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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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cult, duane jones, dvd, Horror, obscure, rare, tv film radio books theatremusic storytelling horror mystery fantasy science fiction thrillers drama, Uncategorized

VAMPIRES (1988)

VAMPIRES (1988)- released May 10,2016 by FILM CHEST-DVD -80 minutes-color -$17.98.

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http://www.amazon.com/Vampires-Duane-Jones/dp/B01DMV2ZUG/ref=sr_1_3?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1462900471&sr=1-3&keywords=duane+jones

‘Wouldn’t you like to live forever? Are you sure? You see, I thought so too. Until I began-to live- forever.” That opening line sets up the soul weary vampire’s angst for the film VAMPIRES (1988) starring Duane Jones (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Continental,1968) fame. Sadly, things go quickly downhill from there.

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The obscure film is set at a prestigious art school in New England that has seen better days and restorations are underway. Supernatural forces are unleashed and students start to disappear.

Two young students after making love (providing required nudity) experience a supernatural vortex, which, due to the sound, makes them seem to be pulled into the toilet, as a deep voice intones “iiiiitttt woooorrrkkks”!

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Dr. Harmon (Duane Jones, looking very dapper in his mustache and Billy Dee Williams style clothes) drives foreign student Ione (Orly Benyar, NINJA ACADEMY) to the school, and tells her ominously should she need anything to call him.

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It is good advice as more and more fellow classmates vanish, she takes it upon herself to investigate. The head mistress, Madeline Abadon (Jackie James) explains that the school has been in the Abadon family for centuries ad was nearly destroyed by fire some time back. The students are warned never to go down into the basement. Of course you know that is where everyone seems to head.Fright House_aging

The film seems to be influenced by Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (International Classics,1977) with its art school setting and stylish photography (courtesy of the great Ernest Dickerson, who lensed several of Spike Lee’s classics, as well as being a director in his own right on such projects as TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT (Universal,1995). This film is not listed on his IMDB credits. Some of the film was also lensed by Larry Revene (spelled as Revine in the credits) who toiled on such films as DOOM ASYLUM (1987, Academy).

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This is an indeed a true rarity, not even mentioned in the majority of film reference books. It seems to have been originally shot as a film called NEGATIVES in 1988 starring Debbie Rochon and Duane Jones. The film was nearing completion when the crew discovered that their checks had bounced and so walked off. The director, Len Anthony, somehow cobbled footage together to make the film into a part of an obscure horror anthology FRIGHT HOUSE (release on video in 1989 by Studio Entertainment Films). That film has Al Lewis (“Grandpa” of Munster’s fame!) as a Captain Levi in a sinister tale of summoning demons. The second part is called “Abadon”, and is I assume an edited version of VAMPIRES. FRIGHT HOUSE is listed as running at 110 minutes. Debbie Rochon is no where to be seen in any of the existing variations.

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(FRIGHT HOUSE ,not currently available.Al Lewis)

 

Mr. Anthony seemed to feel he could get more mileage out of his work, and so seems to have cobbled together the film VAMPIRES. That title is a bit misleading, as there are no traditional fanged vampires at work are vampiric in that they drain life force from their victims due to some obscure machine that has caused Duane Jones and Jackie James to become immortals, a reason that is never made clear.

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The acting, except for Duane Jones, is risible at best. The scene in the acting class nearly had me howling with laughter, as I felt that an acting class was just what was needed by all involved. Jones rises above the material and one wishes that he had been cast in projects more challenging of his notable talent. His scenes make this movie worth watching. It is a shame that this marvelous actor passed away July 22,1988 at age 51 shortly after completing his footage. He would also appear posthumously in Academy Entertainment’s vampire film TO DIE FOR (1989).

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The film obviously had footage missing though the sound remained. To replace the gap, shots of tarot cards are shown as the sound plays out. The print used appears to be from a video tape master, and thus looks more like VHS tape quality. Perhaps though, that is fitting, as this would have been one of those films that lined local mom and pop video store shelves.

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     (mummies?what mummies? lost in the edit?)

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The soundtrack is very 80s, so expect to hear a lot of synth music. Also, some sub-par imitation TEARS FOR FEARS songs. Supposedly there was to have been a soundtrack to FRIGHT HOUSE, which advertised a lot on MTV and VH1 upon that video’s release. One wonders were that album ever released? Also beware of some very frightening 80s fashions.frighthousead (1)

One wishes that someone had tracked down the mysterious Mr. Len Anthony to discuss the history of how one unfinished movie became two. His commentary would probably be a film class for indie filmmakers on the struggles of movie making and getting your product released. As it is, this is a bare bones DVD release, with no extras.

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Still kudos to FILM CHEST MEDIA for saving this rare Duane Jones film. Now maybe they can search the film vaults for another 80s obscurity that I worked on that was ever released called MIDNIGHT RENDEVOUS ……

-Kevin G Shinnick

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  (an out of print DVD of Len Anthony’s FRIGHT HOUSE and an action film MURDEROUS INTENT )

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