Tuesday, September 18, 2007

First Look: ABE's BAY OF BLOOD

When Image Entertainment released Mario Bava's ECOLOGIA DEL DELITTO (1971) back in 2001, they had many different English titles to choose from. It's known by many, ranging from CARNAGE to BLOODBATH to LAST HOUSE PART 2. Though the title on the print itself read "A BAY OF BLOOD," Image opted for commercial reasons to go with the best-known US theatrical release title, TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. For its forthcoming reissue as part of THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2, Anchor Bay Entertainment is reverting to the title on the print, which was also used for MPI Home Video's first VHS and Beta releases of the title back in the late 1980s.

BAY OF BLOOD is one of the films in the ABE set for which I recorded an audio commentary, and the track turned out fairly well. Because I know this film pretty much inside and out, and because my time was limited, I did my least amount of preparatory scripting for this track. So you'll hear a looser, more conversational me than you usually do in an audio commentary, where I tend to put on my professorial airs. Listening to the playback, I caught myself making only one error, but I'm not going to tell you what it is. You can have a contest among yourselves to find it, if you like.

Disc producer Perry Martin and his team at Post Logic Studios have executed a splendid visual restoration of the picture. It's the first home video rendering of this Technicolor feature that looks authentically like Technicolor, and the color intensities also match those of the color production stills in my possession. The blacks are also now noticeably deeper. You can almost feel the bedded warmth of Anna Maria Rosati's body in this shot. It's the first time this shot has ever reminded me of a similar shot of Daliah Lavi in THE WHIP AND THE BODY, which we pictured on the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #39 many years ago, and which now opens the "Love and Death" section of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

From a chromatic standpoint, I was also newly impressed by this shot featuring Leopoldo Trieste and Claudio Volonté. The water is a rich sapphire blue, the boat looks almost freshly painted, and the skin tones are accurate.

I haven't done a side-by-side check with any of them, but, to the best of my memory, I believe earlier transfers of this scene were brighter, making Brigitte Skay's breast more visible. Bava would have approved of the subtlety and light accuracy recaptured here.

The Image disc was rightly criticized for failing to eliminate a large volume of distortion, pops, clicks and sizzles from the audio track. I'm told they were there in the original source, and were still there when the source came to Post Logic, but the audio has been almost completely cleaned up. Doing spot audio checks of the disc here on my computer, I couldn't hear much in the way of unwelcome sound; on my home entertainment system, I did a similar check and occasionally turned up the faintest afterburns of noise clinging to sudden bursts of sound, such as bird cries. There remains some limitation in the audio source, which doesn't deliver much in the way of bottom, but it's acceptable. Put it this way: the audio is no longer distracting.

The framing also seems ideal. I'm reminded by this dialogue scene between Laura Betti and Leopoldo Trieste that all of my region-free readers who admire this film should waste no time in tracking down a copy of the Italian release, called REAZIONE A CATENA (which means "Chain Reaction"). All of the film's dialogue scenes were shot two different ways -- once in Italian and once in English -- and the Italian release includes the never-before-exported Italian dialogue (along with English subtitles, quite different to the dialogue you'll hear in the ABE version)! The Italian track has a more intellectual and philosophic tenor to it, raising the film even higher in my estimation, and the actors speak their lines with greater ease and confidence. Released in Italy by Raro Video, REAZIONE A CATENA is available here in America from Xploited Cinema, and it's a must-have for all Bava fans.

The improved image quality is crisp enough to deliver skin textures as well as tones in close-ups like these.

Under any title, BAY OF BLOOD is one of Bava's most beloved and influential films and, once again, ABE's new remaster proves a noticeable upgrade in quality. And yes, the radio spots and CARNAGE trailer have been ported over from the previous Image release.

IF.... I Ever Remember

It seems I forgot to link to my review of Criterion's release of Lindsay Anderson's IF.... over at the SIGHT & SOUND website. It's also in the September 2007 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, which may still be on newsstands here; I understand it has already been supplanted on British newsstands with the October issue, in which I review the Facets Video release of Kazuo Hara's searing documentary THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON.

Monday, September 17, 2007

First Look: ABE's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON


Ely Galleani, credited as Justine Gall, peers indoors at the events of Mario Bava's underrated 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON.

Just as Anchor Bay's forthcoming remaster of LISA AND THE DEVIL is a conspicuous improvement over what we've had before, their remaster of 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON [Cinque bambole per la luna d'agosto, 1970] included in THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2 is also significant. For one thing, it's the first anamorphic DVD presentation the film has ever had. The disc includes two soundtrack options: the English dub and the original Italian dub track with English subtitles, both included on the 2001 Image Entertainment disc.

I wasn't able to record an audio commentary for this movie, unfortunately -- I would have much preferred talking about it than BARON BLOOD (which ABE requested I talk about instead) -- so I popped the disc on with the intention of giving it only a cursory spot check. It was such a pleasing experience, I ended up watching the entire movie. From the first shots, the anamorphic presentation helped heretofore unsuspected details to pop off the screen at me, along with richer colors, so I sat transfixed till it was over.


In shots like these, revitalized to the depths of their original color palette, you can understand why French critic Pascal Martinet (author of the first-ever book on Bava's films) called 5 DOLLS "a veritable symphony of blue."

At times, I felt I was watching a movie I had never seen before, or at least not so fully experienced before. Like LISA, 5 DOLLS is drenched in sensual details and the crispened image and heightened color amplify its intentions in this regard.

Never before have I seen the details of this particular trick shot quite so clearly. I had always assumed that the ship and the beachfront house were part of the same glass matte set-up. The new clarity of the anamorphic transfer exposes new detail and dimensionality to the house, suggesting that, while the boat was a clipped photo affixed to glass in front of the camera, the beach house and the ridge it occupies were more likely a foregrounded miniature.

I've always loved this swirling colored caftan worn by Edith Meloni in the film. It's even lovelier now. Congratulations to Post Logic Studios for a job well done.

The Italian soundtrack gives the film a smarter, more staccato feel; I recommend it over the lazier English dub. Had I recorded a commentary for 5 DOLLS, I would have argued against its reputation of Mario Bava's worst movie (far from it!) and discussed its curious tendency to frustrate viewer expectations. I would have also pointed out that the movie's highly unorthodox and LOUD use of rock music predates Dario Argento's uses of Goblin's progressive rock score for DEEP RED by several years, though Argento tends to be universally credited with introducing rock to horror cinema. Bava also toys with the diegetic placement of music, with soundtrack sometimes revealed as being played on records by the cast, as Argento also did in TENEBRAE. This is a woefully obscure and underrated movie -- Bava's only film to bypass US theatrical distribution altogether -- and it may have been his most progressive. Happily, it was been winning more admirers in recent years, mostly through the initial persuasion of Umiliani's brilliant soundtrack, and I suspect it will find still more converts after the release of this fine presentation.
The one area in which this new 5 DOLLS does not meet the standards of the Image release is in its menus, which are attractive but no more than functional and straightforward. The Image menus not only featured samples of Piero Umiliani's and Il Balletto di Bronzo's original score in bold stereo, but it incorporated a playful graphic of a character whose eyes began to drift around if you left the main page in play to listen to the music. I wish the disc producers had been able to spend more time and money on details such as this (I know they wish the same thing), but budget was obviously concentrated on those areas where it was most important. I wouldn't recommend that anyone throw the previous disc away, because its menus are classics, like a love letter to the film's highly specialized clique of fans -- but it's no more than a conversation piece when compared to this otherwise well-advanced presentation.

A Happy 90th to Ib Melchior

Ib J. Melchior, the Danish gentleman responsible for writing such speculative fantasy treats of the early 1960s as THE ANGRY RED PLANET, JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS, THE TIME TRAVELLERS (which he also directed, and very well), REPTILICUS, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and the OUTER LIMITS episode "The Premonition" turns 90 today.
During this general period -- 1960 to 1965 -- Melchior, the son of acclaimed operatic tenor Lauritz Melchior, earned a name for himself as one of America's most distinctively imaginative filmmakers. His was a name I memorized along with all the other recurring names I collected from the movies I liked, and I always filed him away mentally next to the Hungarian emigré George Pal. In general, I liked Pal's movies better but I had to grant that Melchior's work was consistently more imaginative (in concept, if not in execution) as well as slightly darker and more ironic. Both Melchior and Pal seemed to share a similarly pixie-ish sense of humor, and I always thought it was a great loss to cinema history that they never collaborated.
In October 1993, when I was in Los Angeles to co-host a Bava retrospective with Joe Dante at the American Cinematheque Director's Theater, I took advantage of my location to conduct a face-to-face interview with John Phillip Law. Finding myself with some spare time on my hands, I consulted the telephone directory and discovered that Ib Melchior was not only listed, but within walking distance from my hotel. I rang him up, he invited me over, and we had a lively visit together, during which he told me his side of the PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES experience. I was impressed by his home (next door to the notorious Chateau Marmont), which was in the process of having an indoor waterfall added to his living room, and also by the order he had imposed on his past work -- every film had its own bound script and scrapbook. One of those scrapbooks contained the only correspondence written by Mario Bava that I found in more than thirty years of searching. Ib also enjoyed talking about his other films, and I told him how much I had enjoyed his TIME TRAVELLERS; a film that looks ahead to THE TIME TUNNEL, in my opinion, as much as his SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON project looked ahead to LOST IN SPACE. And when our discussion of REPTILICUS got around to acknowledging the existence of the trashy, sexed-up novelization, I proudly produced a copy from my shoulder bag and asked him to sign it. Which he laughingly did.
Robert Skotak has written an excellent book/biography/tribute to the man, impeccably written and researched, entitled IB MELCHIOR: MAN OF IMAGINATION, published by Midnight Marquee Press. I could not find it on the MidMar website, but if you move quickly, you might be able to nab one of the few remaining copies at Amazon.com.
He not only gave us Reptilicus, but the Rat-Bat-Spider-Crab! Thank you, Ib -- and Happy Birthday!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Believe In What You Think You See

Mario Bava fans, does this place look familiar?

During my audio commentary for Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL, to be released on October 23 as part of the MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2, I note -- as Lisa (Elke Sommer) exits the antiques shop and gets lost in a series of backstreets -- that some of the locations recall the labyrinthine passages of Karmingen, the fictional village where KILL, BABY... KILL! (1966) takes place. In his audio commentary for THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM, producer Alfredo Leone remarks that all of these early scenes were filmed in Toledo, Spain, where the mural of the Devil carrying away the dead is seen by Lisa's tour group.

On the basis of Alfredo's remarks, I scrapped from my book manuscript (to the best of my knowledge) any reference I had once made to the possibility that some of these set-ups might have been filmed in Faleria, the ancient Italian village where KILL, BABY... KILL! was made. As I recorded my commentary, I couldn't resist adding a mention of the similarity, and after watching the film again on my preview disc, I was driven to pull out the two films and look for shared points of compass.

The above shot is a frame grab of one such supposedly Spanish location from LISA that has always jogged a little KILL, BABY... KILL! muscle in my brain. Now, compare it with the following shot:

This is a fairly famous image from KILL, BABY... KILL! featuring Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc. The location is obviously the same, albeit with Bava's peerless knack for atmosphere applied to it, making every shadow pregnant with the unseen presence of the ball-bouncing spectre Melissa Graps. We know for a fact that KILL, BABY... KILL! was not shot in Spain.
Here is Elke Sommer, passing through the same location in LISA AND THE DEVIL, filmed seven years later. Not in the nearly 30 years I've been acquainted with both films have I ever consciously matched the location shared by these two shots.

And here is Lamberto Bava revisiting Faleria more than 30 years after LISA AND THE DEVIL, in David Gregory's "Kill, Bava, Kill!" featurette -- intended for release on Dark Sky Films' regrettably withdrawn KILL, BABY... KILL! DVD. I rather prefer that stone wall with the green moss clinging to it, don't you?

Also in LISA AND THE DEVIL I found this shot, which is another setting I felt I had seen more recently. It turns out it was also photographed in Faleria, on the street outside their San Giuliano L'Ospitaliero Church. This particular set-up doesn't appear in KILL, BABY... KILL!, at least to the best of my notice, but the church's bell tower memorably does.

Finally, here's Lamberto Bava again, rediscovering the location in the David Gregory featurette. He notes, a few moments later, that the crew of KILL, BABY... KILL! used to take their meals on the steps outside that church on the very cold evenings of the production.

Certainly, I'm not blaming Alfredo for not remembering a little side trip to Faleria during the making of LISA AND THE DEVIL thirty-some years ago. How could I, when these shared locations weren't obvious to me after countless viewings of both films over a period of decades? Also, as you can see, there's a world of difference in how these locations can look in different times of day and also over the years.

The confirmation of recurring Faleria settings in LISA AND THE DEVIL is actually significant, because the film originated from a screenplay co-authored by Roberto Natale and Romano Migliorini, the authors of KILL, BABY... KILL! After finally confirming the logistical connection I long intuited between the two films with these screen grabs, my imagination began to accelerate and still more connections between the two films began to suggest themselves. The Baroness Graps (played by Giovanna Galletti) dies at the end of KILL, BABY... KILL! and the Contessa (played by Alida Valli) in LISA AND THE DEVIL is blind and dies differently... but are they not, in some inexplicable way, the same character? They look and dress much the same, and both are noblewomen who never leave their morbid, secluded villas. Is the Contessa's "shrine of death" villa not an echo of Villa Graps? Are not both women doomed by their unhealthy attachment to their children? And, as I ask in my LISA commentary -- in the movie's closing minutes, as Lisa emerges as a ghost from the ruins of the villa with a ball in her hand -- might not Lisa be short for... Melissa?

These are discoveries and ideas that didn't occur to me until long after finishing my book, so I am evidently still learning about my subject, even after writing close to 800,000 words. I can assure you that you'll learn some new things about LISA AND THE DEVIL from my audio commentary for the DVD, even if you've read my chapter on the film in MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK... and vice versa. But it's only now that I have confirmed for myself this spatial relationship between the two films, and I'm glad to have an additional venue like Video WatchBlog, where I can share these eurekas with like-minded folk immediately.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Look: ABE's LISA AND THE DEVIL

Because I worked as a commentator for a number of the movies included in Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2, I've been sent a set of preview test discs for the new remasters included in this compendium, as well as ERIK THE CONQUEROR, which will be released separately at the same time. I've already watched a few of the movies and I'm here to tell you that the movies have indeed been conspicuously improved over their previous issues. If you're already excited about this incredible bargain of a set, prepare to get more excited.

My breath was taken away by Post Logic Studios' restorative work on Bava's baroque masterpiece LISA AND THE DEVIL (1973). I've never seen this film on video in a presentation that didn't look like a poor cousin to HOUSE OF EXORCISM (1975, which is largely composed of footage from LISA) -- which makes sense because the original negative of LISA was lost or destroyed as it was being used to create 16mm TV prints at Allied Artists. Only once did I see the film as it was meant to look, at a showing of a restored 35mm print supervised by the late Carlos Sylva at the American Cinematheque in the early 1990s. That version, I recall, was sharper and more boldly colored than any other I had seen... and that stunning viewing experience is pretty much perfectly replicated by ABE's newly remastered version.

The heightened detailing is evident from the very first shots of the animated titles sequence, with new textures evident in the red table surface and the white glove turning over the cards of the Tarot deck.

Even when Cecilio Paniagua's nostalgic-looking cinematography turns misty-eyed, in closeups of Elke Sommer and in faintly sun-dazzled shots like this, the mistiness never softens the essential sharpness of the picture.

In this shot of Alida Valli familiarizing herself with Sommer's face, as Telly Savalas rhapsodically describes the coloring of her hair, you can see how the colors have a certain Technicolor strength without losing the naturalistic subtlety of their coloring. The blue of Valli's eyes manage to pop while the purple of her dress remains muted and not overpowering.

This closeup of Savalas, as Leandro, is one of the shots I remember best from the American Cinematheque screening. I remember Alfredo Leone being annoyed by the pale quality of the color in past home video presentations, which diminished the ruddiness of Savalas' skin and god knows what else. On the big screen, Savalas looked distinctly redder than the other cast members, betokening his devilish caste, and this was something always lost on video. The effect has now been fairly well reinstated.

And here you can see how lovely are the presentations of skin tones, hair gloss, even the honeyed warmth of Sommer's hair color. All of these improvements help to make a very sensual film play more sensually, and to better delineate the fascinating components of its rococo set decoration. LISA AND THE DEVIL finally arrives on disc as ravishing as it was always intended to be, and it actually looks better to me than the glimpses I stole of HOUSE OF EXORCISM, which is featured on the same disc. But the LISA footage has always looked good in that heretofore prevailing context.
The only drawback: Sylva Koscina's bludgeoning death (intact in HOUSE OF EXORCISM) remains unintegrated, a problem that I hope can be corrected at some point in the future. Otherwise, Bava fans can rejoice because LISA AND THE DEVIL has finally triumphed in pictorial beauty over its more financially successful, frog-barfing twin.
And, in the "if I do say so myself" department, I was very pleased with how my audio commentary for the film plays. This is partly the work of disc producer Perry Martin, who edited my talk, eliminating some "um's" and "uh's" and sometimes shifting bits around for heightened effect -- a very happy collaboration. Together, I think we've done a very good job of shedding a bit of light on one of Bava's most mysterious and beckoning works.
I'll be continuing with previews of other titles in the BAVA COLLECTION 2 set in the days ahead.

Early Ditko Find

While those of us stuck with American television won't be enjoying BBC4's Steve Ditko special tomorrow night, David Zuzelo's Tomb It May Concern blog has performed the important service of posting what may be Steve Ditko's earliest horror comic story, "Stretching Things."
I have no proof other than what I can see, but I personally suspect that the unsigned artwork (already distinctly Ditko) had a little help from a moonlighting Jack Davis on pages 3 and 4 -- see what you think.
Be sure to read the accompanying comments for input from Yours Truly, and a concise history of the story's initial 1954 appearance in print.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Twas Beauty Thrilled the Beast

The divine Fay in Michael Curtiz's DOCTOR X (1932).
It's hard to believe, even for one of my generation, but actress Fay Wray -- whose name remains synonymous with "heroine" and "damsel in distress" -- would have been 100 years old tomorrow. Born Vina Fay Wray in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907, she spent part of her early childhood in Arizona with parents who divorced before she entered her teens. The dimple-chinned beauty won her first film role, a modest one, in 1923, but within five years she was playing the female lead in Erich von Stroheim's THE WEDDING MARCH (1928). She came to the attention of producer Merian C. Cooper, who cast her in his 1929 film THE FOUR FEATHERS and set his mind to mapping out her ultimate destiny. In the meantime, she became one of the first Technicolor stars in the memorable double-punch of 1932's DOCTOR X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, and she played female leads in THE VAMPIRE BAT and THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (also for Cooper), after which she ascended forever more into the firmament of great stars as Ann Darrow in KING KONG (1933).

A fine actress, as articulate as she was ornamental, and one of the greatest screamers the movies have ever known, Fay Wray is the quintessential goddess of the 1930s fantastique. KONG was the sort of film no career could ably follow; she refused to appear in the hastily made sequel SON OF KONG, but went on to appear in Maurice Elvey's fantastical THE CLAIRVOYANT (aka THE EVIL MIND) and Roy William Neill's voodoo piece BLACK MOON in 1934. For the next decade she played scrappy, spirited independent women, often born of privilege but determined to prove themselves on equal turf. After appearing in 1942's NOT A LADIES' MAN, she temporarily retired from the screen to raise her three children, the first from a failed marriage to playwright John Monk Saunders, and to concentrate on a somewhat successful second career as a playwright.

When she returned to the screen in the early 1950s, she made the adjustment to playing married, staid women -- as in the MGM musical SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953) and Gerd Oswald's CRIME OF PASSION (1957). The great parts never returned, but she had already left an indelible mark. Appearing occasionally in guest slots on TV series like PERRY MASON and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, Wray remained remarkably youthful looking well into her sixties, which she ascribed in part to a sensible diet. Having turned down the TITANIC role that won Gloria Stuart her Oscar, Wray died in August 2004, just as Peter Jackson's colossal remake of KING KONG was entering production. The lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.

You can read more about Fay Wray in Lorraine LoBianco's fine overview at the Turner Classic Movies website here, and make plans to spend some time watching TCM's Fay Wray centenary celebration -- six of her films, including the rarely screened BELOW THE SEA and DIRIGIBLE (a Frank Capra picture!) -- tomorrow night, beginning at 8:00pm eastern.

BAVA Box Clarifications

A despoiled vestal virgin and her lover are bound in barbed wire and set for sacrifice in Mario Bava's ERIK THE CONQUEROR.


I need to follow-up on my previous posting about the second Bava box specs. It seems that a number of readers failed to notice that little dividing line that I placed between the nine titles included in the box and the three Bava titles that Anchor Bay are selling separately. Consequently, I am seeing online advisories for people to cancel their ERIK THE CONQUEROR orders because it's also being included in the second Bava set. But it's NOT!

To restate things more clearly, the ninth film in the box set is RABID DOGS, not ERIK THE CONQUEROR. ERIK is only being sold separately. The good news is that Deep Discount DVD is having an Anchor Bay horror "Buy 2 Get1 Free" sale, so you can now pre-order THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2 (nine movies!) for a mere $30.18, and add on ERIK THE CONQUEROR absolutely free! See this page for details.

Nor did I mean to suggest that LISA AND THE DEVIL was going to be cut. What I said, or should have said more plainly, is that Anchor Bay's remastered disc will not carry over a sexually explicit "deleted scene" that was included on the previous Image disc. Bava had nothing to do with shooting it, and I'm personally in favor of its omission.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Finally! BAVA COLLECTION 2 Box Set Specs

The box says "8 Films By Mario Bava," but rest assured, there are actually nine. Here's the rundown on all the specs and extras:

BARON BLOOD
Uncut European version
Widescreen (1.85:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio Commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Theatrical Trailer
Radio Spots

BAY OF BLOOD (formerly TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE)
English version
Widescreen (1.78:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio Commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Theatrical trailer
Radio Spots
Poster and still galleries

5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON
International version in Italian with English subtitles and English-dubbed
Widescreen (1.85:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions

FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT
International version in Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.78:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions

KIDNAPPED / RABID DOGS
YES! Two versions: Mario Bava’s original 1975 work print (RABID DOGS) and the 2002 alternate version (KIDNAPPED)
Widescreen presentation (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
In Italian with English subtitles
Featurette: “End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped”
Audio Commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Mario Bava bio

LISA AND THE DEVIL / HOUSE OF EXORCISM
Two versions: Mario Bava’s original film (LISA AND THE DEVIL) and the alternate "Mickey Lion" version (HOUSE OF EXORCISM)
Widescreen (1.85:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio Commentary for Lisa and the Devil by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Audio Commentary for House of Exorcism by Producer/Co-Director Alfredo Leone
Theatrical trailers
Radio Spot

ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK
In Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.85:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions

And then there are the single-disc Mario Bava DVD releases:

ERIK THE CONQUEROR
International version in Italian with English subtitles and English-dubbed
Widescreen presentation (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio Commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Audio Interview with actor Cameron Mitchell
U.S. and German trailers
Poster and still galleries
Mario Bava bio

THE MASK OF SATAN (BLACK SUNDAY)
International version with English dubbing
Widescreen presentation (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
U.S. and International trailers
TV spot
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios


THE THREE FACES OF FEAR (BLACK SABBATH)
International version in Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.77:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: “A Life In Film - An Interview with Mark Damon”
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International & U.S. trailers
TV spot
Radio spot
Poster and stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios
The good news is that RABID DOGS, though not mentioned on the BAVA COLLECTION 2 packaging, will be included in the set, and I've been assured that the feature masters have all been improved over the previous Image Entertainment releases to varying degrees. However, please note that the LISA AND THE DEVIL upgrade included in this set will not contain the sexually explicit "deleted scene" previously released, so Bava completists will need to hang on to their Image discs or Elite laserdiscs for future reference.
The set retails for $49.98, but it's being offered in some locations (ahem) for far less. Even at full price, that works out to about five bucks per movie. An amazing value -- and a great introduction to some of Bava's best, and some of his most offbeat, work.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Citizen Ditko

I read on Mark Evanier's blog today that BBC4 will be running a Jonathan Ross documentary entitled IN SEARCH OF STEVE DITKO next Sunday night. Sounds exciting. I'm not sure of the times, but if a WatchBlog reader within range of that broadcast could record a copy for me, I'll promise to blog about it and thank you personally. DVD-R or VHS welcome.

Postscript 3:58pm: A kind soul has come forward with a promise to record this event for me, but I will leave the above posted to inform others of the broadcast.

Monday, September 10, 2007

WITCHFINDER GENERAL in Stores Tomorrow

Vincent Price as the corrupt puritan Matthew Hopkins in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, a.k.a. THE CONQUEROR WORM.


It's been a long time coming.

It was in May 1988, in the debut of "Video Watchdog" in the pages of GOREZONE #1, that I first reported the atrocities imposed upon Michael Reeves' cult classic THE CONQUEROR WORM (aka WITCHFINDER GENERAL, 1968) by HBO Video's VHS release. It was the film's home video debut. In the nearly twenty years since, the film has never been available for viewing here in the States as Reeves intended it. Not only was the 17th century historical drama cut to soften the blow of its gore (and hence its outrage); worse still, its original Paul Ferris score, an enormous factor in its emotional sweep and impact, was replaced with an anachronistic synthesizer score by NEON MANIACS composer Kendall Schmidt. The film was the last ever made by the prodigious Reeves, who died of an accidental barbiturates overdose in 1969, at the age of 25 -- and it looked as though his best bid for remembrance was doomed by its current owner's refusal to pony up for the renewal of its music rights. In my two decades as a Video Watchdog, it remains in my view the most abominable offense ever perpetuated by a home video company, one that was instrumental in diminishing the reputation of a talented young man no longer among us to defend himself or his legacy.

Tomorrow, all this nonsense finally comes to an end with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "Midnite Movies" release of a fully restored WITCHFINDER GENERAL. The score is back in place, sounding grand and giving this modestly-made picture a measure of majesty, and the film has also been restored to the extent of including some shots never before seen in American release. Here are two of them, featuring Maggie Kimberley as an accused witch being prepared for burning.


There are also other additional shots of gore, witch-pricking and torture that have heretofore only been available as part of a patchwork reconstruction of the movie issued on R2 DVD. The quality of Fox's reconstruction -- actually MGM's reconstruction, as it was done there under the aegis of James Owsley -- is seamless and the movie looks remarkably good, even to the extent of darkening some previously overbright day-for-night shots and brightening some shots that have always been impenetrably dark. I have only one quarrel with the transfer, which I'll illustrate with the following grab:

The reds are far too hot, and not only in these military uniforms. The blood is so luminously red, it looks fake -- it's always been overly bright, but distractingly so. So I recommend you buy the disc and mute your color somewhat before watching. Some of the deep royal blues in the film may look more indistinguishable from black as a result, but the film overall will play better.

The extras consist of a featurette ("WITCHFINDER GENERAL: Michael Reeves' Classic") with appearances by VW's own Kim Newman, Stephen Jones and Vincent Price exhibit curator Richard Squires. (I wish the producers could have invited Price biographer Lucy Chase Williams or one of Reeves' two biographers for some first-hand input; Mr. Squires seems a nice fellow, but I could tell where he read everything he has to say about the film, none of which -- this not being a text presentation -- is attributed.) There's also a very fine audio commentary by actor Ian Ogilvy and producer Phillip Waddilove (who, parents may wish to know, drops a few f-bombs while reminiscing about the once GP but now "Not Rated" feature), moderated by the articulate and respectful Steve Haberman. The extras can also be found on the WITCHFINDER disc included in Fox's new VINCENT PRICE - MGM SCREAM LEGENDS COLLECTION box set.

Alas, with this restoration comes some loss. This is the British director's cut version of the film, so it doesn't feature the opening and closing US narration by Vincent Price (reciting stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm"), nor does it feature the continental version's nude tavern wenches as seen in all previous home video releases of the film under its US release title, THE CONQUEROR WORM. The loss of the Kendall Schmidt score is nothing to cry about, of course, but these other omissions fall under the heading of necessary ephemera as far as we collectors and completists are concerned. They really should have been included here as extras.

In short, WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a long overdue release of one of the milestone horror films of the 1960s -- a job well done, but one which also leaves room for improvement the next time around.

Who Is Number One?

Those who have invested once or more in A&E Home Video's DVD sets of THE PRISONER have cause to weep. Now, to commemorate the ground-breaking programme's 40th anniversary, Network Video has released a new, digitally remastered, R2 edition of THE PRISONER in the UK, and this nifty webpage offers some tantalizing before-and-after screen grabs worth checking out. And if they're not enough to make you want to exclaim "Be Seeing You," take a look at the extras also included.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

BAVA COLLECTION 2 Art Revealed

As if in reply to the 12-pound heft of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, Anchor Bay/Starz Entertainment have upped the ante with their forthcoming BAVA - THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2. The set has now been increased in size to encompass eight (8) different Bava films!
According to this recently leaked cover art, KIDNAPPED is joining the set. What, no RABID DOGS? I would hope this is an oversight or perhaps an unavoidable omission considering the clearly crowded list of titles. The publicist for the set has promised Video WatchBlog an exclusive on the set's extras as soon as they're confirmed, so keep watching this space for further details.
To refresh your memory, three of these titles -- BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD and LISA AND THE DEVIL -- will also feature audio commentaries by me, Tim Lucas, as will Bava's wonderful Viking adventure film ERIK THE CONQUEROR, which is being sold separately by the label as it was licensed from a different licensor.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"My Name is Victoria Winters..."

As those of you familiar with my recent routine will understand, I've lately found myself sorely in need of a nightcap come bedtime. MPI Home Video's newly issued DARK SHADOWS THE BEGINNING - DVD COLLECTION 1 has been just the ticket. This set collects the first 35 B&W episodes of the long-running ABC-TV program, the first "suspense soap opera," which originally aired roughly a year before the vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced to the storyline. What we have here is like a contemporary version of an Ann Radcliffe novel: the gothic story of an orphaned adult, Victoria Winters, and her search for identity at a forbidding mansion in Maine, where she discovers her paternity to be only one of many mysteries and by no means the darkest.

Like many other kids of my generation, I used to run home from school to catch DARK SHADOWS in its heyday, but I didn't stick with it through its entire run. I started when the show started, drifted away when I discovered greater attractions than the mild mysteries it proferred that first year, and came back when I heard that vampires were stalking the stately halls of Collinwood. I was about 11 or 12 at the time and found the miniskirts and shapely legs of Kathryn Leigh Scott compelling viewing, even when Jonathan Frid wasn't baring his fangs. I've since seen individual episodes of later episodes and not gotten hooked all over again, and have been generally mystified by the whole phenomenon of DARK SHADOWS fandom. Nevertheless, I've always been curious to revisit these earliest episodes to see if they were really dull or just over my 10 year old head at the time.

To my amazement, I'm getting hooked. I went through periods of addiction to the CBS-TV soaps GUIDING LIGHT and AS THE WORLD TURNS back in the 1970s, and I have to say that DARK SHADOWS works much like other soaps have worked in my experience. The storyline is not particularly captivating, however, over time, one begins to see through the characters to the people underneath; consequently, one becomes extraordinarily sympathetic to the actors, working under obvious stress (live on videotape), and it is the company of their struggle, the hope we share with them for their occasional triumph, that becomes irresistable. There is also a good deal of cleverness to how the show stretches the most minor of plot points over several episodes, if not several weeks, introducing new bait just before it grudgingly allows the old bait to slide off the hook.

Alexandra Moltke, who plays Victoria Winters, has an interesting dark Irish face poised between blandness and classical beauty, and the scrappy pluck she brings to her performance is winning. David Henesy, who plays a troubled nine-year-old in her charge, is a talented child actor who also has an often-uncorrected tendency to glower into the cameras until his good work becomes risible. Joan Bennett, the star of the show, is properly imperious and cold but, nearly 30 episodes in, I'm still looking for chinks in her armor that might make her at least moderately interesting. Her character is said to have never left Collinwood in over 18 years, but one episode opens with her entering the house from a trip outside. Bennett also has an amusing tendency, in her telephone scenes, to leave no ellipses in her lines to allow for what the person calling might have to say. Louis Edmonds, as the schizo arrogant/avuncular Roger Collins, is a hoot; he's probably the best actor in these early shows and, while it's usually easy to tell when he wanders off-script, he engineers the most graceful rescues for himself and his co-stars you can imagine. It's interesting for me, too, as a longtime admirer, to be reminded of how Kathryn Leigh Scott's Maggie Evans character was first introduced as a blonde-wigged, working class waitress at the hotel greasy spoon; she becomes a warmer, more interesting presence when she loses the wig in Episode 19. And, unapologetic fanboy that I can sometimes be, every time I see Mitchell Ryan, I find myself thinking what a great Nick Fury he might have been. Now-familiar faces I don't normally associate with the series have also been turning up in bit parts: Conrad Bain, Elizabeth Wilson, Barnard Hughes.

Each episode begins with a chalkboard shot that gives the dates of recording and broadcast (generally two weeks apart). In one of these, Nancy Barrett (who plays the cute, blonde, adventure-seeking daughter of Bennett's character) can be seen walking to her mark for the opening scene and vigorously scrubbing at her front teeth with a finger. It's moments such as this that distill the joy of watching DARK SHADOWS and keep me watching. It's really theater rather than television drama, a kind of rough sketch that gives us just enough material to complete in our heads, to fantasize about, to dream on. Perhaps that's why they keep remaking it. Word is going around that Johnny Depp is going to play Barnabas Collins in a blockbuster feature remake; if he gets it wrong, you can bet your sharpened dentures it won't be the last attempt.

In the meantime, DARK SHADOWS THE BEGINNING makes for compulsive, fun, and (I would argue) multi-layered viewing; I can go through three or four in a sitting and wonder where the time went. Full review forthcoming in a future VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Week (Or So) Into the Mailing

As I hope you've figured out for yourselves, we've been quiet about the Bava book mailing because we've been overwhelmingly busy with the Bava book mailing -- and still are. I'm not sleepy enough to go to bed yet, so I thought I'd post... not an official update for the Bava Book blog, but some personal WatchBlog notes on how it's going. It's hard work, but it's going very well. Our first day paid off in lower numbers than we hoped, but we quickly adapted to increase our productivity and have been meeting daily goals after midnight that sounded unreasonable (at least to me) earlier in the day. This is new terrain for us, you understand -- a job this size may be new terrain for any married couple living in a modest suburban house. The only way to unpack, sign, repackage and ship, say, 100 twelve-pound books in a day is to go through the experience of unpacking, signing, repackaging and shipping 50 the previous day.

But, with Donna at the helm, it can be done. We've also been blessed to have friends and family members rally to our aid. Donna's mom Ellie Goldschmidt and our friend Jan Perry deserve special applause for being here through virtually every day of this process, cutting bubble paper, boxing the books for shipment, and keeping our spirits buoyant. Our pal Joe Busam, who some of you may remember as the producer of MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES and Rondo's Monster Kid of the Year 2005, has also generously stepped in on occasion to lend some additional manpower. Even on short notice. Even on Labor Day weekend. Donna's sister Barbara Harding, who hosted a wonderful and much-needed family gathering at her house on Sunday, came over to offer some assistance this afternoon. They've all played important roles in helping us get the books to you faster, and we're thankful.

Perhaps you are picturing me in a smoking jacket, sitting in a comfortable wing-backed chair, signing book after book with a flourish, and waving those who carry them to my station blithely away. Not so. According to Jan's calculations, I've been lifting somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 pounds per day. Needless to say, this is not my habit: I'm no stevedore; I'm a guy who sits on his duff and types his thoughts for a living. That's how I got into this predicament in the first place.

Here's my routine of the past week in a nutshell: I wake up around noon. Before coffee, Donna sits me down and tells me how many books she intends to have ready for pickup the next day. The figure is always conspicuously larger than the previous day's. After coffee and a quick breakfast, I set to work lifting and carrying 38-pound boxes from the towering stacks in our foyer and dining room to one of two "signing stations" (eg., card tables set up in our living room and dining room). The stacks are usually taller than me, so there is no way to observe the tradition wisdom "Lift with your legs, not with your back." Before sitting down, I cut each box open, dump the wrapped contents onto the table, tear off the brown shipping paper (or shrinkwrapping, if need be), sign the three books from each box, tip a postcard inside each one, and move the books aside until I run out of boxes. Then I carry the accumulated signed books in stacks of two, three or four (depending on how ambitious or energetic I'm feeling) to the nearest "shipping station" (eg., tables in the foyer and dining room). Generally, we've been starting around noon and carrying on, with a brief dinner break at a local restaurant (nobody's got the time or the will to cook), until 2:00 or even 4:00 in the morning.

Donna, Jan and I worked straight through the holiday weekend, taking only Sunday evening off, and got a huge number of boxes out the door today. Our goal is to get the remaining boxes of books out of the house in a couple of days, tops. It might be possible: the foyer is now completely clear of all but tomorrow's outgoing books (a hundred or so) and I was pleased, at the end of today, to see that we had made a noticeable dent in the boxes occupying the dining room. I'm seeing every possible variation of my signature all day long yet I've been feeling, from being so long away from my usual work, out of touch with who I am -- another reason I felt the need to blog; I haven't seen a movie in about ten days. This is not a good position to be in, especially when we're supposed to be prepping VIDEO WATCHDOG 135 as soon as the decks are cleared. Also, VW 134 (which we've been too busy to preview either here or on our website yet!) is due back from the printer any day now, and we need to be done with the book shipping to tend to that shipping. Thank goodness I don't have to sign copies of VW!

Yes, the work is punishing and makes us wish we were about 25 years younger to better cope with it. But when we receive e-mails from happy early recipients or discover message boards like this one where folks in Germany are sharing photos of their newly-arrived Bava books with such obvious and infectious joy, the extra effort we've put in makes the pleasure we feel that much more gratifying.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ar-bo-gast

I don't know who's behind this anonymously written blog, but I've been reading it daily and enjoying it very much. Today's piece on the late actor-comedian Rick Aviles (and, at first indirectly and then very directly, the blogger) is impressive stuff -- so revealing that it's hard to tell whether it's the blogger or the reader who's trembling at the candor. Kudos, whoever you are.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Centenary from Planet Arous

Nathan Juran -- the director of such classic matinee fare as THE BLACK CASTLE, HIGHWAY PATROL (Roger Corman's first screen credit), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, FLIGHT OF THE LOST BALLOON, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, FIRST MEN "IN" THE MOON, and THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, in addition to his pseudonymously-directed favorites THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (as "Nathan Hertz") -- would have turned 100 years old today.

Take those credits and add in all his early art directorial credits for I WAKE UP SCREAMING, DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, and some of Anthony Mann's finest Westerns, and his subsequent directorial chores on dozens of episodes of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS, and we have a lot of entertainment to be grateful for.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On "Sweet Nothings"

A friendly correspondent notified me today of this very interesting blog, The Savage Critics, where today's posting offers a critical overview of Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO #2, published back in 1989.

This issue included -- among other notable things -- "Sweet Nothings," a deliberately haunting little story by me and illustrated by my sister from another mother, Simonida Perica-Uth. We were venturing out into new realms with this story, certainly in the way it was illustrated (collages of xeroxed photos of Egyptian tombs and monuments), but also in the way the story was told. My literary style has always been... well, stylized, and I wanted to tell this story and others that might have followed in a deliberately spare manner that would seem to resonate down through the ages. Simo and I did a second, even more ambitious story in the same manner, "Clipped Wings," but what with the early demise of TABOO, it was never published. It didn't quite seem to belong anywhere else.

I don't believe I've ever read any printed assessment of the work Simo and I did together before now, but I treasure the memory of Steve telling me, at the time of its publication, that future FROM HELL artist Eddie Campbell, while staying with him, had expressed the feeling that it might be the most adult story he'd ever read up to that time in the comics form.

Copies of this classic issue are still available here at Steve Bissette's Online Emporium.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Digitally Obsessed on the Bava Book

Mark Zimmer's lengthy article about the Bava book and interview with me went live on the Digitally Obsessed website today, and you can read it here. Thanks, Mark!

In the meantime, the shipping ordeal continues and, boy, are my shoulders sore. Our friend Jan Perry has joined the assembly line (yay, Jan!) to help speed things along. I'm not only signing the books, but lifting each 38-pound box to the signing table, cutting them open, removing and unwrapping the books, and then breaking down the boxes for flatter storage. We haven't yet achieved Donna's dream of moving out 100 copies a day, but we haven't given up hope of getting there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BOOK OF RENFIELD Q&A

A friendly correspondent forwarded this link to me today, which leads to an anonymous reader's answers to the "Touchstone Reading Group Guide" questions published in the back pages of my novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA. What a nice gift! I've never seen anyone's responses to these questions before now, but I found the insights of this reader to be most gratifying.

It's Honorin' Time!


Jack Kirby would have turned 90 today and I don't want to let the day pass without some sort of acknowledgement. I'd hate to think that some of my readers might not know who he was, but if you check his IMDb page, you'll find that -- more than a decade after his death -- he has more blockbusters lined up for future release than just about anybody else on the planet. Stan "The Man" Lee may be getting all the press, but it's more than conceivable that The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, The Silver Surfer, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Ant-Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and not least of all Captain America (who he introduced in 1941) would never have made the impression they did on generations of comics readers (and future filmmakers) without the daring draughtsmanship of the man who was rightfully known as "The King of Comics."

To be candid, I have a streak of the perverse in me that has always pushed Kirby somewhat aside in favor of the comics medium's more eccentric masters, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and Jim Steranko. Ditko, I feel, created a unique world of comics unto himself, as different to everything else in comics as film noir is different to drama; Colan introduced a more fluid cinematic verve into his visual storytelling; and Steranko elevated comics to the realms of fine art and post-modernism. But, as I revisit Kirby's work now in the Marvel Masterworks reprints, I find it almost ridiculously evident that he was the bedrock upon which the whole Silver Age of Comics was built. Ditko remains my personal favorite, but even I have to admit that Kirby was the best.

Kirby was the artist of the covers of the first Marvel comics I saw and bought. Even though some of those covers, like TALES OF SUSPENSE #61, TALES TO ASTONISH #63, and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112, aren't in a league with his best work, when I see them, I feel a remarkably deep-running emotion that literally thrills my imagination. This cover of THE AVENGERS #4, which dates from a bit earlier, is a classic case in point. The image may be still yet it is full of motion. The characters are leaping right off the page, right off the comics racks into the eager young buyer's hands. I find it somewhat indifferently inked (by Dick Ayers, I believe), but the piece is undeniably a classic. (Admiring it anew, I find myself wondering "If this scene was onscreen, how would it sound?" The mind boggles.) Energy was the essence of Kirby's art, and it's fitting that the technique he innovated of using ink blots to denote powerful fields of cosmic energy has since become known among his fellow artists as "The Kirby Crackle" or "Kirby Dots."

Kirby's energetic style was such a point of sale at Marvel that he was hired to draw the covers for even those books whose interiors he didn't draw. Both the Iron Man and Giant-Man stories in those aforementioned comics were drawn by Don Heck, much to my disappointment, though Kirby could always be depended upon to deliver the Captain America stories in TALES OF SUSPENSE. The two full-length books to which Kirby dedicated himself most whole-heartedly were epic in design: FANTASTIC FOUR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, the latter being the stomping grounds of the mighty Thor and the innovative "Tales of Asgard." These were comics that not occasionally, but habitually, transcended time, space, and dimension in their quest for twelve cents' worth of entertainment. If you happened to miss the Galactus storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR #48-50, you missed something I feel was as essential to the 1960s as anything else that took place in that amazing decade. The version delivered in the multi-million-dollar feature film FANTASTIC FOUR: THE RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is a mere pittance compared to the Krell-boost my young brain once enjoyed for a combined investment of thirty-six cents.

It's perhaps an impossible task to pick a favorite Jack Kirby cover. I can do it with Ditko, Colan, and Steranko, but not with Kirby. Many of Kirby's most ardent admirers consider Joe Sinnott to have been the ideal inker for his work, but personally I've always been more partial to the inking of Chic Stone on Kirby's pencils. This JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY cover (#110), inked by Stone, is one of many that particularly gets my heart pumping; I can remember a splash page from a Thor story during this period that depicted Dr. Donald Blake in surgery which still makes my jaw drop in its attention to detail. And this is perhaps the most mind-boggling of Kirby's talents -- not how he drew heroes, but how he drew the worlds in which these fantastic heroes dwell. Whether it was the interior of an operating theater, the countryside of Latveria where Doctor Doom reigned supreme, a prehistoric landscape, or the blistering voids at the farthest reaches of the cosmos, Kirby never showed himself less than perfectly at home -- a tour guide to mythic places, hyper-realities, and far-flung frontiers that comics and comics readers might never have reached without him. I love this particular cover more, but the cover of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY's subsequent issue astounded writer-editor Stan Lee to such an extent that he refused to placard it with the usual Merry Marvel self-congratulation, allowing Kirby's majestic art to speak purely for itself.

If you're of a mind to celebrate Jack "King" Kirby tonight, which movie would I recommend? Oddly enough, one in which he had no direct involvement: Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP. Unlike the official Marvel movie adaptations we've had to date, it's ROBOCOP alone that really nails the look and feel of an upper tier Kirby comic, right down to the hero's questing body language, his square fingertips, and the squiggly highlights on his metallic chest and arms. Plus, it's a great movie. But really, the best way to celebrate Jack Kirby's 40+ year reign in comics is by revisiting the pages he actually drew -- or, better yet, discovering it for the first time, if you haven't had the pleasure. There's a lot of it now available in book form and you can find it here, for starters.

All hail King Kirby! Excelsior!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Delivery Day! Hallelujah!

"They're heeeeere."

The full story over on the Bava book blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stay Tuned

Expect an important announcement over on the Bava book blog within the hour.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IF.... and NIGHTMARE USA... and My Dish Problem Resolved

My review of Lindsay Anderson's IF...., featured in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND, is now posted at their website.

Yesterday, Amazon.com delivered to me a fresh, firm copy of Stephen Thrower's new FAB Press book NIGHTMARE U.S.A. I haven't had time to do much more than page through it with great interest, but it certainly looks like one of the most important genre film book releases of the year. I was most excited to discover that it contains a full chapter on MESSIAH OF EVIL (1975), based on interviews with writer-director Willard Huyck, writer Gloria Katz, and the film's editor. I've always been fascinated by this movie and have daydreamed about presenting something like this chapter as a feature in VW someday, but that never happened -- so I'm pleased that someone of Steve's calibre has done the job in our stead. For some reason, I was able to order this book from Amazon last week for $50 or so, but as of now, they seem to have no more sale copies in stock and there's only one "used or new" Amazon store offering it for over $70.

Also, to follow up on an earlier posting, my Dish Network problems have been successfully resolved. We exchanged our VIP 211 MPEG-4 receiver with Dish's 611 DVR, which cleared up the problem with having with hard-matted gray bars cropping all the widescreen programming we were trying to record. The 611 not only gives me the option of storing up to 25 hours of HD programming on its hard drive, but there's an output on the back that allows me to outport a downcoverted signal to our DVD recorder. This is exactly what I needed. You see, the VIP 211 has no downconversion capability. So, for the record, if you're making the leap to MPEG-4 and are interested in recording SD DVD-Rs from your HD channels, my advice would be to stay away from the VIP 211 and go directly for the 611.

Also, I am loving the ability to record HD movies and other programming directly to the 611's hard drive for later viewing at my convenience, rather than having to prepare two sets of timers every time I want to see something that's not on at a convenient time -- and having to miss out on the HD quality I'm paying for as a result. In the past week alone, I've added to my hard drive HD recordings of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (my first Bava HD!), ISLAND OF TERROR and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH -- none of which are available on HD or Blu-ray disc, or likely to be at any time in the near future. Unfortunately, hard drive space is limited (and so is my viewing time), so there's a limit to how much I can save and for how long -- but this introduction to collecting movies in my receiver, though only for the short term, is already changing the way I think about recording and giving me thoughts about where all this technology could and should proceed from here.

I'm coming around to the idea that HD's real future is not HD and Blu-ray discs, but as a cable or satellite conveyance system only, that may ultimately help to wean us away from needing to own every film we like, or may need for future reference, for fear that it may never turn up again. What cable and satellite companies need to start working on is wiping the slate clean of all these wasteful channels that sell their souls nightly to Paid Programming and setting up motion picture and television data banks that we can rely upon to do our collecting for us, and pipe down to us what we want to see, when we want to see it, in HD or SD as the case may be. As it us, people are spending hundreds of dollars per month on DVDs and DVD sets and running out of room in the process. I don't know about you, but I would gladly redirect my monthly DVD allowance toward a monthly subscription to one or more such data banks -- as long as I could rely on them to maintain operation and to provide me with the special interest material I want to see. Of course, such a fantasy would require the hiring of management who truly know and love movies in order to become a successful reality, which is something that Hollywood has never seemed too able or interested in managing -- but with Dish Network and other providers offering in excess of 900 channels, it would be nice to see them used for a higher purpose than selling Girls Go Wild videos and male member enhancement medications.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Exciting ERIK THE CONQUEROR News


What better way to celebrate a happy ending to the Bava book auction, and to start a new week, than to make an important announcement about Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming October release of Mario Bava's ERIK THE CONQUEROR [Gli invasori, 1961]?

In addition to my own feature-length audio commentary, I provided to the disc's producers a special bonus: a 28-minute excerpt from my 1989 telephone interview with Cameron Mitchell! This material focuses specifically on ERIK and Cameron's warm feelings about Bava himself, whom he described to me as "one of my favorite people on the planet."

I didn't know whether producer Perry Martin would want to use the interview as a separate audio feature, or if he might want to shuffle my commentary and the interview together, but he tells me he's done a little of both. The bulk of the interview will be included as a separate audio option, but those parts that specifically discuss certain scenes in the picture will be mixed in with my commentary. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing the final results, and I'm delighted that Cameron's personal comments about Bava's best swashbuckler are being preserved for posterity on what promises to be a fantastic release.

The ten of you who won the limited edition CD of my Vincent Price and Cameron Mitchell interviews in the Bava book auction, never fear -- the ERIK DVD will contain only one-third (roughly) of the interview that you'll own in its entirety -- with his further discussions on BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, KNIVES OF THE AVENGER and MINNESOTA CLAY.

It's been a long and exciting night, and Donna and I want to thank everyone who participated in our auction and helped to make it such a grand success. I'm tired, but before I hit the sack for some overdue shut-eye, I want to send out Happy Birthday (or Buon' compleanno) greetings to Alice & Ellen Kessler -- the graceful female leads of ERIK THE CONQUEROR -- who are turning 71 today, and to Bava composer Stelvio Cipriani (BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD, RABID DOGS), who is celebrating his 70th. And finally, according to the IMDb, I was a year early in wishing a Happy Centenary to Lurene Tuttle last year, who actually turns the big 100 this very day. (What do I know? I watched a PERRY MASON episode last night and was tickled to find Lurene Tuttle starring in it... but when the credits rolled, she turned out to be Josephine Hutchinson!)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ultimate Bava Book Auction Ending Soon!

Just a quick reminder to everyone that our Ultimate Bava Book Auction on eBay reaches its exciting conclusion in less than a day!

Here, in the east coast time zone, the final bids will be locked down Monday morning at 7:39:02 am. On the west coast, the auction ends Monday morning at 4:39:02 am, pacific time.

We apologize for timing the auction's end at such an awkward hour for most people. We hadn't sold anything on eBay in many years, and never anything on quite this scale in terms of page design. It was important for us to post the auction no later than Monday morning, to ensure that the winners' names and addresses would be in hand before the books arrive this week. If you're going to bed early, remember to bid your highest before retiring... or set your alarms to be there for the finish.

Thanks to the many numbers of people who are watching and participating in this historic auction! And good luck!