Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sam Sherman on Andy and Ivan

Before I go and forget the details, which I hastily scribbled down, I should make note of a surprise phone call I received a couple of days ago from Independent-International mogul, Samuel M. Sherman.

Sam is a longtime friend of VIDEO WATCHDOG, and an even-longer hero of mine, not only for importing LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO (as FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR) and a number of the West German Edgar Wallace krimis, but also for his early editorship of SCREEN THRILLS ILLUSTRATED (in retrospect, the most reliable and well-written of all Warren film publications) and for his inimitable talents as a designer of exploitation film campaigns. It was Sam who created all the best-loved, blood-drooling Hemisphere Pictures trailers and ad campaigns; it was he who hired Brother Theodore to narrate the trailers for THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS; and I had also heard that Sam was responsible for some of the campaigns for Andy Milligan's movies. For my money, Sam was the King of Lurid Advertising.

Out of curiosity, I asked Sam if he had been responsible for the classic campaigns for Milligan's BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS, TORTURE DUNGEON, and THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE! -- but he said No; neither did he have anything to do with another William Mishkin release I'd heard he'd done, THE ORGY AT LIL'S PLACE. But my question prompted some very interesting information about the role Sam had played in Andy Milligan's early career. The following quote I have reconstructed from what I jotted down as Sam was reminiscing. All news to me, and I don't believe any of this was covered in Jimmy McDonough's book THE GHASTLY ONE, either:

Sam Sherman: "I first became aware of Andy Milligan when I was doing ad campaigns. My partner Bob Price and I did some work at that time for a distributor named Jerry Balsam, and one day, Jerry showed us a film called SIN SISTERS, 2000 A.D. It was a terrible, amateurish picture and I didn't think much better of the title. It was later retitled THE DEGENERATES, at my suggestion. After we saw it, we came up with a campaign built around this new title, which I believe was fairly successful. Somewhere around here, I have a book about the days of 42nd Street exploitation -- I don't remember the title -- but the picture on the cover of the book is a shot of a 42nd Street theater marquee with the title THE DEGENERATES on it. That was considered quite a strong title in those days; "DEGENERATES" was one of the words that some newspapers wouldn't print, so you'd have to call the theater to find out the title.

"Later on, Andy Milligan bought this big house on Staten Island and started making pictures there. He also started shooting in color. The first picture he made there was a color film, a kind of Victorian story with a lot of sex in it. Jerry Balsam acquired it too, and he screened it for us. It had some thriller elements, but they didn't sit very well in the picture he had made. I suggested to Jerry and Andy that, if they really wanted a successful picture, they should go back and do some reshoots -- he still had the house, because he lived in it, and the cast were working cheaply if they were paid at all. I told them I thought they should rework it to be more of a horror picture. The film had this hunchback minion character [Hal Borske] who I thought should be played up a bit more, and it had too much sex in it, as it was. So Andy got the cast back together and shot some additional horror sequences with gore and what-not, cutting out a lot -- if not all -- of the sex and nudity. So, in a sense, I'm the person responsible for suggesting to Andy Milligan that he make horror pictures. That movie became THE GHASTLY ONES, which is also a title I suggested, because 'Ghastly' was a word that hadn't previously been used in the title of a horror movie; I thought it would be effective. I later used it again in the title for Al Adamson's BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR. The ad campaign for THE GHASTLY ONES was also one of mine; I did that with Bob Price."

When I told Sam that THE DEGENERATES is now considered a lost film, he sounded surprised. "I know that Milligan's early Mishkin films are considered lost, but THE DEGENERATES was a Jerry Balsam picture, so there's no reason why it should be. Jerry's passed away, and he wasn't one for copyrighting his prints, so if they could be found, there wouldn't be anything to stop someone from just putting them out. You say it's a lost film; I don't know that it is, but if it is, I'd have to say it's just as well. Of course, horror fans are often completists and want to see as much as they can, and I understand this -- but it really was a terrible picture, very badly made."

The reason Sam called me in the first place was because he had discovered a discussion folder I had created on the Latarnia International boards, called "The Mystery of Ivan Reiner," which can be found here. Reiner was the writer-producer behind the Gamma I films made by Antonio Margheriti and the Gamma III film THE GREEN SLIME, directed by Kinji Fukasaku; he was, as far as I can tell, their only common denominator, and so much more the "Gamma" man than Margheriti or anyone else. When I posted my original message, I was commemorating the 40th anniversary of his death, according to the IMDb... but, as Sam pointed out, those dates didn't jibe because it would have meant he was dead before THE GREEN SLIME was made! The thread petered out after only two replies, and there was even speculation that "Ivan Reiner" might be a pseudonym for the prolific Ennio Di Concini. Not so, says Sam Sherman.

"I knew Ivan," Sam told me, "and I can tell you a little about him. He was, in fact, a New Yorker who lived in New York City and was originally the program director for WOR-TV, Channel 9, in Secaucus, New Jersey. He later worked with a film distributor by the name of Walter Manley, who had film distribution deals with companies all around the world, including the United States, Italy, and Japan. When I read your posting, I went to the IMDb -- which I often find runs riot with misinformation, though it is getting better. It said that Ivan had died back in the 1960s, which I knew wasn't true, so I went and looked up his name via the Social Security death records and found that he passed away sometime in September 1997. It also gave the date of his birth as 1911. I submitted this information to the IMDb and I hope it appears there, sooner or later."

I just checked Ivan Reiner's IMDb page and the correct information is indeed now posted there. My thanks to Sam for calling -- the mind boggles at the kinds of things he must know, but hasn't been asked about!

Friday, September 29, 2006

My Movie Meme

Henry Fonda has his way with Claudia Cardinale in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

A MOVIE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST was the Big One. I've told this story before, but I went to my local theater one Saturday when I was 12 to see the latest Elvis Presley movie, CHARRO!. OUATITW was the co-feature. I must have got there late or something, so I decided to come back the next day (Sunday) to enjoy it from the beginning. When I got there, I discovered that the theater had reversed the showtimes, so I had to see OUATITW anyway; an idea that didn't exactly thrill me because I didn't care for Westerns. To make a long and already told story short, I became enthralled by the movie to the extent that I felt branded by it. It put hair on my chest. And when the movie ended, I could suddenly see how ephemeral the Presley co-feature couldn't help but be, and I made what I count as the first adult decision of my life: I got up and went home. To this day, I have never seen CHARRO!.

A MOVIE I'VE SEEN MORE THAN ONCE: Tons of them, including many I don't particularly care for. Much moreso than the maxim "reading is re-reading," I find that watching movies is re-watching movies. Among the movies I believe I've seen more often than any others: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, WOODSTOCK, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, WOMEN IN LOVE, TOMMY, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE ASTOUNDING SHE MONSTER, THAT THING YOU DO! (which I feel is a nearly perfect movie), the Bava films of course, and a goodly number of the classic Universal horror films. We're talking as many as 20 times in some cases. Looking over that list in printed form, I have to say that -- with a few exceptions I can still understand -- I could have picked better movies to obsess over! Very often when a movie affects me deeply, I deliberately keep my distance from it, prefering to cherish the memory rather than wear it out. Four of the titles I chose for my SIGHT & SOUND TOP 10 in 2002 I have seen only once.

A MOVIE I WOULD TAKE WITH ME IF I WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND: I think Charlton Heston in THE OMEGA MAN had the right idea with WOODSTOCK. It's got drama, humor, idealism, a huge cross-section of humanity, and great music. It's not just a movie; it's company.

A MOVIE THAT MADE ME LAUGH: I have a perverse sense of humor and things like W. C. Fields' THE FATAL GLASS OF BEER and the "Black Cat" episode of Roger Corman's TALES OF TERROR resonate especially well with my funny bobne. Feature-wise, however, three stand out: Preston Sturges' UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, Bruce Robinson's WITHNAIL & I, and Richard Kwietniowski's LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. All three have an aggressively literary bent in their dialogue, so that all three would have been just as funny on the printed page; none of them is particularly cinematic, but all three feature great performances.


Fritz Lang discusses the day's rushes with producer Jack Palance in CONTEMPT.

A MOVIE THAT MADE ME CRY: Strangely enough, Jean-Luc Godard's CONTEMPT. There is an exterior moment after the episode in the screening room, in which Fritz Lang walks pensively across the wide screen as Georges Delerue's tragic theme music swells; the combination kills me every time. That's how much I love movies.

A MOVIE I WISH HAD NEVER BEEN MADE: I agree with whomever had the insight that great art is a lie (an invention) that tells the truth. Ergo, any film that tells lies to propogate falsehoods and to take cynical advantage of public ignorance I find, by definition, repugnant. So my answer is THE PATH TO 9/11.

A MOVIE I'VE BEEN MEANING TO SEE: Movies I've been meaning to see are the bane of my existence. At the moment I have about ten bankers boxes, containing 50 DVDs each, stacked high in a corner of my dining room. Discs I've bought, discs sent to me by friendly correspondents, and, of course, review screeners. Every one of them is screaming "Watch me!" at the top of their imaginary lungs, and some are (ouch) box sets.

A MOVIE I RECENTLY SAW: The 1929 version of SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE, starring Richard Dix (who reminds me a great deal of George Reeves). It ran on Turner Classic Movies yesterday morning and it ran about 10 minutes longer than my Dish TV menu screen said it would, so my recording cut out before the movie was over.

Irène Jacob models for a bubble gum ad campaign in RED.

A MOVIE I WISH I'D MADE: Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS trilogy, particularly RED. I felt immediately at home in this movie, and somehow saw most of its levels at once, but this didn't do anything to exhaust my fascination with it. A perfect mesh of the commercial and the metaphysical, it captures the daunting magic of meeting someone who gives your life unsuspected depths of meaning -- a recurring theme in my own work. Jean-Louis Trintignant probably ties with Oliver Reed as my favorite actor (they star in more of my favorite films than anyone else), and I'm very smitten with Irène Jacob; I love the way their characters seem to represent real people while at the same time boldly occupying a more symbolic plane, and the bolero theme written by Zbigniew Preisner gives the whole a vaguely apocalyptic tense that is highly dramatic and would sadly be fulfilled by the retirement and quick death of Kieslowski. As a Gemini with a deep interest in music, I am in some ways even more drawn to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE... but my senses tell me that RED is the more complex and satisfying achievement.

In closing... apropos of some of the finest films it has ever been my pleasure to see -- one of which (L'ECLISSE) is certain to make my next SIGHT & SOUND Top 10 list -- a very Happy 94th Birthday to Michelangelo Antonioni. Buon' compleanno, Maestro.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

My Book Meme

I had no idea what a "meme" is, until I saw the word used on some other blogs presenting their own versions of the following questionnaire. I subsequently looked it up at Dictionary.com and understood how the word was being applied. Anyway, I saw this meme on Ann Powers' Eensy Weensy and also on David Barker's 33 1/3 (both worthwhile music blogs), and it made me want to play along. So here goes...

A BOOK THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. For as long as I can remember, I've been a book collector; as a child, much as today, I owned more books than I had actually read. When my class was assigned to read GREAT EXPECTATIONS in my freshman high school year, I approached it as an obligatory duty; the last thing I expected was to fall in love with the characters, their plight, and the storytelling. We were told to read only chapter per day, and I had to fight the inclination to read ahead. Before I read this book, my own expectation was that I would become a commercial artist; after I read it, the seed was definitely planted that I should be a writer.

A BOOK I'VE READ MORE THAN ONCE: There have been several, but one that stands out for me is BULLET PARK by John Cheever, which I've read three times. I've read just about all of Cheever save for some short stories -- he's one of the great American magic realists, though he's not commonly thought of that way -- and, despite a jaggedly abrupt conclusion and closure, this one stands supreme for me: a haunting, melancholy novel about a man named Hammer and the arrival of a newcomer named Nailles. The chapter about the cafard and the search for a house with yellow windows is one for which I felt extraordinary empathy; I would love to have written this particularly, but writing such material surely had a certain price attached, and it's known that Cheever went through hell before receiving this vision.

A BOOK I WOULD TAKE WITH ME IF I WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND: Probably ULYSSES by James Joyce, if only for its variety. Every chapter is written in a different style, rooted in a different myth, and it is entertaining whether read simply or academically. Second choice: THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY by Robert Burton.

A BOOK THAT MADE ME LAUGH: THE HARD LIFE by Flann O'Brien. All of Flann O'Brien makes me laugh hysterically -- AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE THIRD POLICEMAN, THE DALKEY ARCHIVE, THE POOR MOUTH, even his Irish Post newspaper columns. But THE HARD LIFE (again, not his best-loved book) really got to me and was such an unalloyed delight that I've read it four times; that's more times than I've read any other novel, save the ones I've written. When you've read the book once, even the somber opening French epigraph becomes hilarious. Vladimir Nabokov's PALE FIRE and Raymond Queneau's WE ALWAYS TREAT WOMEN TOO WELL also come to mind, as do certain stories in FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS by John Collier.

A BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY: The last chapters of ULYSSES and Henry Green's BACK (an undersung book well worth your discovery) were so beautiful they not only made me cry, but made me re-read them immediately and many times thereafter. I was also deeply moved when I finished Thomas Mann's THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN and his JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS cycle, because I was sorry to have them end. As a boy, I cried when Gwen Stacy was killed by The Green Goblin in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121; that was when it first struck me that requited love was no guarantee of a happy ending.

A BOOK THAT I WISH HAD BEEN WRITTEN: Leaving aside the novels that I still hope to write (some of which have been rattling around in my head far too long), I wish that more of Alain Robbe-Grillet's work was available in English translation, particularly the subsequent volumes of his autobiography.

A BOOK I WISH HAD NEVER BEEN WRITTEN: I can think of a couple, but the one I'll mention is ANTHONY BURGESS, the recent biography of the British author by Roger Lewis. It's like reading the smug, snotty, self-serving hate tract of a disinherited relative.

A BOOK I'VE BEEN MEANING TO READ: Dozens, hundreds. If I have to pick one, I'll go with REPETITION by Alain Robbe-Grillet. It's on the shelf with all his others, which I've read, but I haven't been in the right mood to connect with this one yet. John Cale calls it his favorite novel, so I'm curious to see how I find it stacks up against the others.

I'M CURRENTLY READING: KINGDOM COME by J. G. Ballard, one of our best living writers and thinkers. (Didn't this book have an editor? A character named Tom Carradine becomes David Carradine for two pages.) A strong off-center premise, lots of exciting sociological insight, but ultimately I doubt it will shape up as one of his best. Suffers from Rod Serling Syndrome: all the characters speak in the same voice, from the same viewpoint. I've also recently read two books in Continuum's terrific "33 1/3" series of paperback essays about classic rock albums, the ones on Jimi Hendrix's ELECTRIC LADYLAND (by John Inglis) and Neil Young's HARVEST (by John Perry). I'm just starting into the one on David Bowie's LOW (by Hugo Wilcken). As ever, these books give one an excuse to delve into these albums on a deeper-than-usual listening level, which is a pleasure in itself.

A BOOK I WISH I'D WRITTEN: Vladimir Nabokov's INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. I know I should say LOLITA, because being its author would make me rich, but therein lies an aversion of commercial success I am struggling to overcome. Nabokov himself cited INVITATION as the personal work for which he felt the most admiration.

The idea of a meme is that I am now supposed to reach out and "tag" or "infect" another friendly blogger, inducing them to post a book meme of their own. My friends and fellow bloggers are all overworked, so I'd rather tag them with a relaxation meme... but if anyone out there cares to follow through of their own free will, consider yourself tagged.

In the meantime, maybe tomorrow I'll post my movie meme...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

This Is My Magazine and It Freaks Me Out!


Is this not a cool cover? Now click on the pic and watch it blow up, man. And all ye of ruffled cuffs and spangled wrists, hoist high your flagons of felicitation to charmin' Charlie Largent, for yet another mind-bending feat of cover art legerdemain!

Yes, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127 is now at the printer! You can get the customary run-down of the issue's contents and a free preview of its feature articles (my article on Del Tenney, and Bill Cooke's article on the Universal Hammer titles) by visiting the Coming Soon area of our website, or simply by clicking here.

Collect 'Em All!

Bubblegumfink! has posted an amazing collection of imaginary SUSPIRIA trading cards, complete with wrapper. Go here and scroll down to Wednesday, September 20's "Giallofink" posting.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Letters! I Get Letters!

I've received some interesting blog-related correspondence of late, and since I don't want to open this blog to comments and have to play moderator, it might be a good idea to post selected comments when I feel they're worth sharing.

For example, here's some interesting background on STONE COLD DEAD from reader Robert Richardson:

"Having only ever seen STONE COLD DEAD in standard pan & scan prints both on broadcast television and cable movie channels (and neither were would you could call pristine) news of a clean, clear, widescreen copy circulating perks my interest. I'm hardly a fan of the film but I've seen it more than once already and would give it another go if the presentation was up to snuff.

"A couple weeks back I found an old copy of the source novel in a thrift shop for 70 cents. THE SIN SNIPER was originally published in 1970, and a tie-in re-dubbed with the movie's title was issued by Paper Jacks in 1978. It includes eight pages of b/w stills from the film, including a three-still recreation of the initial sniping and one behind-the-scenes shot of director George Mendeluk blocking a scene.

"The author of the book is Hugh Garner, a war veteran who turned to writing as the 1940s waned. His book CABBAGETOWN is perhaps his best known, but he won the Governor General's Award in 1963 for a short story collection he penned. I can tell you that the movie and the original novel are substantially different. Toronto was Garner's home and it served as the background to virtually all of his writing, including THE SIN SNIPER. The characters present in the novel differ radically from those in the film. In fact, the identity of the killer is completely different as is the resolution. Why Mendeluk chose to detour so far from the novel is beyond me, and I do not believe that the changes were for the better.

"Mendeluk's next film, THE KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT, was also adapted from a source novel. It too would benefit from a proper widescreen presentation. After some juvenile comedies he seemed to drift into episodic television and these days mostly works on television movies.

"The cast of STONE COLD DEAD also includes Cronenberg vet Chuck Shamata (SCANNERS as well as the Ivan Reitman produced DEATH WEEKEND); Paul Bradley (ever so briefly), who years earlier had costarred effectively in both GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD and WEDDING IN WHITE; professional boxer George Chuvalo (who fought Ali in the 1960s); Alberta Watson (from THE KEEP, THE SWEET HEREAFTER, SPANKING THE MONKEY and more recently 24); and lovely Jennifer Dale, making her debut as initial victim Claudia Grissom. Dale was the love interest of Alliance Atlantis honcho Robert Lantos. He produced several of her films though arguably she has found wider recognition (at least here in Canada) on television."


I thank Robert for the information.

Readers Mike Schlesinger and C. Jerry Kutner commented on the good timing on my Russell Metty centenary acknowlegement, which happened to coincide with a 3D screening of TAZA, SON OF COCHISE in Los Angeles. Mr. Kutner writes:

"Living in L.A., I was lucky enough to catch the screening two weeks ago of TAZA, SON OF COCHISE at the 2nd World 3D Expo. It was extraordinarily beautiful to see the vast open spaces of Monument Valley in 3D with those incredible natural formations in the distant background. (For an approximation of what this looked like, check out Ford’s CHEYENNE AUTUMN, which in 70mm achieves something close to a 3-dimensional effect.) As in most of Metty’s work with Sirk, there are foreground objects in almost every shot, but unlike most other Sirk films, this one was shot almost entirely on location outdoors, and the 3D combined with unobtrusive camera movement (mostly panning – to follow the characters) results in a lovely flowing dance of foreground, middle ground, and background. And those arrows shot into the audience are cool!"

But the most eye-opening blog response I received last week was from a PBS employee whose correspondence was labelled "not for publication." Naturally, I'll respect this reader's wishes, but I think it's important to paraphrase some of the behind-the-scenes reasons therein provided why Ric Burns' ANDY WARHOL: A DOCUMENTARY FILM had to be broadcast in censored form.

Evidently, PBS stations are now being suffocated by increased restrictions from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose fines have become so steep that even a single fine could be enough to put a smaller PBS affiliate out of business. (When a public complaint results in the issuing of a fine, these fines are issued not only to PBS as a network, but to the individual affiliate in the area where the complaint originated.) A California affiliate was fined earlier this year for broadcasting Martin Scorsese's THE BLUES with utterances of "fuck" and "shit" intact, these used more for seasoning and exclamation rather than in literal terms; the matter of context was immaterial, and the station was slapped with heavy fines for repeated utterances.

Thus far, PBS has been unsuccessful in obtaining even the vaguest guidelines from the FCC, so affiliates have no idea in advance of what the FCC may find objectionable, until the killing fine is thrown down. This effectively has Public Television existing in a state of uncertainty bordering on terror. PBS stations have become so gunshy that, in some cases, they are going to the additional trouble and expense of digitally blurring the lip movements of documentary interviewees, rather than incur possible penalties for broadcasting too-emphatically-mouthed obscenities. Imagery that might be deemed controversial, like some rear nudity in one of the Warhol films, is also being blurred for the same reason. The letter I received suggested that future PBS programming, such as their upcoming WWII documentary, will likely be offered to affiliates in uncut or pre-censored form -- but in this event, it's all but certain that most if not all affiliates would choose the sanitized version rather than face the consequences of Freedom of Speech.

This was an enlightening but tragic letter to receive because it essentially confirmed, from the inside, that PBS is being stripped of the special qualities and privileges that its members continue to believe they are paying for. Programs that could have aired uncut one year ago are now being aired with more bleeps than are heard at the average Stereolab concert. There are programs that aired uncut on PBS thirty years ago that would no longer be permitted in any shape or form. But public funding is more important than ever, as government funding has become so reduced that long-running PBS series like MYSTERY! and MASTERPIECE THEATER can no longer afford hosts.

In its heyday, PBS was the only alternative to commercial network television; it was educational, progressive, and it had the freedom to be outspoken. Today, with its mouth gagged and blinders keeping its eyes trained on the straight and narrow, it's become another government detainee -- forbidden to use even PG-level language in serious discussions of art and construction, and relying more and more on the "good business" of presenting sanitized documentaries about war and destruction.

Of course, it's commendable that some individuals within the PBS power structure are still quixotic enough to try, to present something like Ric Burns' Warhol epic as a two-parter in the context of AMERICAN MASTERS. Even in bastardized form, it communicates an idea of its quality and gives the viewer enough information to seek out the uncut original on DVD, or to explore Warhol's legacy further in books and museums. But it's a shame that the ideal of Public Television has so quietly become a thing of the past, and that its hallmarks of free speech have been inherited by premium cable and satellite television, luxuries -- like so much else, from vitamins and health care to gasoline -- that cannot be afforded by all men created equally.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

STONE COLD DEAD on TMC

Andrée Cousineau as one of the tragic victims in STONE COLD DEAD.

To date, George Mendeluk's STONE COLD DEAD (1980) -- starring Richard Crenna and Paul Williams -- has only reached home video here in America as a standard, pan&scanned VHS release from Media Home Entertainment. With this in mind, some of you may be interested to learn that it aired on The Movie Channel last night in a brand new, letterboxed transfer. It is still a notable turn of events, sad to say, when a pay cable station shows a film in its correct aspect ratio, especially a picture on the level of this Canadian thriller.

Crenna stars as a recently separated police sergeant investigating a series of prostitute murders in an unnamed city that he describes as dirty and scummy while driving past a storefront that reads "Disney." (It was shot in Toronto, then credited as being a North American city so clean you could practically eat off its sidewalks, with lots of recognizable Yonge Street landmarks like Sam's record shop.) The hookers are being shot with a customized rifle attached to a 35mm still camera, allowing the limping assassin to develop quasi-cinematic serial photos of each killing in progress; the red-tinted developing room shots, showing black leather-gloved hands hanging the wet prints on a wire, lends the proceedings an occasional Argento-like flavor. Another Argentovian touch can be found in the delineation of Crenna's character, an eccentric who has rigged a special unlisted telephone number to feed his pet fish whenever it rings ("I don't get home much," he explains). An unusually pudgy Paul Williams plays Kurtz, a shag-haired crime boss/pimp -- and the Movie Channel print was so sharp that the red impression of a discarded wedding band is sometimes distractingly visible on the third finger of Williams' left hand. (It's not in this sleazy character's profile to have been married.) Williams, who has a big dialogue scene outside the "Paradise Cinema," is miscast as a crimelord who strikes terror into people's hearts, but Crenna brings a world-weary gravitas to his character that works, and Belinda J. Montgomery has one of her best showings as a daring female officer who goes too far undercover to solve the case; she also gets a rare opportunity to sing, and is in good voice. Christopher Walken lookalike Frank Moore (from Cronenberg's RABID and THE ITALIAN MACHINE) is on hand as a strip-club habitué red herring, and Michael Ironside, buried way down the cast list, appears just long enough to get shot during a stakeout.

I had never seen STONE COLD DEAD before, but I remember seeing TV spots during its initial release to local drive-ins that made it look ugly and sordid and cheap. With that in mind, it was a nice surprise to find it so competent, watchable, and evocative of my own happy memories of Toronto -- and it held my attention even at an hour when common sense dictated I should have long been in bed. It's sleazy too, but a sweet kind of sleazy. It's probably nothing I would bother to record, but sometimes it's pleasure enough to find good people injecting a little soul into a project where such dimension wasn't really necessary or expected.

I've checked The Movie Channel's schedule for the next week and can't find any future playdates for STONE COLD DEAD, so it may be played out there, but -- for those interested -- it's bound to resurface sooner or later on one of the other TMC or Showtime family channels.