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BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION (VCI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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The four titles in the collection are

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(Disc One)

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

TORTURE ZONE (edited version of FEAR CHAMBER)

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(Disc Two)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karloff tries to blow up all prints of FEAR CHAMBER .

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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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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DAVID L HEWITT and his GALLERY OF HORROR

 

GALLERY OF HORROR (1967)
director: David L. Hewitt .American General Pictures. color .widescreen. 83 min.

Alternative Titles
Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors
Return from the Past
The Blood Suckers
Cast
Lon Chaney John Carradine Rochelle Hudson Roger Gentry Ron Doyle Karen Joy Vic McGee Ron Brogan Margaret Moore Gray Daniels Mitch Evans Joey Benson

PRESENTING
1 ‘The Witches Clock’
2 ‘King Vampire’
3 ‘Monster Raiders’
4 ‘Spark of Life’
5 ‘Count Alucard’

Here is horror anthology that you may have seen on late night television but thought that you had only imagined it .

Seriously, this film lifts clips from better Roger Corman  films, then inserts them throughout this picture to add production value (think of that- Corman giving production value!!).

 

Stiff acting, staging, accents that make Dick Van Dyke  in MARY POPPINS (Disney,1964) sound like Laurence Olivier ,the barest of sets ,often just a wall flat with windows ,or a darkened sound stage street with a lamp, helps give this film an impoverished look . Not to the level of an Ed Wood or Andy Milligan , but as off beat in its own peculiar way .

David L. Hewitt ,the auteur 0f all this, was the man behind THE WIZARD OF MARS  (John Carradine again)MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY(both 1965) JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME(1967 ),THE MIGHTY GORGA (1969 );all films with special (de)fects ,and the non fantasy The Girls from Thunder Strip in 1970.

 

He began as a stage magician ,until he met Forrest J Ackerman .  He had an idea for a film script, and Ackerman put him in contact with science fiction writer and filmmaker Ib Melchior (AIP’s 1959 ANGRY RED PLANET ,and the screenplay for the Danish REPTILICUS ,AIP 1961).  Melchior would later pen the short story “The Racer”which would be adapted to the screen as DEATH RACE 2000(New World,1975).

Melchior and Hewitt worked on reworking the ambitious story (originally known as “The Trap”) and shot some test footage to convince investors that they could make the film on a modest budget.  Hewitt was able to create several effects that could be shot live on set, as they were variations of several magician’s tricks. Forrest  J Ackerman even gets a nice cameo doing one of the tricks.

The film became THE TIME TRAVELLERS (AIP,1964),an ambitious tale of time paradoxes and the future,shot on a budget of $250,000.

Trying to go it alone, Hewitt created a film that ran only 33 minutes. Not wishing to lose his investment, he created a stage show involving magic tricks ,performers and people in costumes (probably some poorly underpaid usher) who would run through the theatre onto the stage. All this would then  seque into the film . The result was MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY (1965).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2crI6OdUOA0

 

Hewitt’s next picture was THE WIZARD OF MARS . Shot on a budget of $33,000 , the film was a science fiction retworking of  Wizard Of Oz set upon the Red Planet. John Carradine worked for Hewitt for the first time, shot against a blue screen as a transparent figure appearing against a star field . The money was raised by a group of vending machine operators . Since it was a cash business, the operators looked for ways to invest ,and felt that Hewitt was worth the risk.

THE WIZARD OF MARS was edited by Tom Graeff . If the name is familiar to you, he was the mad “genius ” behind 1959’s TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE (W.B.). This was Graeff’s last known film work, with him committing suicide in 1970 .

T.W.O.M was an ambitious film filmed with effects, but it had no one willing to distribute it.  The investors, having no experience in film at all, started their own distribution company ,American General Pictures.

Knowing they did not have the resources to keep producing films, they picked up other movies that had limited release or had been sitting upon the shelves. One of the films they picked up was SPIDER BABY . The bizarre but original Jack Hill film starring Lon Chaney Jr  had been shot in 1964 , but not released until 1967 . Being in black and white made it a harder sell, even when changing the name often to The Liver EatersAttack of the Liver EatersCannibal Orgy, and The Maddest Story Ever Told.

The same year Hewitt created GALLERY OF HORROR ,he also made JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME . Very talkative ,with some effects lifted from other films, Scott Brady took on the John Carradine type role in this (was Carradine busy filming HILLBILLIES IN THE HAUNTED HOUSE??)  . Antony Eisley appears as the nominal hero.The film seems like a variation of the superior THE TIME TRAVELLERS.

As embarassing as some of these films were , none can reach the levels of ineptitude that is THE MIGHTY GORGA (1969).Poor Scott Brady and Anthony Eisley both appear in this jawdroppingly bad film. Long ago SNL did a sketch about dinosaurs, using purposely fake effects. It was hysterical.

 

Here, you feel that the team was serious about their use of force perspective toy dinosaurs and third rate gorilla costume work. How third rate?Hewitt, who constructed and wore the suit, never bothered creating the lower half .

American General folded after one of the partners disappeared and another partner died from a heart attack. The widow of the third partner felt it wasn’t worth the headache, and let the company fold in 1970.   American General did not make a lot of prints of their films, at best 35  copies for the entire country ,and so they were often played until they were worn so badly that they were unscreenable.

Wizard Of Mars Model work

After this, Hewitt became an effects man for hire ,ironically with some of his own space ship footage from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF TIME ending up in the I.I. patchwork film HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970).

 

The 79 year old Hewitt (born December ,1939) is still with us, having worked on effects as late as 2003 on INSPECTOR GADGET 2 for Disney.

 

However, back to the “gallery ” :

John Carradine, in tux, is the host for several tales ,bringing to mind Boris Karloff in the vastly superior  BLACK SABBATH (AIP,1963). DR TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS (Amicus/Paramount,1965) was also big hit  ,which is why one of the alternate titles for this film attached DR TERROR’s for one of its releases.

Lon Chaney appears in a tale wherein he references Dr Frankenstein . Chaney is a teaching professor who ,with the aid of two med students, revive a corpse. It must have been nice for him not to be the one on the slab for once. Oh, wait…

Though top billed, Chaney could have shot his whole part in a day .

Carradine probably shot his narrator role reading off of cue cards in front of a blue screen, with his part in the first story, THE WITCHES CLOCK, probably taking all of an afternoon.

 

Most of the rest of the cast seem to declaim their lines as if trying to reach the back of a theatre .

The sound at times is very echoey, meaning that sound proofing was not added to the studio wherein they filmed.

That it felt like inferior CREEPY comics stories may be because one of the screenwriters was Russ Jones,founder of that magazine. He had wanted to film to feel like a comic book, but the distributors and Hewitt vetoed that idea,except for the intentional splash wipes .Audiences would have to wait until CREEPSHOW (Laurel,1982).

The music and sound effects are stock ,coming from a company called COMMERCIAL SOUND RECORDERS ,which sound like a bunch of fans in a basement full of machines .

Wade Williams released a DVD of the film from a print that he owned . That the film looks as good as it does means it was not shown as often as many other copies of the title were .G.O.H. astonishly shot widescreen  ( 2.35:1 )and in color ,which added to the budget perhaps but somehow makes the picture as a whole  look a whole lot cheaper. http://www.wadewilliamscollection.com/ft-haunted.html 

I didn’t go into great detail about the film to allow you to “experience”it for yourself .

This film is Screaming out for a MST3K /Rifftrax treatment.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

ps- some information on David Hewitt, American General, and their films was taken from Fred Olen Ray‘s wonderful 1991 book from MacFarland : THE NEW POVERTY ROW  .https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/the-new-poverty-row/

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The original theatrical trailer.

Production Design Photo Gallery -six images.


Radio spots– these play over images from the film.

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

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

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

The other inaugural release from MVD REWIND is

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

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

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

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

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

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

A photo Gallery

Reversible Cover Artwork

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

The original Theatrical Trailer.

 

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

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

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

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

 

The Master of Disguise from ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES  .

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended .

-Kevin G Shinnick

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We have a winner! BETTER WATCH OUT from WELL GO USA

Here is the winner of our WELL GO USA contest to win a copy of the DVD/BLU RAY of BETTER WATCH OUT .

Contestants had to turn a classic Christmas tale into a  horror story . The winner was drawn at random .

 

Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

Son of Sam Snowman Welcomes you to Christmas Town at the North Pole
Where Mrs. And Mr. Satan Claus Live now known as Mr and Mrs Santa Claus,
I Will tell you the story of how one murderous reindeer saved Christmas !

Mr. Satan Claus was a evil man that got by making money off the holiday season he would show up with his pack of reindeer led by Donner and make ends meet off the donations an cookies !

This year was a bad snowstorm and the pack wouldn’t be able to make it to town through the woods.

This year was also the year that the lead Reindeer Donner gave birth to his son Rudolph upon birth though everyone notice something not quite right with their new fawn.

He had bright bloody nose and it would bleed whenever he cried, as he grew older in the next year others noticed other differences like when he was angry things would mysteriously break on their own.

Objects would fly about like they were being controlled by thin air.

Donner was quick to try and hide his sons bloody noses and pretend he was normal not wanting to lose his job or spot on Satan Claus’s Team.

Donner went about training his son for the annual reindeer games, Once there Rudolph meets a nice fawn named Clarice he is very attracted to her and is seen talking to her but some other reindeer they come up and pick a fight with Rudolph an one shoves him down knocking off his disguise an angering him in a fit of rage Rudolph flies through the air and attacks the other throwing him so far that he instantly killed him summoning with magical forces shards of broken barn fence he pierces the hearts an heads of the other attacking reindeer ! By default being the last man left to win the Games !

Satan Claus notices his power and ability to fly and how it can be used to his advantage !

He sees the flying reindeer as something to become famous an therefore bring him in money in fame plus now he would be able to not only go to his town but every town with his fast flying reindeer.

They enjoy many years of fortune and murderous rampages stealing from all the boys and girls parents wallets taking their hard earned money and shelling out nothing but cheap foreign made toys in return.

The end…… Merry Christmas !!

Tommy Freeman

(Congrats ,Tommy. We will be sending you your prize-THE DVD/BLU RAY combo of BETTER WATCH OUT from WELL GO USA.

This contest is closed. Our thanks to WELL GO USA http://www.wellgousa.com

Follow SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE on WORDPRESS and FACEBOOK to read future articles and contests.

 

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THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic 1945)(Blu Ray & DVD from Olive Films)

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST (Republic, June 1945) B&W 59 minutes (OLIVE FILMS Blu-Ray https://olivefilms.com/product/the-vampires-ghost/ $24.95. Also available on DVD $19.95)

 

Back in 2013, SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE ‘s print edition had an in-depth review of the Republic horror films (SCARLET #9, Feb. 2013). In that over view, one of the film’s covered was the neglected gem, THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST.

Republic saw the success of the RKO horrors, and decided to get into lucrative monster market. Their films were always entertaining (THE LADY & THE MONSTER, Republic ,1944, is probably best known, due to it starring Erich Von Stroheim) but never received the respect and love that RKO or Universal’s horrors have gotten.

Luckily, Olive Films is hoping to remedy that with their release of various Republic titles. They have already released a magnificent THE QUIET MAN (Republic ,1952 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/the-quiet-man-olive-films-signature-blu-ray/ ) and MACBETH ( Republic 1948/1950 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/orson-welles-macbetholive-films-blu-ray/ ),and are also releasing their overlooked features like SABOTAGE (Republic ,1939 https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/sabotage-1939/ ) and now THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST .

 

Set somewhere in Africa in a fictional village of Bakunda, a voice over narrator intones: “Africa, the dark land where Voodoo drums beat in the night…Africa… where men have not forgotten the evil they learnt in the dawn of time… I always come back to Africa… but even here there is no rest for me. The path of time is curved here like a sickle…I cannot die…I cannot rest. I cannot rest. I cannot rest…”

Right away, you can see the influence of Val Lewton films like “I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (RKO,1943), that also open with a voiceover.

The narrator is Webb Fallon (played with a weary sadness by actor John Abbott, the English character actor, who worked with the likes of Olivier on stage, and is perhaps best known as Ayelborne in the Star Trek episodeErrand Of Mercy “(Paramount, season one episode 26, March 1967).

 

As his story above unfolds, we see a map of Africa, then a drawing of the village that fades into the “actual city” of Bakunda (what looks like a cleverly disguised Spanish village set from countless Republic westerns). The camera prowls through the streets, until we come upon a door, wherein a hand enters the frame and opens the door.
There we see a sleeping native woman, who awakes in horror. Fade to black.

The town of Bakunda is the latest village to suffer a mysterious death, with each victim having been partially drained of their blood. Father Gilchrist (Grant Withers, who often played villains or police officers for Republic, Monogram or PRC) suspects that another village has reverted to voodoo, and may be responsible for the killings.


Roy (Charles Gordon,for whom it seems this was his largest role of his ten-year career), greets his fiancé Julie Vance (Peggy Stewart, born in 1923, is still working, having appeared in  THAT’S MY BOY (Columbia ,2012) as Grandma Delores) who has just returned from Johannesburg, South Africa. Thomas Vance (Emmett Vogan, who appeared in over 500 films and television shows in his career, including appearing as the Coroner in THE MUMMY’S GHOST, Universal ,1944) invites them all to his home.


They discuss how the murders are affecting the natives, who are fearful, and abandoning the fields (so, not so concerned about their safety as how they affect production??). Roy decides to visit Webb Fallon, who owns the local dive bar. Fallon has a knowledge of the rituals and superstitions that often surpasses those of the natives themselves.

 

 


We jump to the club and witness a sensual dance by Lisa (Adele Mara, a former dancer/singer for Xavier Cugat who in 1946 appeared in Republic’s horror film THE CATMAN OF PARIS). Fallon is winning at the crap tables in the club, which angers gruff Captain Jim Barrett (Roy Barcroft, whom Leonard Maltin once described accurately as “Republic’s number one bad guy”). Roy shows up to invite Fallon over to Vance’s to discuss the murders, but Barrett and his crew accuse Fallon of cheating, and a fight breaks out. Roy is knocked down quickly, but Fallon does a lot of damage himself with single punches. When Barrett is about to stab the unconscious Roy, Fallon grabs the Captain’s wrist and stares intently at him, at which point the Captain drops his weapon.

 

Roy and Fallon go to Fallon’s room to clean up, and Fallon shouts at Roy when he touches a small wooden box. Upon it, we read “E.R. WEBB FALLON 1588”. Fallon says it was a gift given to his ancestor after whom he was named by a grateful Queen Elizabeth.

Fallon and Roy go to Vance’s and are chatting after a meal. Father Gilchrist at one point puts his hand upon Fallon’s shoulder, and Fallon collapses into a chair claiming it to be a bout of malaria. They decide though to go out to visit the village which may be causing the trouble. Simon Peter (Martin Wilkins, who appeared in RKO’s 1943 classic I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE), Vance’s servant, notices that when serving Fallon some coffee, that Fallon has no reflection in the mirror, notices too, and the mirror shatters. When the others question what could have caused that, Simon Peter declares Evil.

 


Has any other vampire smoked so much ?

They set out at dawn to explore the area near the village they suspect the trouble is coming from. Roy sets off a gun trap, which seems to miss Roy and Fallon, but hits one of the bearers, Tara, in the arm (Zack Williams). When they encamp for the evening, Taba tells Simon Peter that he was behind Fallon and wonders how Fallon did not get shot. Simon Peter checks out Fallon’s tent, and sees that the bullet did indeed pass through him, but left no blood.

“Vampire!”, intones Taba. Simon Peter says the one way to stop the vampire is a spear dipped in molten silver ,which they quickly make (where did they get all that silver? Is the cutlery gone ?).They are attacked by the evil villagers (with bones through their noses.at least one of whom appears to be a white actor in dark makeup!) ,and Simon Peter is hit . He, however, hurls the spear into Fallon, who is impaled in the chest as he turns. Roy brings Fallon to his tent, and removes the spear. There is no blood on the tip of the weapon, and Roy realizes the truth. Fallon tells Roy how he was cursed 400 years ago for causing the death of a young woman, which cursed him as one of the undead.

(white actor in dark makeup ? )

He hypnotizes Roy, and keeps him from being able to tell what he knows. Fallon wishes Julie to join him in his undead eternity. Will Roy be able to break the curse and save Julie?

 

The film is a remarkably subtle one from Republic (the bar fight is short, and battle scenes are kept to a minimum). Mood is key to the film, and director Lesley Selander does a superb job with ensuring that. A fine example is when later in the film Fallon stalks and kills Captain Barrett, his shadow falls upon the stunned sailor, the shadowy hands reaching for the victim’s neck. Selander was mostly a director of westerns but rose to the occasion when the story required. He also directed Republic’s THE CATMAN OF PARIS, and handled sensitive stories like RETURN FROM THE SEA (A.A.,1954), as well as 54 episodes of the long running television series LASSIE (Lassie Television/Columbia 1955-1974).

 

He was blessed with a strong screenplay by Leigh Brackett (based upon her story) and John K Butler. Butler spent most of his career writing westerns for films and later for television, with an occasional foray into mystery (THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, Republic,1945). His work was efficient but nothing memorable. Most of the credit must therefore go to Brackett.

Brackett began as a science fiction writer (‘Martin Quest”, Feb 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction) and indeed was the first woman nominated for a Hugo Award (started in 1953, Brackett was nominated in 1956, though she didn’t win).

 


She also wrote crime fiction, starting with “No Good for A Corpse” (Coward McCann, Hardcover,1944) as well as western novels. Her “No Good for A Corpse” brought her to the attention of Howard Hawks, who wanted “this guy Brackett” to work with William Faulkner and Jules Furthman for THE BIG SLEEP (W.B. 1946). She later wrote other screenplays for Hawks, like RIO BRAVO (W.B.,1959, again with Furthman). She is best known for having submitted the original draft for the STAR WARS sequel, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (Fox ,1980) before she passed away from cancer in March ,1978.

 

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST was her first credited screenplay, and I wonder if Butler was assigned to work with her to show her how to write an efficient (and budget conscious screenplay). If so, the pair succeeded superbly.

Rather than following the rules of most vampire films of the era, they had a few of their own (the silver tipped spear). Some feel that John William Polidori’s 1819 story “The Vampyre” (The New Monthly Magazine, April 1,1819) was the inspiration. Polidori wrote his tale that same summer at Lake Geneva, wherein a telling of ghost tales led to this story and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (Lackington Hughes, 1818). The original story featured Lord Ruthven and was set in England and Greece. It also had a vampire able to walk about in daylight, and moonlight could heal Ruthven.

 

The cast, for the most part, does a superb job. Outstanding, of course, is John Abbott. He brings a wonderful world weariness to his role. When he wins at the dice table, he looks at the wad of money that he has won, and tosses it to a drunken sailor. The only thing that seems to move him is the idea of Julie joining him as an eternal companion.

Personally, I would have gone with Lisa. Mara bring a vitality and energy to her role, and indeed a sensuality. By her looks and body language, you feel that she is in love with Fallon.

Barcroft, Withers, and Vogan are all solid performers who make their characters interesting. Speaking of interesting, Zack Williams, and especially Martin Wilkins, despite being a native porter and servant respectively, play their roles strongly and without playing the commonplace quivering stereotypes that were the norm of the period. Indeed, they are the first to question Fallon and discover his secret and try to destroy him. At the end, the character of Simon Peter does indeed do that (with the aid of the priest and a cross).


The two romantic leads are good looking but to be honest not much beyond that. Poor Roy as portrayed by Charles Gordon, is sort of the Jonathan Harker of the tale. The titular romantic lead who does get the girl at the end, but is knocked down immediately in the bar fight, is as even he acknowledges saved twice by the vampire and spends most of the film under Fallon’s control. Peggy Stewart’s Julie is -the girlfriend. Perhaps due to the short running time, her character development was sacrificed for pacing.

 

 

(Anyone remember which other film used this statue? I cannot recall)

 

 

When the film came out, it was dismissed by the critics of the time (see Variety Wednesday June 6,1945- “script, setting and camerawork just so-so.” On the same page, co -screenwriter’s John K. Butler’s THE PHANTOM SPEAKS, also from Republic, is much more favorably reviewed.). This is more than likely because of the common feeling that horror films weren’t worth serious study. https://archive.org/stream/variety158-1945-06#page/n11/mode/1up

 


Olive Films has done a superlative job of restoring this neglected gem to a lustrous presentation. A 1080p transfer 1:33:1 aspect ratio shows the images in extremely sharp black and white, with varying levels of gray. The audio is a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel track. No effects have been added to move sound around speakers, but it is crisp and clear with dialogue, music, and effects track coming across clearly.

The optional English subtitles are white and are easy to read, following the dialogue and describing audio cues clearly.

No other extras are added, but again, that such a rarity has gotten such a superlative transfer makes this a must have for collectors of classic horror that they need to add to their collections.

Recommended.

-Kevin G Shinnick

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