Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don Sharp (1922-2011)

Prolific director Don Sharp has passed away at age 89.  Some of his outstanding work includes the Hammer classics, KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1962) and RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1966).  He excelled in the pulp action/horror genres.  Read his obituary here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/dec/20/don-sharp?newsfeed=true

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977) Review coming soon!

Sir Run Run Shaw calls it quits at 104! (time to raise the social security age yet?)


Possibly the world's most prolific film producer in the history of cinema finally decides to retire at age 104!  Wow!  While some may call this decision pre-mature, we will forever be grateful to this wise old mogul for his massive and stellar output of great movies, including everything from Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER to the X-rated sleaze-fest, KILLER SNAKES!
Sadly, there will probably never be a KILLER SNAKES 2.  But I certainly wouldn't rule out a mega-budget, all-star, Michael Bay produced Hollywood remake!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An excellent way to track each precious day of 2012!

If the Mayan calendar is correct and 2012 is the final year for all mankind, then it's crucial to carefully evaluate, choose and purchase the proper wall calendar for these end of days.  For me, there is only one choice- the Hammer Glamour calendar!  Now you can enjoy, ponder and plan each and everyday of the week, every week of the month and every month of the year!  Images include Hazel Court, Veronica Carlson, the Collinson Twins, Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro and many more fave Hammer hussies!  May you enjoy this your last Happy New Year and let the final countdown begin! (I'll drink to that!)


D: Gywneth Gibby.  (New Concorde DVD)

This out-of-print release is a low-budget but carefully produced, staged and acted drama that comes off like a well-produced, well-shot low budget stage play.  DeSade (Nick Mancuso) relates some episodic debaucheries to a young woman who's sister is missing.  The woman believes that DeSade knows what happened to her lost sibling and willingly plays a teasing game of 'quid pro quo' to glean any shred of information that will resolve the girl's whereabouts.  The film's core structure is a blatant nod to Hannibal Lechter's mind games in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.  The earnest acting and production values are superior to the usual 90's Corman fare and this effort just skirts the exploitation cease pool with mild nudity.  Fans expecting a higher sleaze factor may want to check out Jess Franco's JUSTINE (1969) or DeSADE (1969) which Corman co-directed with Cy Enfield and Gordon Hessler.  Light R-rated entertainment that's easy on the eyes.  It has the look of a milder, slicker skinimax/Playboy production.  The out-of-print, full frame (1.33:1) DVD is nicely authored with lush colors and an intentional soft, filtered image.  Recommended for DeSade enthusiasts.

Monday, December 12, 2011


D: Bernard Knowles (The Castaways Picture DVD/Hong Kong)
Recently, I've been binging out on a marathon Paganini kick, collecting and listening to multiple renditions by a variety of artists of his most famous works (the 24 Caprices, concertos, etc.) and I wanted to check out how movies depicted music's first true 'rock star.'  Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840) was an ego-maniacal virtuoso with all the risky excesses that today's rock stars unabashedly wallow in and take for granted.  His legend was dark and it was rumored that he sold his soul to satan to achieve his virtuoso skills, among other decidely vile attributes.
"I am not handsome, but when women hear me play, they come crawling to my feet." - Nicolo Paganini

  This lavish 1946 British production stars Stewart Granger (KING SOLOMON'S MINES) as the ferocious fiddler in a quaint period piece costume drama/romance.  What helps the film rise above the mundane is Granger's energetic performance and the actual off-screen violin playing of contemporary maestro Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999).
Paganini decides to leave his rural village to seek fortune and fame after helping a prisoner escape jail by playing loudly to obscure the sawing sounds of cellblock bars!  He regrets abandoning his loving mama but doesn't regret fleeing his cantankerous old dad.  Soon, he enters a contest to win a prized Stradivarius fiddle and easily absconds with it.  Soon his reputation skyrockets and social elites book him for posh high society gigs.  When Nicolo falls in love with Jeanne, a rich young socialite (Phyllis Calvert- OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR), things get complicated as her father has previously promised her to an officer in Napoleon's invading army (Dennis Price- HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, Jess Franco's FRANKENSTEIN, PRISONER OF DRACULA).  Hereon in, it's a doomed love triangle that allows Paganini to vent his intense, conflicting emotions through his music.

What lifts this film from the usual Hollywood bio-pic is it's surprising (for 1946) depiction of Paganini's dark side.  Granger doesn't flinch from letting the character be unlikable at times- womanizing and pompous.  He nonchalantly proclaims that he is the world's greatest violinist (and I'm sure he was) and even pawns his Stradivarius for gambling chips!  Overall, entertaining and not as dry as the stereotypical British melodrama of the era, director Knowles and a solid supporting cast, including Felix Aylmer (Hammer's THE MUMMY), perform a commendable job.  Knowles also graced us FROZEN ALIVE (1964) and lots of British TV episodes.
DVD quality on this Hong Kong import is pretty dodgy.  It looks like a substandard transfer from a slightly worn TV print.  I suspect the U.K. disc available in the Stewart Granger box set is superior.  More cinematic Paganini came our way decades later with Klaus Kinski's more extreme and almost pornographic depiction of the Genoa-born musician in PAGANINI (1989) and Luigi Cozzi's sinister PAGANINI HORROR (1989).
Kinski's mammary suckling interpretation of Paganini recently hit DVD courtesy of the Mya Communications label.

SIDE NOTE: Paganini's decadent rock star life-style and massive technical chops have become the stuff of myth and continues to have a strong influence on classical and rock music today!  Any serious classical violinist is expected to tackle and master at least some of Paganini's most complex compositions and metal virtuoso guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen continue to stoically shred in his memory.


D: Chiang Sung.  This a pretty juvenile, extremely cheeseball flick even by Bruce Le's (Kin Lung Huan) previously established low  standards.  What makes Bruce Le films so enjoyable are the fights, bad dubbing, ridiculous sound effects and Le's own contagious over-enthusiasic gonzo attitude.  He's more fun to watch than practically any of the other Bruce clones because you can't take him seriously for a moment.  The more respectable and less memorable Bruce Li (Ho Chung Tao) can most often be taken serious and has made a handful of actually decent films but they don't have the over-the-top, zero-production value vibe of a good ol' grade-Z Bruce Le rip off!  (The sinister looking Dragon Lee is fun and has always struck me as a sort of eternally snarling Satanic Bruce clone).

Bruce is part of a tiny group of students taken into confidence by a white-haired Master and entrusted to learn the 5 animal styles of Shaolin (of course, Bruce is assigned to master the Dragon-style!) and safeguard a secret kung fu manual from the evil Japanese.  The Master explains that the Japanese have already ripped off kung fu and turned into karate!  Before the Japanese clan makes a first move, numerous zoom close-ups and music stings telegraph right away that one of of students is a 'plant' working for the Japanese.

Among the numerous training sequences and fights (all looking like it took a single afternoon to shoot), the Japanese attempt to steal the book!  Eventually, Chan Sing shows up (he's actually top billed over Le!) and Bolo Yueng (ENTER THE DRAGON) is even enlisted.  For some reason, these scenes feel like they are fragments from another movie just dropped into this mess since the expected confrontation between Bruce and Bolo or Sing never occurs!  Practically all shot on sunny exteriors (it's cheaper to light that way!), there is a weird   split face messenger (a sort of Ying/Yang character?) and a hot female Japanese intermediary (she must be the producer's mistress) who can't act and really does nothing to advance the plot.  In the end, Bruce faces his fellow student and they duel inflicting a brutal barrage of animal styles on each other!  Finally, Bruce retrieves the book.

The DVD quality is abysmal but perfectly suited for optimum enjoyment of this rock-bottom, under-80 minute  sham effort.  The sub-VHS quality (obviously ripped from an old Best Video EP mode VHS) is worsened by the complete lack of panning and scanning of the original scope image.  Instead we get a locked scan of the middle third of the screen often giving us tips of noses during dialog scenes.  Also, almost have the movie is complete out of focus!  But that's nit-picking and entirely missing the point!  Sorry.  The real beauty of the film is Bruce Le's surreal, almost Tex Avery cartoon-style mini-Bruce.  To his credit, Le is the only Bruce clone really ripped and physically similar to the real Bruce and has the kung fu chops to impress.
 Bruce goes for the kill!

This brand X DVD (It says KUNG FU THEATER PRESENTS but there is no label or logo on the packaging)  can be had for a few meager bucks at your local liquidation/discount dives and can soberly be recommended to only the most hopeless, chronically dire-hard Bruceploitation fans.  Count me in!  (on screen title: TREASURE OF BRUCE LEE)
Bruce Le meets VC co-editor at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival!
authentic Bruce Le autograph!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stan & Ollie on the big screen!

For L&H and classic film fans, there is a great opportunity to see MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (1935 aka BABES IN TOYLAND) on the massive screen of The Landmark Loews Jersey City, New Jersey on December 9th!  http://www.loewsjersey.org/alt/index.php?view=details&id=149%3Athe-march-of-the-wooden-soldiers&option=com_eventlist&Itemid=27
The classic Hal Roach fairytale comedy has become traditional holiday viewing and finally received a legit DVD release a few years ago courtesy of MGM.  There's also a  highly praised colorized/restored version on blu-ray from Legend Films.  I'll be checking that out soon and reporting back here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

He's coming to town- on blu-ray?!

You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I'm telling you why... the truly zany 1959 south of the border Christmas classic is rescued from the dollar bins and is coming to blu-ray, courtesy of VCI (reportedly struck from the original negative)!  See Santa battle Satan to save Christmas for all the little naughty and nice boys and girls!  Ever notice how Santa and Satan are spelled with the exact same letters?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finally! Laurel & Hardy done right on DVD!

Ever since the advent of DVD, Laurel and Hardy and classic comedy fans have yearned for the classic Hal Roach series to appear.  The VHS years did provide a sampling of rough quality gems but aside from a lame attempt by Lionsgate a few years ago, the L&H library just wasn't properly available (in the U.S.)... until now!  Vivendi comes to the rescue with a proper chronological complete collection of the sound shorts and feature length L&H classics (with extras, commentaries and Spanish language versions!) produced by Hal Roach from 1929's UNACCUSTOMED AS WE ARE to 1940's feature-length SAPS AT SEA!  From a quick sampling and based on the hardcore international L&H enthusiasts' online celebrations, the majority opinion is that this is probably best collection yet in terms of quality (possibly even surpassing the nice U.K. and German box sets).  Aside from the  boy's Hal Roach output, their later MGM and Fox work has been previously available as well as a nice TCM set with THE DEVIL'S BROTHER and BONNIE SCOTLAND.  We will delve further into this new collection, provide updates soon and look into the Jerry Lewis controversy erupting from an included interview.  What's really need now is a comprehensive collection of their silent shorts and fragments.

RIP Ken Russell

British film director Ken Russell died yesterday at the age of 84.  Russell's unique work will live on and, in my mind, his master work, THE DEVILS (1971), will only continue to grow in stature and find new worshippers... er, uh... admirers.  I was grateful to be able to attend the Lincoln Center Film Society screening of THE DEVILS with Mr. Russell and Ms. Redgrave last summer.
Upon seeing the film for the first time in the mid-seventies in a Washington D.C. repertory cinema, I felt then and just as strongly now, that Oliver Reed's performance was his most powerful and truly Oscar worthy!  Seek out the film wherever and however you can (it's currently only available uncut on a pirated DVD from a BBC broadcast) and if you're as fascinated with the true story as I am, read Aldous Huxley's excellent non-fiction book, THE DEVILS OF LOUDUN (1952)!  For the hardcore, check out Krzyzstof Penderecki's experimental 1968 opera, DIE TEUFEL VON LOUDUN (available on DVD and out-of-print CD) and Jerzy Kawalerowicz's stunning film, MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (1961), based on a Polish novella that serves as a sort of sequel to the historical events detailed in Huxley's book and a worthy companion piece to Russell's film.  Sorry for going off on a DEVILS tangent...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Munchkin bites the dust! RIP Karl Slover

WIZARD OF OZ Munchkin Karl Slover has passed away at the ripe age of 93.  I haven't been able to confirm exactly what Munchkin character he played but I do have to admit that the Munchkins have always pretty much fit into the monster category for me ever since I was very young and saw the early network broadcasts of OZ.  In particular, I always found the infamous Lolli-Pop Kids to be downright terrifying and worthy of a Basil Gogos FAMOUS MONSTERS cover!  They still effectively freak me out (especially the gnarly little gremlin on the far right)!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do You Dare Enter the Hammer Vault Of Horror?

This promises to be a killer book filled with removable artifacts and artwork to bring the sordid history of Hammer Films to life!  Titan Books and Marcus Hearn keep producing the best and most lavish books to honor the Hammer legacy!  Available on December 13, 2011.

The original Big G is coming soon from Criterion!

The original  1954 film is scheduled for a January 24th release on DVD & BD.  The previous Classic Media blu-ray, from all reports, was weak at 1080i and unrestored.  Criterion should blow that one away with little effort.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

RIP Richard Gordon, Producer (1925-2011)

Richard Gordon was a casual acquaintance.  I knew him for about 20 years and he was a faithful subscriber and friend to Video Confidential for the few years it ran.  Richard produced some very good films (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD for example!) and some not so very good films- not at all a small achievement and nothing to be ashamed of.  He was a super nice guy and extremely knowledgeable about film, particularly British cinema.  He will be missed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Frank Miller's HOLY TERROR!

Comic Artist/Writer Frank Miller talked and signed his new HOLY TERROR graphic novel in New York City tonight at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.  Miller took questions that mostly centered around his reaction to 9/11 and how his original Batman vs. Al Qaeda story transformed into his new character, "The Fixer."  He said his inspiration was Jack Kirby's Captain America taking on Adolf Hitler.  Miller also said that he expected the completion of the SIN CITY 2 script to be soon and production to begin in Spring '12.  He is thinking of doing more SIN CITY books but has nothing definite planned yet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


DO WHAT THOU WILT... It's Aleister Crowley's birthday today!  Celebrate and read MOONCHILD or DIARY OF A DRUG FIEND- both excellent works of twisted fiction!  There is also a recent and awesome U.K. collection of short fiction (mostly horror) available from Amazon, THE DRUG & OTHER STORIES (http://www.amazon.com/Other-Stories-Tales-Mystery-Supernatural/dp/1840226382/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318436745&sr=8-1).  I'm currently half-way through reading a new biography of The Beast by Tobias Churton that attempts to revise and elevate Crowley reputation as an artist, an enlightened thinker and magician.  So far so good! (http://www.amazon.com/Aleister-Crowley-Biography-Spiritual-Revolutionary/dp/1780280122/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1318436880&sr=1-2)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Remembering David Hess (1942-2011)

(Pictured: David Hess, Ruggero Deodato, Lee Demarbre)
The last time I saw David Hess was at last year's Rock And Shock convention in Worcester, MA.  I produced an exclusive blu-ray extra for the Shriek Show release of Lee Demarbre's SMASH CUT.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

R.I.P. Charles Napier (1936-2011)

I met Charles Napier once in the mid-90's at the American Film Market and saw him at a few conventions.   I still have a script of he wrote laying around somewhere.  I think it was a hillbilly horror film.  With so many memorable roles, his most awesome line of dialog for me is from THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) when he threatens Jake and Elwood saying, "You're gonna look awful funny eating corn on the cob with no f#$%ing teeth!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Tonight, subdued, rain slicked lower Manhattan was the scene of a low-key re-boot celebration for Hard Case Crime books (http://www.hardcasecrime.com/) hosted by Otto Penzler at his renowned Mysterious Bookshop (http://www.mysteriousbookshop.com/).  After a year or so hiatus, Hard Case is now back with those eye-popping killer covers and pulpy prose via a new publisher Titan Books (http://titanbooks.com/) and celebrated in true hard-boiled style with a libation-fueled book signing and Q&A party with beloved authors Lawrence Block (http://www.lawrenceblock.com/) and Christa Faust (http://www.christafaust.com/) hosted by shop owner Penzler and publisher/author Charles Adai.  Block graciously signed copies of the first Hard Case hardcover, GETTING OFF (a new novel written under an old pseudonym), while the tattooed Ms. Faust signed advance copies of CHOKE HOLD, a follow up to her stunning 2008 Hard Case paperback original, MONEY SHOT.  CHOKE HOLD continues the harsh exploits of her porn-queen-pushed-to-the-edge protagonist Angel Dare!  Other authors in attendance included Russell Atwood (LOSERS LIVE LONGER), Jason Starr (FAKE I.D.), Peter Pavia (DUTCH UNCLE) and Megan Abbott (BURY ME DEEP).  Look for the new releases in fine bookstores- wherever they may still exist- or your friendly neighborhood cybershop!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Big Andy on the Big Screen!

Wow, back to back Andy Lau theatrical releases- at least in New York City!  Check 'em out!

DETECTIVE DEE is being touted as Tsui Hark's come-back film!  I haven't seen it yet.  Opens September 2nd.

SHAOLIN opens September 9th.  See my review of SHAOLIN in a July 2011 post.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Hammer Films veteran producer, director and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster passed away on Friday. His economical, revisionist scripts helped herald a new wave of blood-splashed gothic horror that included CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) and many others including some PSYCHO-inspired thrillers. Sangster's work has stood the test of time and will continue to entertain and inspire.