Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE BIG COMBO (1955- U.S.) Blu-Ray

D: Joseph Lewis.  A unique, stylish film noir from my favorite period (late 40s-early 50s) where I think the style (its actually not a genre) really hit its stride.  Cornell Wilde is Diamond, a hard-boiled, caffeine-fueled, crystal-focused detective obsessed with bringing down philosophical but super-sadistic mob boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte- THE GODFATHER, CALL NORTHSIDE 777).  Diamond also has his eye on  Susan, Brown's listless, depressed, platinum blonde moll (Jean Wallace- STORM FEAR ) to the detriment of neglecting his stripper girlfriend (HELENE STANTON- PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES).  As Diamond starts to tighten the noose around Brown's shady activities, Brown's mob associate (Brian Donlevy- Hammer's CREEPING UNKNOWN/QUATERMASS XPERIMENT) and two neurotic hit men (Lee Van Cleef- THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY and Earl Holliman - TVs POLICE WOMAN) start to get reckless and can't repress their sadistic side.  Brown has to reprimand them but still finds time to sonically torture and almost drown Diamond with hair tonic!  When Brown's estranged, insane wife (Helen Walker- NIGHTMARE ALLEY) is persuaded to testify against him, Susan musters the courage to cooperate and uses herself as bait to lure the mobster into a fog-shrouded dragnet that provides the downbeat, ambiguous climax.  The real star of COMBO is virtuoso cinematographer John Alton (HE WALKED BY NIGHT)  who creates stunningly atmospheric and iconic back-lit images that will stay with you forever.  The UCLA restored print utilized here is transferred to 16x9 (1.78) and boasts a nice sharp fine grain image with minor speckling and some light scratches throughout.  It's a shame it wasn't properly digitally restored because it could have been rendered pristine.  The film deserves that much and more.  The downbeat, jazzy score is by David Raskin (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) and features a memorable soprano sax melody that is effectively reprised throughout.  From the great auteur Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN), with memorable tough guy dialog by Phillip Yordan (JOHNNY GUITAR, EL CID) and a great cast of ragged B-character actors like Whit Bissell (HE WALKED BY NIGHT, TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN), Jay Adler (MURDER IS MY BEAT, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD) and John Hoyt (SPARTACUS, FLESH GORDON).  Van Cleef as Fante and Holliman as Mingo are creepy and must have provided the template for hitmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in 007's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971).  Ex-model Jean Wallace was the real-life Mrs. Wilde and her sad personal exploits were even more lurid than her character's!  On Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films whose catalog features mostly great but neglected library titles (including more classic noir!) sub-licensed from major studios at rather steep retail prices.  THE BIG COMBO has previously been available in full frame (1.33) transfers on VHS and DVD from various PD labels.  This new release is like experiencing the movie for the first time.  Crack open a bottle of hair tonic and enjoy!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pre-order for Golden Voyage Of Sinbad blu-ray!

Finally, my favorite Harryhausen film is about to become available as a limited edition (3,000 copies) blu-ray with an isolated Miklos Rosza music score!  These limited discs usually sell out fast and usually go for crazy money on Amazon.  SINBAD & THE EYE OF THE TIGER is also available to pre-order.  I thought that film was weak and a let down after GOLDEN VOYAGE.  Patrick Wayne was a very bland Sinbad compared to John Phillip Law!

I saw this film at least twice during its initial theatrical release.  I also bought the soundtrack album and movie tie-in book at that time.  Decades later, I got the chance to work with Sinbad co-stars Caroline Munro and Aldo Sanbrell, re-united for the first time since the Harryhausen film.

For pre-order details:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Super Rare Frankenstein! Why didn't I know about this?

I knew of boxer/wrestler Primo Canera and his few movie appearances where he took on MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) and Steve Reeves in HERCULES UNCHAINED (1959) but never this!  This was an NBC Matinee Theater presentation that aired at the same time I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN was flexing its biceps across cinema screens and Christopher Lee was shambling before the cameras at Bray Studios for CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Very weird.  Always learning something new.

There's very little information I can find and imdb doesn't list any other cast members.  The rather lame looking DeNiro monster is a total rip off of this make up design.  Coincidence?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


The new Shout Factory Bruce Lee Collection streets today!  I took advantage of the Groupon deal (see the link below) and am pretty excited to revisit all of Bruce's films in HD (I'll save the new Warner Bros. ultimate edition ENTER FOR THE DRAGON for the grand finale!).    To add to the excitement, it looks like Shout Factory scored an interview with Japanese actor Riki Hashimoto.  Who is Riki Hashimoto you might ask?

My all-time favorite Bruce Lee trivia question is, "Did Bruce Lee ever fight Daimajin?"  The answer, surprisingly, is YES!  Bruce Lee fought Hashimoto-san in FIST OF FURY (1972) aka CHINESE CONNECTION as katana-crazed mustached badass Mr. Suzuki.  It was also Hashimoto-san who sweated it out in the rubber suit as the towering statue-come-to-life, Daimajin, in three films produced by Daiei Studios in 1966!  Thankfully, the classic Daimajn trilogy is on blu-ray from Mill Creek.   (NOTE: none of the screen grabs are from the new, improved blu-rays, except for the interview head-shot)  To my knowledge, Bruce never fought or sparred with any other famous kaiju?

Two Faces of Riki Hoshomoto

Buy the Bruce Lee Collection Here:

Sunday, October 20, 2013


CHINESE ZODIAC (2012- Hong Kong) D: Jackie Chan.  Before nose-diving to its final DVD/Blu-ray destination, Jackie Chan's newest Chinese production makes a surprise pit-stop at U.S. screens courtesy of an AMC Theaters exclusive, limited run.  ZODIAC is the eagerly-awaited third installment in the ARMOUR OF GOD franchise that follows the gems ARMOUR OF GOD (1986) and OPERATION CONDOR: ARMOUR OF GOD II (1991). While it's great to have Chan back in the director's chair, this new entry can't hold a candle to the previous two films.

ZODIAC suffers from one of the wackiest, dullest plots ever conceived.  It does, however, deliver jolts of Chan's insanely creative action and stunts but it seriously disappoints in the fight scene department where there are too few, coming too late and not treated very seriously at that.

The plot here is so utterly uninteresting that's it's painful to relay.  It concerns an emotional, worldwide, mass youth uprising demanding the return of plundered ancient artifacts to their native countries after hundreds, even thousands of years.  Chan is chicklet popping 'J.C.' (aka the Asian Hawk, Condor- whatever) and he and his small band of adventuresome thieves are after some lame bronze zodiac heads to sell on the world market.  Unfortunately, they soon soften up and join the loser protesters, forgoing profit for patriotism.  Yeah, like I give a rat's ass that some long-gone, thousand-year-old blood-thirsty tyrants and regimes get their art and relics (created by the blood, sweat and tears of slaves!) returned for the lame sake of cultural heritage and patriotism?  'F' that!  One character even has the gall to list some obscure French atrocities committed against the Chinese as if the multitude of dynasties, not to mention Mao himself (the world's undefeated champion for the single greatest mass murderer in recorded history!), didn't torture and slaughter millions upon millions of their own people!  Somehow it's only morally wrong when foreigners do the slaying and oppressing?

Ultimately, ZODIAC only needed a simple, scaled down story with a few clever series of obstacles to let Chan do his thing.  There's really only one impressive fighter he opposes and it's more of a humorous grudge match that doesn't go anywhere and they end up being friends in the end.

 A problem in even his best films, the female characters here are screechy, nightmarish and annoying as hell, rarely showing hints of sanity and physical strength though there is a good girl-girl fight later on.  Oliver Platt is the rational, reasonable businessman villain who is never really a major threat to anyone.  A skin-head, tattooed Ken Lo (DRUNKEN MASTER II) shows up as the leader of a rag-tag team of zany pirates but he doesn't get to show off any of his formidable fight skills.  Most of the film's characters and actors are so ridiculous and annoying that you wish Chan would do the smart thing and resort to a his own version of Stallone's EXPENDABLES.  He should just enlist an A-Team of the greatest, bad-ass Asian fight stars ever and go for it!  A no-brainer.

Most interesting, is the appearance by Jackie's real-life wife who, in a flash of creative casting, shows up as his wife.  Former Chan co-star, Qi Shou (GORGEOUS) also pops up for a blink-and-you'll-miss-her cameo shot.  Also noticeably weak is the film's production design, sadly credited to Chan himself.  The absurd multi-color sets (including a cheesy, plastic looking jungle!) and tacky wardrobe look like a Sid & Marty Kroft show on acid .  There is some really bad French pop and Chinese rap music and tons of poorly rendered CG to add to the circus-like atmosphere.  The bottom line is this- Chan never ceases to entertain and deliver high impact thrills on some super-human level and it's always an event (at least for me) to see him on the big screen in anything.

The film was released in China in 3D and reportedly dubbed and trimmed to a tighter running time by Chan himself for the U.S.  I'm not sure if it's in the Chinese cut but during the end credits (yes, Chan fans always stay through the credits), after the bloopers, a greatest hits complilation of action clips unspools while Jackie thanks his worldwide fans in a short rant, almost as if he's retiring, going away or something.  Weird.  Support Chan and his Chinese productions so catch it while you can!

Watch the U.S trailer here:

Saturday, September 21, 2013


(2013/U.S.A.)  Fox Lorber Kino.  D: Molly Bernstein.  Narrated by Dick Cavett.

14 years in the making, DECEPTIVE PRACTICE is a fun, profound documentary chronicling the real-life adventures of sleight-of-hand master Ricky Jay.  The film follows Ricky's 50s childhood to the present.  At a young age, Ricky is exposed (bombarded is more like it) to magic by his zany, amateur magician grandfather who introduces him to some of magic's legends like Al Flosso, Slydini and other's.  When Ricky's mentor grandpa passes away, Ricky feels like a stranger at home and hits the road at 16 to follow his passion.  He high tails it to Hollywood's famed Magic Castle where he enters the intense, underground world of the magical elite.  Here he meets and befriends masters like Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller.  Rapidly, Jay becomes a mainstay of the 70's and 80's prime time talk show circuit where he showcased his long-hair youthfulness and unique stealth card skills such as sinking playing cards into a watermelon!  As we follow Ricky's story further, we are treated to an amazing wealth of anecdotes, a brief history of modern day magic and a flurry of some astounding performance clips by Ricky and some of the greats from the turn of the century to the present day.  Some stand-out testimonials include Ricky's akido instructor and a journalist who relate some of Jay' s greatest feats.  We also learn about his special, long-term collaboration with playwright/filmmaker David Mamet.  Most impressive of all, is witnessing Jay's rise from a child performer on local TV to the zen Yoda-like master he is today.  DECEPTIVE PRACTICE is mandatory viewing for magic connoisseurs and a total joy for everybody else.  While you're at it, check out some of Jay's unique books including the mammoth Taschen tome, MAGIC: 1400's -1950's!  The film is currently playing the art house circuit in the U.S. and is available now on itunes and select streaming sites.  A DVD release date has not been announced yet.

I caught the film in Pelham, New York with Ricky Jay and the film's producers in attendance.

One of Jay's few hobbies is calligraphy as evidenced by his autograph.
Visit the movies official website:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boris mp3's @ Amazon!

I had no idea that my all-time favorite childhood vinyl LP was re-issued and available as a downloadable mp3 file at Amazon.  As a kid in the early 70's, I wore out the original vinyl album on the Decca label.  I still have it and acquired a mint condition Japanese vinyl import about a decade ago.    Amazon offers the Decca pressing (with noticable vinyl hiss and pops) as well as a revised version re-created by Verne Langdon.  This version claims to be the original mix with Langdon's never-used organ score.  Whatever.  Nevertheless it sounds much cleaner and, of course, I purchased both versions.  Amazon also offers Karloff's TALES OF THE FRIGHTENED.  I haven't checked that one out yet.  The album's narration was written by Famous Monster Editor Forry Ackerman and Magic Castle founder Milt Larsen and features choice audio clips from the classic Universal monster movies!

RIP Jim Kelly

Sadly, martial arts movie icon Jim Kelly has passed away at age 67, reportedly, due to cancer.  I met Mr. Kelly twice at Chiller Theatre and he seemed to really enjoy mingling with his fans.  He will be forever immortalized in Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON.
Jim Kelly reunites with ENTER co-star Bob Wall @ 2010 Chiller Theatre Expo, New Jersey.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Prolific Author/Screenwriter Richard Matheson Passes Away

Richard Matheson provided me with half a lifetime of fiction and screenplays that remain among my favorites and most influential.  From 50's sci-fi to Hammer and classic TV, Matheson provided classic originals and masterful adaptations.  He was a giant in the genre.  Here's a sample of my RM collection...

Saturday, June 1, 2013


VC is starting to look like an obituary page lately.  As a baby boomer, all my favorite filmmakers and artists are starting to demise in a steady succession as they hit their 80s and 90s.  Thankfully, Sir Christopher Lee seems to be hanging in there and just cut his 91st birthday cake a week or so ago!  Which brings us to another obituary- ultra-proflific Filipino filmmaker Eddie Romero.  When fans talk about the name 'Romero' in the context of the horror genre, I always thought first of Eddie as opposed to George of Pittsburgh.  Forever a towering figure in the b-movie pantheon, Eddie has directed and produced so many cool action/horror/exploitation titles over the decades that he is surely the Roger Corman of Southeast Asia (maybe neck and neck with Cirio Santiago?).  In fact, he supplied Corman with a steady stream of classic drive-in titles throughout the 70s.  For me, Romero's coolest contribution was the Blood Island trilogy starring John Ashley.  He also assisted on Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW!  So long, Eddie, you will not be forgotten!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

RIP Ray Harryhausen

The legendary creator of epic cinema dreams has passed away but generations will celebrate his legacy for centuries to come.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Just Got Mine! Like Him! Lick Him!

I just received my Peter Cushing centennial stamp and envelope postmarked on the first day issued.  It's #90 out of 100 issued.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

more Jess Franco @ Cannes 5/16/92

Welles' uncompleted film finished by Jess Franco!
Jess and Orson Welle's companion, Oja Kodar
Jess and Oja

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

More Memories Of Jess...

Jess Franco and Lina Romay at the press conference for Orson Welles' DON QUIXOTE @ the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.  Quentin Tarantino was there for RESEVOIR DOGS and wanted to meet Jess but couldn't make it.

Jess & Lina (aka Candy Coster) @ Chiller Theatre '96 with their favorite fanzine!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Remembering Jess Franco (1930-2013)

 (photo credit: Lina Romay)
Jess Franco, one of the most (if not THE most) prolific and eclectic filmmakers in cinematic history, has passed away.  I only met him two times but we had mutual friends and kept in touch over the years through them.  Thankfully, I'm confident that generation after generation of new fans will discover his wide range of work (as well as the wildly wide range of quality!) and be entertained, thrilled, shocked and revulsed by it for centuries to come.  Franco's work lives on!  That's a fact.

Friday, March 29, 2013

First Thoughts On The U.K. Dracula Blu-ray

I just watched the new Canal Studio/Lionsgate blu-ray of Terence Fisher's DRACULA (1958 aka HORROR OF DRACULA) last night and wanted to share some of my raw first impressions.  Generally, the transfer is breath-taking for any film of that era.  There is a proper amount of fine film grain present and a lot of the photography is slightly soft but you can clearly see where the plane of focus is set and when the subject is in perfect focus you feel like your on the set at Bray Studios.  The most obvious thing I noticed new with the image is the color shift and black levels.  Blacks are deeper and richer than you've ever seen for this title and all other prints and editions seem faded or washed out in comparison.  The deeper blacks really pop the low key lighting, adding an almost 3D effect to the characters, sets and props.  While the color shift leans to blue, it appears closer to the few 35mm technicolor prints I've seen.  This really pops the reds, especially Christopher Lee's blood shot contact lenses.  The increased vividness of the red in the count's eyes really pump up the sheer viciousness of Lee's portrayl and gave me a better sense of the film's impact on audiences at the time.  When Lee bursts into the library in bloody close-up, the only thing I can compare it to is Chaney Sr.'s unmasking in the 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Both are iconic savage, horrific images that must be seen on a cinema or HD screen to fully appreciate.

The additional restored shots of the Mina and Dracula kiss and the count's disintegration add a huge emotional impact for the  mere seconds they add to the overall running time.  They are nicely restored compared to the Japanese positive print that was sourced but noticably inferior to the pristine camera negative for the balance of the transfer.  As already pointed out on some blogs, there is an additional snippet of Dracula in agony in the Japanese print that didn't make it into the restored composite version (see the above frame grabs).  The audio is the crispest I 've ever heard it with the dialog and classic James Bernard score sounding sharp and clean, not at all muffled.

The discs extras are abundant and uniformly excellent, especially Sir Christopher Frayling's interesting intepretation and re-assessment of the film.  Sadly, the only  noticiable missing presence is the absence of another Sir Christopher who's participated and provided commentaries for much lesser films.

I haven't had a chance to check out the CURSE OF FRAKENSTEIN BD yet but will do so soon!

More Peter! Special Cushing FM in June!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Peter Goes Postal!

It's pretty great to see one of the world's greatest actors, Peter Cushing, get his own stamp in the U.K!  I just ordered mine, get yours now!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

New Bruce Lee Book!

It's been a while since any good Bruce Lee paraphernalia has been released.  There haven't been any cool books since the series of publications and audio tapes edited by John Little several years back.  The recent documentaries have been super lame but this looks killer!
Here's a video where Shannon Lee gives us a tour of the book.  It retails for $45 and should be in stores on May 14th.

Friday, March 8, 2013


June 4th from Shout Factory!
(see the DVD review in the March 2013 folder!)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

ENTER THE DRAGON 40th Anniversary Blu!

Scheduled for a June 11th street date, ENTER THE DRAGON will receive the deluxe treatment for its 40th anniversary.  A few new extras have been announced but no word yet on any picture and audio upgrade.  Hopefully, this edition will boast HD audio.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Finally, Hammer blu-rays for U.S. release in April!

The first set of three films is a somewhat random selection but who's complaining?
 Read more here!

You can pre-order the DVD set now!

So it appears that Millennium will distribute the Hammer titles originally issued by Anchor Bay in North America.  Since the rights to other titles like HORROR OF DRACULA, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDES OF DRACULA and others still reside with the major studios like Warner Brothers, Columbia, Universal and others, it will be up those studios to release their own blu-rays.  Also, there is no word on extras or special features yet.