,he ceased production on short subjects.

Roach had a series of hit films like TOPPER (MGM,1937) and switching to United Artists to release his features, he put out such classics as OF MICE & MEN (1939).

One of his biggest and best known non Laurel & Hardy features from Hal Roach is the unique and well loved fantasy feature ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). The #1 box-office attraction of 1940 (excluding the roll-over receipts for Gone with the Wind (M.G.M. 1939)), the film was a special effects wonder ,whose dinosaur battles and earth splitting images were used as stock shots well into the 1960s .

The last film to have any involvement by the silent screen master D.W. Griffith (he directed many of the screen tests but not the actual film itself) , it earned two Academy Award nominations : Best Musical Score (Werner Heymann,losing to Disney‘s PINOCCHIO ) and Best Special Effects (Roy Seawright, Elmer Raguse, who saw that award go to Alexander Korda‘s THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD team).  Griffith had already dealt with cave men in his 1912 comedy MAN’s GENESIS (Biograph ,1912)

Hal Roach Sr & Junior both are credited as directors, they worked together seamlessly ,aided by superb camera work by Norbert Brodine,who was the studio’s chief director of photography on a majority of their films.

Stan & Ollie in FLYING ELEPHANTS (Roach/Pathe,1928)

 

I never noticed how much sweeping camera moves that were used in the film until I got this  Blu Ray,especially travelling around the studio filled sets created by Charles D Hall .Hall is best known for his stunning design work which defined the look of the Universal horror classics ,with his work on DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN(both 1931) .

This film is probably the closest any film came to creating the sense of wonder that KING KONG (RKO,1933) inspired ,as well as the box office results.Dinosaur pictures movies had been made since the silent era when Windsor McCay’s GERTIE THE DINOSAUR (1914). Sadly, few would use the time consuming stop motion that Willis O’Brien had become the undisputed master. ONE MILLION B.C. was another film that eschewed stop motion for men in T-Rex suits and animals and lizards portraying their prehistoric ancestors.

The film begins with a prologue meant to ease audiences into the main story.When a group of modern hikers take shelter in a cave, they meet an anthropologist (Conrad Nagel, billed as The Narrator) who interprets the cave drawings, saying they are about a young couple, similar to two in the hiking group, namely Carole Landis and Victor Mature .

The film then jumps into the story proper ,where we see the violent Rock Tribe ,led by Akhoba (Lon Chaney ,Jr.,who was about 33 ,wearing old age make up and grayed wigs). Tumak (Mature, who was only in his mid-twenties when he appeared in this. Many say that tHis was his debut ,but he had a small role as “Lefty ” in THE HOUSEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER the year prior)has his first kill in a hunt ,though an elderly man is injured and left to die.

 

The beast is roasted, and after Akhoba, the men fight for their piece, leaving the women and children with what remains. Akhoba is still hungry, and grabs the food that Tumak is eating, who strikes his father. Enraged, the pair fight with staffs, resulting in Tumak falling from a cliff. The tribe return to their cave, without only Tumak’s mother to mourn him.

He is not dead, but has to flee from a mastodon ,climbing a tree to avoid the creature. It knocks the tree over another cliff and Tumak and the tree float down river (an amazing combination of miniatures and rear projection combined with live action) .He is discovered unconscious by Loana (Carole Landis ,20 years old,who had worked as a dancer since age 15,had mostly only done extra work and uncredited bits until this role made her a star.It seems D.W.Griffith pushed for her, due to her natural athleticism ,something that the role would require). She is a member of the more social Shell People .She calls for her tribe, who take the stranger in and care for him.

 

He is not sure how to deal with these strangers, who share their food freely. When he takes food from a young boy, Loana gives her food to the child. Tumak,seeing this ,does his first kind act and gives his bowl to her. The tribe applauds, and Tumak then gets some other food that he has hidden and adds it to the communal pile.

Akhoba is gored during another hunt and and left to die. Another takes over as leader .Akhoba, maimed, crawls back to the cave, but now is a figure shunned by most.

Tumak is finding life is good with his new tribe, and he even saves a small child from death by killing the beast with a spear ,a weapon which the Shell Tribe have just introduced to him.

However, he feels the spear should be his due to his courage, and when he is made to return it, he determines to steal it.

For this ,he is once again banished. Loana has fallen for him ,and follows. They feed on apples (a reference to Adam & Eve perhaps? After all, we have humans around the same time as dinosaurs ) and are chased by one creature, then witness a fight between others .

Loana is captured by the Rock Tribe, and Tumak races to her rescue. Tumak becomes the new leader, and tries to show his people about kindness and sharing, even showing kindness to Akhoba.

The next day the men go hunting .A small child wanders off and Loana goes in search of him. At that moment, a volcano erupts, killing many in the lava flow(including the child’s mother!), though Loana does find the lost boy .

Cut off from the Rock Tribe , she returns to her own people with the child. Tumak finds scraps of clothes and thinks that she has perished.

However, he finds out that she is indeed alive and goes to find, arriving to find that she and her tribe are trapped in their cave that is being attacked by a dinosaur.

Quickly, Tumak gets the Rock Tribe to help him. Akhoba advises someone distract the beast while others while others cause a rock slide which kills the monster.

The two tribes unite, and the film ends with Tumak ,Loana, and the child looking to a brighter future.

Tumak, Loana and the rescued child are framed in the dawn of a new day.

The plot, though simple, works . Griffith probably had a hand in story construction,as the film could have worked as a silent feature. Indeed, except for the opening sequence and Nagel‘s narration, most of the dialogue is in a fake cave dialogue , which we follow by gestures and tone.

What the film is best known for is it’s “depiction” of prehistoric life. This is done by disguising modern animals in furs (i.e. ,the Mastodon is merely a fur clad elephant, an armadillo and a snake are used on miniature sets, as are some poor lizards.Nowadays, the ASPCA would not allow such animal cruelty to go on, but here, they are made to fight, dropped, hit with rocks, etc.

The miniature disaster,combined with on set effects ,makes for effective depictions of the earth cracking open, and volcanoes erupting their destructive forces.

The new VCI Blu Ray is a wonder to see. Most prints I have seen of this film have been muddy and lack sharpness. Indeed, I have read (unfair) criticism of previous VCI Blu Rays quality.

This print, however, is a revelation. It is so sharp that one can at times see where certain matte shots merge ,which gives away the trick but not the charm of the film.The elements come from the UCLA Film Archive ,and are remarkably clean (also aided by a 2K scan)and have wonderful graduations of gray ,and strong whites and blacks.

The audio is also crisp and clear mono . It is fun seeing the pseudo cave language appear on screen when the optional subtitle open is applied.The subtitles ,however, are also serve as good descriptive subtitles for the hard of hearing .

As to extras, there is a non stop and informative enthusiastic commentary from Toby Roan ,whom I first recall enjoying from his commentary on Olive Films’ NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY Blu Ray. He is obvious a fan of the movie but is not above pointing out items of interest along the way,all the while dropping tid bits about the films production history,its cast ,and reception.

Also, a 10 minute (!) long slide show of ultra rare production stills, private photos, international posters, and re release lobby cards from the films re issue as CAVE MAN .

In 1966 ,Hammer/ 20th Century Fox remade the film ,they added a “Years” to the title, ran about 20 minutes longer(original U.K. release),in color, with incredible special effects by Ray Harryhausen and the incredible effect that was Rachel Welch in a fur bikini.

Both are fun fantasy films but there is a wonderful charm in the original that any fan of classic movie would make this a must have to add to your collection.

Highly recommended .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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