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FORGOTTEN & OVERLOOKED : SKULLDUGGERY (Universal,1970)Burt Reynolds, Susan Clark)

FORGOTTEN & OVERLOOKED will be a series of articles on science fiction ,horror, mystery ,and fantasy films that have somehow either been overlooked and /or not been made easily available for viewing . I am open to other suggestions and indeed other writers/creators who might wish to contribute to this series.

Contact Kevin at ScarletTheFilmMag@yahoo.com

Skullduggery – a forgotten Universal science fiction film

SKULLDUGGERY – 1970 Universal – A forgotten science fiction adventure film that has a lot of ideas behind it, even if the execution is a bit muddled.

A scientist ,Dr Sybil Greame ( Susan Clark ,COLOSSUS:THE FORBIN PROJECT, Universal, 1970) ,and a pair of guides, Douglas and Otto (Burt Reynolds, two years before his break-out star making turn in DELIVERANCE ,WB,1972 and Roger C. Carmel ,forever to be known as rascally Harry Mudd from his two appearances in the original STAR TREK television series,Paramount ,1966-69) go into the wilds of the New Guinea jungles (a few stock shots, then the rest mostly filmed on location in Jamaica), where they discover a skull of a half human -half primate throwback ,or the missing link.

 

Going further in the primeval forests, they come across a tribe who guide them to The Tropis. The Tropis are a small humanoid group (mostly played by college students from the University of Djakarta), a friendly primitive tribe of hirsute people. Childlike, the tough Douglas becomes very protective of them. Otto, however, develops a strong attraction to one of the females, Topanzia (Pat Suzuki, who starred in the original Broadway production of FLOWER DRUM SONG).

The rest of the “civilized” people look to exploit the Tropis. Father Dillingham (Chip Rafferty ,MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, MGM,1962) wishes to baptize the Tropis until someone mentions it might be a blasphemy if they are not human, while Dr Greame’s boyfriend and financial backer Vancruysen (Paul Hubschmid ,THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, WB,1953) figures that by he can exploit the creatures into near slavery to work in a mind that he has found .

Things take a dark turn when Topanzia gives birth to a still born child. After Douglas at first confesses to possibly killing the infant, he is put on trial, which brings in the idea of defining what humanity is.

Topanzia is kept in a cage in the courtroom, while a local District Attorney (magnificently played by William Marshall,BLACULA,AIP,1972) tries the case.

The project was based upon the 1952 French novel,” Les Animaux denatures” (First edition publ. Album Michel)) ,written by Jean Bruller under the pseudonym,”Vercors”. Bruller, who had fought in the French resistance, wrote several science fiction themed novels, as well as historical works.

 

The novel was translated into English by Rita Barrisse, and released under the name “YOU SHALL KNOW THEM” (aka “Murder Of The Missing Link” ;1953, Boston: Little , Brown) . The reviews were quite favorable at the time but it has become a rather overlooked work. One of the main differences between book and novel is that the baby is DELIBERATELY killed so that the case will be brought to trial.

 

Bruller adapted his work into a stage play called ZOO that was produced in Paris, and still is performed by many amateur groups(https://vimeo.com/272149857) . Director Otto Preminger (LAURA,Fox,1944) optioned the stage rights ,and hired Nelson Gidding to write a screenplay, that became  known as “The Case Of The Troublesome Topis”,dropping the “r” from the hominids name while making the story sound like a forgotten Perry Mason tale.

Gidding  finished the screenplay, but Preminger got busy in other projects, and so it seemed like it would end up as one of the many unproduced scripts in Hollywood.

 

However, producer Saul David had bought the novel rights, and brought it to Universal, after a misunderstanding with the newly formed ABC Pictures resulted in their dropping the project. Gidding, who adapted the 1969 Robert Crichton novel “The Andromeda Strain “(Knopf) into the classic Robert Wise film of 1971 for the studio, got his screenplay to the producer’s desk.

 

Burt Reynolds took the leading role, which required him to turn down a part in the motion picture M*A*S*H (Fox, 1970).

 

Filming began on January 6, 1969, under the direction of Richard Wilson (INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER, U.A.,1964). However, after just one day, producer Saul David (who had produced FANTASTIC VOYAGE, Fox,1966, and later LOGAN’S RUN, MGM,1976) fired the director. This would be the last project Wilson worked on, save for some contributions to the documentary IT’S ALL TRUE (Paramount,1993).

David brought in director Gordon Douglas, with whom he had worked on IN LIKE FLINT (Fox, 1967).

Karl Malden was considered for the role of Otto, but was deemed to thin (in the screenplay, the character was described as a heavy man). Roger C. Carmel was cast, only to have him arrive on set much thinner, having lost weight for the role!

Also in the cast were Edward Fox ( a year before he won a Best Supporting actor BAFTA for THE GO-BETWEEN ,Columbia,1971) , Alexander Knox (the title role in WILSON, Fox,1944) and the ever popular character actor Wilfred Hyde-White(Col. Pickering in the classic W.B. film adaption of the musical MY FAIR LADY, 1964).

 

The Tropis look was created and applied by Jack H Young (who had done make up for Bert I Gordon’s WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, AIP,1958) Marvin G. Westmore (uncredited in this film, who had also worked uncredited on PLANET OF THE APES, Fox,1968 ) and Bud Westmore (DARK INTRUDER, Universal,1964). One suspects that Marvin was brought in due to his work on PLANET OF THE APES.

Indeed, the success of that film may have had some impetus in his being hired, as Fox also created a sequel to that film (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) in 1970. Interestingly,  PLANET OF THE APES was also based upon a Fremch novel , Pierre Boulle‘s  1963 “ La Planete des singes “(  First Edition :Editions Julliard).

 

IMDB claims that the estimated budget for SKULLDUGGERY was $4.5 million which seems a bit high (THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN cost  6.5 million, and was a far bigger picture).

 

When the film was released,the reviews were mixed, and the box office was not strong, so the film quickly ended up on some bottom bills at drive ins.

Burt Reynolds never talked badly about the film and indeed blamed the studio for not knowing how to sell the picture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWoxl2KYUcM .

 

Oddly, the film was never released to home video in any format, and while it was shown on television in an edited version (brief nudity in a GP film), it has remained mostly unseen for nearly 50 years.

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SKULLDUGGERY is by no means a classic, and at times quite dated, but at other times the ideas behind it seem very timely.

Issue 1,Vol 1 of CINEFANTASTIQUE review

 

When films like BILLY THE KID MEETS DRACULA (Embassy ,1966) now getting the Blu Ray Special Edition treatment, perhaps Universal (or SHOUT! Factory, who have been doing a bang-up job on Universal’s genre films) might wish to release the picture to home video finally, so this missing link in Burt Reynold’s career will be missing no longer.

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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MEA CULPA – (correction  11/2/2019) -the original posting of this article listed CANDY Clark in the heading,

even though in the body of the article, SUSAN Clark was properly credited for her role in the film.

My apologies  to these two fine actresses.

 

CANDY CLARK  (AMERICAN GRAFFITI )

 

SUSAN CLARK (COLOSSUS THE FORBIN PROJECT)

 

I have properly chastised myself for this error.

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ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (Twilight Time Blu ray)

ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (Twilight Time Blu Ray) Universal 1969 .Color. 145 minutes. English .2.0             DTS-HD MA sound .English Subtitles option . 1080p Hi Definition 2.35:1 REGION FREE(A,B,C). Special Features: isolated music audio track . Original Theatrical Trailer. Booklet.

https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/anne-of-the-thousand-days-blu-ray/

1969 was a year of change and turmoil. Woodstock . Altamont. Man landed upon the moon. The Stonewall riots. The Charles Manson murders. Nixon says that 25,000 troops will be withdrawn from Vietnam . My Lai massacre. Chappaquiddick . Robert R succumbs to a mysterious disease that will later be identified as HIV/AIDS.

 

Movies too were reflective of the changing chaotic times. Big budget Hollywood movies like HELLO DOLLY(Fox), TRUE GRIT (Paramount) and BATTLE OF BRITAIN(UA) were battling for audiences who were flocking to films like EASY RIDER (Columbia) or MIDNIGHT COWBOY (U.A).

 

Fitting into the former category is the epic ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS . Costume spectacles , particularly those dealing with British royalty, seemed to do well both with audiences ,reviewers ,and awards. Films like BECKET (Paramount ,1964) ,MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (Columbia ,1966), and THE LION IN WINTER (Avco Embassy ,1968) , all based upon successful intelligent successful Broadway plays, all found receptive responses.

paperback movie tie -in 

 

Producer Hall Wallis had been Warner Brothers ‘ studio manager back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, overseeing a string of classics like LITTLE CAESAR (1931) to CASABLANCA (1942). He left W.B. to form his own production company ,and continued his movie Midas Touch with films such as SORRY WRONG NUMBER (Paramount ,1948) ,several Elvis Presley and Martin & Lewis films, and screen adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ works.

 

After producing the film adaptation of BECKET , Wallis  and Burton wanted to work together on another historical drama. Burton convinced Wallis to adapt the 1948 Maxwell Anderson blank verse play ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS”.

 

The play ,which opened December 8,1948, was a huge success, running until October 8,1949 at the Shubert Theatre on Broadway. Part of that was due to the dynamic performances between Rex Harrison as Henry VIII and Joyce Redman as Anne Boleyn (I saw Ms. Redman in the superlative 1987 revival of PYGMALION that starred Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer, wherein she portrayed O’Toole’s mother). The other was it was considered daring (Anne admitted to having pre-martial sex!) ,a subject that would make the story impossible to get pass the Production Code of the time.

 

 

Polish Movie Poster ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS

 

The late 1960s saw the relaxing of censorship and more daring subjects being brought to the screen ,and so Wallis hired three writers (Richard Sokolove ,adaptation; Bridget Boland and John Hale ,screenplay) to adapt the play for cinematic purposes. Gone was the blank verse, though the dialogue still had a nice dramatic sense of period . One wonders if Burton discussed playing Henry with Rex Harrison when the two filmed STAIRCASE (Fox) that same year ,where the two played not kings but a pair of bickering old “queens”.

 

The production was sumptuous (design by Maurice Carter ,who had also done the same on BECKET; costumes by Margaret Furse who costumed BECKET and THE LION IN WINTER) , with an opulence that truly captured how one felt the court of Henry VIII would feel.

 

Adding to the sweep and majesty was another magnificent score by George Delerue (he had composed the score to A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, and would later write for Truffaut’s classic La Nuit Americaine (DAY FOR NIGHT,WB,1973)and win an Oscar for his work on the lovely A LITTLE ROMANCE (Orion/WB,1979).

The film was shot at such locations as Penshurst Place and Hever Castle (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn ) as well as on magnificent sets built at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios.

 

Lensing all of this was Arthur Ibbetson (director of photography on Chaplin’s last feature, A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, Universal, 1967) and later the childhood classics THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (Universal,1970) and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY(Paramount,1971).

Director Charles Jarrott

 

Director Charles Jarrott had directed many intelligent productions for television with this being his first theatrical production. It is directed tastefully and without flash ,allowing the performances and story carry the movement. He was so successful that he was later tapped to direct MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal,1971) with the same finesse.

 

Henry VIII (Richard Burton) is unhappy that his wife ,Queen Catherine of Aragon (Irene Papas,THE GUNS OF NAVARONE,Columbia ,1961) has not born him a son to carry on his lineage. His affair with Mary Boleyn             ( Valerie Gearon, in one of her only four film appearances ) is also losing his interest (even though she is pregnant with his child)when he sees Mary’s 18 year old sister Anne (Genevieve Bujold, so marvelous  in KING OF HEARTS /le roi de Coeur,U.A,1966) at a ball.

 

Mary is engaged but Henry has his “fixer” and Lord Chancellor , scheming Cardinal Woolsey (Anthony Quayle, GUNS OF NAVARONE),break up the engagement. Mary’s father ,Thomas Boleyn (Michael Hordern, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM,U.A.,1966) is a political climber, willing to use his daughters to advance his own political career and agrees to end the engagement.

Anne is not as easily won as her sister ,and dares to insult the King, a dangerous thing to be sure, for it could mean her family losing it’s position and wealth , and even imprisonment and death.

 

Henry, however is smitten with this fiery woman, who unlike so many others, does not bend to his will. Thomas Cromwell (Canadian actor John Galicos, probably best known for playing Kor in the STAR TREK episode, “Errand Of Mercy”, Paramount, 1967 and then later as the evil Count Baltar on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, Universal 1978-9) feels the girl can be a problem but Woolsey feels she is but another bauble for Henry to play with use and discard.

 

Anne is slowly seduced , not so much by Henry as by the power he offers. She refuses Henry’s advances, however, as any child that they have would be illegitimate. Henry says he will divorce Catherine so he can marry Anne, and instructs Woolsey to find a way. Woolsey protests , but the King will not be denied. The Pope denies the annulment ,and Woolsey is removed from office, his London palace given instead to Anne and his title given to Cromwell.

Cromwell comes up with the idea that Henry is the embodiment of the Church in England, and that people cannot pledge loyalty to both The Pope & The Church of Rome at the same time it pledges allegiance to a King who is supposed to be God’s appointed. People are asked to choose, loyalty to Henry and the Crown, or dismissal and worse if they do not recognize his new Church.

 

Finally won over, Anne finally makes love to Henry.She tells Henry that she is pregnant and a quick wedding is arranged.

Catherine ,however ,was very popular with the common people (and the Spanish Ambassadors also sew discontent among the masses ) so that Anne finds herself jeered at and called “the King’s Whore” by the masses . Catherine is banished from court ,spending her remaining years(3 years, 1533-36) at Kimbolton Castle, acknowledged as the Dowager Princess.

Henry is disappointed and enraged that once again he is father to another daughter (Princess Elizabeth. His previous wife, Catherine, bore him Princess Mary).

Once again, Henry ,disappointed by the lack of a male heir, starts looking elsewhere. Anne sees him cast his eye upon young Lady Jane Seymour (Lesley Patterson, who seems to have only appeared in one other film ,THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, Fox,1969),Anne arranges to keep the young woman from court.

Meanwhile ,the loyalty oath to the King continues . Sir Thomas More ( William Squire , Hammer’s A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD, 1967) is still opposed to Anne’s claim as legitimate Queen (and thus the rights of Elizabeth to be a successor to the crown). In a rage, she lets Henry know she wants More done away with. A pre-determined trial finds the scholar guilty, and, denied the right to speak at his execution, he is beheaded. Shortly thereafter, like Catherine before her, Anne gives birth to a still born son .

Angrily, Henry turns to Cromwell to find a way for him to divorce Anne and leave him free to have a male heir. Cromwell invents a hideous lie, wherein he accuses Anne of sexual relations with several men, including her own brother. Her music teacher ,Mark Smeaton (Gary Bond, ZULU,Paramount,1964) ,being a commoner, is tortured into a confession by having a Garotte put around his head and tightened.

When they come to arrest her, Anne thinks that they are joking , but the charges are indeed ,deadly serious, amounting to High Treason.

Once again ,however , her intelligence and strong will come to the fore. At the trial, as Henry is hidden away listening, she gets the chance to question the poor tortured Smeaton. He repeats what he has been tortured into admitting, but when he looks upon Anne, he says that he has never been with her in any way but in friendship . The court is in disarray, but Henry enters the room, and tells Smeaton that he is condemned to die either way, so he is free to tell the truth. Smeaton asserts again that she is innocent. The court is in disarray,, as Anne smiles at Henry .Still, as Henry leaves, he says it may still be true.

 

Later,Henry goes to the tower to beg Anne to annul the marriage so he can wed Jane Seymour. Anne once again refuses ,as she says Elizabeth will be one of the great leaders of England, and Anne would rather die rather than deny her daughter her rightful place of history.

Anne is indeed found guilty, and in a tragic scene ,she is led to her death by beheading. Henry ,who was not there, but instead ,out hunting with several groomsmen, hears the cannons in the distance announce her execution. Henry urges his entourage to follow him ,and they set off to Jane Seymour’s home, the hunt once again begun for Henry to get a male heir.

The final shot shows young baby Elizabeth (Amanda Jane Smythe), hearing the cannons roar as well, and wanders sadly ,alone in a garden, as her mothers prophecy about her is repeated

 

“Elizabeth shall be a greater queen than any king of yours. She shall rule a greater England than you could ever have built. My Elizabeth shall be queen, and my blood will have been well spent.”

 

The film was given a wide release by Universal to mixed reviews. All reviewers ,however agreed upon one thing, the magnificence of Bujold’s performance.

It received numerous nominations at the 1970 Academy Awards, winning for Best Costume ; winning Golden Globes for Bujold (Best Motion Picture -Actress-Drama) ,Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director-Motion Picture(Jarrot) and Best Screenplay (Boland, Hale,Sokolove)

 

The film did well, though it did not crack the top 20 films for 1970 (it was released in December, 1969, but played throughout the next year ).

Three small  bits of trivia-Burton’s wife at the time, Elizabeth Taylor, made a cameo appearance as a courtesan. However, she is not noticed ,as her character is masked. Miss Taylor, while in costume, wore a gift from Burton, the La Peregrina Pearl ,one of the most valuable pearls in the world.

12 year old Kate Burton also had an uncredited cameo as a serving girl.

The expensive costumes and props were re-used for the 21st(!) CARRY ON film, CARRY ON HENRY (Rank,1971) ,which had an original alternative title of “ANNE OF A THOUSAND LAYS ” ,that sounds more like a porno version than the fun though bawdy film that resulted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On video, the film was released on VHS in a very flat print that muted the colors and lost information on the sides of the picture ,as well as a flat mono sound.

 

Universal released it to DVD as a co-bill with MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal,1971)in a slightly improved version.

 

This TWILIGHT TIME release is the must have print to own. The 1080p Hi Definition 2.35:1 transfer is incredibly rich, with solid reds ,blues ,and skin tones. The film has not looked this good since it was originally unspooled theatrically in 1969.

 

The sound has also been upgraded with a 2.0 DTS-HD Master audio track. The sound is incredibly rich in this dialogue driven film, with the score and sound effects also clean and free of hiss or pops .

Extras are few , though one can enjoy Delerue’s magnificent isolated score on a separate track .

The original Decca Sound Track release

Also included is the original theatrical trailer, narrated by Hal Wallis himself. It has not been cleaned up, so you can get an idea of how rough some of the previous releases have looked.

Finally , an 8-page insert booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo is included within the case.

Subtitles in English SDH are also available.

One would love to have had an audio commentary, perhaps with Ms. Bujold . That said, the magnificent print that TWILIGHT TIME has released is nothing to dismiss.

The film, like most of TWILIGHT TIME collectible releases , is limited to a press run of 3,000.

The film is a superb example of intelligent film-making ,wherein story and acting ruled over C.G.I. and mind-numbing sameness.

Hopefully, TWILIGHT TIME will release the original 1971 MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS (Universal) and perhaps the unjustly overlooked gem LADY JANE (Paramount ,1986) to be proper companion pieces to ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS and  A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (released by Twilight Time in 2015).

 

I highly recommend this film to people who enjoy historical dramas, as well as superlative acting and thoughtful storytelling.

 

I do wonder, however, now, in this time of the Me-Too Movement, how many will look favorably at the cavalier attitude of the men within this story, and their views of women .

Seriously, how many men would create an entire religion, just to have sex ???

 

Thoughts to ponder.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

 

 

I just wanted to make note of  very  sad news .

NICK REDMAN passed away January 17,2019 after a valiant two year battle with cancer. Mr. Redman co -founded Twilight Time in 2011. Mr Redman also was a film historian,documentarian, and sound track producer.

Our deepest condolences go out to his friends  and family , including his wife  Julie Kirgo  ,his brother, and his children .

 

*********************************************************

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*Contest now ended *DEATH RACE:BEYOND ANARCHY contest

deathrace

 

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .  Big thanks to UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT. 

Enter for a chance  to win a free Blu-Ray /DVD of UNIVERSAL HOME ENTERTAINMENT‘s newest entry into the successful action sci fi series , DEATH RACE: BEYOND ANARCHY .

Danny Trejo, Danny Glover , Zach McGowan , Fred Koehler , Christine Marzano .

death-race-4-stills-3

No guards, no rules, no track, no fear- only the DEATH RACE .

deaaaaaathrace

Extras on the disc include
*Inside The Anarchy
*Time Served: Lists & Goldberg
*On The Streets of DEATH RACE; BEYOND ANARCHY
*Feature Commentary w/Director/Co-writer Michael Paul and star Zach McGowan

death-race-4-stills-4

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .

To enter :
send an email to scarletthefilmmag@yahoo.com

In the heading put : DEATH RACE BEYOND ANARCHY CONTEST

In the body of the letter , answer this question :

What is the BEST futuristic car film ?

Please add your name and address with your entry so we can notify you if you
win .

                     The winner will be chosen at random on October 15th, 2018 .

 

UPDATE: OCTOBER 16,2018 . NO MORE ENTRIES. CONTEST HAS ENDED. WE HAVE A WINNER.

CONGRATULATIONS: MICHAEL MARTIN at a APO address. His prize will be sent to him shortly .

DEATH RACE BEYOND ANARCHY deathrace
Special features
Includes a digital copy of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy – Unrated Version (Subject to expiration. Go to NBCUCodes.com for details.)
Inside the Anarchy
Time Served: Lists & Goldberg
On the Streets of Death Race: Beyond Anarchy
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Don Michael Paul and Star Zach McGowan
Product details
Actors: Zach McGowan, Danny Glover, Frederick Koehler, Christine Marzano, Danny Trejo
Directors: Don Michael Paul
Writers: Don Michael Paul, Tony Giglio
Producers: Mike Elliott, Greg Holstein
Format: Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (DTS 5.1)
Subtitles: French, Spanish
Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
Region: Region A/1 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated:
NR
Not Rated
Studio: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: October 2, 2018
Run Time: 111 minutes

deathracecf

Thanks to Universal Home Entertainment 

death_race_4_beyond_anarchy_bexie

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IS IT REALLY HORROR?

 

Universal, it seems ,has not, as previously reported, killed off their DARK UNIVERSE franchise idea. According to Screenrant (https://screenrant.com/dark-universe-monster-movies/ ) producer Holly Goline is still connected to the concept.

Holly Goline had begun as an assistant to actress /director/producer Angelina Jolie ,has worked on films in various capacities until becoming a producer on IN THE LAND OF MILK & HONEY (Sony,2011 ).

So, like the classic monsters of old, there seems to be a spark left in the idea of reviving the collective creatures.

The thing is-should they?? I mean ,are they actually horror films anymore?

The change began with Universal‘s THE MUMMY (1999). Director /writer Stephen Sommers had come to audiences and critical attention with his film DEEP RISING (Hollywood/Disney,1998). That film began as a high seas action adventure story ,with hijackers out to rob a luxury liner, only to end up fighting for their lives against an unleashed monster.

A well written well directed story,with a great cast led by Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, and Kevin J. O’Connor,superb set pieces as well as scares and laughs galore, the film failed to make back it’s estimated $45,000 budget (U.S. box office $11,000) but it did well on home video and cable television .

It was enough to impress Universal  so that they hired him to remake THE MUMMY for a new audience. Columbia Pictures had shown in 1992 that an A budget and all star cast could give prestige and financial rewards with their version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA . Though uneven in tone (along with some miscasting and overacting ),the movie was a stylish treat that had both scares and a romance that worked in combination . The film made double its production cost in the United States alone, which made Hollywood take notice.

Columbia tried to have lightening strike twice and revive another classic creature with style , and two years later unleashed MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN . Once again an all star cast was gathered to retell the famous tale, but to this day critics and fans are divided upon this production, and the movie only made back half of it’s production budget for it’s American release . It eventually made a profit overseas and with the home video market .

Universal was undeterred ,and realizing that they had their own original creations that were known and marketable, they decided it was time to make their own monster epic.

With a high budget ( $80 million) , THE MUMMY film clicked with both audiences and critics alike , and made $155,247,825 in the U.S. alone upon its original release, and was a strong seller on video .

But it was the beginning of the slide away from being a pure horror film.

The film had a few jump scares but it was more along the line of a thrill ride , Indiana Jones style. The wonderful pairing of Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz gave us a couple we could cheer on as they went through some exciting adventures set during 1925 (three years after Tutankhamen’s grave was discovered,starting the mania in Egyptian artifacts).  Add to that a wonderful supporting cast including John Hannah and Kevin J O’Connor as comic companions , Odeth Fehr as Ardeth Bay and Arnold Vosloo as the immortal Imhotep  (Bay and Imhotep are the names used by Karloff  in the Universal 1932 THE MUMMY ),and one had a real crowd pleaser.

It resulted in THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001),an animated series that ran for 26 episodes between 2001 & 2003  , THE SCORPION KING(2002) (the last two films truly launching the movie career of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,with THE SCORPION KING  being a standalone prequel set in the distant past )  and finally THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008).

Each film moved further and further away from horror into more fantasy tinged adventure stories.

Looking at low budget films from the 70s,80s and 90s, I think that the original HALLOWEEN(Compass,1978) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (Paramount ,1980) were a better template for what a mummy movie could have been.   Both figured silent figures who appear invincible and once they decide that you are their target they will not stop until they have killed you, usually in some horrible fashion.  Like  the slower moving Mummy of the Universal classics , MIchael Myers and Jason both strode purposefully ,never running , to overtake their victims , What these films lacked in gloss they more than made up for in suspense and scares ,something that the Mummy series lost more and more as the series went on.

Stephen Sommers only directed the first two Mummy  films (though keeping his hand involved in all of them),prepping instead for an even bigger film . Sommers formed his own production company in 2004 with plans of making an Homeric retelling of the beloved villains.

The result was VAN HELSING (Universal,2004) ,a loud  bloated everything but the kitchen sink major misfire. With a more than generous $160 million production budget (as well as an initially big publicity push ) ,the film was critical disaster, and made only $120 million domestically, luckily for the studio making a profit thanks to overseas box office ( worldwide cume : $300,257,475 ), which was also the start of studios looking for overseas markets to make their movies get out of the red.

 

The film seemed determined to start at 11 (to reference THIS IS SPINAL TAP,Embassy 1984   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgx4k83zzc ) and build in shrieking volume.  Almost everyone screams their lines (with poor Shuler Hensley ,who had worked with star Hugh Jackman on Broadway in OKLAHOMA!,being the one directed the most to bellow everything      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rev5Z6Dg91A ). The story is a ghoulish goulash has Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman ) as a bounty hunter of monsters for the Roman Catholic church.

He takes on a CGI Mr Hyde and then high tales it to Transylvania ,meets up with fellow monster hunter Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsdale) and goes after the Frankenstein Monster, the insane Igor (Sommers‘  talisman ,actor Kevin J. O’Connor ),a werewolf who is Anna’s brother (Will Kemp) and Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, who was more frightening in his more  semi -comic role for MOULIN ROUGE (Fox,2001))and his undead brides want to hatch a cavern-full of gigantic Alien -like eggs , which are in fact vampires awaiting to be born(Vampires lay eggs??) .

 

Universal was so sure that they had another hit series on their hands , they kept the sets built in Prague for the film up, which meant they had to keep paying for the land  rental use while they remained.  Upon the movie’s release, however, they decided that a sequel didn’t seem like a financially sound idea.  They also scrapped a planned Transylvania land for the  Universal Studios Theme Parks ,as well as a planned Transylvania tv series.

The film failed to work as either an adventure or a horror film, but became a CGI riddled massive video game that seemed to be designed by a ten year old with A.D.D .(a charge which ,to be fair , now seems to describe the majority of theatrical releases lately).

 

Ten years later, Universal wanted to re- reboot their monsters into the summer blockbuster market . DRACULA UNTOLD (Universal, 2014) was the result.  The film basically goes back to the Vlade Tepes legend ,though instead of a annointed sociopathic Prince with a fetish for driving stakes up the hindquarters of his enemies (which included practically everyone), he is transformed into a fierce warrior,loving husband,father and nobleman  (Luke Evans )who makes a deal with The Master Vampire (Charles Dance ) for his aid in getting his son back from the Turks who have abducted the boy and about a thousand other youngsters.   What he gets ,however, slowly transforms him .

The film is indeed epic in it’s look and design, and handsomely mounted .There is also some very clever sound design and editing which gives the audience a bit of a jump once and awhile.  However, as it was planned for a summer market, the film was PG-13 rated, and the scares toned down for a larger target family audience.  Done on a $70 million budget , the film only made $56,280,355 domestic , $160,843,925 internationally for a final  worldwide tally of  $217,124,280 . The film also underwent some reshoots when Universal felt that this film needed to be tied into its just announced idea of their Dark Universe plans.

The Dark Universe franchise was to be Universal‘s answer to the many superhero films whose main power was siphoning the cash out of a willing public . Not having a superhero of their own (did they forget about DARKMAN (1990)?),they looked to the properties which they did have ,and rather than reviving Francis The Talking Mule (which would literally be beating a long dead horse) they turned instead to their creature creations . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfxLdBDr1ww

There had been some talk of Dracula turning up in  a future Dark Universe film only to have executives change their mind again, wanting the Dracula in the series to be different from the one portrayed in DRACULA UNTOLD .Talk about too many mad doctors spoiling the creations!

The “official” first release for the Universal Dark Universe turned out to be –THE MUMMY (2017)!  A re-boot of the reboot (a re-reboot?)of the character again.

                                                             The MUMMY 2017 vs THE MUMMY 1999 -sand bites!

 

With a  $125 million budget  (and an advertising budget said to be at least equal to that),THE MUMMY was slammed by critics and fans, taking in only  $80,227,895 domestically, but being saved by countries where Tom Cruise still opens strong ,taking in a final total  $409,231,607 . The film is considered to have been a failure,due to various costs attached to the project, with as much as a $95 million dollar final loss .

So, Universal decided it was time to quickly kill the DARK UNIVERSE.  Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan, who were in charge , left to pursue other projects. By November, 2017 , the idea was considered dead. Only, as I stated in the beginning,rumors of it’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.    

Is it possible to do a proper horror film on a big budget ? The answer is yes.  The thing is to convince fans to come out and see them.

A perfect example is the 2010 THE WOLFMAN . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZabAU7ySbmE . That movie was a glossy remake of the 1941 classic .  So why didn’t fans like it? A common complaint was that they had seen the story before (but if it had varied from the original ,fans would be crying it varied so much it should not be called THE WOLFMAN ). That the story wasn’t strong ( a bit of tightening perhaps could have been used, but it followed the template fairly closely ).  That it wasnt gory enough, that it used CGI,etc.  Even professional viewers seem to contradict their own opinion . The Huffington Post review said it had cardboard characters, and yet just a few lines down :  “the film spends an obscene amount of time on a twisted father/son dynamic, and not enough time with actual werewolf terror.”  So which is it?

The film certainly looked lavish ,and the make up by the great Rick Baker and Dave Elsey won a Best Make-up Oscar.

 

So where did it go wrong? Benicio de Toro, an avowed fan of the original ,was cast in the lead in 2006 . Andrew Kevin Walker,who wrote Tim Burton‘s love letter to Hammer style horror ,SLEEPY HOLLOW (Fox,1999) ,did the screenplay.

Rick Baker , of course, adhered as much as possible to the classic Jack Pierce creation.

Director Mark Romanek was attached to the film on February 8, 2007. Romanek directed powerful music videos like Johnny Cash’s “Hurt “ video in 2003 as well as the disturbing  thriller ONE HOUR PHOTO (Fox Searchlight 2002).  The budget was set at a  reasonable (for such a big production) $85 million.  After working on the project for a year, Romanek left the project ,using the “creative differences” comment.

Several directors were interviewed including Brett Ratner (no!) ,Martin Campbell (MASK OF ZORRO, Columbia,1998),James Mangold (the  stylish 3:1O TO YUMA remake, Lionsgate, 2007),Joe Johnston (the sadly neglected THE ROCKETEER ,Disney,1991),Frank Darabont (great choice ,a screenwriter of classic horror remakes,as well as directing  some of the best Stephen King cinematic adaptations) and Bill Condon ( another superlative choice . A longtime classic horror fan, he made the James Whale biopic GODS & MONSTERS (Lionsgate ,1998) .

Almost a year to the date that Romanek had first signed on, Joe Johnston took over  to direct on February 3,2008.   Work on the film continued while Johnston brought screenwriter David Self .This was not a good sign to horror fans ,as Self wrote the awful adaptation of THE HAUNTING (Dreamworks,1999) .   Still , changing directors early on and bringing in new writers is not unusual.

 

 Not the 1999 THE HAUNTING ! Gahhh!

 

A month later, filming began in England from March to June ,2008 . Having had only 3 weeks to develop the film,Johnston decided that CGI would help patch over any cracks in the project. Rick Baker expressed his disappointment to that fact, and the increasing use of CGI was the main reason the make up effects ace decided to retire in 2015.

 

The studio began to meddle around with the film ,trying to make a classic period piece and make it a more action packed movie.  Composer Danny Elfman had written his score and left to work on other projects ,and other composers were brought in to bridge the gaps due to retakes and studio demanded edits. The movie ended up losing nearly a half hour of footage ,mostly character scenes.  The Blue Ray restores some of these scenes, and it indeed improves the film.

 

The tinkering went on longer and longer, so the opening date moved from late 2008 to several dates in 2009, only to finally open in February 2010.

 

 

The original 1941  was a modest $170,000 budgeted film that ran 70 minutes.  The newer version ran 102  minutes (though the director’s cut on BLU RAY runs 119 minutes ). The 2010 version  final budget (before advertising costs , ended up totaling $150 million.  Mixed reviews and poor word of mouth had the film fail to recoup even it’s production budget ,taking in only $139 million world wide.

However, I think this film needs to be re-evaluated.  It is a much better film than it’s original reviews led one to believe. It was also a decent remake of the classic film, and it had one thing that several of the other remakes have had, some decent scares. With the idea of the DARK UNIVERSE project, this film was considered a stand alone one-off.

Look also at Del Toro’s beautiful ghost story CRIMSON PEAK (Universal, 2015),not part of the Dark Universe . A feast for the eye with lavish costumes and set designs ,and some actual scares, the film only grossed about $74 million worldwide  on a $55 million budget .  Why did this film not do better?  It was a visual feast for the eye, but it failed to find the audience it deserved. Is it horror fans really now just want more gore and less style?? INSIDIOUS 3(Blumhouse/Focus), released the same year, made over ten times it’s production cost ($11 million).

Perhaps the people now in charge of nursing Universal‘s DARK UNIVERSE concept will reconsider what  made the originals classics and will consider reducing the slam bam action and return to horror.  The original plans were that the “Universe” would be linked by Prodigium, a secret society dedicated to hunting supernatural threats, run by none other than Doctor Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCowxWN2c_Q      I am sure that concept is now deader than a vampire staked in sunlight while lying in holy water as rose thorns are floating through it atop a garlic garnish.

Projects that were cancelled due to the failure of THE MUMMY were

THE INVISIBLE MAN to star Johnny Depp.

The cancelling of Bill Condon‘s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN project was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announced remake.

THE WOLFMAN .

DRACULA

a VAN HELSING reboot –Tom Cruise was once announced for the role, but I guess he decided upon THE MUMMY instead).

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – this poor creature has been bandied about for decades, with names like John Landis and Guillermo del Toro attached at different times. Guillermo del Toro got tired  of waiting and made his own version ,called THE SHAPE OF WATER ( Fox Searchlight,2017).   One should note that this wonderful film ,even with Oscar wins, only took in  $194,742,801 worldwide,with almost $64 million coming from the U.S.

Perhaps Universal should study that film,as well as on films like GET OUT (Blumhouse/Universal,2017)  and figure on moderate budget films that deliver on the scares.

I think they could also learn from the old Hammer Studio model of designing films to make use of sets ,etc ,while developing their own stock company of stars .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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1950s, CLASSIC, Classic Hollywood, cult, film, FILM HISTORY, genre, Grant Williams, Horror, Jack Arnold, review, SCIENCE FICTION, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, Universal

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN: The Most Incredible Film Ever Made

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The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Most Incredible Film Ever Made

                                                                            By Randolph Thanos

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“I felt my body dwindling, melting, and becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation it had to mean something and then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too. To God, there is no zero, I still exist!”

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And those were the final words of The Incredible Shrinking Man in Jack Arnold’s incredibly stunning and visually breathtaking film of the same name.

MATHESON 1957 cover of The Shrinking Man

The Shrinking Man

Released in 1957 with a screenplay by Richard Matheson*, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN(Universal)  tells the story of Scott Carey, an average guy who is exposed to a mysterious cloud while on a boat at sea. Scott’s skin is covered with a glittering substance that he cannot explain. Scott returns home and he begins shrinking and the only medical explanation is that he has become a victim of atomic fallout. Scott soon shrinks so far down in size that his clothes no longer fit him, he is reduced to living in a doll house and he has to fight off a house cat and spider much larger than himself. Now living as a 3 inch tall man, Scott has now become the hunted and has to fight for his survival in a world that he once towered over.

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I first watched this incredible film in 1972 when I was 9 years old. I wanted to stay up late to watch The Big Show of the Week and the film that was being featured that night was The Incredible Shrinking Man. The Big Show of the Week was normally off limits to this young television viewer so I had to sneak down stairs, sit in the adjoining hallway and watch the film through the living room mirror opposite the television. My parents could not see me so they were oblivious to my special seat and therefore could not refuse me admission.

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It was nothing like my eyes had ever seen before. At the Canadian National Exhibition, I watched a beautiful woman turn into a gorilla that year, I witnessed a horrific car accident and the monster from hell, my French teacher who was really really mean but nothing prepared me for the horrors that would face The Incredible Shrinking Man.

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In one scene, he has to fight off his house cat who now is clawing him down in terror, a once normal sized cat who now towers above him in height and that fight with the spider in the basement is one of the greatest fight for survival scenes in the history of cinema. All I could think about was what it must feel like to shrink so far down in size that one’s life didn’t matter anymore, that one’s life had no more meaning?zz-the-iincredible-shrinking-man-spider-fight-shrinkingman2

 

 

As a child growing up around adults who were much larger than me, I could identify with the discomfort and fears that The Incredible Shrinking Man was feeling, feelings of insignificance and anxiety at the vastness of the world before me. The Incredible Shrinking Man didn’t just terrify me, it made me really think about my own place in the world and since then I must have watched it over a hundred times and each time I am amazed by its cinematic wonder.the-incredible-shrinking-man9

 

 

I especially love The Incredible Shrinking Man because the hero of the story never gives up. Sure he is depressed (wouldn’t you be if you were smaller than a house spider?) but for all his bleakness he proves that big things like a heroic spirit, perseverance and fighting strength comes in a small package, a very small package. The other reason I love this film is because it is a humanity tale of how ones stature in life can become diminished and all hope can be abandoned but one can still plot ones future. Things in the world of The Incredible Shrinking Man do not always turn out the way he has planned but this does not mean that life is not worth living and fighting for.

 

 

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Another reason, I love this film is that it depicts the age old lesson that when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade. If you cannot live in a dollhouse, move to a match box as the hero in the story ends up doing. No matter how large or small we become, the universe is always going to be bigger than us and at some point we must face how insignificant we are in comparison but we can still remember that like The Incredible Shrinking Man, we still exist and it is our existence that gives our life meaning.zz-the-incredible-shrinking-man-scott-carey-in-water-in-cellar-bscap00033cs
The Incredible Shrinking Man is not only ripe with philosophical and metaphysical meaning; it is full of amazing special effects for its time. Director Jack Arnold, who made other fantastic science fiction films like, It Came from Outer Space (Universal 1953   ), Creature from the Black Lagoon(Universal 1954   ) and Tarantula (Universal 1955   ), spent almost a million dollars to make The Incredible Shrinking Man. The special effects were not cheap and technicians worked for almost a year on the photography for the special effects alone. Prior to the days of green screen and CGI, the special effects for this time were created by the film makers incorporating a pain staking process of creating and inventing props and camera manipulation to help the audience accept that what they were watching was real. Giant props were incorporated into filming key scenes to make it appear that actor Grant Williams had really shrunk down in size. Many of the props used were actually constructed just for these incredible scenes such as a gigantic 15 foot mousetrap and a sewing needle over 12 feet long and a match box which towered over Williams. These gigantic props were 40 times larger than normal size. A pair of scissors that weighed 40 pounds, a pencil that was 21 feet long was used in the flooded cellar scene was among the incredible props.incredible-shrinking-man-1

 

One of the pivotal scenes involves an exhausting battle between The Incredible Shrinking Man and a spider. The spider used in the film was an actual tarantula named Tamara and was the same spider used in the film Tarantula. Other fun (?) facts about The Incredible Shrinking Man are that Grant Williams almost died during the shooting from key scenes like the flooded basement where he almost drowned and on another scene he almost faced electrocution. And the remember the scene of the water heater exploding, the giant drops you see falling over the Incredible Shrinking Man were created by filling up condoms with water to create the perfect water drops falling in perfect unison.zz-the-incredible-shrinking-man-scott-carey-in-water-in-cellar-bscap00033cs
Many films I have seen as a 9 year old that have special effects have not really held the test of time, many of these effects now appear cartoonish but the special effects in The Incredible Shrinking Man have held up over the past 50 years because of the painstaking effort that went into them to create such memorable movie scenes not to mention the films central themes of isolation, existentialism, survival and loss that are prevalent in today’s world.

 

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The magic of The Incredible Shrinking Man comes from not only these philosophical and metaphysical themes and the special effects but from the power that the Incredible Shrinking Man is a humanity tale for all times, it is a fantasy yet the viewer is left with the question: What If? What if we did become smaller and had to carefully orchestrate our way through the world that we had once taken for granted? Would we find our meaning in life or just let ourselves shrink away into nothingness? That is the real horror we must not only confront in the world of The Incredible Shrinking Man and that we must confront in our reality today. This is why The Incredible Shrinking Man still fascinates and terrifies me today, more than 50 years after its release. The Incredible Shrinking Man is the most incredible film ever made.

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*-based upon his novel ,”The Shrinking Man” (first published in 1956 by Gold Medal04102015p21pha

 

 

 

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           incredible-shrinking-man-photo-1ism4-e1471641323518                                                                                          (There is trouble in the marriage)

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