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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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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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THE VAMPIRE BAT(Restored)

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933) –FILM DETECTIVE (BLU RAY ) $19.99. Restored. Release date : April 25,2017 . 63 min. Region 1. B&W with tinted sequences. https://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Bat-Special-Detective-Restored/dp/B01LTIAUJ2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490377335&sr=8-1&keywords=vampire+bat+the+film+detective+restored+version

Also available on DVD for $14.99.
Throw out those other public domain videos and DVDs that you may have of this 1933 film. Film Detective has just released a magnificent UCLA Film and TV Archive restoration that reveals details often lost in murky and dark copies of this film. Not only that, there is an hereto unseen (at least by this writer) hand tinted sequence that alone makes this disc a must have.

Majestic Pictures began releasing films in 1925 under the state’s rights system of distribution. Unlike the major studios who had hubs throughout the country ,smaller independents would sell or lease their product on a local, territorial basis . The distributors would each handle a certain region (or sometimes just a certain state) and release the films in that territory.

In 1935, Herbert J Yates, who owned the Consolidated Film Industries film developing laboratories, decided that he wanted to get into direct film production .Six smaller independents were forced to merge under the new Republic banner or face foreclosure on outstanding lab bills. Among the studios that were folded under the new banner was Majestic. Until then, Majestic produced slicker fare than many of their other rivals, using bigger name stars and renting out space from larger motion picture companies.

Among Majestic’s releases were THE SINS OF NORA MORAN (1933) starring Zita Johann (best remembered for starring in Universal’s 1932 classic THE MUMMY), THE WORLD GONE MAD(also 1933, with Pat O’Brien,Evelyn Brent ,and Neil Hamilton (later tv’s Commissioner Gordon on BATMAN) and the first sound version of THE SCARLET LETTER(1934) starring Colleen Moore and Henry B Walthall (a D.W. Griffith stock company star,who had played the same role of Chillingworth in the 1926 silent version). Certain Majestic Pictures were produced by real estate developer Phil Goldstone . Goldstone was wealthy enough that he could invest in movies while the rest of the country was suffering through the effects of the Stock Market Crash and Depression.

That may be one of the ways that he was able to afford to rent the Universal European Street sets (destroyed in a fire in 1967) as well as many studio interior sets, giving their low budget THE VAMPIRE BAT such a polished look. Also helpful was their hiring of such well known stars as Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill (making this their third hiss and scream pairing, the previous being W.B.’s DOCTOR X (1932) and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933),as well as Dwight Frye (Broadway star now doomed to forever play variations of twitchy half mad characters due to his outstanding performance in Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (both1931) )and Melvyn Douglas (fresh off of Universal’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) and playing in a similar light disbelieving manner) .

Director Frank R Strayer had been directing films since the mid 1920s and had done the poverty row THE MONSTER WALKS (Ralph M Like Productions,1932) prior to getting this assignment. He directed in a fast ,no nonsense style, but also had some fairly elaborate camera set ups and moves in this picture that are quite effective .

Later, Strayer would direct CONDEMNED TO LIVE (Invincible ,1935 )another vampire film variant that like THE VAMPIRE BAT also at one point used Bronson Canyon.

 

Screenwriter Edward T Lowe,Jr had written the earlier mentioned WORLD GONE MAD and later moved up to bigger studio productions, writing several Charlie Chan and Bulldog Drummond films , before returning to vampires with his one two punch of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Universal,1944)and HOUSE OF DRACULA (Universal ,1945).

 

Cinematographer Ira H. Morgan had begun with Gaumont News before switching to lensing features . His sound era films seem all to be for smaller studios like PRC (FOG ISLAND,1945),his last work being for Bert I Gordon,THE CYCLOPS(Allied Artists,1957),filming once again around – Bronson Canyon!! His other work is always competent, but never as assured as it seems to be in THE VAMPIRE BAT.

 

Charles D Hall is credited with art direction, but his work on this project may have been minor, as again it mostly standing sets on the Universal backlot.

 

Set in a fairytale -like Teutonic Village of Kleinschloss (German for small castle,so even the budget affected the name ! ),the setting,like many Universal horror films of the 1930s, is a mix of modern day (the outfits and medical equipment )and unnamed past era (the village and villagers).

 

Several of the local villagers have been found drained of blood with two puncture marks upon their throat. The Burgomeister (Lionel Belmore, the Burgomeister from FRANKENSTEIN, and a council member in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN(1939,Universal),talking of type casting!)and the village elders suspect it to be the work of a vampire. The Police Chief Karl (Melvyn Douglas) pooh poohs these notions . He turns to Dr Niemann (Lionel Atwill) . Niemann does not dismiss the villagers ideas out of hand ,much to Karl’s annoyance. Making it easier is Karl’s romance with the lovely Ruth (Fay Wray).

 

Suspicion falls on village simpleton Herman (Dwight Frye)who has the innocence of a child ,but has an odd habit of keeping bats as pets .

 

Padding the film out to a feature length is (not very) comic relief is Karl’s hypochondriac Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne,theatre trained actress who often played humorous characters, and appeared in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (United Artists,1930)and the little seen Columbia thriller FOG (1933). Here, you really want the killer to get her,though it is more the writing than her performance.

THE VAMPIRE BAT title is a bit misleading, as the ending veers a bit into a science fiction explanation. Still, it remains a superb example of early Gothic horror,and at a crisp 63 minutes, does not overstay its welcome.

As stated earlier ,the FILM DETECTIVE print comes from a restored fine grain print and it is indeed a revelation.The image is incredibly sharp ,and details often lost in more murky prints now stand out. For example, early in the film, the town lamplighter Kringen (George E Stone) looks up at the rooftops late at night. In the past, we could never see what he was staring at, but now we see a shadowy leap from one roof to another ! Miss Wray is photographed beautifully,with her natural red hair rather than the blonde look so familiar to all from KING KONG (RKO,1933).

 

 

Most interesting is seeing a sequence with the villagers carrying torches ,the flames of which have been hand tinted red yellow and orange. It is quite eye catching and I was unaware that it had ever been done to this film. Hand tinting had been used in other films to give them a bit of punch . Bela Lugosi’s THE DEATH KISS (K.B.S.,1932)hand tinted a few frames of a gun firing for a shock effect . Other films were often tinted for effect, but not so easy was the hand tinting used in these films.

 

Besides the magnificent print, FILM DETECTIVE has also for the first time that I am aware of added a commentary track. They have chosen film historian (he had worked on the film magazine SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED) and film producer/director Samuel M Sherman (Independent International). Sam is a very nice and knowledgeable man, but he needed a co-commentator to keep him focused. His commentary track is quite monotonic and often sounds as if he is reading from notes ,and for lengths of time does not comment on the action on screen.

 

What he does do is provide incredible research on producer Phil Goldstone (how he generously allowed soldiers to stay gratis in his hotels rather than have them stay on the streets,as well as how he got into film production) as well as who did the actual hand tinting of the film (Gustav Brock).

The other extra is a newly shot featurette with the son of Melvyn Douglas, Gregory Hassleberg.
(Melvyn) Gregory Hesselberg was born in 1926 to Douglas and his first wife Rosalind Hightower .When they divorced, Gregory stayed with his mother and did not see his father for years. Douglas married actress Helen Gahagan (SHE ,RKO,1935)and later Douglas petitioned and won the right for Gregory to live with them . Gregory Hassleberg has fond memories of his father,coming to discover how truly talented he was by watching him perform. It is a nice little insight into the fine actor.

FILM DETECTIVE is to be highly commended for this release, and it deserves to be added to the collection of every classic horror film buff.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

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RETURN OF DRACULA -Blu Ray -Olive Films

51zquv8e5slTHE RETURN OF DRACULA (April 12,1958) Blu Ray -Olive Films -Available October 18,2016. $29.95 B&W/color 77 minutes. https://www.amazon.com/Return-of-Dracula-Blu-ray/dp/B01JLWZNJU

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One of the most sadly neglected of the Dracula films is THE RETURN OF DRACULA, One of four horror films produced by Gramercy Pictures (the others being THE VAMPIRE and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) (released as a co bill) and THE FLAME BARRIER (1958) (which was the co bill for RETURN OF DRACULA) and released through UNITED ARTISTS, they were well made well-acted horror films that are often overlooked as they were not part of the AIP or Hammer Films of the 1950s. Indeed, one month later, Hammer released its Technicolor masterpiece, HORROR OF DRACULA (distributed by Universal) and many other terror films got left in the dust.

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(In England, the film was known as THE FANTASTIC DISAPPEARING MAN !)

OLIVE FILMS new Blu Ray release gives the movie a proper release for its re-evaluation. It had previously been released on VHS by MGM and on an MGM/MIDNIGHT MOVIE co bill with THE VAMPIRE. Both have been out of print for years.

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The new OLIVE FILM Blu Ray looks a bit sharper than the MGM DVD that I compared it to. The old disc tended to sometimes be too dark in places (I have not seen the new OLIVE FILMS DVD (available via https://www.amazon.com/Return-of-Dracula/dp/B01JLW5YSU ) but I am sure that it is also less dark). The picture looks amazingly sharp for a 58-year-old film shot for $125,000.

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The film’s screenplay (by Pat Fielder, who wrote all 4 of Gramercy’s horror/sci fi films) echoes that of SHADOW OF A DOUBT and SON OF DRACULA (both Universal,1943) wherein a mysterious stranger arrives and turns the lives of a small town upside down.

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                                                                   (Old Super 8mm release )

In SHADOW, it is Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) who is a notorious serial killer who returns to his hometown to elude his pursuers. In SON, it is Dracula himself (Lon Chaney Jr) under the alias of Alucard who is hiding out in a small bayou Southern town.

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 The  Return of Dracula 

RETURN begins with several vampire hunters led by Dr Merryman (John Wengraf, a German actor who fled Hitler’s madness, only to be often typecast in Hollywood as a Nazi!) in an unnamed Central European country. The opening narration tells the legend of Count Dracula, though it never directly refers to the vampire in this film as the Count himself (the novel was public domain in the U.S. since Stoker failed to comply with a portion of the U.S. Copyright Law. However, it was still under the Berne Convention copyright until 1962 in the U.K. and other countries. Hence the clever way of referencing the character but never saying if it is him or not). They are in a crypt (the name on the side of the coffin is Grof Naov Istvan, but that may be one that monster has merely taken over), awaiting sunset to stake the vampire, but at the precise moment when the coffin is flung open, they find it is empty.

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We jump then to a train station wherein an artist named Bellac Gordal (an uncredited Norbert Schiller, who would later play a small role in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Fox,1974) is being allowed to leave and go to America. It is hinted that they are in an Iron Curtain Country, and that he is fleeing to be able to paint without government obstruction. Once he boards the train, his fellow passenger (whom we see only behind a newspaper, which is itself supernatural, changing in 3 quick cuts from the German Berliner Tageblatt to a Hungarian Maygar Szo then inside the German paper MODEN-SPEIGEL, which has English on its back page!) attacks him.

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We jump again now to a small California town of Carleton where a young boy Mickey (Jimmy Baird) plays in an abandoned mine (Bronson Cavern once again), and decides to leave his unseen kitten trapped in the mines shaft (who gave this kid a pet?) when he hears a train whistle and tells his family of the arriving train. It seems the Cora Mayberry (Greta Granstedt) is expecting her cousin Bellac whom she hasn’t seen since they were children. When they get to the station, they are told that no one has left the train but that some mysterious luggage has been left. However, a strange man well-groomed man (Czech born stage and film actor Francis Lederer) appears on the platform.” Cora?” he says. She takes him for Bellac and the family takes him home.

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Rachel Mayberry (Norma Eberhardt ),the family’s teenage daughter, is particularly drawn to her uncle as she is an artist and fascinated by his (un)worldliness. Bellac has several quirks (no mirrors in his room, sleeping throughout the day) which they accept as probably the result of artistic temperament or ill treatment in his native land. Rachel’s boyfriend Tim Hansen ( Ray Stricklyn ) is not such a big fan of the new arrival. Meanwhile, Mickey discovers that his kitten is dead, covered in blood (what did you expect though kid? You left it in a mine shaft?).

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Rachel takes Bellac to meet her friend Jenny ,( Virginia Vincent )who is ill and blind . Unfortunately, Bellac decides that she is to be is to be his next victim. We see that Bellac has his coffin within the abandoned mine.
He awakes within and in slow motion his hand creeps spiderlike out of the box and opens it. The vampire then sits up through a haze of dry ice and sits up and opens his eyes. Bellac tells the blind woman that she can see him, but when she stares, she screams and becomes a victim of the undead.

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Dr Merryman arrives in town looking for his quarry, and things start escalating with a vampire staking (a brief flash of color as blood oozes out, which must have made people jump at the time, and a bit of expense splicing that into prints), ending with a final confrontation within the old mine.

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The film moves really quickly, and wastes no time of its short span. The actors pretty much play easy stereotypes (mother, teenage daughter, bratty younger brother, the boyfriend) with the film belonging to Lederer. Wearing his overcoat as a cape and his brylcreemed hair looks like an older gigolo, but perhaps that is fitting for a great seducer. He makes great use of his voice and stillness, and draws attention to himself in every scene that he is in.

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The Blu Ray has strong deep blacks but doesn’t lose details in the night scenes (indeed, except for the first scene, the whole film takes places at night or interiors.). The mono sound is clear and free of hiss, and the score by Gerald Fried (using a frantic and booming “Die Irae “) properly propels the movie along.
The subtitles are clean and easy to read and follows the dialogue exactly. The only extra is the film’s trailer.

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While I would have liked a commentary track of some sort, I do not think that you will be disappointed by adding this Olive Films Blu Ray of THE RETURN OF DRACULA.

Recommended.

-Kevin G Shinnick

Ps- Francis Lederer returned and this time was indeed DRACULA when he appeared as the Count in an episode of T.V.’s NIGHT GALLERY. In the episode,” The Devil Is Not Mocked”, he dispatches of some very nasty Nazis.

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1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, Art house, book, BOOK REVIEW, books, Brigitte Lahaie, cult, fantasy, French, genre, HEADPRESS BOOKS, Horror, international, Jean Rollin, obscure, rare, review, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, vampire, VAMPIRES, wierd

FASCINATION The Celluloid Dreams Of Jean Rollin

FASCINATION
The Celluloid Dreams Of Jean Rollin (paperback, HeadPress) 268 Pages.

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http://www.headpress.com/ShowProduct.aspx?ID=143 £15.99
In the U.S.:
https://www.amazon.com/Fascination-Celluloid-Dreams-Jean-Rollin/dp/1909394238/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469925570&sr=1-4&keywords=fascination    $19.99
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Jean Rollin was a surrealist filmmaker who became identified with the horror genre. While his films do indeed deal with vampires and the undead in various forms, they also have a lyrical dreamlike quality with imagery that would make Bunuel (with whom he once almost worked) proud. A vampire comes out of a grandfather clock forever frozen at midnight, a woman plays piano within a cemetery, recurring images of figures isolated on an empty beach, these are some of the haunting sights that are mixed in with a sense of loneliness for the preternatural figures within the films.

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Before big budget films like INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (WB,1994), Rollin was mixing poetry, beauty along with violence and the need to kill the one you love to survive. Sadly, due to the violent reaction to his first full length feature*, Le Viol du Vampire (RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, Les Films/ABC,1967), his films were considered not worth proper study and failed as both art house films as well as horror. Considering that that first feature was actually two separate films put together, the duality of his films (both art and horror, the use of twins, lookalikes, and parallel storylines) seemed organic for most of the remainder of his career.

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I first heard of Rollin when I saw a full color photo of his wild poster for his third film, Le Frisson des Vampires/THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (Les Films/1970). It was a wild image, sexy, art deco-ish, and different from most of the film posters that I had ever seen before. I recall that at the time the book was dismissive of Rollin’s films, calling them dull.

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The first of his films that I actually saw was in a cut and poorly dubbed VHS release bowdlerization of his Requiem pour un Vampire/REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE(Les Films,1971) called CAGED VIRGINS (Boxoffice International Pictures (1973) shorn from 95 minutes to 65) . The dubbing I recall seemed very sloppy and made the film feel very cheap. The choppy editing to get to the good stuff (i.e. sex) also made the film seem like a cheapo horror.

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Due to his films suffering from poor distribution, Rollin was forced to go into making porno films. It must have been maddening to him that these cheaply made films were better distributed and more financially successful than his personal projects.

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However, it did give him connections, among them finding the beautiful Brigitte Lahaie, an adult film actress with great screen presence who was featured in several of his later films, to the advantage of both. Due to her popularity, people sought out any film that she was in, including Rollin’s work. Their best collaboration was the film FASCINATION (Comex/Les Films ABC ,1979) which has the very striking image of a shroud clad Lahaie wielding a very deadly scythe. Death had never looked more beautiful nor deadly.

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Finally, there arose in England a group of film buffs who began to champion Rollin as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Redemption UK distributed many a fine print of his works to a growing appreciative audience.

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After a couple of action films for hire, as well as shooting some films that Jess Franco dropped out of(!), Rollin made several more personal fantastique films that were among his finest, garnering good reviews and appreciative audiences. What was little known, however, was that the filmmaker had long been ill, and created his movies while racing back and forth from hospitals.

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(from LIVING DEAD GIRL /La morte vivante,1982)

He completed his last film, Le Masque de la Meduse /THE MASK OF MEDUSA (Les Films,2010) just shortly before he passed away, and it was a perfect film to end his career, as much of it mirrored his first feature, and also referenced many of his other creations.

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HEADPRESS is to be commended for giving us this wonderful tome, FASCINATION: THE CELLULOID DREAMS OF JEAN ROLLIN by David Hinds, as it is probably the most definitive work on the filmmaker that we are likely to see for some time. The author has a great passion and love for the oeuvre of Rollin, having discovered him among the many Euro Horror filmmakers that were coming to the early video store markets in the early 1980s.

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Hinds has done remarkable research, finding and seeing what still exists of much of the director’s work (a few shorts have gone missing, as well as some of his adult films). His descriptions of the films and the behind the scenes stories on their creation and distribution does what any great film book should -it makes you want to go out and see the films for yourself.

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(One of his work for hire productions ,aka ZOMBIE LAKE ,1981)

Hinds has gone the extra step and reviewed the various video, DVD, and even Blu ray releases of these films, so you will know which is the best one to purchase.

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le-viol-du-vampireHe also sought out and interviewed several of the people involved with the films, including the fullest interview with the late director that I have ever read( and perhaps the last that the filmmaker ever gave).

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The only quibble that I have is that for such a beautiful done tribute to Rollin, the photo reproductions are often muddy and very hard to see, resembling a reproduction of a newspaper photo from microfilm.  One wishes that they had tried a bit harder to show the haunting imagery in quality representation, perhaps putting them all in the center of the book on better paper, mixed in perhaps with some color.

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If you are open to seeing and experiencing something beyond the often paint by numbers films that are hailed by our genre fans. Then by all means seek out this book and then see the films!

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

*-In 1968, rioting, occupations, and strikes were the norm in Paris it seems to everything. It’s hard now to believe film fans expecting a Hammer type film would react so violently, but given the time it was not so unusual an occurrence.it is forbidden to forbid

(“It is forbidden to forbid” -saying during 1968 protests, and apropos of Rollin’s work )

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1960s, American International Pictures, Arrow Video, BLOOD BATH, Blu Ray, cult, fantasy, genre, ghosts, Horror, Jack Hill, obscure, Patrick Magee, Portrait In Terror, rare, review, Roger Corman, Rondo Awards, Stephanie Rothman, t.v., The FilmGroup, TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized, vampire, VAMPIRES, wierd, William Campbell

BLOOD BATH

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BLOOD BATH (Arrow) Limited Edition 2 disc Blu Ray (b&w,1963-67) released May ,2016. $33.97
https://www.amazon.com/Blood-2-Disc-Limited-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B01BIEHMHA/189-2814066-0356520?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Arrow Video has become one of the premier companies for uncovering rare and unusual cult films and going the extra effort to not only to clean up the films for release, but tracking down the best possible elements worldwide, as well as a bevy of extras that boggles the mind. One suspects that the team at Arrow not only wishes to keep their wonderful company going, but are also film geeks extraordinaire themselves.

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This is proven by their limited release edition of BLOOD BATH (AIP ,1966). BLOOD BATH is a fun little vampire film by way of A BUCKET OF BLOOD (Alta Vista/AIP,1959) along with imagery that harkens to THE THIRD MAN (London Films ,1949) as well as foreign locales that add to the production values.

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(The Third Man ,Dutch Angles in a Viennese Street)

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                                                                  (OPERATION TITIAN, the shadow knows)

 

It was therefore surprising that BLOOD BATH was in fact a Shapeshifter of a film, or at least, was just one variation of a total of four different edits and incarnations with reshoots and redubs. Patrick Magee goes from major character to minor while Sid Haig suddenly appears. Bill Campbell goes from looking for a lost art masterpiece to crazed madman to a vampire played by another uncredited performer who looks nothing like him.

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All the existing variants (Jack Hill’s BLOOD BATH remains lost) are presented here in fine restorations.
The original OPERATION TITIAN (1963, aka Operacija Ticijan) was a Yugoslavian thriller that ran 95 minutes. Roger Corman, while scouting for new foreign films that he could redub and resell to the American market, was approached with a proposition, invest $20 grand and provide the American (or at least, English speaking leads), and Corman would have the U.S. rights the finished product. The idea of such a small investment for a finished film intrigued Corman, and so he provided two actors already in Europe and had worked with him on DEMENTIA 13 (Filmgroup,1963), William Campbell (perhaps today best known for his brilliant turn in the classic STAR TREK episode, “The Squire of Gothos” (Paramount/NBC ,1967). Irish actor Patrick Magee is best known by his turn in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (WB,1971) as the vengeful Mr. Alexander. The final film was considered unreleasable by Corman and so he set about trying to save his investment.hKki1BNKACrNef5zUMrucPhCJyn

 

 

PORTRAIT IN TERROR – was the first variant. Stephanie Rothman shot some new footage, approximately 10 minutes, basically adding some violence (one murder is padded out by five minutes!) , the original musical score is replaced with music from LAST WOMAN ON EARTH (Filmgroup,1959) and DEMENTIA 13 (Filmgroup,1963). Still the main body of the film was trimmed and so the film still ran only a little under 82 minutes. It was sold in 1967 by AIP Television as part of a package and received no theatrical release.

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BLOOD BATHCorman still felt there was possibilities in his property, and so invested even more dollars into trying to make a film that would make him a return on investment. Jack Hill got to shoot a new film as long as he used at least 30 minutes of footage from OPERATION TITIAN. He had about 5 days for shooting the project. Actor Campbell was brought back at a higher salary to shoot what he was told was new footage but instead was shocked to discover the plot had turned him into a mad killer! Hill finished his cut but left to film another project instead.

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Hill’s cut was never released and is unavailable but we do have the version that Stephanie Rothman shot using 4 minutes from OPERATION TITIAN and 37 minutes from Hill’s. The original mad killer plot of Hill’s version was changed now to a vampire who looks nothing like Marshall. This is explained by having that he is possessed! Magee is nonexistent in the new film, save for one shot of him from the original film of him covered in wax. New characters were added, new footage, some with doubles and redubbing’s ensued and this is the version which we now know. This was released theatrically with QUEEN OF BLOOD (AIP ,1966). Corman must have been seething, as the movie had by this point probably more than films had shot himself completely. Still, he finally had a version that was released to U.S. theatres and later to television.

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         (Who IS this uncredited actor who plays the Vampire?)
However, since in its current state, BLOOD BATH was deemed too short (under 70 minutes) for sale to television, so once again new footage along with outtakes from OPERATION TITIAN (restoring Magee somewhat to the storyline) added 15 minutes to the movies running time, along with a new title, TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE (AIP,1967). Strangely ,it was released as part of the same tv package as PORTRAIT IN TERROR, so in effect, tv stations were buying the same film twice!

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The print and picture quality are superb throughout, especially given the movie(s) strange history. There is some speckling on OPERATION TITIAN, due to what appears to tape marks that could not be removed from the master print. Watching the films’ back to back is an interesting experience, one that left me wondering which film was I now viewing! However, it is also an exercise I recommend for any budding filmmakers that show how important editing is to a film.Blood Bath vlcsnap-2016-05-29-00h53m34s852_zpsbw37yczt

 

Subtitles follow the dialogue fairly well, as well as noting key sound effects (piano plays)
Now if all this wasn’t worth getting this set, ARROW has added some wonderful extras.

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First up is ‘The Trouble with Titian Revisited”, a brand new documentary on the muddled history of the film, running 81 minutes, or as long as most cuts of the film!! This brilliant piece, which I feel will be a leading contender for the Rondo Awards next year, is an expansion and video essay of the three-part examination by Tim Lucas from Video Watchdog issues 4,5, and 7. Indeed, it was that series of articles from which many of us first became aware that the film had undergone so many incarnations. Lucas himself narrates.

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Next, Sid Haig speaks for under 5 minutes on his remembrances of the film, giving most of the credit to Jack Hill, plus how his beard changed length over the course of filming.

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A 3-minute video interview with the Jack Hill recalls has the director recall his involvement with the project and how it changed.IMG_20160620_171553931
Finally, there is a short still gallery which includes some interesting behind the scenes shots of shooting Jack Hill’s version as well as the QUEEN OF BLOOD / BLOOD BATH press book. The address given for AIP in NY ,165 W 46th Street, NY NY 10036 is now the home of ACTORS EQUITY, which is a bit ironic when you consider how often Corman and SAG (Screen Actors Guild) clashed.

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Included is a reversible Blu Ray cover featuring original art by Dan Mumford ,with the other side using original lobby card art for BLOOD BATH .  There is also a reversible poster of both .

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Also ,an informative collectible  booklet that provides nice information on stars Haig ,Magee & Campbell ,as well as a nice little piece concerning he films.

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If you are interested at all in how films can be made remade and changed (currently the major motion picture SUICIDE SQUAD (WB,2016) is undergoing major reshoots months after it wrapped initially in an attempt to change the tone of the film), then I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you buy this limited edition set.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
-Kevin G Shinnick

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
•Limited Edition collection of the complete ‘Blood Bath

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•High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire

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•Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire from original film materialsbloodbath3
•Brand new reconstruction of Operation Titian using original film materials and standard definition inserts

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•Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all four versions
The Trouble with Titian Revisited – a brand new visual essay in which Tim Lucas returns to (and updates) his three-part Video Watchdog feature to examine the convoluted production history of Blood Bath and its multiple versionsIMG_20160620_171732878
Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig – a new interview with the actor, recorded exclusively for this release
•Outtakes from Track of the Vampire, scanned from original film materials
•Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks
•Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford

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•Limited edition booklet containing new writing on the film and its cast by Peter Stanfield, Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt and Cullen Gallagher

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