Friday, January 20, 2006

Gordon Scott's Top 10 Self Defense Tips

1. Watch your diet, keeping sweets to a minimum and avoiding over-eating.

2. Make sure that you sleep at least 7 hours per night to have proper rest.

3. Regular exercise is the key to strength and fitness and a tough, supple body.

4. A quick, alert mind is the key to a quick and alert body.

5. Learn the basic elements of self-defense so that you can take care of yourself in tight situations.

6. Always keep your opponent in front of you, alert to any sign of attack.

7. Don't tip off your defensive actions by word or motion. If you are attacked, defend yourself by actions, not threats or bluster.

8. Self defense is for protection only, not to prove how good a fighter you are.

9. Remember to be ready to defend only. There is always someone a little bigger, a little better than you.

10. The best defense always was, and still is, to walk away from trouble.

-- Reprinted from the "Seat Selling Angles" section of the Warner-Pathé British pressbook for SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES (1961).


Pictured: Gordon Scott defends himself against himself -- his own doppelgänger -- in MACISTE CONTRO IL VAMPIRO [US: GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, 1961].

Thursday, January 19, 2006

14 Or Shop

Does anyone else out there find it ironic that, the week Shelley Winters dies, Target unveils the new theme song for their stores and it's "The Shape of Things to Come" from WILD IN THE STREETS?

The baleful song was attributed to "Max Frost and the Troopers" when it was issued on the movie's soundtrack album back in 1968. In fact, it was performed by vocalist Paul Wybier and a pretty cool backing band that's rumored to be either Davie Allan and the Arrows or the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. Wybier's vocal was recorded so carelessly that the issued take has a king-sized faux pas in it: during the line "revolution coming in like a fresh new breeze," he stumbles over the first word and it comes out "resrolution." The kids bought it anyway, like it was a Kool-Aid flavor about to be pulled from the market, and it peaked at #22 on the US BILLBOARD charts. I bought the single myself, as an enterprising 12 year-old.

Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who were also cranking out hits for The Monkees around this time, "The Shape of Things to Come" was originally heard in and written for WILD IN THE STREETS, a 1968 shocker starring Christopher Jones, Richard Pryor, and Diane Varsi -- one of American International's more frightening and outspoken movies. It was the brainchild of Robert Thom, who subsequently retreated into milder material -- like THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976), which starred his wife Millie Perkins as a demented barmaid who goes around castrating football players.

Jones played Max Frost, a pony-tailed (like our forefathers -- dig?) rock star who uses his considerable pull with the Baby Boomer generation to lower the voting age to 18... and then to 14... while sending all the untrustworthy old fogies over 30 being sent to concentration camps where they are strung out on LSD. One of the first people President Max sends to camp is his mother, played by... you guessed it... Shelley Winters, in a performance whose Oedipal overtones surely paved the way for her star turn in Roger Corman's BLOODY MAMA (1970).

It never ceases to amaze me how Madison Avenue has managed to convert most of the great revolutionary songs of the Sixties into sell-out anthems: The Beatles' "Revolution", Jefferson Airplane's "Volunteers", and now this -- Target stores resurrecting (resrurrecting?) Max Frost as their corporate spokesperson. (I can almost hear him saying, "Give me the sales... give me the stuff... GIVE ME... THE POWER!!!!") Yessiree, it's only a matter of time before we hear David Peel's "Have a Marijuana" used to sell Chevrolets or The Fugs for McDonalds. Say what you will about Yoko Ono: I don't think "Working Class Hero" is going to be heard anytime soon in a Mutual of Omaha spot, or during a feel-good basketball montage in the next Billy Crystal movie.

Since the world has gone this much crazier, I should seize this opportunity to remind people that the frigging essential WILD IN THE STREETS is out on DVD, as half of an MGM "Midnite Movies" double feature with Roger Corman's GAS-S-S-S-S! (1970), a revolutionary picture in its own way.

Hey, they may even sell it at Target.

Pick up a copy today -- especially if you happen to be on Target's Board of Directors. Get to know your spokesperson. It may make you think twice about what's in your water cooler.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

In-A-Bava-Da-Vida

The third volume of Digitmovies' "Mario Bava Original Soundtracks Anthology" is now in stock here at VIDEO WATCHDOG: it's a two-disc offering of the original Stelvio Cipriani soundtracks for the films known here in America as TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (or BAY OF BLOOD), BARON BLOOD, and RABID DOGS (or KIDNAPPED). With the exception of a TWITCH cue called "Evelyn Theme," which was released in Italy as the A-side of an extremely rare 45rpm single, none of this music has ever been commercially available before. While the two previous Bava soundtrack anthologies included some material in mono, every track on both CDs in this set are presented in brilliant stereo.

I had the pleasure of listening to the discs yesterday while working on the Bava book. There are cues here from all three movies that will cause that soundtrack lover's idiot smile to spread across your face, as it did mine. At the risk of being redundant, this is the first time a complete album's worth of music from TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE -- arguably the greatest drive-in movie of the 1970s -- has ever been released, and the first time Cipriani's score has ever been heard in stereo... and that includes the la-la-la-la song heard at the end of the movie as the kids run down to the bay after shotgunning their treacherous parents. (It turns out it's called "Teenagers Cha-Cha-Cha" and this disc gives you two different performances of it.) Another case is the opening airliner footage of BARON BLOOD; it sounds kind of inappropriate in the movie, at least as far as setting an ominous mood is concerned, but presented in stereo and finally heard on its own terms, it's a terrific lounge track. With harpsichord in the foreground, the ostinato score of RABID DOGS reminds me of Edwin Astley's music for Patrick McGoohan's DANGER MAN series, only darker and more urgent.

TWITCH (or ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO) is one of the most suspenseful and tension-inducing scores ever composed for Bava, and it covers a wide range of musical ground, from new classical and samba to sprightly pop and a heavier, tribal rock instrumental that sounds very much like it was written around a temp track of Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." The presence of a track called "Evelyn Theme" on this soundtrack is mystifying because there is no character named Evelyn in the movie, and the track in question was used by Bava to underscore the last moments of the wheelchair-bound Countess's life. It makes one wonder if Cipriani may have composed and copyrighted this track in the expectation it would be used instead in Emilio Miraglia's THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE, which was made around the same time? (EVELYN was eventually released with a library music score by Bruno Nicolai, recycling his cues from EUGENIE THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION and other pictures, so it's possible the film ran out of money and couldn't afford original music.) This peripheral mystery aside, the TWITCH disc is every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be -- melodious, savage, sensuous. An instant classic -- be sure to look for a shot from the film's unforgettable "coitus interruptus" moment hidden in the casing under Disc 2.

The real surprise is Cipriani's music for BARON BLOOD, which, taken separately from Bava's images, is something of a revelation. In the case of all three scores, being able to hear them in stereo for the first time decompresses them greatly, giving one a better appreciation for their instrumentation and their qualities as stand-alone music. This is especially true of BARON BLOOD, which is very densely orchestrated and full of subtle effect that can only be appreciated when spread across a proper stereophonic field.

I know what you're going to say, and I agree with you: the Les Baxter rescoring of the film, for its AIP release, is the superior accompaniment. But if you compare the two scores as stand-alone listening experiences, I think you'll agree that the Cipriani score wins out. Cipriani's score is too unfocused to support the film's bold imagery -- but it's nevertheless a sensuously textured, atmospheric piece of work, full of slithering smoke and incantation and charred bone; it's lounge music in funereal garb. In a sense, it's exactly what the film called for in terms of color, but it was perhaps too refined for its own good. Some tracks, like "Inseguita" (which accompanies Elke Sommer's first sighting of Otto Von Kleist and the ensuing HOUSE OF WAX-type chase through the night streets), could easily fit into TWITCH with its percussive piano and tribal percussion, and others could almost pass for outtakes from Pink Floyd's MEDDLE album. Large chunks of the score have a surprising progressive rock flavor that occasionally edges into the outer frontiers of Krautrock and space rock, although never completely leaving the orchestral milieu. It's the sort of album that works well as a background to work, but even better as a focus point, with all the lights turned off -- the better to fall under its weird and hazy spell.

The discs are packaged with a nifty 12-page color booklet containing liner notes by Digitmovies producer Claudio Fuiano and also by me, along with lots of rare photos from all three films. You can find more details by clicking here; the link will take you to the CD/DVD page on our website. Copies of the first two volumes are also in stock, but all three are in limited quantity.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Scott the Magnificent

To keep myself "in the zone" during this final phase of working on the Bava book, I've found it helpful to watch movies that aren't by Mario Bava but that reflect the era and industry within which he worked. Therefore, I've been spending a little time each day watching some peplum, or "sword and sandal" movies I haven't seen in awhile. One fact that has particularly been driven home by my little retrospective: while Steve Reeves is certainly the once-and-still-reigning icon of the Italian pepla, almost supernaturally handsome and proportioned and with a wooden style of acting that could almost reflect the otherness of a Greek demigod, the finest actor of all the musclebound myth-makers was Gordon Scott.

Somehow, during a magical period spanning from 1959 to 1963, Scott had the good fortune to always be featured in films that were a cut above the norm -- and he made them better than they would have been without him. A former Las Vegas lifeguard named Gordon Werschkul, he made his screen debut in 1955, replacing Lex Barker in producer Sol Lesser's Tarzan series, bridging the character's swing from black-and-white to color with TARZAN'S HIDDEN JUNGLE (Scott married his co-star Vera Miles, whose loveliness here is sufficient reward to watch the picture) and 1957's TARZAN AND THE LOST SAFARI. 1958's TARZAN AND THE TRAPPERS was Scott's only backward step, a return to black-and-white that cut together episodes of a unsold television series. The series was quick to rebound with TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE, an all-color feature made the same year, but it was the next two films that stood apart from every Tarzan feature that came before -- new series producer Sy Weintraub realizing that this Tarzan was being held back from true greatness by old series trappings like Jane and Boy (who was called Tartu in TARZAN'S FIGHT FOR LIFE) and especially the comedy relief of Cheta.

"You stay here," Scott tells Cheta early on in TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959) and the chimpanzee shenanigans were also wisely left out of TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT (1960). Both of these films starred Gordon Scott as a solitary, "noble savage" Tarzan in raised-stakes adventures that many Edgar Rice Burroughs devotees regard as the finest films ever made about the character. Under the solid, respective direction of John Guillermin and Robert Day, with strong scripts (Berne Giler is the common name between the two) and handsome photography by the likes of Ted Skaife and Nicolas Roeg, these are the rare Tarzan films that transcend series standards to meet the highest demands of non-series action/adventure entertainment. Scott's robust physique may well look overly trained, the product of weight-resistance reps rather than the result of natural exercise, but he is the only Tarzan who looks at home while more than half-naked on location in the jungle -- and he performs most of his own stunts, as well. Both films also illustrate the credo that a film is only as good as its villain, with GREATEST ADVENTURE opposing Scott with Anthony Quayle and a young Sean Connery (in his second or third picture) and THE MAGNIFICENT with John Carradine and Jock Mahoney. For vague reasons, Scott was subsequently replaced by Mahoney in the Tarzan role; Mahoney was a better-than-able stuntman and a good actor, physically fit without being "pumped-up," but he was ill-suited for the role. Nevertheless, Mahoney's Tarzan films -- TARZAN'S THREE CHALLENGES and TARZAN GOES TO INDIA -- are even more epic in scope and worth seeing.

Legend has it that Steve Reeves recommended Scott to play his headstrong, ambitious brother in ROMULUS AND REMUS, which became DUEL OF THE TITANS when it was released here in America by Paramount (to whom Scott was still under contract). I was just a kid at the time, but I can vividly remember what a big deal DUEL OF THE TITANS was when it opened: lots of TV advertising, big titan-sized posters and standees, and people were genuinely curious about which of these men's men would triumph. And the movie didn't disappoint the expectations aroused by the ballyhoo; it was directed by Sergio Corbucci, one of the finest Italian action directors, and the many-authored script featured input from none other than Sergio Leone. Even in its somewhat reduced US length, the film had the scope and feel of a genuine historical epic, one of Reeves' better performances, and was made particularly fascinating by Scott's hellbound determination to prove himself as an actor and as Reeves' equal (or better yet, superior) in the genre he launched, and also perhaps to vindicate himself after losing the Tarzan role. The jealousy between two brothers is at the heart of the story, and you can feel Scott's personal investment in the material. It's probably his finest performance and one of the best films of its kind.

Next came MACISTE CONTRO I VAMPIRI, became GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES in the States, where the name Maciste carried no mythic resonance. (Maciste was first introduced on the silent screen in 1914's CABIRIA, as an heroic Nubian slave played by a Caucasian dockworker, Bartolomeo Pagano, who was such a hit that he subsequently continued as an actor, always playing Maciste and always billed as "Maciste," even in modern day adventures that found him fighting for right in a suit and tie.) Co-directed by Corbucci and Giacomo Gentilomo, this is more of a finely styled matinee potboiler than an epic adventure, but Scott is well supported by its supernatural villain Kobruk (a horrible apparition fed by the blood of women abducted by pirates!), villainess Gianna Maria Canale, and its SUSPIRIA-like lighting techniques. Scott is excellent as always and the climax gives him opportunity to actually clash with himself, as Kobruck assumes the human form of Maciste.

Scott returned as Maciste in Riccardo Freda's MACISTE ALLA CORTE DEL GRAN KHAN (1961), which became SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD when released by American International. (In the French version, Maciste/Samson became Hercules!) I was so impressed by my reacquaintence with this movie that I've watched it three times in the past two days. Freda recognized the opportunity to make this film while directing the action scenes for the epic film MARCO POLO, and made hand-me-down use of its lavish period Asian sets and costumes, as well as the shared duties of enchanting lead actress Yoko Tani, who gives arguably the finest female lead performance in any of the pepla. Though he's best remembered for his work in horror films, Freda was most truly in his element in the realm of historic adventure, and this film allowed him to blend this nobler art with the pulpier, commercial interests of the pepla. Scott is absolutely tremendous here, actually picking up one adversary and swinging him around by the ankles to knock over other comers -- something I've never seen done for real, or so effectively, in any other movie. But his best scene takes place in the arena, where (without the benefit of stunt doubles) he commandeers a chariot with bladed wheels before it can reach a row of prisoners buried up to their necks in the ground, waiting to be decapitated. The film lost a couple of reels in its American release, and I imagine the whole "seven miracles" angle was an invention of the people who dubbed the movie, as the fifth miracle is the first to be mentioned... unless the first four were somehow covered in the reels that the movie forfeited under the banner of AIP. SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD is presently available on DVD from Alpha Video and as a DVD-R from other sources like Sinister Cinema, but the movie is ill-served by this 20-minutes-shorter cut and its pan&scanned presentation. (For once, AIP's "Colorscope" fronted a legitimate anamorphic process -- Dyaliscope.)

Scott's work in Italian films remained solid for at least until Giorgio Ferroni's THE CONQUEST OF MYCENAE aka HERCULES VS. MOLOCH (1963), and he also did well in the made-for-TV film HERCULES AND THE PRINCESS OF TROY (1965). He disappeared from films around 1967, but he has made a number of convention appearances in recent years, including one convention show with Steve Reeves before Reeves' untimely death in 2000. People tell me that Scott isn't easily recognizable as himself anymore, wearing a baseball cap and having succumbed to middle-age spread, but that would describe many a man in his 40s or 50s -- and Gordon Scott, born in 1927, is a year or two shy of 80.

I can think of few things I would welcome to DVD more enthusiastically than properly presented versions of TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT, DUEL OF THE TITANS, GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES and SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD. Gordon Scott was a great screen hero and deserves to be remembered. More than half of this job could be put into motion at Paramount; as for the two Maciste pictures, the prospects are dimmer. GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES was a Dino De Laurentiis production, so there's a degree of hope there; but the SAMSON picture was produced by a long-defunct company called Panda and is now pretty much a public domain title. If these ever surface given the respect they deserve, uncut and in widescreen, they will probably have to happen as import discs. My fingers are already crossed for an English subtitles option.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Rondos Are Coming! The Nominations Are Here!

The much-anticipated ballot for the Fourth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards -- recognizing outstanding achievement in genre film, video, and journalism during 2005 -- is now posted on the Rondo website. I'm proud to announce that VIDEO WATCHDOG is the recipient of 9 NOMINATIONS this year... including a Best Website nomination for Video Watchblog!

VW's other nominations:

Best Magazine

Best Magazine Cover (2 nominations):

VIDEO WATCHDOG #115 (Harryhausen's Cyclops) and VIDEO WATCHDOG #120 (Larry Blamire as Dr. Paul Armstrong), both by Charlie Largent.

Best Magazine Article (5 nominations):

"They Did Science! Dr. Paul Armstrong's Handy Guide to '50s Sci Fi Heroes,'' by Larry Blamire, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.

"Universal's Other Monsters: A Legacy Written in Gauze, Claws and Tana Leaves,'' by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #118.

"24 Monsters Per Second: The DVD Voyage of Ray Harryhausen,'' by Charlie Largent, VIDEO WATCHDOG #115.

"Shades of Renfield: Ten Buzzing Performances,'' by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #121.

"Triffids on the March: from John Wyndham to the BBC,'' by David J. Schow, VIDEO WATCHDOG #120.

Incidentally, if you haven't read these articles and would like to consider them for your vote, you can get samples of each of them by clicking on the issue numbers above, which will take you to a choice of spreads from inside each issue. Just click on the one you want to read to enlarge the text and you'll get a generous inside peek.

I was additionally nominated (with John Phillip Law) for Best DVD Commentary and VW's own Stephen R. Bissette was recognized in the Best DVD Extra category for his "From Fumetti to Film" featurette -- both on Paramount's DANGER: DIABOLIK DVD.

Set some time aside today to visit www.rondoaward.com and check out the other fine folks and things on the Rondo ballot -- and cast your vote for your favorites! You can also discuss the nominations and suggest possible write-in candidates in the Rondo folder of the Classic Horror Film Boards!