Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Monday, October 20, 2014

Scream Factory - The Vincent Price Collection Vol. II on Blu-ray

Last year, Scream Factory made a lot of our dreams come true with their fantastic Vincent Price Collection on Blu-ray. This year they've done it again and VP fans everywhere will be rejoicing. There can never be enough Vincent Price in high-definition!

TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965; Roger Corman)
The last of Corman's Poe cycle and the one that many (including Martin Scorsese) consider the best. Oddly, I have to say that I love Vincent Price's sunglasses in this film, the ones that protect his sensitive eyes from that horrible sunlight. Price could make just about any accessory look cool, but theses shades are a signature item that stand out from this film. If you remembered nothing else from the movie you could say, "Hey, what's the one with Vincent Price and those groovy specs man?" and any cinephile worth his or her salt would immediately know what film you're talking about. Some other notable things about LIGEIA include the fact that it was written by future academy award winner Robert Towne (CHINATOWN, SHAMPOO, THE LAST DETAIL) and was the first of the Poe films to not be bound to a set for it's locations. LIGEIA was apparently a collaborative idea between Price and Corman in that they wanted to use a real location as an actual place in the film (in this case the unforgettable ruin that they film many scenes in and around).
The transfer on this film is a touch soft, and the film clearly hasn't been cleaned up in any major way which is a bit of a shame as it is absolutely among the best films that either Corman or Price ever made.
As a nice bonus, TOMB OF LIGEIA features an introduction and final words from the great Mr. Price himself. These intros and outros seem to come from a 1982 PBS (possibly from Iowa public TB) broadcast that were part of a series of several nights of Price films. He gives some nice insights in both segments and though they are clearly from a video master, they are nonetheless a perfect addition.
Other Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Producer/Director Roger Corman and a NEW Audio Commentary With Elizabeth Shepherd.

THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959; William Castle)
This favorably remembered Willoam Castle film is one some folks point to as being among their favorite Vincent Price roles. It's certainly a fun ride,even if not quite as gimmicky as some of Castle's other movies. In watching it this time (I think I'd seen it years and years ago after reading Castle's amazing autobiographical boom STEP RIGHT UP...) I noticed that it would seem to be a potential influencer (even if subconsciously) of some films in the 1980s. CLUE and APRIL FOOL'S day come immediately to mind and though I realize their roots lie in  things like Agatha Christie, it's hard for me to resist the idea that HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL mightn't have played a small part in the setup of both. Even something as silly as 1980's MIDNIGHT MADNESS has some small threads of Vincent Price within the "game master" character of "Leon". Anyway, I just love to draw lines from older films like this to things that were made years later wether there's and credence to it or not. I always think of the prevalence of films like this on television in the 1960s and 70s wherein they firmly cemented themselves in the minds of many a youngster (and later filmmaker) watching the Late Late Show some autumn evening. I'm reminded that I do miss that bygone era when movies on TV all the time really did drill them into the popular culture and the collective unconscious of so many people. It was a time when folks like The Marx Brothers and Vincent Price were known and loved by everyone. I miss that shared cultural consciousness and it's a tough thing to have nowadays with the immeasurable amounts of content kids have to sift through. Regardless, I like that somehow Vincent Price has continued to hang on and be recognized.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary By Film Historian Steve Haberman, "Vincent Price: Renaissance Man" Featurette, "The Art Of Fear" Featurette, "Working With Vincent Price" Featurette.

COMEDY OF TERRORS (1962; Jacques Tourneur)
Talk about your genre dream-teams. Here, Karloff, Lorre, & Price star in this early horror spoof about some funeral home employees who "create" business for themselves when things are a bit slow. I cannot believe I had somehow avoided seeing this film until now. Outside of that remarkable trio at the center, there's also the Jacques Tourneur factor. Tourneur is absolutely among my favorite directors and so it's ridiculous for me not to have sought out all of his stuff at this point. Between OUT OF THE PAST and his work with Val Lewton, he thoroughly proved his genius, but I had yet to see him take on a comedy.
The movie sets it's tone wonderfully and right out of the gate with a lovely bit of slapstick within the first two minutes. I sometimes love it when a movie makes a point of showing its hand almost immediately. It's as if to say, "okay, we know you might not have been convinced by this film's title as to what it is what with this cast and all, but yeah, we're going super silly here". And, like the movie itself, Vincent Price's character wastes no time establishing who he is (a total alcoholic dick). Price has certainly played his share if disreputable types, but this guy is right up there in terms of forthright and gleeful assholery. I mean, it's humorous don't get me wrong, but he really commits and goes right over the top with it immediately. Price may have had a humble, self deprecating view of his own acting, but as far as him always being just what he was supposed to be, he was a consummate pro.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Comedy Of Terrors".

THE RAVEN (1963; Roger Corman)
THE RAVEN opens with a simple title card, followed by "Produced and directed by Roger Corman".  After that, Vincent Price reads from Poe's infamous text in voice-over while Corman attempts to set the mood with shots of waves crashing on some rocks. I can't think of too many better ways to open a movie than with Vincent Price reading Poe. If ever a voice was more perfectly designed to fit in with the way Poe wrote, it's Price's voice. What is also fitting is to open the movie with a scene of Vincent Price and a talking bird. More films should have started this way, even randomly so.
Supplements Included:
Introduction And Parting Words By Vincent Price, "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Raven" & "Corman's Comedy Of Poe".

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964; Ubaldo Ragona)
Before Charlton Heston in OMEGA MAN and of course Will Smith in I AM LEGEND, Vincent Price starred in this early adaptation of Richard Matheson's masterpiece of horror fiction. While I must admit that it was the Heston film that first caught my attention and ultimately drew me to the Matheson novel, I have found myself fascinated by all the filmic adaptations that were attempted. I say attempted because I don't feel like any one of them does the story proper justice. I AM LEGEND might be my favorite book of all-time so of course I hold it to a pretty high standard. That said, I actually enjoy all the adaptations quite a bit. While it is difficult to capture the book's point of view and inner monologue properly, I appreciate each of the attempts. This version does a solid job carrying off the tone of the book pretty well, and I do very much dig Vincent Price in the lead role. It's a good fit.
Supplements Included:
Audio Commentary With Authors David Del Valle And Derek Botelho and "Richard Matheson Storyteller: The Last Man On Earth".

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972; Robert Fuest)
After a seeming but ambiguous demise at the end of the first PHIBES movie , Vincent Price awakens three years following the events of that movie as this one begins. The disfigured and psychotic Phibes is on a mission to resurrect his late wife here and he needs some stolen papyrus scrolls to do so. He chases down and dispatches the thieves rather creatively. One could compare Phibes to later horror icons like Freddy Krueger in terms of his murderous creativity. In the first PHIBES film, Price's wife is played by the gorgeous cult actress Caroline Munro. In RISES AGAIN, she was replaced by an Australian model named Valli Kemp (who later had roles in ROLLERBALL and THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER). No offense to Miss Kemp, but she ain't no Caroline Munro (few gals are). Also interesting is that this film was directed by director Robert Fuest who also did British films like THE FINAL PROGRAMME and AND SOON THE DARKNESS. This movie should also be remembered as the one where Vincent Price sings "Over the Rainbow".

THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959; Edward Bernds)
This film is a super rare case of a sequel to a color film that was made in Black & White. That is an interesting choice and perhaps part of the reason I remembered the original FLY as a B&W movie for the longest time. The plot of this sequel is a bit more convoluted than its predecessor and involves the son of the scientist from the first movie (played by actor Brett Halsey) carrying on his experiment but it also entangles industrial spies, British agents and other complications into the mix. 
Supplements Include:
Audio Commentary With Actor Brett Halsey And Film Historian David Del Valle.

Like Volume One of this collection, this Blu-ray set is a no-brainer-must-own kind of scenario for Vincent Price fans as well as horror fans in general. It's well produced with decent to solid transfers and a buttload of nice supplements. Hats off to Scream Factory on this one and here's hoping they have more like it up their sleeve down the line.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jack Webb Blogathon - THE D.I.

I am honored to be part of this JACK WEBB Blogathan, please check out the Hub for the event here:
THE D.I. (1957; Jack Webb)
I don't know about you, but when I think of drill instructors I think of R. Lee Ermey. Clear;y though, Ermey himself must have seen this film at some point I have to think. It would seem that FULL METAL JACKET director Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the film for sure:
THE D.I. opens with a shot of a Marine placard which reads,  "Let's Be Damned Sure That No Man's Ghost Will Ever Say - "If Your Training Program Had Only Done It's Job"". Out side of the obvious erroneous use of "it's" versus "its", (which is kinda funny), this quote sets the tone/stage for a serious movie. The very first scene after that is a young soldier stepping into frame and addressing Jack Webb in the titular role. The back of Webb's head and his voice is all we get in this shot, but it is effective enough to convey his character in a matter of three or four lines. Webb has always had a specific cadence and tone of voice that are very specific and compelling. We all remember his DRAGNET voice-overs and how perfectly they worked inside of the police-procedural, investigative environment of that TV show. Webb delivers his dialogue in such a sharp, machine-gun-quick manner that it's hard not to feel how he easily commands his trainees. His no-nonsense persona is well suited to a role like THE D.I. for sure. I think it's quite interesting that Jack Webb served as lead actor and director on this film as well. This was his third feature film (he'd done a DRAGNET movie in 1954 and PETE KELLY'S BLUES in 1955) and it's well put together (and acted by him). Some of the soldier boys are a little stiff, but it almost works in the film's favor as they seem justifiably nervous. Jack Webb was apparently a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy in real life and took his work quite seriously. Seems like another reason he plays this part so well (and even unsympathetically at times).
In poking around for information about the production, I came across news of the Ribbon Creek Incident of 1956 (where a drunken Marine staff sergeant drowned six of his recruits during an outlandish exercise). Though the staff sergeant was ultimately acquitted of the manslaughter charges, it was bad press for the Marines of course. Apparently many Hollywood types approached the U.S. Marines about dramatizing the incident soon after that, but Jack Webb chose a much more pro-Marines story/film and was met with open military arms and many technical advisors to boot. Webb even plays "The Halls of Montezuma" over the credits of his movie. The film is certainly a much different movie than FULL METAL JACKET and they both have distinctly disparate takes on Marine training (though both films take place use Parris Island as a location). Like FULL METAL JACKET, THE D.I. serves as a kind of "look inside" for civilians as to how the Marine Corps prepares its soldiers for combat (though I wouldn't call FMJ a pro-Marines movie by any means). Both films have the effect of being a bit shocking and tough to watch on parts because the training is quite grueling. It's very interesting to compare what Kubrick would have you take away from his peek at the process versus Webb. Both films have somewhat similar stories in that they focus on a single platoon, which happens to have one problem recruit within. It's interesting to see how different the movies are though despite that. There's certainly a perspective shift in that THE D.I. is from Jack Webb's point of view whilst FMJ is through the eyes of the young soldiers. I have to admit that my own personal feelings about Jack Webb end up taking away from his effectiveness in the role on some small level. He's great, don't get me wrong, but somehow he isn't scary like R. Lee Ermey can be in FMJ. I feel like a Drill Instructor needs to be scary to be believable. Webb is serious and always on point with the way he speaks to his platoon, but I found myself occasionally grinning at some of the cracks he makes to them. While I also laughed a bit at some things Ermey said in FMJ, it was a laugh that was often immediately followed by a quick drawing in of my breath as I felt the tension between him and his recruits. Webb's persona and his years of being Joe Friday (and parodied as that character) certainly undercut my suspension of disbelief as I watched the film. Webb is completely believable though and I wish I didn't have my previous popular cultural attachments to interfere with what he was doing. It might just be that Ermey was a Drill Instructor in real life prior to becoming an actor and Webb wasn't (in fact he "washed out" when he enlisted in the Air Force). In writing this post, I realize I may sound like I'm bagging on Jack Webb, however that is not my intention at all. He is an actor I admire very much and his work as a director is quite solid. I was just swept away while watching the film by the fact that there are basically two truly standout Drill Instructor performances in cinema. I think because I saw FULL METAL JACKET first (and many many times) I found myself wrestling with the two portrayals and unable to help myself from comparing them. Webb comes off as ever so slightly smug in some moments whereas Ermey comes off as frightening. I think the difference might be that Ermey (as expressed in the film) feels an obligation to make sure that none of his platoon are "weak links" that might end up getting any other Marines killed due to their negligence. He's really kind of trying to terrify them into understanding that they need to take this stuff seriously. Webb does some of the same with his D.I. character, but like I said, he's just not as scary. I think it's really all about the eyes. Webb's eyes are a little dead (at least here), like those of a shark. Ermey's eyes are often wide and crazy-looking and there is a big difference there. Regardless of all this back and forth comparing, I still highly recommend that folks check out THE D.I. It makes a neat companion piece to FULL METAL JACKET and is clearly a text that Kubrick used to make his film more effective (he seems to have cribbed some of Webb's techniques for shooting the barracks at the very least). Without one we don't have the other (at least not in the same way).

Here's a rare extended trailer for THE D.I.

THE D.I. is currently available on DVD via Warner Archive:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Scream Factory - SQUIRM on Blu-ray

SQUIRM (1976; Jeff Lieberman)
"Tell him about the worms."
"The worms?"
"They bite!"

Jeff Lieberman is a filmmaker I have a lot of respect and admiration for. He's only made a handful of features, but he has a very specific authorial stamp in terms of the genre films he's put out. His genre work also has some nice variety to it. From the electrically-charged killer worms on the loose in SQUIRM, the backwoods slasher antics of JUST BEFORE DAWN to the acid freakouts of BLUE SUNSHINE and the alien mind controll-y-ness of REMOTE CONTROL, he's crafted a neat little group of cult favorites. I've even yet to see his 2004 feature SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, but I've only heard good things. One thing Lieberman always seems to mix into his movies is a fun, offbeat sense of humor without losing the thrills, scares and creeps of each particular story he undertakes. He's a low-budget director,  so that makes me think of him as independent guy who makes movies his own terms for the most part and that's one of the things I admire about him. 
SQUIRM was Lieberman's debut film and by some accounts it remains his most popular work to date. It's was even screened(as was his movie JUST BEFORE DAWN) as part of Cinefamily's amazing 'United States of Horror' midnight movies event last year:
I know that the programmers at Cinefamily were looking for some cool examples of regional horror and Lieberman's movies are great portraits of the areas they were filmed in. SQUIRM was filmed in Port Wentworth, Georgia in 24 days. It absolutely has that regional flavor that is often quite an enjoyable outcropping of this sort of shoestring budget cinema. Though Lieberman uses actors that aren't resoundingly experienced(and clearly some non-actors too), he directs and photographs them at a level that elevates this material above others of a similar ilk. I'm personally a huge fan of the "animals attack"/"nature strikes back" genre so this one already has a leg up in my book. It also features some early special effects work from the great Rick Baker and that can only make your movie better. He does a nice job making these worms make your skin crawl(and crawl inside your skin!). Those effects, and the assured directorial control of a cult auteur like Lieberman make it easy to see why this movie has hung on so long in the esteem of horror movie fans all over. Its well put-together, suspenseful, disgusting and funny throughout. Quality stuff.
This Scream Factory Blu-ray maintains the level of quality they've been shelling out this year in that it looks and sounds really great. One of the things I neglected to mention above is the music in this flick. It's kinda cheesy and synthy, but it just adds to the overall feeling of this very non-Hollywood production. It all sounds great here too.

Special Features:
This Scream Factory Collector's Edition has a few nice supplements:
--An Audio Commentary By Writer/Director Jeff Lieberman.
--EUREKA! – a look at where the idea for SQUIRM came from with Jeff Lieberman.
--DIGGING IN – interviews with writer/director Jeff Lieberman and actor Don Scardino.

Here's a cool Interview that Mick Garris did with Lieberman in 1980 for the Z-Channel. They discuss SQUIRM and BLUE SUNSHINE:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Underrated Thrillers - Davey Collins

Davey Collins had the same misspent childhood that many of you did: Watching strange movies via late-night/Saturday afternoon television programming or VHS. As he crawled into and back out of adolescence, he realized movies were the most important thing in his life and had taught him most of what he knew. He ditched class and went to the library to read books about film noir and westerns. He discovered some of his favorite filmmakers weren’t always the ones widely appreciated (“Where’s the Reginald Le Borg chapter?”). His first appreciation of literature came about by tracking down and reading the source material for his favorite films. He currently works in the hospitality racket and catches himself shining his ass from time to time by making allusions to old movies while mired in meetings. Lately, he’s been getting together material for a print film zine entitled “Strange Illusions” which focuses primarily on budget-starved cinema of the 1930’s-1970’s. He’s on Twitter @Davey_Wade.

The Lonely Sex (1959)
Carl Theodor Dreyer was born about forty years too late and on the wrong continent. Things didn’t go his way and he wound up living out of his car, picking up day labor gigs where ever he could.  When he had any extra dough, he’d go to the cinema.  He only paid one admission to Summer Interlude but, when ushers didn’t clear the theater, he watched it take three laps.  He caught a program of experimental films at the Gramercy but didn’t speak with anyone else in attendance (too shy or too jittery from all-coffee-no-food).  An urge rolled in on him and nagged and nagged but kept him warm in the backseat nights.  When an opportunity presented itself to produce and direct a sex thriller, he latched on and turned over the inspired results to Joseph Brenner.
Maybe Richard Hilliard wasn’t the second coming of Dreyer set to spring forth from the low-budget exploitation scene (and he probably wasn’t living in a Buick), but one look at The Lonely Sex reveals him to be an artist of the most admirable kind:  One who secedes from the low expectation of mere quotas, pulls through and above limitation. The opening sequence is a throwaway.  A voyeur, later revealed as a principal character in the film, peers through a barred window into a stripper’s dressing room.  It’s as if Hilliard is saying “Here’s your tits, now you can leave.”  What follows is a strange, experimental work with roots growing throughVampyr, Blood of the Poet, M, PRC chillers, psychological noir, and American Avant-Garde (especially Harrington).  My personal discovery of it (via Vinegar Syndrome’s Drive-in Collection pairing with Anatomy of a Psycho) was no less revelatory than my first viewings of Dementia (Daughter of Horror),The Savage Eye, or Carnival of Souls.  
The dreary alienation Hilliard conveys in his outcast sufferer is as successful as any film which attempts such.  Even with a short running time (58 minutes), the film takes deliberate care portraying the empty existence of our maniac (though sympathetic to the point that I don’t feel like the term is appropriate…then I remember he leaves corpses in Memorial Park).  Even his changing positions on a cot in his shack---the throes of depression; the drowsy monotonous ads that play on his radio are as expressionistic as any visual.
The maniac’s counter is the aforementioned peeper from the opening.  He is the true scoundrel of the piece, relying on thin guise upheld due only to the apathy of others. Though a tenant at a boarding house for some time, he’s been granted enough disregard to explain away his carefully timed intrusion on an undressing female tenant with “I’m sorry…..I thought this was my room.”  It is he who eventually assumes the role of “angry villagers.”  The film may not be completely successful in its statement against this type of double-standard, but comes off admirable in its intention.
Hilliard is best known for associating himself with Del Tenney working on such films asHorror of Party Beach and Violent Midnight(Psychomania).  The first Psychotronic book prints a still depicting a Russian-roulette sequence from a film Hilliard did called Wild is My Love that seems to be a lost film.  I’d really like to see it (add it to my most-wanted list:  Spring Night, Summer Night aka Miss Jessica is Pregnant, and 1965’s Rat Fink…both have great trailers) to find out if it shares any qualities of The Lonely Sex.

They Drive by Night (1938) 
Obviously, let us not confuse this with the great Raoul Walsh picture from a couple of years later (although they do share several similar scenes of trucks moving across eternal night, their drivers stopping at diners for coffee and sandwiches they can barely afford).  This British production, shot at Warner’s First National Studio in Teddington (bombed hard a few years later) and points outward, is Cornell Woolrich transplanted across pond.  Its wet nights are as waterlogged and dark as if conjured from the brittle pages of Black Mask magazine itself; a copy found in the crawlspace of some repressed flat.
I first read of this film in the newsprint pages of a Sinister Cinema catalog (remember the joys of reading enthusiastic capsules in movie catalogs?) which hit just about every keyword that could possibly put a film on my little radar.  Along with the review was a disclaimer about the poor source materials.  A TV broadcast of acceptable quality has since surfaced, but the truth is that I sat on this for years wondering what it was really like.  Only recently did I catch up to it, and that Sinister review proved to be more than hucksterism.
That Woolrich familiarity…although penned by a gentleman by the name James Curtis, the picture conjures more of Woolrich than many of the adaptations actually sourced from his works.  A protagonist just released from jail falls right into a nightmare scenario:  Visiting his girlfriend, he finds her lifeless.  He responds to the situation the way many down-on-luck characters do in bleak crime tales.  The confusion, the cyclical attempt to elude detached pursuers that leads nowhere, the tough dancehall girl who believes he didn’t do it, the eccentrics who populate the night world.  All here.
British films of the thirties often get flagged for a creaky stuffiness that you will not find on display in They Drive By Night.  When compared with early American Noirs it predates (Street of Chance, I Wake up Screaming, Among the Living), it can stand alongside confidently, even favorably.  The camera dares to wander out into the rain and moves swiftly to catch pace of our protagonist.  The settings are numerous:  The prison yard, tenement apartments, pubs, numerous city blocks, muddy rural roads, dingy roadhouses, abandoned mansions, a handsome English dance-hall, the residence of a neurotic sex deviant.
And if I can only list one reason to see They Drive by Night, it’s that the above-mentioned sex deviant is portrayed by Ernest Thesiger.  If Ernest Thesiger was only on-screen to comb his hair in a mirror, that would be enough. What we get is another of his nuanced and eccentric dementos.  It’s a must-see.
If you watch old movies maybe this has happened to you:  You were looking into a particular filmmaker or performer and noticed that their output ceased somewhere in the early to mid-forties.  You get that feeling of dread as you realize that war, even generations past, is somehow still robbing the world.  The talented director of this picture, Arthur B. Woods, didn’t make it home from his service in the RAF.

The Young Captives (1959)
A very fond era in my life came when I discovered Cult Movies and Psychotronic magazines.  Sitting at the newsstands or at home lying on my twin bed under flashlight, gateways were unlocked and context was born.  Within these invaluable and sorely missed journals, juvenile delinquency films received significant coverage alongside the usual horror, science fiction, and general cult fare.  Items such as The Cool and the Crazy, High School Big Shot, Teenage Wolfpack, The Young Don’t Cry, and the like came across essential for these seeking the total “Incredibly Strange” cinema experience.  The attention given to JD pictures seems to have evaporated these days.  That’s kind of a shame; some are real winners that climb from the confines of genre (as if busting out of juvie), but nearly all are diverting.
The Young Captives fits into the sub-genre just enough to exonerate the marketing campaign of any charges of public deception. Just a tad over an hour, getting from opening credits to end-title is a quick ride.  The movie may have been less memorable if not for the talent of Irvin Kershner who was still years away from directing one of the greatest films of all time (The Flim-Flam Man).  In his hands,The Young Captives is tighter, moodier, and more inventive than what Paramount would have been willing to release anyway.       
Roughnecking nut Steven Marlo (returning from Kershner’s JD drug-shocker Stakeout on Dope Street) gives his supervisor a dirt-nap and beats trail on his motorcycle.  His bike breaks down and he hitches a ride with a pair of eloping teens.  After he figures he’s weirded them out sufficiently, he slowly moves the situation into hostage territory.  At a roadside diner he excuses himself and chats up a pretty blonde having her car serviced.  About a minute later he stuffs her corpse in the trunk.  The typical police investigation scenes are given a lift by an overall relaxed approach and the presence of the late Ed Nelson who gives everything to his with-it detective character.
Pay attention to the car antenna thrashing scene for future reference should you ever find yourself on the wrong end of one.
The Naked Road (1959)
There’s a book I’d like to get called “Ed Wood, Mad Genius:  A Critical Study of the Films” wherein it seems film journalist Rob Craig sets aside the point-and-laugh approach and places EDWJ’s work in cultural framework.  I sympathize with this approach because despite (or maybe directly due to) technical shortcomings and left-field execution, Wood’s films (and others from the same window in time---especially Mesa of Lost Women) penetrate my psyche in the same manner that, say, a Cocteau film does.  In fact, these are the type of films that bulldozed that opening into my subconscious.  This I realized one day while browsing a local Dallas video store.  The phone rang and the clerk fielded a called concerning the availability of The Brain Eaters (my favorite science fiction film of the fifties).  Not only did the caller have no luck in finding it, she/he earned a scoff from the clerk.  So badly I wanted to plead the case that I wouldn’t be in the market for Renoir films that day had it not been for abnormal masterpieces such as The Brain Eaters.  I know I’m not the only one to feel this way.
The Naked Road isn’t an Ed Wood picture, but shares similar qualities of anti-logic.  The villains of the piece (the mastermind of which comes off as a bare-pantry amalgamation of Laird Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet) provide “entertainment” for their clients.  They work in PR, you understand.  Rather than find mid-range hookers and negotiate their fee, they opt for the ease of kidnapping, forced drug-addiction, rape, and eventual murder of girls they find in vulnerable positions.  This saves a few dollars, I imagine.  The risk/reward between pandering charges and the above-mentioned atrocities never seems to have been given a weighing-out. 
First time director William Martin (who later turned out the more coherent and decent indy crime flick Jacktown) employs some very unique beats here.  Characters react belatedly, as if their every move was subject to strategic consideration; efforts such as getting up from a chair.  The camera is patient.  The other characters on-screen are patient.  I found my eyes darting between characters in these moments, in search of some reaction, or motivation or anything.  It was late at night and I wondered if I was stupid.  My attention was undivided; I was bewitched.  The dialog is sometimes spoken as if Martin had instructed them to make a thorough study of Lugosi’s Dracula cadence. The resulting inflection is so off-putting it’s difficult to imagine it as unintentional as it must have been.  This effect is so altering, that words spoken in The Naked Road cannot possibly mean the same thing they do on typed page.
On sequence sealed it.  The enforcer of this unholy ring of criminality casually drops a doped-up damsel from a high window.  When he notices that his murderous act has been witnessed by an unwilling accomplice, he feigns an overstated indifference by sway-walking past her in what may be the most exaggerated bit of expression I have ever seen an actor go for.  He gets around the corner and, CUT TO:  He’s panicking down the stairs in full sprint.  I’d like to be around for an audience reaction to this.
The Naked Road can be found in a six-pack called “Weird-Noir” which was released without much fanfare a while back from Something Weird.  If you’re reading this, it belongs on your shelf.  A wonderful package (The 7th Commandment is a real winner).
The Night God Screamed (1971)
First off, great title.  That title purports to be so horrifying that God, after having overseen plague and pestilence, war and famine, peered down on the events of the night portrayed here and let loose a shriek of terror.
The film does have at least one pretty hefty shock scene (rather early on too), but belongs to that breed of seventies thrillers that slowly handcrafts a sense of dread.  The post-Manson conservative knee-jerk scenario of batty hippie cults on the loose isn’t anything entirely novel anymore.  The Night God Screamed doesn’t have the did-you-just-see-that effect of I Drink Your Blood, but it’s the better film in all other regards.  A sincere approach to the material along with a few nice touches help to separate it from the pack, but it’s Jeanne Crain who really makes it worth rediscovering.
The first thing evident about Jeanne Crain is that she is still a stunning beauty here in the early seventies.  Perhaps she’s the oldest character I’ve ever developed a crush on. And furthermore, she’s as invested in the part as can be expected.  In that aforementioned jolt, I believed her terror in what ends up, despite the exploitative conception, as a rather heart-breaking and difficult scene to perform.   Even when walking down the sidewalk during transitional sequences, Crain is an interesting subject.  What’s nice is that she lends class to an already above-average thriller.  The film’s nearly anti-climactic downer conclusion may leave some scratching their heads, but I can’t count this among its few missteps.
The film even introduces its own boogeyman which is effectively left unexplained.  “The Atoner” is a wooden cross-bearing, hooded monk figure who arrives to distribute violent death.  It almost sends the film over into full-fledged horror.  This is all in the best spirit of the type of macabre chiller that would run on Saturday afternoon when I was too young for all this; the type of thing that cost me countless hours of sleep and likely shed years from my life.
 This is one everyone should really track down.  I’ll add the expected “It would be nice if _______ got their hands on some nice elements and released a blu-ray.”  Until then, I’ll lie awake in fear of the Atoner!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Vinegar Syndrome - RAW FORCE on Blu-ray

RAW FORCE (1982; Edward Murphy)
Director Edward Murphy's original treatment for RAW FORCE was titled "Kung Fu Zombies". That gives you an idea of what the movie is all about.
Four pals from the Burbank Karate Club (BKC) decide to take a little trip to a place known as Warriors Island. Actually, Warriors Island is just supposed to be a short detour from their party cruise, but the BKC boys end up stranded there after some pirates dressed like the Village People attack their ship. Warriors Island is notoriously known as a place where disgraced martial artists go. What the BKC finds is some monks (& evil monks at that) as well as some other less-than-pleasant company.
If you've ever seen the WTF classic MIAMI CONNECTION, that should give you some idea of what you're in for with this movie. Lots of odd story & dialogue choices, and odd acting/casting choices. This has a good deal more nudity than MC though, for what that's worth. Outside of the nudity, I was thinking that RAW FORCE is somewhere between MIAMI CONNECTION and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (leaning much more my towards MC). There's also a bit of THE BIG BIRD CAGE or something there too. Not to say Jack Hill was a direct influence or anything, but the ladies, the nudity, the cages and the location give it that similar feeling. And let's talk about the nudity for a second. It's another thing that makes the movie a little odd. Iit's this very lingering, exploitative nudity that's often held on just a bit too long. The fifteen year old in me is saying, "What do you mean they hold on the nudity too long?! That's a bad thing??". Well, yes and no. It just feels like the scenes of nudity hold to the point where it becomes awkward. You are reminded every time that the movie is stopping down for like 30 seconds to hang out on this boob shot. It takes you out a little, but that being said, when you throw it into the mix with all the other oddball stuff in the movie, it adds to the overall WTF-ness of the thing for sure.
This movie first came to my attention in 2009 when the then Alamo Drafthouse Film Programmers (Zack Carlson & Lars Nilsen) brought it to Los Angeles as part of their aptly title Cinemapocalypse series. Zack Carlson wrote so eloquently about the film, I had to seek it out. Here's what he had to say at the time:
"Once this show is over, you’ll be tearing your eyes out of your head and setting them ablaze. Because you have NEVER seen such a brain-blasting bonesmasher as the epochal omegawave that is, was and always will be RAW fucking FORCE!!! If you think you’ve been entertained in the past, here is a white-hot scholarship to FUN SCHOOL!! Let’s open this sucker up and see what’s inside, goddammit. Blue-skinned undead samurai? Check! Cannibalistic rump-chasing monks? Yes sir!! Drunken kung-fu yacht party? To the max!!! Wall-eyed flesh-trading seaplane pilot with a Hitler moustache? Man ohhh MAN!!! In absolute honesty, all this is just the tip of the trashberg! Blowtorches blaze, teeth fly, bullets zing, dialogue is botched and cages full of virgins are sent to their heartless demise! So packed with action, you’ll have to blink every 3 seconds to keep your eyes from catching on fire! The legendary Cameron Mitchell (THE TOOLBOX MURDERS) semi-stars in this Filipino/American co-production that would have brought the world to its knees if it wasn’t 200,000 YEARS AHEAD OF ITS TIME! If you see just one movie in your entire life, it better be here, now, tonight: RAW FORCE! If you’re blind, deaf and comatose, only one film will STILL kick your ass through the wall: RAW FORCE!! Look, I don’t care if you’re reading this at a funeral...scream it out loud right now: RAAWWW FORRRCE!!!"

Special Features:
Not only did Vinegar Syndrome do a solid job with the transfer here, they even put together some extras!
--"Destination: Warriors Island" (15 mins) this retrospective interview piece features writer/Director Edward Murphy, cinematographer/producer and Frank Johnson. Murphy talks about his military experience and knocking around Hollywood for a few years before finding his way into making RAW FORCE. He and Frank Johnson discuss the casting, filming (in the Phillipines) and distribution of RAW FORCE. An entertaining little chat. See a clip from this supplement below.
--Jim Wynorski Audio interview (5 mins). A phone interview with Wynorski wherein he talks about how he came to be involved in re-editing RAW FORCE. As with all Wynorski stories, this one is a lot of fun.

Underrated Thrillers - Daniel Budnik

Daniel R. Budnik is currently at work on a film-related book that involves watching a lot more cockfighting than he's used to. He is co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980's Trash-Horror Odyssey.
I was a little unsure what the definition of “thriller” was when I sat down to write this list. My immediate thoughts were Hitchcock and “erotic.” I didn’t think putting Hitchcock films in this list would work. And I simply haven’t seen enough erotic thrillers to know if one is more underrated than the other. So, I looked up some definitions. After thinking about it a bit, Wikipedia and I came up with: “A movie that is a thriller has, as its main purpose, the constant accumulation of suspense and tension throughout.” (Or words to that effect.) It’s not a genre,per se. A film can be a thriller by the story it tells (say a James Bond film like You Only Live Twice with its accumulated world-threatening peril) or through the way the story is told (North by Northwest is a great thriller that is one inch away from being out-and-out comedy). That gave me a lot of movies to pick from. I decided on five, plus a couple of Honorable Mentions. I tried not to be too perverse with my choices but I wanted to cast a wide net.

Blow Out (1981): Probably the least underrated film on here.I’m always surprised at how many people I know who love filmt hat haven’t seen this one. John Travolta is at his best here. Nancy Allen is more charming than a fuzzy kitten. John Lithgow is at his most insane. And, Brian De Palma tells one hell of a good story in his own special way. People still harp on the fact that this film has a bit of Blow Up and a bit of Hitchcock in it. So what? Almost every film made has bits of other people’s films in them. Blow Out is too good of a film to be dismissed because its antecedents are showing. It’s suspenseful. It’s exciting. It’s odd. It’s great filmmaking. If you like this, you’ll pretty much like every one of his films fromSisters to Body Double. (Note: I am not a fan of Scarface and I’ve never seen The UntouchablesSnake Eyes rules!)

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008): My wife and I saw this opening weekend. It came out during Summer Blockbuster season. The movie is set during the height of winter with a non-FBI Mulder & Scully appearing in it. The mix of all that snow and the fact that our leads no longer have guns with them made this the quietest Summer Film I’ve ever seen. It’s intriguing. It’s disturbing. It’s so great to see the characters back. And it’s so low-key. My wife and I loved it. Apparently, it just pissed everyone else off. Well, sorry to say, everyone else, you’re wrong. Maybe watched at home this intimate film will please more people. If you want the Summer Blockbuster version ofThe X-Files, watch the first movie. I applaud the bravery involved in making I Want To Believe the way they did. Luckily, it’s a good movie too.

BJ & The Bear “The Foundlings” (1978) – B.J. Mackay, ex-Vietnam POW, and his chimp, Bear, travel around in a big rig owned by B.J. They deliver loads across the country, listen to 8-tracks (mainly country rock mixed with some yacht rock) and they keep getting into adventures. “The Foundlings” is the 2-hour TV movie that preceded the actual show, which ran for three seasons from February 1979 to the summer of 1981. The show itself is often promoted as “comedy.” I’m not sure about that. Some episodes are wackier than others. But, some are quite serious. This pilot film has light moments but the premise is dead serious. As the movie goes along, it becomes more and more intense and thrilling. Until, the viewer reaches the last half-hour, which is one big chase. The premise is this: Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins) of Orly County runs a home for young foundlings. One night, the orphaned youngsters escape and end up in the back of B.J.’s rig. Lobo wants them back. But, there is a twist: these foundlings are not children. They are young women who are, although it is never said outright, being bred for some sort of sex slavery. The premise is soft pedaled but that’s what it is. (After this episode, Lobo would become less of a wolf and more “hilarious.”) A series of crooked cops chaseB.J. and these young women all over the countryside. If they’re caught, B.J. is (presumably) in jail for a very long time and the girls--  well, thoughts of that aren’t pleasant. And yet, the whole thing is passed off as a Good Time car chase TV show. This is asgreat as BJ & The Bear gets. And, yes, that last sentence has some irony in it but not as much as you might think.

League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse (2005) – The League of Gentlemen was a sort of-sketch show that aired on the BBC for 3 series in the early 2000s. The show is set in a Northern town in England called Royston Vasey and it is very dark comedy.Apocalypse is the film that follows the series. And it begins asVasey is facing, literal, apocalypse. Balls of fire from the sky are tearing the town apart. It’s only a matter of time before the town is laid waste. That’s because the four creators (and stars) of the show are going on to other ventures and leaving the League behindRoyston Vasey is vanishing from the collective consciousness. So, in order to convince their creators to keep thevillage alive, three inhabitants of the imploding/exploding townenter our world to try to change things. I think comedy thrillers are my favorite. This is one that I don’t think has been watched enough. There is a possibility that you need to watch the show before watching the movie. (Maybe only a few episodes to catch the tone of the whole thing.) Or maybe not? I don’t know. I do know that the film is funny, weird as hell, very tense as it draws towards its conclusion and includes one of my favorite characters of all time: Tom Tit (and, no, I do not meanTransmission of Matter through Interstitial Time).

Overlords of the UFO (1976) Yes, this is a pseudo-documentary from the 1970s about UFOs. It has a very entertaining, pompous on-screen narrator. It has a lot of information that seems made-up or spurious. It goes off on several long tangents that seem to belong in other movies (the “Space Voyage From Ummo” section, for example). However, the film does something that made me place it firmly in the “thriller” category. Around 5 minutes in, the narrator announces that there will be a surprise ending to the movie.  He knows the secret behind why UFOs (or “The UFO,” as he calls it) have been coming to Earth for thousands of years. He will tell us at the end of the movie. Now, I’m not going to ruin anything for you but--  that’s thrilling! This man knows what has been going on with extra-terrestrials for centuries and he’s going to tell us.That is exciting! I’ll sit through whatever you got to get that answer. And, the film piles on fact after photo after interview after Uri Geller to get us to the end. Granted, if you don’t like this sort of pseudo-documentary, you’ll be asleep within 5 minutes. If you do like this sort of thing, stay tuned!

Honorable Mentions:
Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot (1975) – A group of Bigfoot hunters head deep into the Pacific Northwest to find Bigfoot in this fake documentary from the height of the Bigfoot Years in America. I love Bigfoot. You love Bigfoot. And, the tension of “What will they find?” may be a bit languorous in this film but it’s always there. Tune in. Stay hairy.

My Dinner With Andre (1981) – You remember how I mentioned trying not to be too perverse in my choices. That’s why this ended up in the Honorable Mentions. The film is two guys, eating dinner and talking.  That’s the movie. And the initial thought is: surely, this can’t be sustained for an entire movie. So, you sit down to watch and get caught up in the conversation between the two men. But, the whole time, in the back of your head you wait for the film to fall apart. The premise is too simplistic, this cannot be entertaining throughout.But, it is. The filmmakers pull it off. If that’s not a thriller, I don’t know what is.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...