Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Man Who Could Cheat Mediocrity

I have a critique of Terence Fisher's THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) going into the next issue of VW -- it's available on DVD as one of those confounded "Best Buy exclusives" from Legend Films. While going through the disc in search of some screen grabs suitable to accompany my review, I was stopped in my tracks by this impressive shot of Christopher Lee, which had passed over me without particular effect as I watched the film itself. But seen here, as a composed image, I feel that cameraman Jack Asher succeeded in capturing something close to the soul of this much-too-easily-taken-for-granted actor and why I and so many of my generation love him so much.

In this film, which hasn't dated particularly well in my opinion, Lee plays the thankless "other man" role of Dr. Pierre Gérard -- just one of many laughably unimaginative French names peopling Jimmy Sangster's script. (The villain of the piece actually resides at No. 13 Rue Noire!) It's the sort of dull, stiff-upper-lip role that Lee readily accepted in his early determination not to become typecast as one of Hammer's monster men, and I used to think he was boring in it... when I was a much younger viewer not so well-versed in the ways of life and love. Seeing the movie now, I find that Lee is one of its most interesting, enduring facets: I admire his character's deeply held moral convictions, the way he values the medical experience of the elderly character played by Arnold Marlé, and especially the way he readily -- indeed, heroically -- responds in the affirmative when the film's villain, played by Anton Diffring, asks if he's in love with Janine Dubois, the heroine played by Hazel Court -- something we instinctively know he has not yet found the right moment to confide to her. It's in this single outburst of heart that he qualifies himself as the film's hero, allowing some heat to pass through his cool public image -- not that it would make any difference to Janine who, in the final reel, agrees even to damnation if it means remaining by the side of the man she loves so unwisely. The film ends with the usual incendiary mayhem and offers no real closure for Pierre Gérard, and it is only after reflecting on the film from a distance, and revisiting a shot such as this, that we realize that Janine's choice has probably damned him, too.

Few actors could have played this man with such innate nobility and melancholy, and it's high time Christopher Lee was complimented on making something so touching out of next to nothing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fixing A Hole

In the course of recent events, various people have asked me what it feels like to have completed the project of a lifetime. The answer I've settled on, the most truthful one, is quick and to the point: "I feel bereaved."

I now have the Bava book as a tangible thing, rather than as a ghost in my head, but there remains the feeling of having lost it. The awards it has received thus far have been wonderful and gratifying, but these honors can't begin to fill the hole that was excavated by the thirty-plus questing years that preceded it. I've experienced "post partum depression" before, with other books I've finished, but this experience is something more profound. I remember reading somewhere that F. Scott Fitzgerald burst into tears when his first novel was accepted by Scribner's, and that he explained his emotional outburst by saying that he knew that nothing else in his life would ever feel so wonderful again. In my case, I'm not weeping uncontrollably or drinking to excess or auditioning bridges to leap off; I'm just very aware that as much as 50% of what used to be Tim Lucas isn't part of me anymore. I'm also aware that, whatever my next projects happen to be, it's unlikely that any of them, separately or in combination, will completely fill the void left behind by this lifetime endeavor.

We're working on VIDEO WATCHDOG #143 at present, so it's not the right time to start writing the next novel or screenplay, but I should start taking notes toward both projects more fastidiously. In the meantime, both Donna and I are focusing on effecting positive changes in our lifestyle. Last Sunday, I went swimming for the first time since 1989 at a local health facility. I've always loved the water; I've always been the sort of swimmer who never wants to come out once he gets in, but I had been depriving myself of this pleasure with mental preccupations and sheer physical indolence for close to twenty years. I stayed in the water for about 30-35 minutes and, I have to say, it was largely a struggle. But this morning -- before breakfast, before coffee, before e-mail (!!!) -- we went back and I swam for the better part of an hour: doing laps, treading water, floating on my back and watching the white ceiling piping and blue-and-white pennants drifty by above me, then I soothed my tensed muscles for 10 minutes or so in the whirlpool. Even while getting dressed afterwards, I took notice of the simple pleasure I was taking on putting my socks and shoes back on after a swim. Then, while sitting in a chair in the lobby, drinking an electrolyte beverage while waiting for Donna to join me after her own health regime, I realized that I felt wonderful -- "attuned" might be the more precise word. And, best of all, that for the entire time I had been in the water, I hadn't taken any notice of the names, titles, dates and other preoccupations that command my attention when I'm at home, sitting in front of this infernal machine.

Funnily enough, the writing I most enjoy doing at the moment is limericks. It's a form that forces the poet to work and finish quickly. What? Someone requested a Jess Franco limerick? Sure, here goes:

There once was a filmmaker, Jesus,
Whose flicks weren't financed by Cresus
A hotel and zoom lens
Were his means to an end
And the labia majora his thesis.

There. Believe it or not, I wrote that in just slightly more time than it took you to read it. Yes, my limerick muscle is firm and readily flexed -- but I know it's not going to make me rich. This stripe of poetry pays only in author's satisfaction, much like epic poetry today. But at least that satisfaction comes quickly, on the fifth line, like euphoria from a morphine drip.

Additionally, I seem to be going through a phase, probably brought on my the highs of my recent trips to Los Angeles and Louisville: I'm not very interested in watching movies at the moment, especially horror movies. I'm strugging against the morbid streak that has been my beat for so long; as one confidant expressed it, I've tasted a bit of life and a broader circle of companionship and liked it. Other people seem to juggle work and real life -- why shouldn't I try my hand at that for awhile? It's likely to mean less blogging, but for those times when the mood or the need strikes, I'll be leaving the door here open a crack and the lights on.

Tomorrow would have been Mario Bava's 94th birthday. I send my love to his flown spirit, wherever it may be, and thank him from the bottom of my heart for having been such an inexhaustibly interesting companion for so many years, all those years when I felt he was mine alone. I either know or have met quite a few people in fandom who are engaged in various book projects, some of them in developing manuscript, some without a single word yet written, and some have dragged on almost as long as mine. I hope the example of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK has given these writers and would-be writers more reason to finish. The longer we toil at such projects, wrestling them toward our idea of perfection, the more painful it is to separate ourselves from them, in ways so profound they're hard to imagine even if I described them to you. Empty as I feel, I have no doubt that the most important thing was to finish and move on toward the next big question mark. Isn't it best to be judged for what we do rather than for what we intend?

Friday, July 25, 2008

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #142

Our next issue is now at the printer and it's, of all things, a Tim Lucas triple-header. I wrote the feature article on the classic cult television series THE PRISONER (in which I propose a new viewing sequence of the 17 episodes); the text for a co-feature photo gallery of mostly never-before-seen color images of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Peter Lorre from the classic ROUTE 66 episode "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" (courtesy of the Bob Burns Collection); and also the "DVD Spotlight" review of the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee classic THE SKULL.

There's also a wealth of material in the issue I didn't write, and I invite you to savor your anticipation by reading all about it (and sampling a few pages) here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Double Life of Two Sisters

Irène Jacob in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE -- nice double bill material for people unafraid to swim in the deep end.

The editors of SIGHT & SOUND have very generously chosen to offer this month's cover story -- in which 52 different critics suggest "double bill" ideas, based either in reality or fantasy -- free online as a downloadable pdf file. It's a very interesting piece and I was among the critics asked to participate; I chose to write about the genuine 1962 double bill of Georges Franju's THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS (English-dubbed version of EYES WITHOUT A FACE) and George Breakston & Kenneth Crane's THE MANSTER, which I discuss as a kind of ground zero in terms of the fusion of art and sleaze.

However, while checking Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter blog last week, I found that he had posted a series of "Images From the Greatest Films of the Decade" from Kim Ji-woon's Korean horror film A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (a fitting selection, I think) -- and it gave me an unbidden notion of what a terrific double bill it would make with Krzysztof Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE. I immediately regretted my reality-rooted choice and wished that I had proposed this more creative pairing.

I wish I could go into more detail here, but time won't allow it. We start a new issue next week and I'm behind schedule, reviewing one or two movies a day and reviewing them in the time I have left.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wonderfest Photos by Joe Busam

My friend Joe Busam had a birthday yesterday and, princely fellow that he is, he gave me a present: a disc of the photos he took at this past weekend's Wonderfest, and his permission to use them here.

First series of photos: Let's call this THE FALL AND RISE OF THE RO-MAN EMPIRE.

This year's "Doctor Gangrene" show at Wonderfest was devoted to the campy ape-in-a-diver's-helmet opus ROBOT MONSTER. Bob Burns brought the actual helmet used in the 1953 space oddity and agreed to don it in a new portrayal of the legendary space invader, Ro-Man. Uh-oh, the helmet's antennae needs repair and the show is tonight! Nashville-based artist Ethan Black was summoned to Gary Prange's Old Dark Club House to put things right!

Success! Ethan celebrates a victorious reattachment by trying the legendary movie prop on for size!

Then everybody in the room got into the act, starting with Joe Busam...

... and then Monster Kid of the Year, Michael Schlesinger...

... and, of course, the host with the most, Gary Prange...

... and finally, Larry Thomas, who gave a real Ro-Man Holiday performance!

Bob Burns had to come down to the Old Dark Club House and knock some heads together, but he finally got Ro-Man's helmet back in time for the evening performance. He later told me that he couldn't see or hear a thing when he was wearing the helmet, but the audience went ape anyway.

Here's a shot that Joe took of this year's assembled Rondo Award winners. That's Rondo founder David Colton at the lectern on the right, and next to him, going right to left, are Frank Dietz (Best Artist); Michael Schlesinger (Monster Kid of the Year); the legendary Bernie Wrightson (Monster Kid Hall of Fame); Tim Lucas (Best Book and Best Writer... they said); Professor Emcee Square (Mark Menold), who accepted the Best Fan Event award for the Monroeville Mall Zombie Walk, which he organized; the lovely Penny Dreadful and her loopy sidekick Garou (Best Horror Hosts); Son of Ghoul; the Frankenstein monster (Tim Herron); and the original Jason from FRIDAY THE 13th, Ari Lehman (accepting for this year's Best Magazine choice, RUE MORGUE). Hall of Fame inductees Cortlandt Hull and Dennis Vincent of the Witch's Dungeon were also present but couldn't attend due to food poisoning! They were honored the following night at the Cook-out on Clavius banquet.

It's an Old Dark Club House tradition to get the elite few admitted into this dark domain in front of a camera for a group photo. I must admit I didn't get everyone's name, but going more or less left to right, I can identify: Larry Thomas, Chris Herzog, Harry Hatter, Lisa Herzog, Tim & Donna Lucas, Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, Mike Schlesinger, Gary Prange, ? in suit and tie, Carrie Galloway, Donnie Waddell, Mike Parks, Danya Linehan, ? in front holding the decanter and signed ashtray, ? sitting next to Joe Busam, Joe Busam, Ethan Black and Dave Conover. This picture was taken by Frank Dietz, who's missing from the picture.

It is also an Old Dark Club House tradition to have everyone make a scary face for the camera. Frank Dietz -- now a movie star, incidentally -- can be found in the position previously occupied by Joe. I love the way Mike and Danya, standing on the right way in the back, look literally fused at the neck into a single two-headed being.
And finally, in the you-hadda-be-there department, here's a priceless still from one of Donnie Waddell's funniest performances:

Hello?
Hello?
Is somebody there?
Why do you keep ringing my phone? Don't you know it's after eleven?
Hello?
Hello?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wonderfest! Sushi! And the Moon!

Just back from an appropriately wonderful weekend at Wonderfest in Louisville, Kentucky, where Donna and I got to spend time talking, laughing, drinking and eating with our extended family of friends. Pictures may follow, once I see what they look like.

On Friday night, our annual SushiFest in Bardstown confirmed once again that Sapporo serves the best sushi anywhere in our ever-expanding range of experience. SushiFest has grown from six to eight to sixteen participants in its three-night history. Along for the experience this year, along with founding member Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, were Bob and Kathy Burns and also Frank Dietz, who said that he eats sushi regularly in Los Angeles and couldn't believe that he had to come to Louisville to find the best. (We especially recommend the VIP, No Name, Volcano and Godzilla rolls. They even serve a White Castle roll, but it should not be confused with the celebrated little square hamburger.)

The 2007 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ceremony took place on Saturday night, co-hosted by founder David Colton and Nurse Moan-eek, and I picked up the Best Book and Best Writer awards, this time improvising my acceptance speeches; my Best Book speech was inadequate but passable, and I think I stumbled through the Best Writer speech miserably, feeling a little embarrassed by its seeming redundancy in light of the Best Book award, but some were complimentary. Anyway, the moment is over and it's best not to dwell on such things. The highlight of the presentation was without a doubt Michael Schlesinger's induction as Monster Kid of the Year, introduced by Raymond Castile as Coffin Joe, Jr. -- his maniacal Portuguese incantations and hilarious mangling of "Mee-kay-eeel Skla-essh-ink-kair"'s name softly translated by a docile cloaked idolator. As Monster Kid Mike said later, "I was supposed to follow THAT?" But he managed to, and it was cool to see my old friend's efforts recognized and applauded.

Dr. Gangrene's post-Rondos show on Saturday night was a blast, built around a screening of ROBOT MONSTER and featuring Bob Burns in a live, run-amuck-through-the-audience appearance as Ro-Man (wearing in the original helmet). The Exotic Ones rocked the house with before and after the show performances of such hits as "It's the Mummy," "The Green Slime" and (dedicated to Monkees fan Donna Lucas) "Circle Sky." I had a great time getting to know some of the band members better this year.

The guests of honor at the show were Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the stars of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (which I include on my list of 10 favorite films), and I surprised myself by not approaching them all weekend. They seemed like very friendly and approachable gentlemen, but aside from a reciprocated nod from across a crowded dealer's room... no. While checking out, I had one last chance with Mr. Dullea and again let the opportunity pass, prompting me to look inside for the reason why. That's when I realized I was subconsciously protecting my sense of the film itself. I've listened to their audio commentary about the film and know that both men are splendid vocal representatives of the picture and its legacy, but I didn't want my future viewings of a film I consider a profound work of art to be complicated by meeting and becoming familiar with the real people behind the roles they were playing.

Banquet night at Wonderfest has become an almost comically accursed cock-up. They tried to straighten things out this year by hosting a simpler sort of buffet -- a "Cook-out on Clavius" with burgers and dogs, but the buffet turned out to be almost anti-gravitationally arrayed: plates were stacked at the wrong end of the queue, so everyone had to start loading up their plates with dessert, then the potato salad and baked beans, then burgers and brats, and finally the buns. It made for a lot of mess and plate juggling. If Wonderfest was hosting the Miss Nude Universe Pageant at one of their banquets, they'd find a way to cover up the contestants. So, come next banquet night, I'm stealing my friends away to discover some of the other culinary haunts Bardstown has to offer.

Finally, for those who come here expecting some kind of commentary on video, here's a link to my review of Kino's HOUDINI - THE MOVIE STAR, published also in this month's issue of SIGHT & SOUND.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Strange Seeing Ways of Steve Allen

The late, great Steve Allen. Look into his eyes. On second thought...

I've been meaning to mention these two incidents here for quite awhile, and it's time I got around to it. I know that what I'm about to tell you stretches the fabric of believability, but I assure you that both incidents actually occurred.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT... On April 11, 1966, I'VE GOT A SECRET host Steve Allen introduced special guest George Segal to the program. Segal walked onstage in the company of six other gentlemen; his secret was that he and these men used to be known as the Red Onion Jazz Band and he was their banjo player. Before the panel's questioning got underway, Allen laughingly referred to the assemblage of dark-suited men standing behind him and Segal as "the St. Valentine's Day Massacre." Oddly enough, Segal's next motion picture would be Roger Corman's THE ST. VALENTINE'S DAY MASSACRE, released in June 1967!

BELIEVE IT OR NOT... While questioning challenger Ms. Lucille Bohn ("Police Detective") on the January 1, 1967 broadcast of WHAT'S MY LINE?, panelist Steve Allen inquired "Are you some kind of lovely... meter maid?"
His bizarrely phrased question actually preceded the release of The Beatles' SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND album, featuring the song "Lovely Rita" ("Lovely Rita, meter maid / Where would I be without you?"), by six months. According to Barry Miles' book THE BEATLES: A DIARY, all of the Beatles were in London on the date of the broadcast. Furthermore, the US version of WHAT'S MY LINE? was never shown in the UK. According to Miles, Paul McCartney did not begin working on the song until February 23. Weird, huh?
Did Steve Allen actually peer into the future, or merely influence it? We may never know. In the words of Larry Blamire, "I wonder. Oh, well..."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

SCOTT WALKER 30 CENTURY MAN reviewed

It is truly a shame that, two years after its first public screenings, Stephen Kijak's documentary SCOTT WALKER 30 CENTURY MAN has yet to score a US release. The current word is that the film will receive US theatrical distribution in the fall. But, tired of waiting and being a 21 century man who doesn't have to, I broke down and ordered a copy of Verve Pictures' Region 2 disc from Amazon.co.uk, which streeted about a year ago. The film's own subtext seems to prophesy its lack of (or belated) exposure in America as inevitable, because here in the land of Top 40 radio, artists like Scott Walker are not understood. It's a shame, because as music documentaries go, this one is about as good as they come. Kijak tells a story, one that has elements of mystery and moments of epiphany, and one that stands as a source of great inspiration to anyone toiling in any branch of the arts.

Kijak, whose previous documentary CINEMANIA was a somewhat frightening portrait of New York area moviegoers whose love of film tipped over (or plummeted freely) into signs of psychosis, here turns his attention to what some might view as a similar case. Scott Walker -- born Scott Engel in 1945, not far from Cincinnati, Ohio -- rose to fame in 1965 as one third of The Walker Brothers, an American group of three unrelated young men who adopted a common family name. (The whole idea of The Ramones was a pop historic reference to them.) The Walker Brothers inverted the British Invasion by relocating from the West coast to London, where they recorded three albums (two in the US) and many singles, including a couple of transatlantic hits ("Make It Easy On Yourself", "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore"). Somehow, despite chart success, they maintained US anonymity while taking England by storm. Their UK fan club was reportedly bigger than that of The Beatles, and singer Lulu admits to having a terrible crush on Scott, the cute one. "Is he still cute?" she wants to know.

Scott penned a number of the Walkers' increasingly fantastic B-sides and became the breakout star of the group but, behind his dark Foster Grants, he professed having no interest in money; his only interest was in expressing himself musically, wherever that happened to take him -- and being a young man of taste and intelligence, it took him far afield. His interest in European cinema led to an infatuation with the then-scandalous, theatrical songs of Jacques Brel, but during the period when he attempted to become a British chanteur, Scott continued to write his own increasingly abstract songs and honing one of the most distinctive voices ever raised in pop music -- a deep crooner's voice often seemingly at odds with his poetry and the soundscapes he constructed in support of it. Today, that voice sounds archetypally familiar, after decades of its commercial imitation by the likes of Bryan Ferry, David Sylvian and, especially, David Bowie (who repaid some dues by executive producing this film). It was a voice that could have easily gone mainstream and reaped every platinum album ever to fall into the laps of Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton, but that sort of career didn't interest Scott Walker.

His fourth solo album, SCOTT 4, is now regarded as his masterpiece but it heralded the end of his solo success. The movie skirts the issue, but offers lines to be read between about incidents of public drunkenness, no-shows at scheduled concerts, and an increasing discomfort with live performance. A Walker Brothers reunion yielded another Top 10 hit, but their third reunion album coincided with the dissolution of their record company, encouraging Scott to follow his Muse to the end with his contributions to the record. Spacy, adventurous and nonlinear, Scott's contribution to the album NITE FLIGHTS pointed the way to a resuscitated solo career that is second to none in terms of artistic integrity. Looking over the lyrics to one of his older solo compositions, no less than Brian Eno chuckles ruefully, "It's humiliating... after all this time, we [musicians] still haven't moved past this."

Narrated by Sara Kestelman (ZARDOZ), SCOTT WALKER 30 CENTURY MAN skips over some individual albums in telling its story but does paint a compelling portrait of an artist capable of working only on his own terms. In an extraordinary coup, Kijak scored the cooperation of the secretive Walker himself, who is shown in original interviews, on the set of a film directing the live performance of his original score, and in the recording studio during the making of his solo album THE DRIFT. Remarkably for someone whose truly avant garde music has been described as abrasive, inaccessible, abyssal and suicidally dark ("This isn't a funk session," he once cautioned a collaborator in the studio), Scott Walker personally projects an almost wholesome image and still speaks with a Midwestern accent after decades spent overseas; nevertheless, he speaks about his music and his goals for his music with unyielding focus and passion. He admits to suffering from nightmares and outsized emotions, noting that everything in his world seems "big" to him, but unlike some other composers (Brian Wilson leaps to mind), he has never lost control of his vision or been broken by it.

In some ways, Scott Walker's greatest legacy to the greatest number of people will be his approach to career -- his refusal of easy, soulless, pretty-boy pop success and embrace of a more meaningful lifestyle predicated on artistic risk, his willingness to let ten years pass between albums -- rather than his actual music, which is extraordinary but hardly accessible to the average ears. That said, the film also embodies a moving introduction to, of defense of, Scott's music, particularly in a lengthy sequence that shows a number of interview subjects (including David Bowie, Sting, Jarvis Cocker, Marc Almond, Johnny Marr, Alison Goldfrapp and members of Radiohead) intently listening to individual songs and occasionally remarking on them. (These scenes take us to the core of the musician/listener relationship and remind us that this form of intimacy is where music truly lives, not in the charts or the loud car radios of people needing a "soundtrack to their lives.")

This film should be considered required viewing for artists of all kinds for the simple reason that it is so inspirational; it depicts a level of almost monastic consecration to one's craft that is so rare as to be easily mistaken for incipient insanity -- when it is the idea that the value of any music is dictated by the marketplace that is truly mad. French journalist Brian Gascoigne, a longtime devotée of the artist, speaks enviously of those people who have yet to discover Scott Walker's recorded works, and this film will surely seduce a good many viewers into seeking them out.

The 16:9 disc is attractive and features a number of brilliantly animated sequences assembled in illustration of the musical content. The audio is two-channel stereo only. The extras include a director's commentary, a trailer, and bonus interviews (none longer than 5m) with about a dozen people, including Walker's former manager Ed Bicknell, who admits to loaning Scott more money than he ever made from representing him, and that he'd do it all again in a heartbeat. "It's great music to fuck to," he grins -- and, when he says that, something clicks and we realize that this unclassifiable music and funk have something essential in common, after all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Barbara Steele is Rising from the Grave Again

Good news in today's mail box from David Gregory of Severin Films:

ORIGINAL NEGATIVE OF BARBARA STEELE CLASSIC "NIGHTMARE CASTLE" (aka "THE FACELESS MONSTER") UNEARTHED IN ROME

Gothic horror fans will be delighted to know that Severin Films will be giving the first official DVD release to the 1965 Barbara Steele chiller NIGHTMARE CASTLE/THE FACELESS MONSTER (original title: Amanti d’oltretomba, or "Lovers Beyond The Tomb"). The original negative has recently been discovered in a Rome storage vault and apparently in good condition. We will be doing a new HD transfer in its original aspect ratio, so all those super cheap bootleg DVDs taken from 10th generation TV prints can now be discarded forever. The film was directed by Mario Caiano, a veteran of all the great Italian exploitation genres including Spaghetti Westerns (MMY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE/BULLETS DON'T ARGUE), Pepla (ULYSSES AGAINST HERCULES/GOLIATH AND THE REBEL SLAVE) and Poliziatesci (Napoli Spara/Milano Violenta). Caiano is still very much with us, and we recently shot a great interview with the 75 year old master at his home just outside of Rome. NIGHTMARE CASTLEe also showcases the very first horror score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and the beautiful black & white cinematography comes courtesy of Enzo Barboni, who would later strike gold as the director of the 'Trinity' westerns starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. We’re very excited to be releasing this uncut, uncensored and unsung hit of Italian horror history, which after years of bootleg abominations will now find its rightful place alongside the other Barbara Steele classics like Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY and Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD. This is NIGHTMARE CASTLE as it truly has never been seen before.

I'm quite excited about this pending release, which for the record also stars fan favorites Helga Liné and Paul Müller, but its presentation begs some comment. First of all, that MONSTERS AT PLAY quote -- it's not only an unwarranted shot at the Maestro, it's ungrammatical.

More importantly, I think Severin is doing this important release an inadvertent disservice by referring to any restored and uncut version with runamuck titles like NIGHTMARE CASTLE and THE FACELESS MONSTER. NIGHTMARE CASTLE was the abortive US cut of Caiano's film, which was bluntly shortened by a couple of reels; it was the worst, most incoherent importation of any Italian horror film EVER -- so bad, in fact, it ought to be preserved alongside the original cut for posterity's sake. As for THE FACELESS MONSTER, it was the title given to a more complete but still censored version issued in the UK. Retromedia Entertainment attached it to their release of the uncut version, which would have been nice if they hadn't tampered with the audio track, adding new sound effects. So any way you look at them, NIGHTMARE CASTLE and THE FACELESS MONSTER are bad memories.
The uncut export edition of this movie is known as NIGHT OF THE DOOMED, and as a fan who not only remembers but loves this stuff (the audience Severin is courting), my gut reaction is to view any copy bearing the title NIGHTMARE CASTLE with a measure of suspicion. I'm sure it's not warranted in this case, but the people handling these releases need to be sensitive about such things. Nevertheless, I wish Severin Films all the best with what promises to be an exciting new release.
A photo from the film which Barbara inscribed to our late friend Alan Upchurch.
The uncut version, whether you call it Amanti d'oltretomba or NIGHT OF THE DOOMED, is an important title from the Italian Golden Age pantheon, and one of Barbara Steele's best star vehicles. Not a notch on BLACK SUNDAY, of course, but it is significant as the only horror film for which Steele dubbed her own performance (one of her dual roles) -- and the news about the discovery of the original negative element is wonderful. Just to know that people over there are looking for such things is wonderful.

Now where is THE TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Catching Up with GLIMPSES

Encouraged by my friend David J. Schow (thanks, Dave!), I just read GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner, a fantasy novel published in 1993.

It's the powerfully imagined story of a stereo repairman and music lover who discovers, while dealing with the fall out from his father's suicide, that he has the ability to imprint music that he has imagined onto recording tape. His fascination with lost and unfinished legendary records prompts him to mentally create a non-existent track from The Beatles' GET BACK sessions, a version of "The Long and Winding Road" played by all four members without Phil Spector's symphonics, which is released as a bootleg single. His partner then sets him to work on other legendary unfinished albums that need recreating: The Doors' CELEBRATION OF THE LIZARD, The Beach Boys' SMILE and Jimi Hendrix's FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN. The chapters in which the protagonist, Ray, "meets" Brian Wilson in 1966 and Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and confides in them that he's a man from the future are actually believable, surprising and incredibly exciting.

This novel remains an absorbing, thoughtful and relevant read, despite the fact that we now live in a world in which FIRST RAYS OF THE RISING SUN and SMILE (as a Brian Wilson solo album) exist -- not to mention LET IT BE - NAKED. The chapters involving Ray's personal life are as believable and captivating as the musical ones, and there's a sex scene so vividly described that it becomes a "you are there" head trip on par with Shriner's imaginings of the classic recording sessions.

My only complaint about the books that the final chapter needed more... or less. As is, it's a paragraph too long; the book's conversational closing lines have no resonance and almost make Ray's closing in on happiness seem an almost unworthy goal. I would still enthusiastically recommend GLIMPSES, particularly to rock fans and fans of my novel THROAT SPROCKETS, which probes some similar venues of obsession -- which, I assume, is the reason why David put it in front of me.

Snooping around online, I found a generous "preview" sampling of GLIMPSES here, and author Lewis Shiner also has a website and a special "Fiction Liberation Front" page where downloadable files of much of his writing have been made freely available.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bava Book Nominated for IHG Award

Since returning home from the Saturn Awards, Donna and I thought we had seen the last of the award nominations for MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK -- so imagine our surprise when we learned today that the Bava book has been nominated in the Non-fiction category for the 2007 International Horror Guild Awards!

This is wonderful news, very exciting -- and we get to share our elation with cherished VW contributor Ramsey Campbell, who has been nominated in two important categories!

Here is the complete list of nominations (with VW-related nominees bolded) as found on the IHG website.

INTERNATIONAL HORROR GUILD AWARD NOMINATIONS for WORKS from 2007

LIVING LEGEND AWARD
Peter Straub

NOVEL
Grin of the Dark. Ramsey Campbell (PS Publishing)
Generation Loss. Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press)
The Missing. Sarah Langan (HarperCollns)
Season of the Witch. Natasha Mostert (Dutton)
The Terror. Dan Simmons (Little, Brown & Company)

FICTION COLLECTION
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
Plots and Misadventures. Stephen Gallagher (Subterranean Press)
Shadows Kith and Kin. Joe R. Lansdale (Subterranean Press)
Masques of Satan. Reggie Oliver (Ash Tree Press)
Dagger Key and Other Stories. Lucius Shepard (PS Publishing)

LONG FICTION
Procession of the Black Sloth. Laird Barron (The Imago Sequence: Night Shade Books)
The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story. Susan Hill (Profile)
Softspoken. Lucius Shepard (Night Shade Books)
The Scalding Rooms. Conrad Williams (PS Publishing)

MID-LENGTH FICTION
"The Janus Tree". Glen Hirshberg (Inferno: Tor)
"Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed". Steven Duffy (At Ease with the Dead: Ash Tree Press)
"The Bone Man". Fredric S. Durbin (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 2007)
"Closet Dreams". Lisa Tuttle (Postscripts 10: PS Publishing)

SHORT FICTION
"Digging Deep". Ramsey Campbell (Phobic: Comma Press)
"Honey in the Wound". Nancy Etchemendy (The Restless Dead: Candlewick Press)
"The Tank". Paul Finch (At Ease with the Dead: Ash Tree Press)
"Splitfoot". Paul Walther (New Genre 5, Spring 2007)
"The Great White Bed". Don Webb (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May 2007)

ANTHOLOGY
Inferno. Ellen Datlow, editor (Tor)
Summer Chills. Stephen Jones, editor (Carroll & Graf)
American Supernatural Tales. S.T. Joshi, editor (Penguin)
Strange Tales Volume II. Rosalie Parker, editor (Tartarus Press)
At Ease with the Dead. Barbara and Christopher Roden, editors (Ash Tree Press)

NON-FICTION
Frankenstein: A Cultural History. Susan Tyler Hitchcock (W.W. Norton & Company)
Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog)
Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M.R. James. Rosemary Pardoe & S.T. Joshi, eds. (Hippocampus Press)
Sides. Peter Straub (Borderlands Press)
The Science of Stephen King. Bob Weinberg & Lois M. Gresh (John Wiley)

PERIODICAL
Black Static
Dead Reckonings
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Postscripts
Weird Tales

ILLUSTRATED NARRATIVE
Scalped: Indian Country. Jason Aaron (writer) R.M. Gu�ra (artist) (Vertigo/DC Comics)
The Nightmare Factory. Thomas Ligotti (creator/writer), Joe Harris & Stuart Moore (writers), Ben Templesmith, Michael Gaydos, Colleen Doran & Ted McKeever (illustrators) (Fox Atomic/Harper Paperbacks)
The Blot. Tom Neely (I Will Destroy You)
The Arrival. Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Wormwood Gentleman Corpse: Birds, Bees, Blood & Beer. Ben Templesmith (IDW)

ART
Didier Cottier for Exhibit at Utopiales, Nantes, France, November 2007
David Ho for his body of work
Elizabeth McGrath for "The Incurable Disorder", Billy Shire Fine Arts, December 2007
Chris Mars for "New Salem", Jonathan Levine Gallery, October 2007
Mike Mignola for cover & illustrations: Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire (Bantam Spectra)

My congratulations to Mr. Straub and ALL the 2007 IHGA nominees!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY Previewed

Selma Blair and Ron Perlman in HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY -- locked and loaded for a long-term relationship.

Ever since his first studio picture, MIMIC (1997), writer-director Guillermo del Toro has adopted a well-known game plan, alternating his "serious" independent projects (like CRONOS, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and the much-celebrated PAN'S LABYRINTH) with more "commercial" studio work (like MIMIC, BLADE II and HELLBOY). While this checkerboard approach has always been obvious, del Toro has always rebutted any such simplification of his approach to career, insisting that he always gives 100% of himself to whatever film he happens to be making at the time and that he regards his studio projects as much a part of himself as his more critically acclaimed personal work. This much is usually self-evident, given the consistently high quality of his assignments-for-hire, but his latest film HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY is the first pitch-perfect hybrid of the personal and professional del Toro. On one hand, it is a marvelous, highly accessible entertainment; on the other, it is consistently stimulating to the mind and appealing to the eye. It meets all the requirements of summer blockbuster fast food, but it's actually nourishing.
Doug Jones, this generation's Man of a Thousand Faces, returns as "fish stick" Abe Sapien.
There is so much happening on the surface of HELLBOY II that it is possible to overlook the almost classical simplicity of its storyline: the prince of a nearly-extinct race thriving underground, hateful of the humanity which has driven his people there, sets out to reclaim the various separated components of a crown which, once reassembled, will enable him to reactive a dormant Golden Army of thousands of biomechanical warriors and reclaim the surface world for his own kind. The crown, a marvelous living jigsaw of interlocking gears, recalls a long line of biomechanical gizmos in del Toro's work, dating all the way back to his first feature, CRONOS. He and his gifted cameraman Guillermo Navarro plant numerous visual references to other classic fantasies (for example, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice") as well as to other cultural touchstones (John Landis fans will notice a theater marquee showing SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY) and their own past collaborations. Some may notice that one character's fate here visually resonates with that of Ophelia in PAN'S LABYRINTH, but in truth, del Toro and Navarro are old hands at self-referencing: Ophelia's fate echoed that of a character in the original HELLBOY. Just as a master like James Brown had the almost singular ability to cut deeper with each repetition of a groove, del Toro's sourcing of recurring visual tropes and themes seems not at all redundant, nor does it suggest a lack of invention; instead, these things accumulate to enrich the overall complexity of his oeuvre.

Some will inevitably disagree, but I prefer HELLBOY II to the original: it's true that Hellboy himself is less the center of attention, but he and all the characters are more fully realized here, and the world (or should that be "worlds"?) they inhabit seems infinitely more byzantine. The entire cast is at the top of their game, sporting some truly amazing makeup; while Ron Perlman and Doug Jones continue to delight as Hellboy and Abe Sapien, Selma Blair in particular mines appreciable new depths as firestarter Liz Sherman, now secure in her otherly domesticity with the big lug she calls "Red." In addition to some new key characters (like the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss), the film introduces a legion of new monsters and creatures so numerous and inventively designed that their burgeoning presence lends luster to the opening Universal logo, the family crest of the most iconic movie monsters.
Doug Jones again as the film's most awe-inspiring monster: the Angel of Death.

If the film has any shortcomings, they mostly concern a developing synonymity between Hellboy's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and the likes of THE X-FILES and particularly MEN IN BLACK, as well as some of the same "Mutant vs. Mankind" themes found in the X-MEN series. Similarly, the Golden Army finale was inadvertently telegraphed at the advance screening I attended by a preliminary trailer for Rob Cohen's forthcoming THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, which also involves the climactic reactivation of thousands of undead soldiers -- perhaps likewise inspired by the true worldly wonder of the Terracotta Army of the Emperor of Qin. Universal has a lot of money at stake with both of these films, so it might be to their mutual advantage to keep this trailer and feature separated.

But such small matters fade into insignificance in the light of HELLBOY II's well-balanced package of action, horror, spectacle, warmth (even where its cold-blooded characters are concerned) and humor. Highlights include an attack by a terrifying new breed of monster called Tooth Fairies (feeding on calcium, these cute little devils go for your teeth first); a visit to the Angel of Death; Hellboy's midtown encounter with a towering Lovecraftian monstrosity called an Elemental, a descent into a Troll Bazaar under the Brooklyn Bridge (I couldn't help comparing this sequence to the cantina scene of STAR WARS, not my favorite film series, and thinking to myself "I would even watch a STAR WARS film by this guy!"); and an instant-classic scene in which the lovelorn Abe Sapien and Hellboy cry into their beer while binging on sappy love songs. No one who has ever been a teenager can fail to feel the subtext as these two outsiders grit their teeth and purge their hearts to a Barry Manilow number. And when the song reappears to guide us through the end credits, we feel in the presence of a gifted filmmaker who has also become a great showman.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY opens in theaters across America on Friday, July 11.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Harald Reinl at 100

Dr. Harald Reinl, as he was sometimes billed, was born one hundred years ago today in Bad Ischl, Salzburg, Austria. His doctorate, belatedly awarded in 1938, was actually in physical education; he was an expert skiier in his youth and used this talent as his entré into cinema: he stunt-doubled for Leni Riefenstahl in such films as STORM OVER MONT-BLANC (1930) and WHITE ECSTASY (1931). In 1937, he made his first film short, WILDE WASSER ("Wild Waters"), which he wrote, co-directed and edited -- it might have been the start of a promising career, but the second World War intervened. He finally directed his first feature film, BERGKRISTAL ("Crystal Mountain") in 1949, and had his first international success with a nod to his earliest work in films: 1951's NIGHT TO MONT-BLANC.

Comedies, romances, war and adventure pictures followed in quick succession, preparing Dr. Reinl for his rendezvous with destiny. In 1959, he directed the first of the West German Edgar Wallace krimis, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG. Many of the basic tenets of the krimi were established by Reinl in this film and his subsequent contributions, THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE (1960) and THE FORGER OF LONDON (1961) -- particularly those in the realms of casting and atmosphere. Beginning with THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE, Reinl usually cast his second wife, Karin Dor, whom he had married in 1954, as the leading lady in his thrillers; she quickly became known as "Miss Krimi" to theater goers. It would seem that Reinl's personal hero was Fritz Lang, as he was lured away from Rialto Film's Wallace series to helm the best of CCC's Dr. Mabuse sequels: THE RETURN OF DR. MABUSE (1961) and THE INVISIBLE DR. MABUSE (1962). He also made an odd non-associated German thriller, THE CARPET OF HORROR (1962) around this time, which actually had more to do with poison gas than carpeting.

While Rialto's Wallace directors generally stayed faithful to the studio and series, Reinl prefered to remain a free agent and drifted freely from CCC back to Rialto (where he inaugurated their successful Karl May Western series with 1962's wonderfully entertaining THE TREASURE OF SILVER LAKE) and back again to CCC, where he contributed to their competing Bryan Edgar Wallace series with the outstanding THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE (1963). Between 1963 and 1965, he made another oddball krimi starring Klaus Kinski (THE WHITE SPIDER), returned to the Wallace series with the violent ROOM 13 and series standout THE SINISTER MONK (which in many ways foreshadowed Argento's SUSPIRIA), and then directed the three films that collectively compose what is arguably the pinnacle of his career and the Karl May series: the WINNETOU trilogy starring Lex Barker and Pierre Brice. Reinl's sweepingly romantic, unabashedly heroic view of the Old West was a significant influence on the operatic Italian Westerns of Sergio Leone. The final film in the WINNETOU trilogy, released in this country as THE DESPERADO TRAIL, has the personal distinction of being one of only two Westerns that have ever brought me to tears -- though I can't be sure the English dubbed version would affect me the same way.

Reinl was rewarded for this success by being permitted to indulge himself in a fantasy assignment: a lavish, two-part, color and stereo sound remake of Fritz Lang's DIE NIEBELUNGEN, featuring Uwe Beyer as Siegfried and Karin Dor as Brunhilda. (Sadly, I have never seen it, but some have called it a masterpiece.) By this time, Reinl's marriage to Dor was turning rocky; they made one last film together, DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDEL ("The Snake Pit and the Pendulum") before divorcing in 1968. This horror film, heavily influenced by Bava's BLACK SUNDAY and one of the most eerily atmospheric of its period, also starred Christopher Lee, Lex Barker and krimi favorite Dieter Eppler -- and it is known here in America by many other lurid titles, including BLOOD DEMON, CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD and THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM.

The remainder of Dr. Reinl's career is an intriguing conglomeration of trivia. He made another Karl May film (1968's IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH), three of the best Jerry Cotton thrillers starring George Nader (DEATH AND DIAMONDS, CORPSE IN A RED JAGUAR and DEADLY SHOTS ON BROADWAY), a film in the "Dr. Fabian" comedy series, and in 1970, he directed the film based on Erich von Däniken's best-selling CHARIOTS OF THE GODS. In a career highlight, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Six years later, he helmed a sequel of sorts, MYSTERIES OF THE GODS, also based on a book by von Däniken. It was in the year of this last international success, 1976, that Reinl met and married his third and last wife, Daniella Maria Dana, who reportedly stabbed him to death on October 9, 1986. One last film, a documentary about Sri Lanka, was issued to theaters posthumously.

As a young viewer discovering Reinl's work on video, I always imagined -- from the doctorate he so often insisted on attaching to his name -- he must have been a humorless, Kissinger-like fellow and a tyrant on the set, rather in the mold of his hero, Fritz Lang. However, more recently, the TOBIS/UFA DVD import discs of the Edgar Wallace krimis have included archival interviews with Harald Reinl that show him to have been an outgoing, gregarious and quite humor-driven man, well-liked by his cast and crews. I'm happy to honor him today as an outstanding contributor to the fantastic cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, a chief architect of the krimi and the post-Lang Mabuse thriller, and as something he is too seldom acknowledged as being: one of the great Western directors of all time.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Guillermo del Toro at the Saturn Awards






Here, as promised, is Guillermo del Toro's acceptance of the George Pal Memorial Award at the 34th Annual Saturn Awards, preceded by a short video prologue and introduced with what I believe are universal sentiments by writer-director Frank Darabont.

I photographed this material myself, and I should forewarn you that the picture goes black for a short time between Guillermo's introduction and his first words onstage. That's because I had to put the camera down and pay the man his due by clapping my hands together.

Not included in this clip is my relevant after-party banter with Guillermo, which went something like this...

TL: Guillermo, did you ever meet George Pal?

GDT: No, I never did, I am sorry to say.

TL: I met George Pal once.

GDT: Do you want me to hit you over the head with this fucking award?

Bava Book Blog Enters the Video Age

Photo by David J. Schow.
Now playing over at The Bava Book Blog: footage of Donna's and my Saturn Award acceptance speech, and John Saxon's introduction of us, which you can access directly here. Press the play button and wait a few seconds for playback to begin. Mind you, this is no Academy Awards speech, where the band chases the speakers offstage and mid-word after 30 seconds. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films encouraged us to speak our peace, so I wrote and delivered a speech that, along with John's introduction, runs in the neighborhood of 12 minutes or so -- a running time slightly longer than what is allowed by YouTube. Enjoy.

We also recorded Guillermo del Toro's speech upon receiving the George Pal Memorial Award, and Frank Darabont's extraordinary introduction of him, which I'll be posting here anon. The version on YouTube is only a fragment of the actual speech.