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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker
Roberto Curti Price: $45.00 40 photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
376pp. softcover (7 x 10)McFarland  2017                                                http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6970-0

Like many American film fans, my knowledge of director Ricardo Freda was mostly limited to his
Horror films I Vampiri /THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT (Titanus,1957),Caltiki il mostro immortale /CALTIKI,THE IMMORTAL MONSTER(Lux,1959),L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock /THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HITCHCOCK(Panda,1962) and Lo specttro /THE GHOST (Panda,1963).

• However, Freda had a career in cinema that lasted from 1937 (Lasciate ogni speranza /LEAVE ALL HOPE ,Juventus Film) until 1994 (La fille de d’Artagnan /REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS ,Canal+ )starting and ending his career as a writer.

• Writer Roberto Curti of Cortona Italy has done a remarkable job tracking down an amazing amount of information on Freda’s life and career.His love for the subject comes though with his very detailed synopses of these rarely seen (outside of certain countries), providing the history behind many of them, production facts, and their success or failure in various territories as well as changes made to them .

Curti uses Freda’s memoir Divoratori di celluloide (Emme Edizioni (1981),164 pages)as a starting point ,but also researching though film magazines and newspapers from several countries, as well as tracking down and watching the titles from the director’s long career. Curti points out that the director could often be petty and recall incidents that might not always match the facts.Curti’s interviews and research sometimes contradicts what Freda put into his book.

• Still ,the Egyptian born Italian director lived La Dolce Vita, being an extravagant personal spender and gambler as well as womanizer. It is ironic that he despised films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Riama,1960) as well as the entire neo-realist movement of films like Ladri di biciclette/THE BICYCLE THIEF(Ente Nazionale,1948).

He was more a storyteller who felt that film should be escapist,and take us out of reality. Not only did he have those skills, he was also able to make limited budgets look richer than they were, due to his understanding of film editing and camera placement ,as well as working with innovators like the great Mario Bava. Indeed, the short tempered Freda walked off the set of a I Vampiri ,leavinng it to be  finished by Bava. We see throughout the book that Freda had a habit of walking off set, much to the detriment of his films and career.  I Vampiri has an important place in Italian horror films ,as it was the country’s first true sound horror film (the first Italian horror film may have been Il monstro di Frankenstein(1920) a now sadly lost silent picture).

Freda had prior to I Vampiri had done a lot of regional comedies ( he cared little for the comics in many of his films ,but put in many physical gags inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton ,historical dramas and swashbucklers . Indeed ,his love of classic novels and adventure tales seemed to have merged into Caccia all’umo /LES MISERABLES( Lux,1952) ,making it more of an action thriller!

His swashbucklers seemed to have broken new ground in storytelling in Italy, being more inspired by American filmmakers than the home grown artisans. His love of tracking shots to get a lot of detail within a long take was developed during this period .Having reviewed the Italian historical drama La cena delle beffe / THE JESTER’s SUPPER* (Società Italiana Cines,1942 ,not by Freda, but by a contemporary),I would love to see more these  rarely motion pictures                (see review at https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/the-jesters-supper-dvd/ ) .

Freda also was one of the first to leap into the sword and sandal films ,even telling an earlier version of the tale of SPARTACUS(Spartaco(API,1953),released in the U.S. by RKO as SINS OF ROME ). He hopped from genre to genre with various budgets and varying success. Comedy (at which he seemed to have a lot of success),drama ,spy thrillers ,Krimi( he faced off and WON against the antagonistic Klaus Kinski) ,swashbucklers,historicals, and of course horror.

His indifference to some parts of the movies he made show with some sloppy work (in ROGER LA HONTE( Comptoir Francais du Film Production ,1966,one of his later films with a decent budget, he allows a major stunt to show clearly that a “woman” passenger is actually a stunt man since his trousers are clearly visible ),as well as his indifference to actors (he was notorious for using doubles when actors gave him any grief). Yet in staging ,he often surpassed the budget with strong imagery and tracking shots that convey a lot of information .Plus several actors who worked with him praised the director .

Curti’s book makes me want to revisit several of Freda’s films and seek out some of his rarities. Curti has done what any film researcher should do, and that is evaluate and place into historical context the work of the subject.

McFarland is to be commended once again for putting out such a detailed volume about a filmmaker not as well known as perhaps he should be. Each film has b&w illustrations of the film posters or on set photographs, The graphics are sharp and easy to see.

This is a MUST HAVE for lovers of film, especially for those who love Euro-Cinema.

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

                  "Acquista il libro o ti farò del male ..."

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THE MAD MAGICIAN (Twilight Time Blu Ray)

 

The Mad Magician 2D/3D (Columbia,1954) Twilight Time Blu Ray $29.95   B&W .72min. https://www.twilighttimemovies.com/mad-magician-the-3d-blu-ray/

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Classic horror fans and Vincent Price fans will want to add this often overlooked film.

Created to cash in on the huge success of HOUSE OF WAX (W.B.,1953), this Columbia film not only used 3-D ,but also borrowed the same star and set their plot in the same period. The decision to shoot the film in black and white may have been a cost saving decision (or as is said on one of the Blu Ray extras, an artistic choice),but it may be why this film is not as popular as Price’s previous period horror film with modern audiences.

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In the film’s favor was a superb cast ,led by Price and a director who knew his way around period thrillers. That director was John Brahm. Brahm had directed two of the best Jack The Ripper inspired films of all time ,THE LODGER (Fox,1944 ) and HANGOVER SQUARE(Fox ,1945),both starring Laird Cregar.

The screenplay was by former actor Crane Wilbur (he had co-starred with Pearl White in the original silent serial PERILS OF PAULINE (General Film Co.,1914)turned playwright and screenwriter.

Wilbur had written a Broadway thriller called OUIJA BOARD in 1920 , but his next play is better known.

THE MONSTER (1922) was later adapted into a Lon Chaney film for MGM . Wilbur hopped back and forth from actor to writer to director on stage and screen before settling down as a script writer. He worked on the screenplay for the spooky thriller THE SPIRITUALIST/THE AMAZING MR X (Eagle Lion,1948) (influenced by his early play OUIJA BOARD?), before working for producer Bryan Foy on the political thriller I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE F.B.I. (W.B,1951).

Foy obviously liked his work, as he hired Wilbur to write HOUSE OF WAX . Wilbur wrote for Price one more time with his adaptation of the old stage play THE BAT (A.A.,1959).

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Wilbur may have been responsible for Lenita Lane appearing in THE MAD MAGICIAN, as she was his wife in real life. She also appeared in other screenplays by him. A fine actress in her own right, it is a shame we did not see her in more films (her final appearance was in her husband’s THE BAT, which he also directed).

At the end of the 19th Century, Don Gallico (Vincent Price) works for Illusion Incorporated Company, owned by Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph, later General Mark Ford in THE DEADLY MANTIS(Universal,1957)). The company creates stage effects for magicians, and Gallico has decided that he would like to strike out on his own as an illusionist. He is told, however that even though he created the illusions on his own time ,their contract has proprietary rights to any effects that Gallico creates. Ormond has little respect for his valued employee, having cuckolded Gallico by wooing away his wife Claire (Eva Gabor ,most famous for the tv series GREEN ACRES (Filmways ,1965-71)who had tied of being poor.

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To add insult, Gallico is forced to demonstrate his newest creation, a buzz saw that apparently decapitates anyone placed upon tithe Great Rinaldi (John Emery, who portrayed Dr. Karl Eckstrom in ROCKETSHIP X-M (Lippert ,1950) and in real life was often rumored to be an illegitimate son of John Barrymore!) feels that this is just the piece he wants for his act.

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After Rinaldi leaves, Gallico snaps and kills Ormond with the buzz saw device (the murder is not shown just the insane glee on Price’s face ). Luckily, Gallico is also a master of disguise (and obviously the innovator of slip rubber life masks!) and makes himself up to resemble Ormond to set up an alibi and get rid of the remains.

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When Ormond does not appear after a few days ,the police begin to investigate. By coincidence (or screenwriter Wilbur) Detective Alan Bruce (Patrick O’Neal, later himself to star as the baddie in a HOUSE OF WAX inspired period tv film that was released theatrically, CHAMBER OF HORRORS (WB,1966), who is investigating the mystery, is also the boyfriend of Karen (Mary Murphy, the ‘good girl’ from THE WILD ONE, Columbia,1953) Gallico’s assistant.

Gallico commits a few more murders in various disguises ,disposing of one body in a bonfire (similar to a major sequence in John Brahm’s own HANGOVER SQUARE) . The murders also draw the attention of a plucky female writer ,Alice Prentiss (Lenita Lane).Who will survive the vengeance of THE MAD MAGICIAN ?

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A fun ,quick (72 minutes), there is a strong sense of déjà vu if you had seen HOUSE OF WAX, but the film also solidifies the template for the later Price “Vengeance” horror films like THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES(AIP,1971) and THEATRE OF BLOOD(U.A.,1973) with elaborate murders and disguises.

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Price relishes his role, and gives it his all. It is odd seeing Patrick O’Neal as a hero in this his film debut (the Actor’s Studio trained actor had appeared on television prior) but he acquits himself nicely. Lenita Lane is sort of an gay 90s version of Lois Lane . The entire supporting cast fills their roles marvelously .

The direction by Brahm is solid ,though many feel he doesn’t take full advantage of the three dimensional process. I and many others feel he used it sparingly to emphasize certain images by dramatic placement rather than always throwing things into the lens(which he also does ,though, during Price’s magic acts).

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TWILIGHT TIME has done an amazing job with this disc. The 50GB Blu Ray is REGION FREE ,and limited to a pressing of only 3,000 . The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is incredibly sharp in either 2 or 3D. The Grayscale is very rich and compliments the cinematography of Bert Glennon (also from HOUSE OF WAX). The film seems to have strong grain but that appears to be from the original negative . The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track sound is clear and hiss free.

There are a lot of extras on this disc :

-First off , as mentioned ,the film can be watched either 3-D(you need a monitor and Blu Ray Player that allows this) or in regular 2-D.

Audio Commentary :There is a wonderful running audio commentary by David Del Valle and Steve Peros   , discussing the behind the scenes production of the film and the careers of many of those involved , as well as the 3-D phenomenon of the era. You can hear in their voices that they are truly enjoying this film (and who can blame them?) .

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Isolated Music Score : You can hear the score by Arthur Lange (composer ,music director ,and orchestrator of over 200 scores, often uncredited) and Emil Newman ( brother of Alfred & Lionel Newman, and composer in his own right on such films as UNDYING MONSTER (Fox,1942)),as well as the Theremin played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, the former violinist whose eerie playing of Léon Theremin ‘s invention graced the scores of films since SPELLBOUND (Selznick Intenational,1945). Dr. Hoffman’s work appeared in films both big budget (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Fox ,1951) to low budget (BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA, Embassy 1966), usually uncredited.

 

51332560aefeb575e790ed3e7429bc17Master of Fright :Conjuring “The Mad Magician”- Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, under direction by Daniel Griffith, have been providing some of the best making of bonus features for Shout Factory. Now , also working for TWILIGHT TIME, they continue the superb must watch documentaries that they are noted for .Between this and the audio commentary, you get a wonderful history of this film.

Two THREE STOOGES 3-D Short subjects : SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE (both Columbia 1953)normal-randall-spooks

SPOOKS was the 148th of the 190 short subjects that the comedy team made for the studio. The boys (Moe & Shemp Howard, plus Larry Fine) are private eyes whose search for a missing girl (this was actress Norma Randals largest role of note) brings them into contact with Dr. Jeckyl (character actor Phillip Van Zandt, who was Muller in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Universal 1944) and his brutish helper Mr. Hyde (former boxer Tom Kennedy who was often the heavy to comic greats The Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, and Bob Hope, among others). There is also, of course ,a gorilla (an uncredited Steve Calvert)

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PARDON MY BACKFIRE has the team working as mechanics who capture some on the lam convicts that have the misfortune of pulling into their garage .stooges_pardon_my_backfire

Maybe it was the horror connection, but I felt SPOOKS was the more entertaining of the two. Both films work in 2 as well as three dimension (with hypos, bats, fire, water, and knives being hurled at the audience). The picture and sound quality on both are superb.spookstitle2

-The Original Trailer. Lots of Ballyhoo (That” House of Wax” Man).

themadmagician3d_bdbookletcover_highres__47771_1481961658_1280_1280-Booklet: Once again, TWILIGHT TIME provides another well written information booklet (kudos once again to Julie Kirgo).

THE MAD MAGICIAN leaps to the top of the list for any fan of classic film fans. classic horror fans, 3D lovers, and, of course, Vincent Price followers.

I suggest you order ASAP, as I think that this collectible disc is going to sell out fast!

 HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Kevin G Shinnickmad-magician-debonair

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WAX MASK (blu ray)

7737_tnTHE WAX MASK(aka M.D.C. – Maschera di cera ,Italian 1997) (Blu Ray) release date Jan 31st,,2017 by One 7 Movies .$29.95 .color 94 minutes.      https://www.amazon.com/Wax-Mask-Blu-ray-Robert-Hossein/dp/B01N40CACQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1485396004&sr=1-1&keywords=wax+mask

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THE WAX MASK is a wonderful throwback to the Italian Gothic Horrors of the 1960s, mixed in with considerably more graphic gore and nudity as was more permissible in 1997 when this film was made.

1999: DARIO ARGENTO, FILM DIRECTOR

                       DARIO ARGENTO

Dario Argento, the reigning king of Euro Horror ,had tried for a year to raise funds to produce a film to be directed by Lucio Fulci. Fulci , who had his own niche in gory Italian horror (ZOMBI 2, aka ZOMBIE ,1979) ,had fallen out favor ,due to lending his name to projects that he was not involved with ,as well as Fulci being ill at various times from the early 1980s .

 

At first, they had thought of an update of THE MUMMY (Universal,1932) before deciding on a semi remake of HOUSE OF WAX(WB,1953, itself a remake of the 1933 WB classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM) .Fulci wrote a screenplay ,but more delays occurred due to Argento’s THE STENDAHL SYNDROME (1996.)

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 Mystery Of The Wax Museum (WB ,1933)
Fulci passed away March 13,1996 from diabetes . Argento had the script reworked by Daniele Stroppa (who had worked on the screenplays for two of Fulci’s later films ,HOUSE OF CLOCKS(1989) and VOICE FROM BEYOND (1991) .How much the scripts  vary is unknown by this reviewer .
However ,to quote an interview with Massimo F Lavagnini (printed in DRACULINA # 24)
Fulci said:

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…. I think we start shooting in September. About the story, I can say it isn’t a carbon copy of the original HOUSE OF WAX, which obviously inspired us. Our story is settled in 1915 in Torino. The protagonist is a frustrated artist who kills and becomes a monster, because of the faults of society. …………..We have seven or eight ultra-violent scenes . *

 

 

 

Sergio Stivaletti, who had handled effects for Argento on PHENOMENA(1985,aka Creepers) ,OPERA(1987) and THE STENDAHL SYNDROME, as well as DEMONS(1985) and CEMETERY MAN (1994),stepped into the director’s chair . Having directed second unit for Argento, Bava, and Soavi, he had picked up a few pointers on how to director horror with style. Supposedly, Stivaletti, who had been preparing the films effects, had only two weeks’ prep time. If so, it makes the film even more impressive.

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The film opens December 31,1900 in Paris (why does every room in Paris seem to look out upon the Eiffel Tower in movies?). However, the new year brings the discovery of a gruesome double homicide, and the police find that the only witness is a frightened 12 year old girl.the-wax-mask-1

 

The film then jumps 12 years ahead to Rome. At a brothel, Luca (Daniele Auber, who also works in effects, later winning an Emmy in 2002 for Outstanding Makeup for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Prosthetic)) bets others there that he can spend the night in a newly opened Wax Museum which recreates some of history’s most notorious killings. The idea of spending the night in a spooky place seems to be lifted from CASTLE OF BLOOD(DANZA MACABRA,1964),showing that the filmmakers know their classic horror films. Sadly, it does not end well for Luca,who supposedly dies frightened to death.

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Museum owner Boris Volkoff (the name a nod to Boris Karloff?)(portrayed by French actor Robert Hossein (THE BURGLARS/Le Casse,Columbia 1971)plans a series of new exhibits to exploit the press that the unfortunate death brings to the museum .

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Volkoff, however, has a dark secret -he and his assistant Alex (Umberto Balli,who seems to have only done one other film)are creating their lifelike figures by capturing people and then injecting them to keep them alive and immobile under the wax!

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Volkoff hires Sonia (Romina Mondello, later in Harry Alan TowersDEATH, DECEIT, & DESTINY ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2001)) to create costumes for the figures. Sonia however, happens to be young girl from the film’s opening, and the violent tableaux’s bring buried memories of her parents murder back. Luckily , Inspector Lavin (Aldo Massasso,later in Argento’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998) and SLEEPLESS( Non ho sonno ,2001))who had investigated the murders of Sonia’s parents is in Rome . With the help of Andrea( Riccardo Serventi Longhi,who appeared in the t.v. film CAVE OF THE GOLDEN ROSE 4 aka Fantaghio 4,1994,for Lamberto Bava) they start to see if they can uncover the mystery of the wax museum .

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The ending is wildly delirious, and lurches into TERMINATOR (Hemdale,1984) territory. Up to then ,however, it is a gory tribute to older horror films with some marvelous effects (though the early CGI, in particular, the fire effects ,were not effective even when the film first came out).

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Reviews were for the most part positive  like this one :

(Variety April 20, 1997 )
Gothic horror is alive and kicking in “Wax Mask,” a luridly entertaining return to the style of Britain’s Hammer productions of the ’60s)

 

and the film appears to have done decent business throughout most of the world, but only garnering a token home video release via Image Entertainment a few years later.mv5bmje1odeyodc0ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwnde1mdkymq-_v1_uy268_cr60182268_al_
The French-Italian co-production looks stunning. From costumes to set designs, the film looks so much more expensive than it’s reported $1.25 million budget (though some estimates put it as high as $3 million). Adding to the sweep and grandeur is the magnificent orchestral score( with choir ) by Maurizio Abeni (who would also compose for Stivaletti’s THE THREE FACES OF TERROR (I tre volti del terrore,2004 ) . The English dubbing is good ,though some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.

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The original VHS/DVD releases back in 2000 had very muddy colors and a dark print ,and though Dolby mixed the sound was very flat .

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Now One 7 Movies (whose DVD release of JESTER’S SUPPER we reviewed back in 2015 https://www.facebook.com/SCARLETreviews/posts/1584658468439774 ) have released WAX MASK in a glorious 1080p version in 1.85.1 (original aspect ratio) blu ray .The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound really lets the score fill your room ,and the sound effects are quite effective. Most impressive are the truly vibrant and rich colors and the clean almost three dimensional photography by Sergio Salvati (who shot many of Fulci’s as well as many Empire films produced by Charles Band). I cannot say how marvelous the transfer is and it puts many a major studios release to shame.
Extras on the disc includewax-mask-00-jpgcgi
Backstage Scenes– some raw video behind the scene footage shot during the making of the film . It is a fun look at the cast and crew working and relaxing during the production. In Italian.

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Special Effects Scenes– the effects team working on the practical on set effects used throughout the film .At one point they get a package from Tom Savini ,and look through his makeup book GRAND ILLUSIONS(Imagine,1983).Producer Argento watches fascinated as they test a mechanical robot arm . In Italian .

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If you are a fan of Italian Horror, this is a must get disc for you. Many fans may have head of the film but up to now may never have seen it. Now is your chance to scoop this film up.
Recommended!

-Kevin G Shinnick

*- DRACULINA issue 24 appears to be sold out but you can always see if some valuable issues turn up by visiting http://www.draculina.com/draculina2.htmldraculina-24

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THE CRAWLING BRAIN

 

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THE CRAWLING BRAIN (2002) released 2016.Blood Banquet Theatre.
$10.99. DVD. Color. Shot on Video. Available from
http://bbtheatre.xyz/collections/1423514-blood-banquet-theatre-distribution-dvd-titles/products/18388604-the-crawling-brain-dvd

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   “Has he health insurance?”Behind the scenes photo

 

If Andy Milligan (GURU THE MAD MONK, Nova Int.,1970) made movies for Independent International that were produced by John Waters, it would give you an idea of the craziness that is THE CRAWLING BRAIN.

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The term “camp” was made for films such as this. The film is a loving if inept tribute to classic b movie camp like THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (Paragon/Gold key ,1968), BRAIN OF BLOOD(I.I.,1971) MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND(Hemisphere,1968) and most obviously, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE (MGM,1958). Gore and nudity are sprinkled liberally throughout.

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The story has Stefan (Randal Malone) finding out his grandmother is the former nurse/lover of Franz Kindler (the name of the Nazi from Orson Welles classic THE STRANGER(RKO,1946)), a mad Nazi scientist who has his spine and brain placed into a tank until a new body can be found for him.

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        (Young Anita Page Ziegfeld Follies;92 year Ms Page in this film)

 

The grandmother Anita is portrayed by then 92-year-old Anita Page, who starred in the first sound film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, BROADWAY MELODY (MGM,1929). She passed away in 2008, her last film being released posthumously in 2010, FRANKENSTEIN RISING (Sterling), which also starred Malone.

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The brain suddenly decides to take over Stefan, who manipulates his brother (Mark Shady) into helping him. Every once and awhile the brain crawls from its tank and takes things into its own-err— spinal column, and kills people itself.

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People visit the house end up being used as experiments for surgery, until a new nurse named Jillian (Heather Beaton, EYES OF THE WEREWOLF, Leo Films,1996) arrives to care for Grandma. Jillian, it seems, looks exactly like Anita did when she was young (also played in flashback by Beaton) and it seems once the evil brain finds a new body for itself, Anita may have herself a new host body as well.

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The whole film has a “Hey I got a camcorder, let’s make a movie” feel to it. Shot on video, the entire budget wouldn’t stretch to craft services for one meal on a T.V. show. That said, the film is unlike a lot of s.o.v. product at least competently put together, though the dialogue suffers at times from microphones being too far away.

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Hey there IS a script!

 

Music (credited to Ronald Stein) sounds like it is mostly lifted from DEMENTIA 13(AIP,1963) with certain sounds effects taken directly from FIEND WITHOUT A FACE.

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As to the “acting”, always a major bugaboo of mine in these s.o.v. films:

Randal Malone, who it seems has more than 50 films to his credit, minces through his part like a bitchy Divine wannabee.randal-malone

At the other end of the spectrum we have Stephanie Beaton, who never seemed to get a film that truly showcased her actual acting talent.

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The effects are a fun throwback to the onset physical effects of the films that inspired them (at points reversing the film has the spinal column appear to wrap around its hapless victims).

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(Because You’re Mine, I’ll steal your spine ….)

A well -staged car crash surprised me, although I was left wondering did they just do the stunt and leave?

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               (How dis-arming !)

Indeed, I wish there was a commentary track from those involved, to hear what it was like on set and their thoughts of the final product (and indeed, how they got Anita Page to be in their film).

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Extras are limited to an alternate opening (full nudity as it stands now, topless nudity in the alternate, both supplied by actress Athena Demos) and an alternately edited flashback sequence (which I admit I saw no difference).

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Also included is an over the top trailer that would have put people into their local drive ins had it been made in the 1970s. Finally, there are trailers for other films to be released by BLOOD BANQUET (including DEVILS’ NIGHTMARE(French,1971)).img_20170117_114835
Blood Banquet also sells a 3D version of MANIAC (Roadshow,1934), GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE (Ent.Pyramid,1972), as well as other S.O.V. titles by Ron Ford.

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Should you wish to see a modern-day exploitation film, leave your brain outside as you watch THE CRAWLING BRAIN.

Trailer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMBNzl1tIsc

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Kevin G Shinnick

              (note:some photos courtesy BLOOD BANQUET,some Frame Grabs from the DVD).

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

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

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

$7.98 each. Oldies.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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The 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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     (Go Home,Santa, you’re drunk !)

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BLINDMAN – ABKCO dvd review

blindman-movie-poster-1972-1020377327BLINDMAN (Il Cieco ,Italy, November 15,1971 /U.S. release by 20th Century Fox Jan.15,1972)-color -105 minutes-release by ABKCO -$12.99-release date November 4,2016

https://www.amazon.com/Blindman-Ringo-Starr/dp/B01LXU311M/ref=pd_sbs_74_img_0/166-8333352-5114628?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HTM8B2YSKEX4QFHXZ38R

“I want my fifty women.”

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The Spaghetti Western reigned from about 1964 until sometimes into the mid-1970s. While there had been, westerns filmed in Europe before and after that time, Sergio Leone’s Per un pugno di dollari/Por un puñado de dólares/Für eine Handvoll Dollar, best known as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (released in Italy in September 12,1964, released in the U.S by United Artists) was the first international success of the Euro Western. Many of these films were produced multi-nationally via German, Yugoslavian, Spain, the U.S., even Israel, along with Italian producers.blindman-2

 

Usually in the Spaghetti Western, the definition of bad guys and the good guys, unlike the classic American films, became blurred. The level of violence also escalated. As the westerns went along, they also developed interesting eccentricities and characterizations. Also, a dark sense of humor permeated a lot of them. DJANGO (1966 Euro International) and the coffin exemplified these.
However, by the 1970s, Kung Fu films became the rage, and the westerns slowly rode off into the cinematic sunset. Before they did, they left us with BLINDMAN (ABKCO FILMS, released in 1971 in Italy,1972 U.S. via 20th Century Fox).

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BLINDMAN was a bit more violent than many of the westerns and had a great deal more nudity. The original American release was pared down to 84 minutes in some areas. I saw it upon its original release, due to the casting of Ringo Star as a Mexican Bandito(!)and seeing this new release from ABKCO, I do not recall the film being as explicit .westward_the_women

Many of the Spaghetti Westerns had inspirations in other films, and BLINDMAN seems inspired by WESTWARD THE WOMEN(MGM,1951). In WESTWARD, Robert Taylor (WATERLOO BRIDGE, MGM 1940) is consigned to deliver 140 (not 200 as the poster declares) mail order brides to California. Indian attacks, renegades, even natural disasters, dwindle the numbers. The film was a huge hit when it came out, though it is not well remembered today.

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Tony Anthony an American born actor who had a good career in Italian Westerns, and later help bring about the 3D revival with his film COMIN’ AT YA (U.S. release Filmways ,1981), stars as the title character and who also wrote the screenplay for BLINDMAN, however, seemed to have been at least partially inspired by it. For good measure, he mixed into the blend a bit of the legend of the blind masseuse/ swordsman, Zatoichi. First filmed in 1962 as THE TALE OF ZATOICHI ( Dalei Studios ),the long running series had already had 22 entries by the time BLINDMAN was into production.

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The Blindman (he seems to have no other name), it seems, was contracted to bring fifty women to some miners in Texas. However, his partners double cross him and bring the women to Mexico. Blindman thus needs to hunt down his associates, who often end up dead, as he tries to regain his female consignment and honor his contract.

Blindman sets up the film by establishing that he is indeed blind ,but no less deadly, when he blows up a character named Skunk(an unbilled Renato Romano, DEATH LAID AN EGG / La morteha fatto l’uovo,Italy 1968) and an unnamed compatriot and woman companion after Skunk lets Blindman know his cargo is now in Mexico with Domingo(American born Lloyd Batista,who had appeared in Tony Anthony ‘s THE STRANGER/Lo straniero di silenzio,Italy 1968 ),his brother Candy(Ringo Starr* )and their sister called Sweet Mama(Magda Konopka,WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH,WB 1970) and their gang.

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The bandits shower down the kidnapped women while Sweet Mama and Dominic discuss if Candy might want one of the captives. However, Candy is sweet (sorry about pun) on Pilar (Agneta Eckemyr, later to appear in ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (Disney, Dec 20,1974)). The women are being offered to a General (Raf Baldassare, who appeared in Mario Bava’s ERIK THE CONQUEROR/Gli Invasari, Italy 1961) and his drunken battalion.

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However, even more double crosses happen and El General is captured for ransom. More betrayals occur and more characters end up dead (including Ringo!), and The Blindman is at times caught and tortured.blindman12

The actors seem to be having a good time in their various roles. The women, however, to be blunt, are for the most part, sex objects, and spend a great deal of time being naked and pawed by the various cast members. Konopka, hints at a sick sadistic pleasure of watching this, and that she is closer to her brother Dominic that would be considered acceptable.cropped

The at times surreal western was directed by Ferdinando Baldi was a very busy in the 1960s through 1980s, jumping genres but most comfortable in the oater genre. He later would direct the two 3-D films that Anthony would write and star in. The film was lensed in Almeria, Spain, a desert like stretch that was used in numerous westerns as well as films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Columbia ,1962) and HOW I WON THE WAR (U.A. ,1967). In fact, Ringo had visited John Lennon on location there while Lennon was filming HOW I WON

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Music by Stelvio Cipriati, who had scored THE STRANGER RETURNS (Italy,1967) and is still scoring films today, does a Ennio Morricone -like score with a lot of jangly sounds and odd vocals. Ringo did not contribute to the soundtrack, though on the flipside of his song single “Back Off Boogaloo”, he wrote and performs a song called ‘Blindman” that sounds inspired by Cipriati’s score https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5EXfCMyibw

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Allen Klein, the head of ABKCO Films, was the former manager whom Paul McCartney blames for his exit from The Beatles. Ringo obviously had no ill will to Klein, and took the supporting role. Being the most famous name in the film, his prominence in ads and trailers was expanded. Ringo acquits himself quite well in the atypical bad guy role. (See trailer : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5454Qe6uoaM )ringo-starr-and-allen-klein-holding-gun-spain-july-1971

     Ringo & Klein(holding gun) clowning on set.

The DVD transfer shows off cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini (CASTLE OF BLOOD/ Danza macabra, Italy,1964) sharp images, thanks to a HD transfer from an original 35mm negative. The film is also available as a digital download, though no word of any planned BLU RAY release (if they do ,perhaps a commentary by Anthony, or even Ringo?). Sound quality is a 5.1 transfer with no noticeable pops or hiss. The only extra on the DVD is a trailer.mpw-20184

BLINDMAN was one of those films that had been available on the gray market in variable quality prints. In fact, SCARLET reader John Crummett informed us when BLINDMAN was first announced for DVD that some time ago he had attended a screening of GET MEAN**(Italy ,1975, U.S. release through Cinemation)  at the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood and director Tony Anthony himself doubted there would ever be an ever be an official release due to all the bootlegs. ( You can see how bad a typical bootleg looked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l95IUUNnpjg )

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I am glad that Tony Anthony was wrong about that, and that the film is finally available in a good quality print. One small note about the ABKCO website- they really don’t sell their DVDs very well, concentrating more on their musical releases. The most important thing, though, is you can finally get BLINDMAN in a high-quality release.

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Recommended for Italian Western Fans, as well as Beatles completists.
Kevin G Shinnick

*-Was Ringo’s name CANDY a reference to his first non-Beatles film, CANDY (A.B.C/Cinerama ,1968)?candy1968

**-GET MEAN, also directed by Baldi with performances from Baldassare and Battista, is available on BLU RAY from BLUE UNDERGROUND.blu-bd-8005_l

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