Monday, February 05, 2007

More Bava Specs from Anchor Bay

On the same day that Anchor Bay Entertainment will be releasing their MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, they will be separately releasing another Bava two-fer feature on DVD.

Also due on April 3 is RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED, which will present the two extant versions of Bava's cult crime thriller, originally produced in 1975 but impounded when the production was bankrupted and shelved until a belated release more than 20 years later. Anchor Bay's disc will include the following:

RABID DOGS
96 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary

KIDNAPPED
95 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Featurette: "End of the Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED" with producer Alfredo Leone
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

A word about the English subtitles on RABID DOGS. I provided ABE with newly corrected English subtitles for the film -- these were written for the original Lucertola Media release, but they included a mistake or two I've long wanted to fix -- but, at the moment, no one at ABE can tell me whether or not they were used. If they weren't used because a subtitle master had already been created, this could be a little embarrassing for me, as I reference some of the choices I made in my audio commentary, and without my subtitles onscreen, those comments won't make any sense. ABE sent me an advance tape to check my audio commentary for accuracy and placement, but it was wedded to an unsubtitled copy of the film, so I can't tell whether or not they'll be included. I guess we'll all find out together.

In closing, you might say that I've buried today's headline. Contrary to my earlier spec notes on the MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, I am now told that Anchor Bay's BLACK SUNDAY disc will indeed include both the MASK OF SATAN and BLACK SUNDAY versions of the film! I've corrected yesterday's blog to bring this information up to date.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Anchor Bay BAVA COLLECTION Specs

Everybody's wondering what's going to be included in Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 box set (due April 3). Well, I've been wondering too, but today my friends at ABE sent me an itemized list of all the contents and gave me first dibs on sharing them with you, the Video WatchBlog audience. I recorded audio commentaries for a few of these titles last December, but even I was surprised by some of the contents! Suffice to say, there's some very welcome news here, so let's get right down to it. Here's what to expect from VOLUME 1:

BLACK SABBATH / THE THREE FACES OF FEAR
1.77:1/16:9 (both)
English and Italian versions with English subtitles
Featurette: Mark Damon interview
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International & US trailers
TV Spots
Poster and Stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios
Bava trailers

BLACK SUNDAY / THE MASK OF SATAN
Original Italian export English dub scored by Roberto Nicolosi
American International English dub scored by Les Baxter
1.66:1/16:9
English mono with subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International and US trailers
TV spots
Radio spots
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios
Bava trailers

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH / EVIL EYE
English and Italian versions with English subtitles
1.33:1 (English), 1.66:1/16:9 (Italian)
Featurette: "Remembering the Girl with John Saxon"
Tim Lucas audio commentary
International and US trailers
Poster and Still gallery
Bava trailers

KILL, BABY... KILL!
English and Italian audio with English subtitles
1.85:1/16:9
International trailer
TV Spots 1 - 3
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER
2.35:1/16:9
English and Italian audio with English subtitles
International trailer
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

The best and most surprising news, of course, is that ABE will be including the AIP versions of BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH and EVIL EYE in these sets. (I actually concluded my GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH commentary by saying that I hope the English version will somehow become available someday, and encouraging listeners to ask among their friends for a copy -- so much for how "in the loop" I am!) Also good to know is that BLACK SABBATH will share the same anamorphic ratio as its Italian counterpart, making this the first time that the version featuring Boris Karloff's audio performance will be released on DVD, or in widescreen. These titles were last released on DVD by Image Entertainment back in 2000, so these new remasters should also reflect the improvements made in digital restoration over the past seven years.

The BLACK SUNDAY commentary is the same one I recorded for the out-of-print Image Entertainment release, so I assume the source material will be the same. The contents listing for the BLACK SUNDAY disc make no reference to the sidebar I wrote for the Image release about a scene exclusive to the Italian language version between Prince Vajda and Princess Katia, so perhaps it hasn't been carried over. I was expecting RABID DOGS to be part of this set, because I also recorded an audio commentary for it, so it must be coming out separately or in the second Bava box.

I'm told that I should be able to offer you a preview of the box set's cover art sometime in the coming week.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

First KILL BABY KILL Grabs

In today's mail, I was surprised and pleased to find an advance copy of Dark Sky Films' KILL BABY KILL (no punctuation on the cover). I had some involvement with this disc, and since KBK is my favorite of all Mario Bava movies, I'm feeling new-papa proud. Since I can't very well pass out cigars, I thought I would pop the disc into the old computer and treat Video WatchBlog visitors to some early screen grabs, which you can savor in anticipation of its March 27th release.

This DVD marks the belated debut of the audio commentary I originally recorded back in the summer of 2000 for an Image Entertainment release that failed to materialize. Since recording the track, I found a few minor errors in my talk that I feared would make the commentary unusable. However, after consulting my transcript, I realized that it could still be used, given some easily-made edits. So those errors are now gone, with the exception of my mispronunciation of the film's shooting location of Calcata as ""Calpata." Sorry about that, but when I interviewed Lamberto Bava about this movie, that's how he remembered the name of the village! (Mind you, this track was recorded years before most of us had heard of Google!)

As you can see, the anamorphic image looks bright and crisp, with the full frame revealed. For these grabs, I've cropped out the slight black horizontal bars at the top and bottom of the frame, but they are present on the disc, testifying to the presence of the frame in its entirety. I'm so accustomed to the crude, cheap processing of the 35mm prints made for US distribution by Europix, which gave the film an even more dreamlike atmosphere, I'll probably never get used to seeing this movie look so brilliant. There's a shot in this transfer where the Baroness Graps points to an old photograph, and the crepe-like textures on the back of actress Giovanna Galletti's hand are incredibly vivid. "Vivid," too, is the word for the colors on display; it wasn't until seeing this version that I became aware of how extensively Bava had used emerald green gels as a signal of the cast members coming into the presence of the Uncanny. By stepping through the reveal of Giacomo Rossi-Stuart's doppelgänger, I noticed that the green light that suddenly illuminates the side of his face flares up a beat or two after he turns to face the hero -- as if it was already on, waiting for a piece of cardboard to drop away, or a lighting "barndoor" to open and expose it.

Talk about all the colors of the dark: look at this amazing atmosphere...

And this shot below, which seems to exist only to present action in most copies of the film I've seen before, but which here exists to encompass an astounding diversity of color...

The disc also includes the dream-come-true featurette "Kill, Bava, Kill," in which David Gregory takes Lamberto Bava back to the film's original filming locations -- it's a nominee for next year's Rondo Award for Best DVD Extra, to be sure. There is also a trailer and a stills gallery that includes the full set of German lobby cards (in Germany, the film is known as DIE TOTEN AUGEN DES DR. DRACULA, or "The Dead Eyes of Dr. Dracula"), some extremely rare Italian fotobusti (I don't have these myself!), and other goodies. The unsigned back cover copy, I hear, was written by VW's own Richard Harland Smith.

I also contributed liner notes to this release, which I was told were going to be used. I don't know what happened, but they don't appear to be present on the disc itself nor included in paper form. That's no reason why you should go without -- as an exclusive for WatchBlog readers, I'll post them here at the time of the disc's release.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

VW Nominated for 7 Rondo Awards!

I am delighted to report that VIDEO WATCHDOG has been nominated seven times in four categories in the Fifth Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ballot, which was unveiled today at the Rondo website and the Classic Horror Film Boards.

VW's nominations are: Best Magazine, Best Website (Video WatchBlog), Best Magazine Cover (Charlie Largent's classic King Kong for VIDEO WATCHDOG #125), and four nominations for Best Article (more than any other magazine):

"Edgar Wallace and the Paternity of KING KONG," by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #126. New information about the mystery writer's role in the creation of Kong.

"Hammer and Universal: A Marriage of Monsters," by Bill Cooke, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127. In-depth examination of the Hammer Horror DVD Collection.

"In Search of Del Tenney, Auteur of Party Beach," by Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127. The cult director who vanished professionally for 40 years.

"Third Dimension of Evil: The Making of AMITYVILLE 3-D," by Paul Talbot, VIDEO WATCHDOG #124. An insightful second look at a film most have forgotten; includes last interview with late Richard Fleischer.

Links to samplings of all these Best Article nominees, and to a detailed enlargement of Charlie's cover art for VW #125, can be found on the VW website home page. All of the different voting categories accept write-in votes, while others are determined by write-in votes only, including (nudge, nudge) Best Writer, Best Artist (I ask you, who has given you more great magazine covers this year than Charlie Largent?), Monster Kid of the Year, and this year's additions to the Monster Kid Hall of Fame.

So what are you waiting for? Follow those links up in the first paragraph, follow the simple voting directions, pick your favorites, and Go Rondo!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More Words on PERFORMANCE

Warner Home Video's forthcoming DVD of PERFORMANCE is the most beautiful, comprehensive, and comprehensible presentation of the film I've ever seen... but.

Truly, the quality of image and sound is a revelation, and the disc provides a most welcome subtitling option (like the audio, in English only) that clarifies all that the ear cannot easily interpret. The subtitles aren't always perfect, though: when Chas (James Fox) calls his nephew "good boy" on the telephone, the subtitle reads "goodbye," even though they continue talking; there are other faux pas as well, yet somehow "Orbis Tertius" is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, as often happens with DVD subtitles, the song lyrics are not transcribed; they may, however, be present in the closed captioning.

The audio is given a particular boon by the clear digital separation of the dialogue and music/effects tracks, which allow the music in the film to stand out and sparkle (I'm now much more aware of music cues in the film that were not included on the album), and the dialogue to be heard separately from the sounds that have heretofore bled into it, making it more easily understood even without the subtitles. Never before have I followed the details of the plot so well. Never before did I catch the reference to "Mick" before Chas shoots the man who beat him in his apartment, the one time Chas calls Turner "Nick," or Pherber's suggestion that they call "Dr. Burroughs." (Isn't he "the man who works the Soft Machine"?)

The tragic "but" to which I referred in my opener is a very irritating and needless one. During the "Memo from Turner" sequence, when Turner (Mick Jagger) raises a glass in a toast and cries "Here's to Old England!" (reprising an earlier line of Harry Flowers, played by Johnny Shannon), his lips move... but... no sound comes out! Other dialogue heard during the song is intact, so why not this? Boo, hiss.

This mistake aside, I had the feeling while watching this disc that it might be the first time I have ever seen PERFORMANCE at the correct projection speed. Everything about the picture seemed a semi-tone lower in register, more comprehensively paced. As I noted yesterday, there's a difference in running time over the previous Warner PAL VHS and NTSC laserdisc releases that amounts to an additional 6 seconds. At present, I can't be sure of where all those seconds occur, but the main titles seemed more revealing than I remembered them, so I took the time to write out a cutting continuity of the title sequence, as it appears on the new disc, and compared it to the shots that open the British tape. I found two brief shots omitted from that earlier continuity; there is an additional shot of Ann Sidney naked between the legs of James Fox and a followup cutaway to the Rolls-Royce, placed immediately prior to a similar shot that shows Fox rocking Sidney from side to side between his legs -- to be blunt, the shot of her giving him head prior to the shot of his orgasm. (The Rolls was removed only to maintain the editing rhythm established by the sequence, so that one Rolls shot wouldn't directly cut to another -- thus tipping the audience off that something had been removed.) Also, one of the shots included in the earlier continuity, also between Fox and Sidney, goes on some frames longer here, permitting a brief glimpse of Sidney's pubic hair. Also, this sex scene was darkened considerably in all earlier presentations, but is brighter here, permitting more obvious glimpses of full frontal and rear nudity, by Fox as well as Sidney. Likewise, later in the film, when Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) is filming Turner as he sleeps nude and covers his genetalia with his hands, a single frame is intact showing Jagger's testicles.

The featurettes are very good. The longer one is about a good deal more than just the film's censor problems; in fact, it hardly touches on them. It's more of an overview of the film's development and production, and an appreciation of its current status. The interviewees include star Anita Pallenberg, producer Sanford Lieberman, associate producer David Cammell, Jack Nietsche Jr. (son of the film's late music supervisor), and author Colin McCabe. The "Memo from Turner" piece does attend to the behind-the-scenes of filming that sequence, and features some neat footage of Cammell directing Jagger, as well as shots not in the final assembly. The trailer is in mint condition.

How the producers of this disc could have been sharp enough to track down millimeters of never-before-seen footage to include in this gorgeous assembly, making it the most complete and brilliant-looking version of PERFORMANCE ever, yet so careless as to mute an important (at least resonant) line of dialogue, I can't explain. I hate to rain on this release over something so minor, especially when it accomplishes so much else, but the error is minor only in length; anyone who already knows this movie is going to miss that line, and wince in pain when they discover it for themselves.

I'd still recommend this disc very highly. If you haven't seen PERFORMANCE, you must; if you're already among the converted, you know you'll have to get this -- just resign yourself to the fact that this won't be the last time we line up to buy this title.

PERFORMANCE streets on February 13.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Quick Word on Warner's PERFORMANCE

I received my advance copy of PERFORMANCE today and, though it's a busy time here, I wanted to post a quick report.

I was a bit unnerved to see that the packaging carries an R rating -- THAT'S a first! -- but the picture quality looks extraordinary and, best news of all, the disc runs 105m 18s by my time counter... which is a few seconds longer than either the Warner PAL VHS or Warner's previous domestic laserdisc version, both of which clocked in at 105m 12s, according to Rebecca and Sam Umland's DONALD CAMMELL: A LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE. With a movie like this, of course, even a couple of seconds could mean a world of difference. I'll post something more detailed once I've had a chance to properly absorb the disc and its featurettes.

Speaking of the featurettes, "Influence and Controversy" (a new featurette about the film's censor problems) runs about 25m, and "Memo from Turner" (a look at the filming of the song with behind-the-scenes material) runs close to 5m. There is also a 2m 44s trailer.

It looks like a terrific disc.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VROOM! Forward... Into the Past!

What we have here, to the left, is a typically superior example of Italian poster art for a comparatively obscure Roger Corman film entitled THE YOUNG RACERS (1963). In Italy they called it "The Devils of the Grand Prix." It was filmed in Monte Carlo during Grand Prix season and starred Luana Anders, William Campbell, and Patrick Magee (all of whom would subsequently follow soundman Francis Coppola to Ireland to film DEMENTIA 13), as well as Mark Damon (who would pass up DEMENTIA 13 to make BLACK SABBATH with Mario Bava, and whose performance here was dubbed by William Shatner), Béatrice Altariba of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and even the obscure actress who later played the mysterious Julia in Antonio Margheriti's CASTLE OF BLOOD, Margarete Robsahm. That's my idea of an outstanding cast.

No, THE YOUNG RACERS isn't due to arrive on DVD, more's the pity. I was motivated to write about it today because it happened to be on a VHS tape I pulled down from my attic to convert to DVD-R. I had assumed that the movie came from American Movie Classics' much-missed, pre-commercial "American Pop" days, but after popping it into my VCR, I discovered that it was actually something even more precious: a relic of Bruce Dern's days as the host of LOST DRIVE-IN, a weekly Saturday night procession of car-related movies that used to run on the Speedvision Channel. I immediately kicked myself for not realizing at the time what a precious gift to movie fans this program was; I should have taped it every week. I didn't, of course, not having a lot of interest in car movies, but I should have learned by then that the real reason to hit the "Record" button for LOST DRIVE-IN was Bruce Dern himself.

Taped in the waning daylight at some abandoned drive-in theater, Dern would sit in the front seat of an old-fashioned roadster or pad around the gravel while reminiscing about the old days of entertainment under the stars, and sometimes about the people in the films he was presenting, when he had memories of working with them. No attempt was made by the producers to glamorize him, and his comments didn't seem to be pre-scripted in any way -- all you got was the straight, undiluted juice from Bruce.

I can't swear to this, but I think all the LOST DRIVE-IN I managed to preserve on tape was THE YOUNG RACERS and a 1967 movie called HELL ON WHEELS, starring Marty Robbins and John Ashley. I had never heard of the latter movie before, but it captured that single summer of my youth when I was into car culture so well (and not in an entirely pleasant way) that I had to snag it when Speedvision re-ran the movie later that same evening. At least I had the good sense not to trim out the host footage. The IMDb tells me that LOST DRIVE-IN ran from 1996 to 2001, so I guess I missed out on some good times.

Speaking of "American Pop" (as I did a few paragraphs ago), I recently had occasion to dub another tape from the attic to DVD-R, which I had recorded from those short-lived golden days when AMC was regularly previewing that Sixties-themed channel that never happened. The movie, a hugely entertaining spy/beach spoof called OUT OF SIGHT, was incidentally produced by Bart Patton, who had previously acted in DEMENTIA 13, probably in the role Mark Damon would have been played, had he tagged along to Ireland with the rest of the YOUNG RACERS cast. (Small world.) Again, I was delighted to discover that my tape not only caught AMC's one-time-only letterboxed presentation of OUT OF SIGHT -- starring Jonathan Daly, Carole Shelyne as "Marvin," and Norman "Woo Woo" Grabowski as "Huh" (I ask you, what more could anyone possibly WANT?) -- but also 30 minutes or so of spy-themed filler, including Scopitones, toy commercials, a Johnny Rivers video of "Secret Agent Man", and other inspired silliness. Silliness, yes, but it takes smarts to compile such ephemera, and that kind of smarts is what's in embarrassingly short supply on television today. It would have made such a great channel, "American Pop." But who needs it when people will pay for 300 channels of after-midnight "Paid Programming" about Vitamin B-12, male enhancement, and how to strike it rich on eBay?

In closing, a little study in interpretation. As I was watching the beginning of THE YOUNG RACERS and making sure the tape was tracking properly, I was struck by the main titles. In addition to offering the usual animation graphics for which AIP films were famous in those days, the titles feature still photos of a boy playing with a toy race car; after a series of shots that show the boy's hand on the miniature racer, and another that finds him making roaring engine sounds with his mouth, he's suddenly joined in frame by a second boy with a toy racer of his own, and the two boys place them side by side to stage a competition in the dirt. Then Roger Corman's credit appears and we're off to the real Grand Prix races.

What immediately struck me about this mostly still photo sequence -- besides its seeming debt to Chris Marker (whose LA JETÉE Corman possibly saw in its first year of release), and allusions to the competitive relationship that Corman was raised to have with his brother Gene -- is that it prefigures the memorable way Corman introduces the motorcycles in THE WILD ANGELS, with a boy pedalling his tricycle down the street until Peter Fonda's thundering hog cuts into frame. In both cases, Corman seems to suggest that the roads of motor racing and cycling run both ways. Children fantasize about the power, velocity, and victory that comes with belonging to those worlds; and, at the same time, the adults who pursue those lifestyles are living out fantasies conceived in childhood and run the risk of never moving beyond them.

My trouble, on the other hand, is that I did move beyond certain interests of my younger days -- like paying more attention to things like LOST DRIVE-IN and "American Pop" -- and now I find myself regretting it. It was only yesterday, it seems, and yet so long ago.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Woo-Hoo! TCM's New Columbia Crime Package


Beginning this month, Turner Classic Movies began premiering a whole new set of additions to their library "from the Hollywood studios of Columbia Pictures." Last week, the delightful and rarely-seen Gainsborough mermaid fantasy MIRANDA turned up on their schedule, the first time I've ever known it to appear on television (now bring on HELTER SKELTER and MAD ABOUT MEN, which also featured Glynis Johns as Miranda!), as well as the Jacques Tourneur classic CURSE OF THE DEMON. A reader called to notify us that TCM inadvertently ran the shorter American version of DEMON, even though the full length cut is available on domestic DVD, and asked me in a voice full of concern if I thought TCM "might be losing it."

To which I must answer "No chance!" -- especially after seeing the lineup they have prepared for us this coming Tuesday. In addition to an early morning broadcast of Howard Hawks' THE CRIMINAL CODE (1931, the film that brought Boris Karloff to the attention of FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale), TCM gets down to the nitty-gritty with their first showcasing of one of Columbia's classic B-mystery series, based on Jack Boyle's pulp fiction character "Boston Blackie."

Rather like Arsène Lupin, the French pulp hero of Maurice Leblanc, Boston Blackie (played by Chester Morris of THE BAT WHISPERS) is a former master criminal who -- with his accomplice-turned-valet The Runt (George E. Stone) -- goes straight, but is somehow never able to convince the law (usually personified by the gruff Richard Lane) of the sincerity of his intentions. Unlike the noirish quality of Columbia's "The Whistler" series, or the sometimes weird extremes of their "Crime Doctor" films, the "Boston Blackie" films are a snappy combination of B-mystery conventions and occasional screwball situation comedy that never outstays their welcome. It was Columbia's longest running B-mystery series, lasting for fourteen films over a period of nine years.

On Tuesday, January 23, between the hours of 1:30 and 6:30 pm eastern time, TCM will be showing the series' first four entries, described thusly on their website:

MEET BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief uncovers a spy ring while investigating a murder at sea. Cast: Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane. Dir: Robert Florey. BW-58 mins

CONFESSIONS OF BOSTON BLACKIE (1941)
A reformed thief cracks a ring of art thieves to clear himself of murder charges. Cast: Chester Morris, Harriet Hilliard, Richard Lane. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. C-65 mins

ALIAS BOSTON BLACKIE (1942)
A reformed thief tracks down an escaped convict so he can prove the man is innocent. Cast: Chester Morris, Adele Mara, Richard Lane. Dir: Lew Landers. C-67 mins

BOSTON BLACKIE GOES HOLLYWOOD (1942)
When he's framed for robbery, a reformed thief takes off to find the real culprit. Cast: Chester Morris, George E. Stone, Constance Worth. Dir: Michael Gordon. BW-68 mins

I was a little disappointed to see that TCM hasn't booked "Boston Blackie" for daily appearances, but I can understand why they wouldn't want to show the whole bunch right away. I haven't seen their February schedule yet, but my fingers are crossed for more. In the meantime, by all means, grab these while you can -- I believe you'll find them habit-forming -- and join me in an eager wait for other Columbia B-mystery series to emerge from the Turner vaults.

The remaining titles, by the way: AFTER MIDNIGHT WITH BOSTON BLACKIE (1943), THE CHANCE OF A LIFETIME (1943), ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT (1944), BOSTON BLACKIE BOOKED ON SUSPICION (1945), BOSTON BLACKIE'S RENDEZVOUS (1945), A CLOSE CALL FOR BOSTON BLACKIE (1945), THE PHANTOM THIEF (1946), BOSTON BLACKIE AND THE LAW (1946), TRAPPED BY BOSTON BLACKIE (1948), and BOSTON BLACKIE'S CHINESE VENTURE (1949).

The titles without "Boston Blackie" in them are trickier than the others to find, but hopefully TCM will do what they can to make the search easy for us.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Into The Sub-Conchis

The new issue of SIGHT AND SOUND features my review of THE MAGUS, now on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment -- go to your local newsstand and buy a copy, or read my review online here. When I was writing the piece, I didn't recollect the one thing people seem to remember the movie version of THE MAGUS for: namely, Woody Allen's quote that, if he had his whole life to live over, he wouldn't change a thing... except maybe, the second time around, he'd skip seeing THE MAGUS. I understand why he said that, but, to tell you the truth, I could say the same thing about MATCH POINT. No doubt about it, THE MAGUS is a failure... but some failures are interesting. Some failures are damned interesting -- not that THE MAGUS is one of those. Actually, a surprising number of my heroes could be considered failures from some perspectives.

But let's not go there.

Earlier this evening, I happened to catch Stuart Gordon's take on "The Black Cat," this week's installment of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR, and was very impressed. The episode, scripted by Gordon and his frequent collaborator Dennis Paoli (like last year's "Dreams in the Witch-House"), necessarily covers some ground that's all too familiar from earlier adaptations of this oft-filmed story -- including the obscure 1966 Harold Hoffman version -- but it goes at the material with unusual vigor and sympathy, wrenching fresh emotion and agony from it. As a sometimes writer of dark fiction, I can also attest that it says some regrettably, embarassingly, incontestably true things about the drawbacks of being a writer and darkly imaginative that I've never seen dramatized before, at least not with such knowledge and sympathy. A nearly unrecognizable Jeffrey Combs contributes an outstanding performance as Edgar Allan Poe that may be the series' most impressive to date, and the shot of Poe walking by night down a city street, followed by the enormous shadow of a stalking cat, strikes me as an instant classic. Don't miss it.

This is the first time I've commented on MASTERS OF HORROR in awhile. I've been recording them and watching them when I can. I haven't seen Mick Garris's "Valerie On the Stairs" yet, but I've heard it's an improvement on his first season episode ("Chocolate," which I thought was decent). Rob Schmidt's "Right To Die," scripted by John Esposito, had its moments -- including a truly shuddery bandaged horror also shown voluptuously and gruesomely undraped -- but the surprise ending struck me as dramatically dishonest, rendering everything that came before it a deception... and not in a good way. Tom Holland's "We All Scream for Ice Cream" (adapted from a John Farris story by our friend, the wild wild David J. Schow) I found surprisingly involving, considering that the story seemed a Mr. Softee redo of Stephen King's IT. (For all I know, the Farris story could have preceded the King novel; somebody will clue me in. David, probably.) To DJS's credit, while the premise of voodoo dollops of vanilla was a bit off the Richter scale of believability, he kept me hooked by grounding the nonsense with canny adult dialogue and a steely view of childhood that was impressive and unusual in its determination to remain clear-eyed and unsentimental. The episode's success is that it dealt with the subjects of guilt and nostalgia without letting nostalgia get the upper hand.

Speaking of nostalgia, I couldn't decide what to watch tonight, so I drifted back to something semi-familiar. I picked Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes' ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, which I wrote about on this blog some weeks ago with enthusiasm. Perhaps it was my mood, or the amontillado aftertaste of "The Black Cat," but most everything about it struck me on this viewing as wrong, miscast, or miscalculated. I remembered it as brighter, funnier, more energetic, but this time it moved awkwardly and I laughed only once (when Prof. Okamura says "Another day, another dollar" -- not when John Malkovich says "I was one of the first," as would have been my guess). Perhaps it's because I watched the film alone this time; perhaps this time my heart went out to the characters a bit more, but something brought out the stifling darkness of the piece, which I can't imagine how I sublimated the first time around. It now seems to me as dark a film as BAD SANTA, though that eureka probably qualifies for a "duh." Even the closing shot, which I found so eloquent before, felt a bit too much on the nose. I almost feel as though I've lost a friend.

This is why Pauline Kael saw movies only once. She liked knowing where she stood.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The One That Achieves Madness

Mick Jagger reminisces about Hemlock Row in the "Memo from Turner" sequence of PERFORMANCE.

One of my ambitions at the moment is to write a monograph for Continuum Books' impressive "33 1/3" series. Introduced in 2003, the numbered sequence now consists of more than 40 paperbacks, each devoting 25-40,000 words to the in-depth exploration of a single album. (Click on those orange letters for a list.) I personally enjoy reading music criticism more than film criticism and have read twenty or so of these books to date, with the ones devoted to Dusty Springfield's DUSTY IN MEMPHIS, Love's FOREVER CHANGES, The Kinks' THE VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY, James Brown's LIVE AT THE APOLLO VOLUME 1, and Bob Dylan's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED being some of my favorites. Though I finally proposed to Continuum's editor a book on a different album, one of the others I was seriously considering was the soundtrack to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's PERFORMANCE (1970).

I've seen PERFORMANCE now countless times, but the album takes me back to a time when I was 14 years old, still too young to see X-rated films, and could only experience "the wild electric dream" promised in the film's newspaper ads through the annex of its music. Anyone of any age could buy the album, though I confess I did so somewhat self-consciously, feeling more than a twinge of transgression as I meekly handed my shrink-wrapped copy over to the salesgirl. Warner Bros. Records had wisely placed Mick Jagger's lippy puss front and center, wanting the maximum return on the closest thing to a Rolling Stones album they had yet marketed, though the Stones would soon sign with sister company Atlantic Records and get their own label in the bargain. Not knowing what the music contained therein might say, exclaim or scream, I listened to the album for the first time under headphones -- and my prudence was, to an extent, well advised.

Assembled under the musical direction of principal composer Jack Nietsche, the PERFORMANCE soundtrack is not your usual soundtrack album, and this was even truer at the time of its release. Much of the album is devoted to byzantine instrumentals featuring (in all their variety) vocals by "Gimme Shelter" soloist Merry Clayton, Moog synthesizing by Paul Beaver, mouth-bow solos by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Mrs. Nietsche at the time), and bluesy electric bottleneck guitar miniatures played by six-string maestro Ry Cooder. The opening section of one of the Cooder showcases, "Get Away," is blatantly patterned on Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band's "Sure 'Nuff 'n' Yes I Do," on which Cooder played but which neither he nor Nietsche had a role in composing. Which brings us to the meat and drink of the album, provided by three vocal tracks: Randy Newman's "Gone Dead Train", The Last Poets' "Wake Up Niggers", and of course, Mick Jagger's "Memo from Turner."

All three of these songs are fairly frightening -- "Gone Dead Train" for Newman's suffering, yelping vocal, "Wake Up Niggers" for its confrontational militant fury, and "Memo from Turner" for its Burroughsian cut-up lyrics, which seem at times to point recursively to imagistic content of the film as well as other lyrical content on the album. ("I was eatin' eggs in Sammy's when the black man there drew his knife...") With its great slide guitar work by Little Feat's Lowell George, it remains, I think inarguably, one of the finest things Jagger has ever recorded; it's as apocalyptic in tenor as "Gimme Shelter" but sports hermaphroditic colors, autobiographic shadings ("the baby's dead, my lady said" reportedly refers to a lost child with Marianne Faithfull), and even a sneering sense of humor. As its music heats up, the blood of its lyrics run cold.

The album's title track and closing track "Turner's Murder," with their ominously sustained low end synthesizer notes, put me very much in the mind of another soundtrack of which I was already aware: Quincy Jones' IN COLD BLOOD. I had seen Richard Brooks' film on my 12th birthday and its cold realism left a powerful impression on me; I hid my eyes during the murder scenes on that first pass, which left my senses entirely in the hands of its music, no less violent in its insinuations. So to hear similar music on the PERFORMANCE album promised an equally overpowering experience, and I listened to it repeatedly to conquer my feelings of dread.

I was especially taken by Side 1's closing "Harry Flowers," in which a sweepingly romantic orchestral piece is gradually infected by a phasing synthesizer effect that blooms into receding white noise. It probably prepared me for The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", now that I think about it.

As I look back over the music I absorbed at an early age as I began to wean myself from Top 40 radio, I find that the PERFORMANCE soundtrack was as significant as any record I ever bought in terms of opening my ears and widening my musical boundaries. The album totals a mere 36:26, yet it encompasses alternative rock, Delta blues, electronica, atonal classical, Indian sitar, early rap, MOR and choral music. It's a marvelous record, an important thing considered separately from the film it scored. (It also warrants a digital remaster, as the flat sound of the current CD -- issued way back in 1991 -- suggests it may have been sourced from vinyl.) But, when push came to shove, I couldn't trust myself to write 25,000 words about it. If the proposal I've submitted to Continuum Books gets accepted, I'll tell you which album I decided to write about instead.

I finally saw PERFORMANCE a year or two later. I don't recall the name of the place, but the theater was in northern Kentucky and it was a small room above a regular theater. It was smaller than some home entertainment constructs are today, consisting of only two rows of maybe eight seats, wedged very close together. It looked like a place where an elite circle of powerful executives might congregate to watch porn or snuff movies. There was only one showing of the film, at 12:00 midnight, and the print was a 16mm rental. There was only one projector too, so there was an intermission. As I recall, Brad Balfour, Joel Zakem and Earl Whitson were there, all of whom had seen the movie before and spoken of it with enthusiasm, to say the least. As the movie unreeled, we quickly realized that something was seriously wrong with the sound, either a fault of the projection, the sound system, or the print itself -- which, considering the vaguely illicit setting, might well have been a dupe. So the first time I saw PERFORMANCE, it was an assault of imagery with not too much dialogue that could be sorted out. I remember "Shut your bleeding hole!" and "I'm normal!" being the only two lines that made themselves clear. We told the theater manager about the problem during the reel change and he kindly refunded our money, though we all insisted on sticking around for the rest of the garbled presentation. (Those were, after all, the days when we would apply aluminum foil to the rabbit ears on our television sets and stand with one leg up, flamingo-like, just to watch the snowy reception of some movie playing on a station in a neighboring city.) When I finally saw a proper 35mm revival of the film some years later, I found its Cockney accents so thick, I still couldn't make out a great deal of the dialogue! All this was vital experience in coming to terms with PERFORMANCE, a film I now understand and love a great deal -- which, by the way, will finally be released on DVD by Warner Home Video on February 13.

This random personal history is my way of plugging a beloved series of books, but also of building up to a plug for my friend David Del Valle's latest exhibit of motion picture stills at the Drkrm Gallery in Los Angeles. Following David's popular shows devoted to Mexican horror, Italian sword-and-sandal epics, and Roger Corman's Poe films, "PERFORMANCE: A Photographic Exhibition featuring the work of Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg" will have its opening reception this Saturday night, January 20, from 7:00 - 10:00pm.

VIDEO WATCHDOG's own Sam Umland will be in attendance to sign copies of his superb book DONALD CAMMELL: A LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE, and David tells us that THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH stars Buck Henry and Candy Clark will also be present. Among the items in the PERFORMANCE portion of the exhibit are eleven seldom-seen photos taken by the celebrated Cecil Beaton on the set, from Cammell's own collection.

For more information about the exhibit, which runs through February 24, visit the Drkrm Gallery website here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

You Asked for It! More Dexter Riley!

Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) has a scientific eureka after dropping his glasses into his new formula. He wears glasses at no other time in the picture.

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T
1972, Walt Disney Video, DD-2.0/16:9/LB/CC/ST, 88m 15s, $19.99, DVD-1

Perhaps the most one can say on behalf of Walt Disney's second "Dexter Riley" movie, NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T, is that it's an improvement on the first (THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES, reviewed here last September 23). Otherwise, returning screenwriter Joseph L. McEveety recycles the same template: ace Medfield College science student Riley (Kurt Russell) is working on a new and absurd-sounding project; a random storm facilitates his unexpected success; his invention attracts the attention of local crooked businessman A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), to whom the college dean E.J. Higgins (Joe Flynn) is financially indebted; the smug Dean Higgins is still in competition with Dean Collingswood (Alan Hewitt), the smugger head of a larger college, this time for a $50,000 grant from local businessman Timothy Forsythe (Jim Backus); a scientifically augmented student (this time Richard Schuyler, played by Michael McGreevey) snoops into Arno's affairs to expose him, prompting him to take steps to embarrass Riley and Medfield College publicly; and it all builds to a finale with a wild-and-woolly road chase sequence and scholastic competition.

In this case, Riley's science project turns out to be an invisibility formula, which he's copped from the disregarded 200 year-old writings of a Russian scientist who died in an insane asylum. The invisibility agent is a water-soluble liquid, which allows for some humorous moments when Schuyler's invisibility is rendered partial (when he walks his invisible sneakers through a puddle, for instance) or altogether negated without his knowledge. Among the supporting players are Edward Andrews, Richard Bakalyan, Burt Mustin, Mike Evans (Lionel of TV's ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE JEFFERSONS, who recently died of throat cancer at age 57), and a very young, tousle-haired Ed Begley, Jr., who would do his own amusing invisible-but-not-really routine in "Son of the Invisible Man," a Carl Gottlieb-directed segment of the later AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987).

Joyce Menges looks agog as a horrified Michael McGreevey realizes that Dexter's latest formula actually works.

As with the earlier film, NOW YOU SEE HIM... suffers from low energy editing by Cotton Walburton, showing none of the comedy-enhancing snap, crackle and pop he had brought to his cutting of THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR or MOON PILOT, and a vague yet action-intensive script that leaves us none the wiser about who Dexter Riley and his friends really are, or why we should care about them. The cover art suggests, if not a romantic relationship (à la Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk in the Merlin Jones movies), at least a sense of equality between Kurt Russell and cute co-star Joyce Menges; but -- like Debbie Paine in THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES -- Menges is merely the token female character. She called her screen career quits after this.

If possible, this sequel is even cheaper-looking than its predecessor, the invisibility effects fraught with dirty-looking bluescreen traces of stepped-up grain and all-too-visible wires ambulating an invisible teen's all-too-visible gym shoes. A much-promoted photo depicting a student with eyeglasses and familiar facial wrappings turns out to have nothing to do with invisibility, but with an allergy to bee stings! Much as the previous film was remarkable for the array of facial flaws and blemishes on display, this one is a nearly non-stop parade of bad hair (aside from the ever-suave Cesar Romero) -- not because the hairstyles look unfashionable, but because the actors (William Windom as Prof. Lufkin particularly) were allowed to go before the camera looking poorly groomed, not to mention wearing clashing wardrobe that looks imported from home. The film's saving grace is an extended golfing sequence that finds gaudily-dressed golf amateur Dean Higgins effortlessly winning a game on the green with invisible help; it's here that Flynn's comic performance and the comedic timing of COMPUTER director Robert Butler momentarily spring to life. Someone in the casting department was also showing a sense of humor when they hired an actor named Jack Griffin (uncredited) to play one of the traffic cops.

Ed Begley, Jr. explains to William Windom and Joe Flynn why he won't be able to participate in Medfield College's science competition.

Whereas Disney's DVD of THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES was standard ratio, NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T (released in May 2004) is soft-matted from its standard camera ratio to its intended projection ratio of 1.85:1. I would imagine that a full frame rendering would only serve to expose some of the invisibility mattes and rigs moreso than they are exposed here. The picture quality is okay, and the only curiosity about the audio track is that the frankly miserable score has been so buried in the sound mix that it often sounds like it's emanating from another, semi-soundproofed room. The closed-captioned disc features subtitles in French and Spanish but no secondary audio tracks.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

My First Artist

The Baby Boomers among you will surely share a common memory of sitting in front of an old black-and-white television set and watching in thrall as a goateed man in a plaid shirt -- who signed his name boldly and with great authority -- brought random lines together into coherent images on LEARN TO DRAW, the first-ever art instructional program on TV.

Before most of us knew the names of Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, or Da Vinci, we knew the name of Jon Gnagy.

Checking the IMDb, I was astonished to learn that today, January 13, would have been the 100th birthday of "America's Original Television Art Teacher." Surely I'm too young to have had a teacher celebrating a centenary! Yet these are the facts... What I find almost more incredible is the revelation, according to his biography, that on the day television was first transmitted to the public at large from the antennae atop the Empire State Building -- May 13, 1946 -- Jon Gnagy was the very first performer on the very first show ever broadcast.

Happily for those of us who have long craved to see one of his lessons again, the artist's daughter, Polly Gnagy Seymour, has launched a website to perpetuate the memory of her father, who died in 1981. There you can find ten different video clips, glorious samples of his painting, three complete lessons from Gnagy's printed art instruction, and even a link to a company that continues to sell the original Jon Gnagy art kits! Maybe you had one! (Donna did.) Today of all days, if you remember the thrill of seeing his hand poised over those blank sheets of paper, ready to create something out of nothing, you should visit Polly's site and sign her guest book with your remembrances.

Why not follow the link and... learn to draw!

Friday, January 12, 2007

LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN previewed

Anita Strindberg as the dissolute Julia Durer.
LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN
Una lucertola con la pelle di donna
1971, Shriek Show, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/SUB/+, 103m 19s, $19.95, DVD-0

One of the earliest Italian gialli produced in the wake of Dario Argento's hugely successful THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Lucio Fulci's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN was a far steeper plunge into surrealism and strangeness and, as such, proved just as influential as -- if not moreso than -- Argento's Antonioniesque shocker.

Florinda Bolkan stars as Carol Hammond, the bourgeois daughter of respected lawyer-politician Edmund Brighton (Leo Genn), introduced as a careworn figure pushing through people crowded into the passageway of a train, who turn naked as her dream segues into an erotic, wind-tossed encounter with Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). Once Carol regains consciousness, we realize that Julia is her nextdoor neighbor in a London apartment complex, socially snubbed by most residents for her psychedelic orgies -- a woman to whom Carol has never actually spoken, as she confesses to her psychiatrist (George Rigaud). One night, a particularly loud party inspires Carol to dream of murdering Julia. The morning after, Julia is found dead in exactly the manner dreamed, with Carol's fur coat and letter opener left at the scene of the crime. In Carol's dream, she realized after stabbing Julia that there were two witnesses to her deed, two white-eyed hippies gazing at her from a mezzanine within the apartment. This aspect of the dream also proves real when Carol's stepdaughter Joan (Ely Galleani, billed as Edy Gall) makes the acquaintence of these hippies, whose behavior subsequently turns calculatedly predatory. No description of the film's plot can really do it justice, as it was made to be experienced -- almost in the Jimi Hendrix sense of that phrase. Though conceived and executed by a director who reportedly hated hippies and despised the drug culture, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN is a decidedly psychedelic entertainment, graced by one of Ennio Morricone's most volatile yet sensual giallo scores.

Co-scripted by Fulci and frequent collaborator Roberto Gianviti, with additional credit extended to José Luís Martínez Mollà and André Tranché to mollify Spanish and French co-production quotas, LIZARD is overly contrived on an explicatory level but dazzles as a cinematic construction. In this way, it deceptively appears to be as indebted to Brian De Palma as to Argento or Hitchcock, though it braves into areas of sensuality and technique (split screen, split diopter shots, etc) two full years before SISTERS and almost a decade before DRESSED TO KILL, the De Palma film LIZARD most sleekly resembles. If the film's resolution seems needlessly obscure and distended, one reaches it through a procession of marvelously disorienting suspense sequences in which one can see the pictorial influences of Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, among others. In the extended sequence in which Bolkan is pursued through the now derelict Alexandra Palace by Mike Kennedy, the vast emptiness of the place suggests not only the spectral landscapes of some Dalí paintings but also sequences in Hitchcock in which characters are dwarfed by the passive countenances of national landmarks, as in the British Museum sequence of BLACKMAIL. The frequently impressive cinematography was the work of Luigi Kuveiller (DEEP RED, A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), assisted by Mario Bava's former operator Ubaldo Terzano.

Carol (Florinda Bolkan) could kill that noisy neighbor of hers... but does she?

When Shriek Show first released LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN in February 2005, it provoked a storm of controversy within Internet discussion groups. While preparing this earlier release, Shriek Show's disc producers were aware that the English language print they had acquired -- titled SCHIZOID (95m 33s) and originally released by American International -- was far from complete, even after two separate English source elements had been cobbled together. They sought to smooth over its shortcomings by adding a second disc featuring a cropped, softish, standard framed transfer of the Italian version (97m 48s PAL, 101m 58s real time), subtitled in English, which contained additional material exclusive to the Italian version.

In the wake of its release, Italy's Federal Video issued a Region 2 disc of the film that included the far handsomer, anamorphic presentation of a unique edition -- essentially the Italian cut, with some footage exclusive to the AIP version seemingly ported back into the continuity via the Shriek Show presentation. It ran 98m 8s in PAL, or 102m 19s in real time. This version's reliance on the SCHIZOID edition was most obvious during the scene of Julia's murder, which AIP had treated to a distorting ripple-like optical to obscure the nudity of Bolkan and Strindberg and details of the film's pivotal stabbing; the Federal DVD presented the scene in a combination of rippled and unrippled footage, evidently because the aptly-named SCHIZOID included individual shots not found in the Italian cut. The R2 disc also offered a "deleted scene" not edited back into the picture. Despite this oversight and the fact that the Federal DVD offered nothing in the way of English subtitles, Media Blasters/Shriek Show was raked over the coals in Cyberspace because a superior-looking element had been found to exist, which the company was berated for not importing and subtitling.

Shriek Show is hoping to make good for their earlier release by issuing a new and improved single-disc remaster of Fulci's classic psycho-thriller that, they hope, will provide the best of all possible Lucertoli for the film's admirers. Having been given a first look at the new disc, I can attest that this new version is -- like the Federal presentation -- a unique cut of the film that was likely never shown in any theater anywhere in the world. It runs a full minute longer than Federal's earlier composite and is certainly the most complete version of the film likely to surface on DVD. I've heard that Studio Canal are the current custodians of the film's original negative, but while a negative would ensure the best possible picture quality, it would carry no guarantee of being more complete. Only the scenes included in the SCHIZOID cut were actually dubbed into English, under the direction of AIP line producer Salvatore Billetteri. Also, mind you, it is unlikely that Studio Canal would allow any negative out of their hands, so anyone licensing the film from them would be required to accept the transfer they were given. The only way to arrive at a complete version of this film would appear to be by cobbling together the English and Italian versions, as Shriek Show has done here with the help of a new Italian print element.

Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown as the tripping witnesses to murder.

So how does Shriek Show's second go at LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN differ from, or improve upon, their first? The following is a breakdown of some points of comparison between the new version and its predecessors, which has been assembled with the help of Shriek Show's Richard York:

2:08-2:30 The scene of Carol walking through the masses of naked people in the train's passageway has been lengthened by 22 seconds.

4:00-4:30 During the first lesbian encounter between Carol and Julia, there is an additional shot exposing Florinda Bolkan's backside as Anita Strindberg pulls the fur coat off her shoulders. This shot appeared in neither version of the film included in Shriek Show's previous release, though an abbreviated version of the shot appeared in SCHIZOID. It should be mentioned that Federal's R2 version was lacking some moments of Bolkan writhing and moaning in her bed before she wakes up, which were included in SCHIZOID.

9:08-9:18 and 9:48-10:16 During these time codes, some shots not seen in SCHIZOID -- most of which involved nudity of some sort -- were reinserted into the quick-cut montage.

10:38-11:04 The scene of Strindberg removing her top, walking toward a man and kissing him was not in Federal's R2 version but was included on their DVD as a "deleted scene." The scene was already present in SCHIZOID.

17:09-17:30 The Francis Bacon-inspired nightmare sequence in SCHIZOID omitted the shot in which a blue-faced Ely Galleani was shown to be cradling a tumult of gooey intestines spilling from her midsection, as well as much of Carlo Rambaldi's gigantic swan-thing. This material was reinserted.

17:32-19:26 As mentioned earlier, in SCHIZOID, the murder of Julia by Carol was treated to a rippling optical effect, presumably to obscure nudity and violence -- and possibly to heighten the ambiguity of whether or not it's a dream. On the Federal R2 disc, this scene cuts back and forth between rippled and non-rippled material in an effort to reincorporate footage found only in the SCHIZOID cut. The Italian master provided to Shriek Show contained the entire scene unrippled, which is what they have opted to include in their new release -- providing a wholly unobstructed view of the proceedings.

26:10-26:21 The scene of Jean Sorel, Ely Galleani and Silvia Monti walking and talking, expressing concern for Florinda Bolkan's character was not previously included in SCHIZOID or the Italian version included on Shriek Show's original release. The dialogue scene exists only in Italian and thus had to be inserted into the otherwise English-language film in Italian with English subtitles.

26:22-30:06 Immediately following the above scene is the paranoid dinner sequence during which Carol receives the phone call from her neighbor, then frantically looks for her notes. This scene was in Shriek Show's earlier standard-framed Italian version, but not in SCHIZOID.

30:24-31:19 A tense-looking Florinda is smoking cigarettes on a sofa while Silvia sits at a table. Ely brings Silvia a drink and some brief dialogue is exchanged. This nearly minute-long scene was likewise not on any previous version and had to be subtitled. This scene leads up to Florinda barging in on the crime scene.

32:17-32:24 Inserted back into the scene of Carol's visit to the crime scene were 7 seconds of her being conforted by her husband (Sorel) and a disquieting close-up of Julia's dead body.

53:53-54:06 This scene of Sorel and Monti's extramarital lovemaking was extended by 13 seconds of additional kissing and rolling around.

58:26-59:12 Finally, the infamous scene of Carol's accidental discovery of the clinic's room of conscious, vivisected dogs -- not included in SCHIZOID -- has been reinserted.


Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) brings cold comfort to Carol as she mourns a relative.

Shriek Show's forthcoming release thus improves upon earlier attempts in meaningful ways and warrants recognition as a significant upgrade -- indeed, it's the most integral version we're likely to see. Nevertheless, the disc has some modest faults that must also be noted.

When compared to the Federal DVD, there is no question that the Italian disc is cleaner, sharper-looking, with more realistically modulated color. (Mind you, it's also incomplete and in Italian only, with some faux compositing -- like the on/off rippling -- that favor AIP's preferences over those of Fulci. Though LIZARD is of Italian origin, it was set and shot in London and acted almost entirely in English, with some principals like Baker and Genn doing the actual dubbing, so the English track takes precedence above any other.) For some reason, Shriek Show opted to brighten the feature's overall color, as I suppose was in keeping with their predominant source, the SCHIZOID element; I felt it necessary to turn the color settings of my monitor down a notch or two, to a more realistic, less distracting register, after which the film-like quality of the anamorphic image was very pleasing. That the new master made use of more than one source element is not particularly evident, showing that great pains were taken to achieve a consistent look throughout. I noticed brief instances of glare and grain, possibly inherent in the source elements rather than the transfer, but no cause for common complaints like overdone edge enhancement. Certain scenes are mildly marred by fine bluish scratches, which I didn't find objectionable, as it's better to have such reminders of 35mm film stock than too much digital cleanup. In comparing footage shared by this new transfer and Shriek Show's earlier SCHIZOID transfer, I found the new transfer more vivid. The audio options are English 5.1 and 2.0 mono, and Italian 2.0 mono (viewable with English subtitles). My sampling of the 5.1 option found that it didn't do much but send the mono signal equally from all five channels, which I found spatially disorienting and quickly did without. Perhaps I gave up too early, as I'm told the track does include some directional effects, particularly during the film's celebrated bat attack sequence.

With the exception of the several Fulci trailers carried over from the previous release (including the one featuring a ponderous epigraph by author "M. Hawthorne"), the new disc's extras have all been imported from the R2 disc and given English subtitles. These consist of a generous 31m discussion of Fulci and this particular film by Prof. Paolo Albiero, co-author of the book IL TERRORISTA DEI GENERI: TUTTO IL CINEMA DE LUCIO FULCI (something I need to acquire). Albiero's talk, at once intellectual yet entertaining and approachable, I found quite engrossing; it deals with LIZARD on conceptual and generic levels, places the film intelligently in context with Fulci's other work (Albiero feels that Fulci's horror films were "his ruin," in the overall story of his career, though he discusses them with obvious appreciation), and Albiero speaks with warmth and confidence. The talk is followed by Albiero's concise history of the film's censorship problems abroad (5m 51s). The feature's original Italian title sequence is also included.

Having compiled such a nearly definitive package, it's all the more regrettable that Shriek Show chose not to go all the way by carrying over from their original release Kit Gavin & Mike Baronas' "Shedding the Skin" (33m 44s) -- a terrifically thorough and entertaining featurette including interviews with the surviving cast and effects men, as well as visits to original shooting locations. The absence of this most valuable labor of love from the new release makes it essential that fans of the film either hold onto, or belatedly acquire, the original Shriek Show two-disc set.

Bear in mind that this article is a preview; Shriek Show's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN will not street until March 17. Minor quibbles aside, it's an impressive disc with absorbing extras -- and likely to stand out as one of the most important genre film restorations of the year. Where this title is concerned, we're never going to get completeness and perfection, but this presentation comes remarkably close to achieving just that.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE reviewed

John Phillip Law as hypnotist Dr. Peter Price, offering three fellow train passengers glimpses into their fates in 1 TRE VOLTI DEL TERRORE.

I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE
"The Three Faces of Terror"
2004, Pulp Video/Xploited Cinema, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/16:9/LB/SUB/+, 84m 35s, $21.95, DVD-0

The spirit of Mario Bava may live on in today's Italian horror cinema but -- judging by this anthology from special makeup effects artist-turned-director Sergio Stivaletti -- in name only. The title and format of this digitally-shot feature are plainly indebted to Bava's 1963 I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ("The Three Faces of Fear"), also known as BLACK SABBATH; it toplines John Phillip Law, the star of Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, who is featured in the wraparound story and plays different characters in all three principal stories; and there is also an amusing cameo by Lamberto Bava, who appears in the second story as the director of "DEMONI 7." Stivaletti's heart may be in the right place, but he could have paid greater tribute to Bava by aspiring to the standards of craftsmanship he established, rather than with tongue-in-cheek name-and-trivia-dropping and a troika of lame stories.

Scripted by Stivaletti and Antonio Tentori, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE is most obviously indebted to the 1965 Amicus production DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and also the 1985 low-rent anthology NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which also featured Law. Three strangers (Riccardo Serventi, Ambre Even, Emiliano Reggente) travelling in an otherwise unoccupied traincar are joined by Dr. Peter Price (Law), who introduces himself as a hypnotist. He carries with him a silver ball that is the agent of his hypnosis, popping open in the palms of the passengers to reveal spinning mirrors that offer frightening glimpses of their futures, which turn out to be reminders of their immediate pasts. In "L'Anello della Luna" ("The Ring of the Moon"), Law plays a wealthy relics collector who pays a small fortune to two men to loot an ancient tomb, but one (Serventi) decides to keep the dead man's ring, which cuts into his finger and infects him with lycanthropy. (Popular keyboardist/composer Claudio Simonetti makes a cameo in this segment, as a victim of the werewolf.) In "Un Viso Perfetto (Dr. Lifting)," an actress (Even) escorts her best friend (Elizabetta Rocchetti) to a plastic surgeon (Law, actually named Dr. Fisher -- whose office and waiting rooms are stocked with film reference books and video guides!) and is taken aback when her friend expresses a wish to look more like her. In "Il Guardiano del Lago" ("Guardian of the Lake"), Law plays a half-masked boatman who warns three lakeside visitors to abandon their campsite because the surrounding waters harbor danger.
The stories are not only flimsy, but made to seem weaker than they are by the film's ill-considered structure, which cuts them off before they are properly finished -- giving the impression of weak endings all around; the proper story endings are withheld till a procession near the end of the movie, after certain facts about the wraparound story (already glaringly apparent to anyone halfway familiar with the horror genre) have been made sledgehammer clear.

Riccardo Serventi wishes he hadn't stolen "L'Anello della Luna."

Though inspirationally rooted in the 1960s, everything else about this picture -- Stivaletti's gooey Change-O-Head transformation effects, the prog rock-oriented soundtrack, the blue-and-black-colored atmospherics, the stumblingly phonetic supporting performances, the dated-looking CGI effects, an unnecessary sex scene (to call it "gratuitous" would indicate that it actually delivered some cheap thrills) -- all this seems a hapless hommage to 1980s Italian horror, the kind that always went straight to videocassette, courtesy of labels like Media Home Entertainment and Lightning Video back in the day.

If the film is worth seeing for any reason at all, it's to enjoy the sweet and somewhat sentimental scenery-chewing of John Phillip Law, who gets to play a range of characters in a range of dramatic modes. As Dr. Peter Price, he seems to be reprising the "old man" disguise he wore as Diabolik while reclaiming the emerald pendants from the crematorium; elsewhere, he can be found effectively underplaying in "L'Anello della Luna" and chortling his way wildly over the top in classic Grade Z mad scientist tradition in the final moments of "Un Viso Perfetto" (which recalls his work in Sergio Bergonzelli's insane BLOOD SACRIFICE. Even more to the picture's credit is a well-done stop-motion animation sequence (supervised by Fabrizio Lazzeretti and Gaetano Polizzi) involving a sea monster that briefly harkens back to the Harryhausen and Danforth fantasies of the early 1960s, a spirit which should have infected this enterprise a bit more.

As previously noted, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE was shot on digital video and it looks here about the same as many 1980s Italian efforts shot in 16mm or Super 16mm; the lighting is a trifle glaring at times, the color is adequate, and the picture quality is a bit soft with occasional haloing. It's viewable in Italian with optional English subtitles or in English, which plays more awkwardly but at least preserves the vocal performances given onset by Law and his co-stars. The Italian track is playable in Dolby Digital 5.1 (an impressive mix) and 2.0 surround, while the English track is presented only in Dolby Stereo. The English subtitles are an oddity, punctuated with several instances of transcribed Italian muttered (ad libbed?) onscreen. The copy under review also evinced quite a few audio glitches on the English track.

Elizabetta Rocchetti gets what she asked for in"Un Viso Perfetta."

No fewer than three different editions of the film are available on import DVD, including a single-disc no-frills edition, a single-disc edition loaded with extras, and a three-disc edition containing a second disc of even more bonus materials and a CD of the musical score; all three are available from Xploited Cinema. The disc under review here is the single disc with extras, which already seems like much ado about fairly little. The bonus materials include deleted scenes, an unsubtitled 13m behind-the-scenes featurette, two trailers (the English one is a charmer, including original footage of Law in character), various photo galleries, an audio commentary by Stivaletti and Tentori (in Italian, without subtitles), and more.

I thought Stivaletti's earlier WAX MASK showed promise, but it was a real movie; I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE seems less an actual feature than a Digicam lark made on weekends by fans who happen to be professionals. I wish I liked this concoction better, but I can only recommend it -- with reservations -- to Italian horror buffs interested in checking in with John Phillip Law's career. And if an Italian horror booster like myself can find so little joy in it, I can't commend it to the attention of anyone whose genre interests may be more tempered.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Collecting THE RIFLEMAN

A disarming promo shot of THE RIFLEMAN's Johnny Crawford
and Chuck Connors.


With THE RIFLEMAN starting anew on Encore Westerns this evening (at 7:00 pm eastern), I know I'm not the only collector who's wondering which episodes I still need. With this idea in mind --instilled in me by fellow McCain rancher Larry Blamire -- I decided to sit down with the six extant MPI Home Video box sets (now officially out-of-print, though still available), find the correct season and episode numbers for each program therein, and use that information to determine which shows were still missing.

The listings below present of the volume number for each MPI box set, followed by the episode titles in that set, each show followed by its correct season and episode number in parentheses. (The episode numbers are sequential; in other words, Season 2 begins with Episode 41, not Episode 1.) These are followed by a final, season-by-season accounting of the 48 episodes not issued on DVD by MPI. I have also color-coded the seasons, to make their episodes easier to identify at a glance: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 and Season 5.

The good news: If you bought the MPI sets, you won't have to start recording for awhile.

VOLUME 1
Sharpshooter (S1 E1)
Home Ranch (S1 E2)
End of a Young Gun (S1 E3)
The Marshall (S1 E4)
Duel of Honor (S1 E7)
The Angry Gun (S1 E13)
The Sheridan Story (S1 E16)
The Money Gun (S1 E33)
The Mind Reader (S1 E40)

Bloodlines (S2 E42)
Day of the Hunter (S2 E55)

The Vaqueros (S4 E111)
Knight Errant (S4 E117)
The Long Goodbye (S4 E119)
High Country (S4 E122)
Man From Salinas (S4 E130)
Two Ounces of Tin (S4 E131)

Waste: Part I (S5 E143)
Waste: Part II (S5 E144)

The Deadly Image (S4 E132)

VOLUME 2
The Boarding House (S1 E22)
The Brother-in-Law (S1 E5)

The Bullet (S5 E163)
Dead Cold Cash (S3 E85)
The Hero (S2 E59)
The Indian (S1 E21)
Lariat (S2 E67)
Mail Order Groom (S2 E56)
The Martinet (S3 E83)
Miss Bertie (S3 E90)
The Most Amazing Man (S5 E151)
New Orleans Menace (S1 E10)
One Went To Denver (S1 E25)

The Prodigal (S2 E71)
The Safe Guard (S1 E8)
The Schoolmaster (S3 E86)
Three-Legged Terror (S1 E30)
The Wyoming Story 1 (S3 E96)
The Wyoming Story 2 (S3 E97)

The Young Englishman (S1 E12)

VOLUME 3
The Patsy (S2 E41)
The Blowout (S2 E43)
Obituary (S2 E44)
Tension (S2 E45)
Eddie's Daughter (S2 E46)
Panic (S2 E47)
Ordeal (S2 E48)
The Spiked Rifle (S2 E49)
The Letter of the Law (S2 E50)
Legacy (S2 E51)
The Babysitter (S2 E52)
The Coward (S2 E53)
The Surveyors (S2 E54)
A Case of Identity (S2 E57)
The Visitor (S2 E58)
The Spoiler (S2 E61)
Heller (S2 E62)
Meeting at Midnight (S2 E74)
Nora (S2 E75)
The Hangman (S2 E76)

VOLUME 4
Trail of Hate (S3 E77)
Eight Hours to Die (S1 E6)
The Sister (S1 E9)
The Apprentice Sheriff (S1 E11)
The Gaucho (S1 E14)
The Pet (S1 E15)
The Retired Gun (S1 E17)
The Photographer (S1 E18)
Shivaree (S1 E19)
The Dead-Eye Kid (S1 E20)
The Deadly Wait (S1 E26)
The Wrong Man (S1 E27)
The Challenge (S1 E28)
The Woman (S1 E32)
The Angry Man (S1 E31)
A Matter of Faith (S1 E34)
Blood Brothers (S1 E35)
Stranger at Night (S1 E36)
The Raid (S1 E37)
Outlaw's Inheritance (S1 E38)


VOLUME 5
The Trade (S1 E24)
Boomerang (S1 E39)
The Hawk (S1 E29)

The Horsetraders (S2 E60)
Jailbird (S2 E73)
The Grasshopper (S2 E63)
The Fourflushers (s2 E72)
The Deserter (S2 E65)
Smoke Screen (S2 E68)
Shotgun Man (S2 E69)
Old Man Running (S5 E166)
Old Tony (S5 168 - final episode)
Quiet Night, Deadly Night (S5 E146)
Suspicion (S5 E157)
Which Way’d They Go? (S5 E167)
Gun Shy (S5 E153)
I Take This Woman (S 5 E148)
Incident at Line Shack 6 (S5 E156)
Lou Mallory (S5 E145)
Mark’s Rifle (S5 E150)


VOLUME 6
The Vision (S2 E66)
Woman From Hog Ridge (S3 E78)
Sins of the Father (S2 E70)
The Illustrator (S3 E88)
Baranca (S3 E82)
The Actress (S3 E94)
A Time For Singing (S2 E64)
Seven (S3 E79)
The Long Trek (S3 E93)
Flowers By the Door (S3 E92)
Face of Yesterday (S3 E95)
Miss Millie (S3 E84)
The Pitchman (S3 E80)
The Promoter (S3 E87)
Silent Knife (S3 E89)
Six Years and a Day (S3 E91)
Strange Town (S3 E81)

The Second Witness (S1 E23)
And Devil Makes Five (S5 E161)
Anvil Chorus (S5 E154)


SEASON 1 - Complete.

SEASON 2 - Complete.

Still Needed:

SEASON 3 - Closer Than A Brother (98), Lost Treasure of Canyon Town (99), Dark Day at North Fork (100), The Prisoner (101), The Assault (102), Short Rope for a Tall Man (103), The Clarence Bibs Story (104), The Score Is Even (105), The Mescalero Curse (106), Stopover (107), Lonesome Bride (108), Death Trap (109), The Queue (110).

SEASON 4 - First Wages (112), Sheer Terror (113), The Stand-In (114), The Journey Back (115), The Decision (116), Honest Abe (118), The Shattered Idol (120), Long Gun from Tucson (121), A Friend in Need (123), Skull (124), The Princess (125), Gunfire (126), The Quiet Fear (127), Sporting Chance (128), A Young Man's Fancy (129), The Debt (133), Tin Horn (134), None So Blind (135), The Jealous Man (136), Guilty Conscience (137), Day of Reckoning (138), The Day a Town Slept (139), Millie's Brother (140), Outlaw's Shoes (141), The Executioner (142).

SEASON 5 - Death Never Rides Alone (147), The Assailants (149), Squeeze Play (152), Conflict (155), The Sidewinder (158), The Sixteenth Cousin (159), Hostages to Fortune (160), End of the Hunt (162), Requiem at Mission Springs (164), The Guest (165).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

What's Old West is New Again

This past weekend, Encore Westerns hosted 24-hour marathons of the popular 1950s teleseries THE RIFLEMAN (Saturday) and BAT MASTERSON (Sunday). Happily, these round-the-clock broadcasts were preamble to the announcement that both shows are joining the channel's regular broadcast schedule this week.

Effective Monday, January 8, BAT MASTERSON will be airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 5:00-6:00 pm weekdays, with THE RIFLEMAN airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 7:00-8:00 pm weekdays (eastern time). I understand there will also be Saturday showtimes; for these, consult Encore Westerns schedule here. Both programs will be shown complete and uninterrupted, and (importantly for perfectionists like us) in their original broadcast order.

Encore Westerns' acquisition of THE RIFLEMAN is welcome news, as it signals the show's rescue from the Hallmark Channel, its home for the past several years, where episodes were hacked to pieces to accommodate commercials and often interrupted at dramatically inopportune moments. Arguably the greatest of all television Westerns, THE RIFLEMAN is also the warmest and frequently the most profound. At heart, it's about the father-and-son relationship of widowed rancher and expert marksman Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors in the role he was born to play) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford, who's an able young horseman as well as one of the most gifted child actors ever), but the show also tackled difficult subjects like prejudice and mob violence and equally rigorous situations, including more than one episode in which Lucas was required to survive strandings in the desert without food or water. A number of outstanding first season episodes were helmed by Sam Peckinpah, who shocked audiences from the get-go by allowing the show's hero Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) to be felled by a bullet at the end of the first episode he directed -- none of the show's characters, including Paul Fix as stoic Marshall Micah Torrance, was bullet-proof. THE RIFLEMAN was also the site of the earliest collaborations between Peckinpah and Warren Oates, who guests in several episodes. GUN CRAZY auteur Joseph H. Lewis also directed many episodes.

The right to a second chance was another of the show's recurring themes, and the quality of its writing is exemplified by a moment in the episode "The Sheridan Story," in which Lucas takes on the help of a wretched homeless man (Royal Dano) whose state literally repulses the McCains. When the boy asks his father if he hired the vagrant because he was so far gone, Lucas replies, "No, son... because we were so far gone" -- in other words, so far gone that their instincts were to turn away from a fellow human being in need. The show's writing is sometimes startlingly resonant in its simplicity and humanity, and the second act of this episode features dialogue that is positively Shakespearean in its crafting. Other episodes can be just as surprising and pleasing in the degree of their tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Akim Tamiroff, Sammy Davis Jr., John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Dennis Hopper are among the show's most memorable guest stars.

THE RIFLEMAN (which ran for five seasons) is one of the classic television series worth owning in its entirety. Six 20-episode box sets have been released on DVD by MPI Home Video; the intact episodes look fine, but unfortunately, this collection got off on the wrong foot by initially collecting the "best of" compilations MPI originally issued as single discs -- so the MPI box sets do not represent entire seasons, nor are the episodes presented in original broadcast order; the final episode was included in VOL. 5, and some first season shows continue to turn up as late as VOL. 6. This is a problem because the program did observe a certain continuity, sometimes referencing earlier episodes in the dialogue, and the sequencing of the discs can become distracting as Johnny Crawford grows or shrinks an inch or two in height between episodes. Furthermore, the half-dozen MPI sets in release are a substantial 48 episodes shy of the complete run, and MPI's press rep has sadly informed me that the company's rights to THE RIFLEMAN expired with the coming of the New Year. Therefore, there won't be any additional MPI sets, and even if you've been collecting them in the hopes of acquiring them all, your only hope now of securing the complete series -- and in its original broadcast order -- is to record the Encore Westerns broadcasts.

BAT MASTERSON (which ran for three seasons, beginning in 1958) is one of those programs I've heard about all my life, but didn't actually see until yesterday. To the best of my knowledge, it's been off the air for many years and not commonly found in syndication. Gene Barry stars as real historical figure William Barclay "Bat" Masterson, a dapper gunfighter so nicknamed because of his self-defensive abilities with a gold-capped walking stick. The first episode, "Double Showdown," I didn't find very interesting until a premature finale led to an out-of-character appearance by Barry, who explained that history recalls this particular adventure of Masterson ending two different ways... at which point, the episode gives us the other version, as well. Subsequent episodes not only held my interest; they held me in thrall until 5:00 in the morning. I left the balance of the marathon's offerings in the capable hands of my DVD burner's hard drive.

I don't recall ever reading about Barry's portrayal being any kind of precursor to the screen version of James Bond, but I find the comparison (and debt) glaringly obvious. Barry's Bat is debonair and worldly, a professional gambler, a connoisseur of fine wines and fine living, a ladies man (he not only gets around, but seems to have previously known every woman of visible experience to appear in each episode... and gets around to knowing some of the innocent ones too), and armed with a ready quip at the most daunting moments. Strapped to a tree with rawhide bonds and left behind as bear bait, Masterson tells his farewell-bidding adversary, "I'd shake hands, but I'm all tied up." (One of the episodes is even called "License To Cheat.") Make no mistake: Sean Connery wasn't the first hero to punctuate his prowess with smug remarks like "Shocking" -- Gene Barry was doing it years earlier, in high style, and the memory of this show probably helped to inspire the later cult series THE WILD WILD WEST.

As with THE RIFLEMAN, the guest stars alone provide good reason for watching. The episodes of BAT MASTERSON I watched last night featured Allison Hayes, Yvette Vickers, Gloria Talbott, Marie Windsor, and Louise Fletcher (they all got kissed) -- as well as Elisha Cook Jr., William Conrad, Ross Martin, Walter Barnes (who appears uncredited in "Bear Bait"), Joe Turkel, Barry Atwater, and Hank "Fred Ziffel" Patterson.

Tune in or set your timers: the adventures of these Western heroes are habits you'll find well worth acquiring.