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!