Thursday, October 30, 2014

TAXI DRIVER Limited Edition Steel Case Coming Soon!

This will be a Best Buy Exclusive and hard to resist for TAXI DRIVER completists!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

CRY DANGER (1951 - U.S.) Olive Films DVD

D: Robert Parrish.  After five years, ex-marine Rocky Malloy (Dick Powell), is sprung early from jail for a robbery when an alcoholic, amputee, fellow ex-marine (Richard Erdman) clears him with a fake alibi.  In hopes of getting a cut of the stolen loot, the marine tags along while Rocky remains adamant about his innocence.  Rocky looks up his cellmate’s deceptively wholesome wife (Rhonda Fleming) and moves into the same trailer park.  He tracks down the bloated Castro (William Conrad of TV’s CANNON) to demand compensation for driving the getaway car and taking the fall for the gang.  As a consolation, Castro gives him a tip on a horse that pays off big but with marked bills that only add  to the ex-con ‘s anxieties.  This sends Rocky goes on a wild goose chase to discover the origin of the cash and clear  himself while an unrelenting detective tails him.

The film’s highlights include multiple double crosses, triple-crosses, shoot-ups, a tense game of Russian roulette, eccentric dames and some competent rear projection.  Powell is ultra-smooth as the chain-smoking, black coffee guzzling Rocky, a role that fits him like a glove after playing Philip Marlowe and enough hard-boiled types.  This is an excellent but lesser known RKO noir laced with dark humor and precision rapid-fire dialog that keeps the plot moving at a swift pace.  The Olive blu-ray features a solid HD transfer from a well kept fine grain print.

Director Parrish was an ex-child actor, an editor and one of a few who helmed CASINO ROYALE (1967).  Other directorial credits include the JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1969) and 1971’s  A TOWN CALLED HELL (aka A TOWN CALLED BASTARD) and some TWLIGHT ZONE episodes.  The assistant to the producer is credited to Maurice Binder who went on to design the iconic main title sequences for many a  classic 007 film.  I’m baffled by Olive Films annoying logo that features  a cyclopean buzzing bee with crackling, distorting audio.  What‘s that all about?   Why not an olive in a martini?  Olives are nice in salads too.   Previously on Republic VHS.


D: Joseph Kong (Joseph Velasco).
Lo Lieh (of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH/KING BOXER fame) visits a sultry, shady lady named Rose, in search of Bruce Lee’s secret finger kung fu manual in the hopes of mastering the deadly finger-fu style (whatever the hell that is?}.  When the highly coveted book gets into the wrong hands, Bruce Le arrives and goes into full-on, ass-whooping mode, giving Lieh‘s gang the figurative middle finger!  Bruceploitaton hall of famer Bruce Le (aka Huang Jian Long/Wong kin Lung)  is Bruce Wong flies in from the states only to find his mom dead with his sister missing and rumored to be a call girl!  Pissed off, Wong visits an actress friend played by Nora Miao (from Bruce Lee’s FIST OF FURY, WAY OF THE DRAGON) for help as he descends into the dark, depraved depths of Hong Kong's underbelly, searching the brothels for his enslaved sister while trying to resist the many temptations and maintain his own moral standing.  In one instance, Bruce persuades a hooker not to strip by offering her a grape!

Aside from the fun, quality kung fu action, you can expect a dizzying plethora of precision zoom-crazy camera work (that they don‘t teach in film school!), head-scratching dialog, nudity, gynecological torture by reptile, bell bottoms, platform shoes and other mutant mod 70’s fashions and hairstyles.  You get a glimpse into a real wing chun studio where Le is offered some of Bruce Lee‘s old practice weapons as well as a training montage, a mini tribute to Yip Man, wooden dummy destruction, a gang bang in a circle of fire, eyeball dislocation, confusing editing, beer can finger fu, double nunchakus and other weaponry.   At around the ninety-minute mark, this grindhouse gem culminates in a crazy, gimmicky finale.

Old school fans will be thoroughly entertained and more than awed by the supporting cast of old school friendly faces that includes Chan Wai-Man (CHINESE GODFATHER, GALLANTS), Bolo Yeung (ENTER THE DRAGON), Ching-Ying Lam (MR. VAMPIRE) and so many others.  Overall, BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS offers up a delightful dish of solid fight choreography and schizo music scoring that runs the gamut from groovy prog rock to John Barry and jazz!  The film’s aspect ratio is closer to 2.35 than the 1.85 stated on the packaging.  Quality is mildly soft and fuzzy but colors are vibrant with deep blacks.  A  slight step up from the usual VCI sea of murkiness, at least the mono audio is crisp.  Extras Include window-boxed Chinese trailers for ENTER THE DRAGON, WAY OF THE DRAGON. THE BIG BOSS ( reissue trailer) and GAME OF DEATH; oddly omitting FIST OF FURY.  From the director of THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

HOUDINI (2014- U.S.)

Our special guest reviewer Stephen M. Jones provides an emotional rant (slightly edited) and original illustration for the new HOUDINI movie.  A more sober review will follow shortly after the blu-ray release in October.  Enjoy.
D: Uli Edel.  History Channel's two-part HOUDINI mini-series is a mixed bag that is entertaining enough but will severely date within 10-15 years.The narrative and structure of both episodes is very over-the-top and slightly annoying- a typical production of the 21st century with a sprinkling of cheap SYFY channel-style CGI throughout. The editing and pacing, especially during the tense or suspenseful moments, is appropriate and more stylish than what you might expect of a cable production of this sort.

The flow and structure of Nicholas Meyer's (SEVEN-PERCENT SOLUTION, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) script is superior to the complete work of fiction that was the 50's biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Each scene is centered around a specific magic illusion (or a close representation of that trick) that triggers a flurry of flashbacks to an inspirational or emotional event.  While much of the plot is fact-based but melded with myth, only on a few occassions does Meyer completely make stuff up; like Harry' wife Bess (Kristen Connolly) puffing a joint, Houdini's seduction by Margery the medium (Megan Dodds), Houdini’s career falter after 1914 (a plot device to pump up the drama?) or the depiction of Harry and Bess’s relationship as increasingly rocky as his career soars. Their marital struggles are evident throughout both episodes but was supposedly quite the opposite according to real life accounts.

I’m disappointed that they didn’t spend more time on Houdini’s successful film career.  Instead it's conveyed that he hated movies and held a grudge against Charlie Chaplin.  His movie work is only briefly referenced via a newspaper headline. What really angers me is the program's “hidden” meaning behind Houdini’s death. His demise is depicted as the tragic result of a curse put on him by disgruntled mediums for his disbelief in the afterlife. A sort of revenge for his not believing in ghosts. To me that kind of pisses on his serious work to expose mediums as rightful frauds and basically concludes he was wrong. The first episode also got carried away with a recent conspiracy theory promoting the idea that Houdini was a WW1 spy who aided the U.S. in bringing down political regimes. This gives the entire first episode the feeling that you're watching a bizarre 007 spin off. The real tragedy is that most viewers will come away believing this spy scenario as fact. 

Adrien Brody wasn’t exactly a smart casting choice for Houdini. Brody seems to play the same character in all of his roles and is a very middle of the road kind of actor. His portrayal of Houdini is okay - he’s likable. But he looks physically nothing like Houdini who was short and stocky with a wide face. Brody is too tall with a boney narrow face and a long lanky body and more suitable for The Shadow than the famous escape artist. From all accounts,  people who met Houdini said he was a very intense personality and everything about him said he was an entertainer.  Brody doesn’t project this strongly enough with his monotone voice, plain emotions and gestures.

John Debney's (SIN CITY, IRON MAN 2) music is absolute garbage as it follows the “300 trend” of using contemporary styles to set the mood and tone of a story that takes place in the early 20th century. The horribly composed and arranged bombastic, sterile synthesizer-ladened techno score comes off real pretentious. Some cues are literally just electronic noises mixed too loud and often competing with the dialogue.  I don’t understand this new trend that utilizes trendy music for a period piece movie! It’s not cool, clever, or creative at all. Just because it’s “totally not what you’d expect” doesn't mean it works. If you’re going to go for this stupid “artistic license” at least use good music. Even the upcoming John Adams special, promoted during commercial breaks, has a Rolling Stones soundtrack.  That I can live with because the ‘Stones’ aren’t some 30 year-old messing around on a laptop trying to make “cool” and “edgy” computer music.  Although in this case it isn't the proverbial "young dude", it's a composer who has cranked out some great scores in his day.  HOUDINI would have been better served with a traditional orchestral score instead of this awful new direction that'll be the main cause for this production's soon to be out-dated style.

All in all, HOUDINI was handled oddly as far as cast, music and plot choices.  Although it could've been A LOT WORSE it nevertheless remains entertaining, suspenseful and worthy of a few repeat viewings.
It's okay to come out Adrien, Stephen's done venting.

Monday, September 8, 2014

THE LONG HAUL (1957- U.K.) Columbia Classics DVD-R

D: Ken Hughes.  Harry Miller (Victor Mature) is an American serviceman stationed in Europe who is eager to get back to his home turf.   When his transfer is granted, he joyously informs his spouse and son only to be dismayed at his Brit wife‘s wildy negative reaction.  The couple reach a compromise that requires a month's delay so she can visit the her parents in Liverpool.  In true noir fashion, this proves to be a bad move that triggers a series of spiraling tragic events.  Harry’s misfortune begins when he takes a temporary trucking (hauling) gig that gets him entangled with local gangsters guided by the corrupt cigar chomping contractor, Mr. Easy (Patrick Allen).  His first day on the job spells doom when Harry witnesses an act of theft, gets nicely bruised up and bumps into Mr. Easy’s bosomy platinum coiffed mistress, Lynn (Diana Dors). Things only get worse for Harry when Lynne is publicly humiliated by the boss and seeks solace in Harry’s truck. Events snowball from there as Harry gets more and more entangled in Mr. Easy’s sticky web.

THE LONG HAUL unloads a truck-full of  adultery, marriage on the rocks, juvenile brain hemorrhage, copious cleavage, stray puppy adoption, dark rain-slicked highways, seedy truck stops, bleak blue-collar dockyards, theft and murder. The film peaks with a treacherous mountain trek, a harrowing river crossing and a fatal fist fight that creates palpable tension that conjures comparison to other two-fisted, four-wheeled fare such as THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940), HELL DRIVERS (1957) and Clouzot's WAGES OF FEAR (1953).  Who needs nitroglycerin when you have the equally volatile DD on board?  Thankfully, there is a downbeat but hopeful denouement for the emotionally invested

This well-paced British noir presents Mature at his stoic best, facing an endless, devestating array of physical and psychological hurdles.  Dors (her curvaceous wax figure graced the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album cover- NOT Marilyn Monroe‘s as is sometimes mistaken) shows a startling dramatic range that was out of reach by most of the era's over-hyped studio sex bombs.  Dors does justice to the part of Lynn, playing the abused, misunderstood and sympathetic gangster’s moll to perfection.  In later years, Dors put on extra pounds and was pretty much relegated to character parts where she still managed to proved memorable. Up until her tragic early death, she racked up a slew of credits in the horror and softcore genres and occasionally appeared alongside horror icons Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.  Patrick Allen is familiar to Brit horror hounds for his parts in Hammer’s NIGHT CREATURES (aka CAPTAIN CLEGG) and Terence Fisher’s NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT (aka ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED)- both recently released on U.K. blu-ray.  The sturdy supporting cast includes Gene Anderson (DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE), Peter Reynolds (DALEKS INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D.), Liam Redmond (CURSE OF THE DEMON), John Welsh (REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK) and a quickie cameo by Norman Rossington (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT).  Hammer horror fans will recognize a certain forest location.

Trevor Duncan’s powerful, emotion-wrought music is accented with tingly harp glissandi, utilized to similar effect by Bernard Herrmann for his classic TAXI DRIVER score.  One of Duncan's pulse-pounding cues will be instantly familiar to fans of Ed Wood’s PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.  Director Hughes helmed two Ian Fleming screen adaptations- CASINO ROYALE (1967) and CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968).  The anamorphic DVD is matted at 1.85 and boasts a robust fine grain transfer that showcases Basil Emott’s (CURSE OF THE FLY) crisp monochrome photography.  Some of the dynamic, razor sharp close ups are breath-taking when up converted on a blu-ray player.  This Columbia Classics made-to-order DVD-R includes the original, lurid trailer as the sole extra.


D: Frank O’Connor.  A fraudulent medium (is there any other kind?) and master of disguise known as The Great LaGagge (Robert Fiske) is milking rich women by conducting sham séances to contact their dead loved ones.  A young woman distraught over her mother’s death is awed by the swami’s occult skills and almost hustled out of some precious loot but for the heroic efforts of an ace reporter.  A romance  ensues and LaGagge’s sarcastic sidekick provides the comic relief and a dose of clever skepticism.

This is a much maligned but surprisingly tight,  moody, atmospheric bargain basement mystery with a few effective set pieces.  This poverty row potboiler is notable for the only screen appearance by Mrs. Harry, Houdini, credited here as Madame Houdini, and clearly playing herself.  Ms. Houdini, returns from another failed séance attempt to reach her dead escape artist spouse and concludes once and for all that spiritualism is bunk.  There’s also some disturbing stock footage of India’s faithful, fanatical masses washing their sins away in the river Ganges.  After LaGagge’s debunking, the print ends abruptly during the predictable happy ending with a final cameo by Bess Houdini.

This film was probably controversial for its time and possibly offensive to some today, for its strong criticism of the naive faithful and mysticism in general.  The film is still relevant and provides timeless commentary on con men and religious scams.  In that sense, the film continues in the tradition of Houdini’s life work.

Overall, this is a painless crime thriller that runs little over an hour (imdb lists 90 minutes but poverty row quickies rarely ever clocked in at those lengths!) .  The budget-priced Alpha disc is very murky from a dupey VHS source but watchable nonetheless.  It’s sure to please die hard b-movie and Houdini fanatics.  The film‘s suitably alternate title was RELIGIOUS RACKETEERS and can be viewed here with that title card at:

Sunday, August 31, 2014


D: Rene Cardona.  Maura Monti is a busty, big-haired Italian beauty who became popular in the spicy wild world of Mexican genre films.  Monti stars as the curvy crime fighter/wrestler known as the Batwoman who is called in to solve the mystery of dead wrestlers washing up on the usually pristine Acapulco beaches.  In no time at all, Batwoman traces the beached hombres to a mad scientist with the less than sinister name of Dr. Williams, and his goofy lackey Igor, in the grisly quest for glands to create a super race of radio-controlled, red bug-eyed gill men.  Nothing, it seems, is too big and bad for Batwoman to handle except her single phobia- mice!

Among the film’s many exploitable elements, you’ll notice more than a nod to the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, gratuitous acid disfigurement, karate, judo, lucha libre, wet lingerie, bikinis, big hairdos, a laboratory and a snappy twist jazz score.  The underwater photography is surprising effective and the colorful locations are a visual plus.  A stand out sequence is the underwater fight scene where  Batwoman wards off the attack of an amorous gill man that culminates in a gasoline-fueled water fire!  It's well-done and predates the memorable deep sea zombie attack in Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBI (1979).

Monti added some wholesome sex appeal to muchas peliculas in the wrestling, spy, sci-fi and horror genres during the 60s and 70s where she shared the screen with such legends as El Santo, Mil Mascaras, Blue Demon and even Boris Karloff!  It’s odd that this fast-paced actioner was never snatched up for U.S. distribution.  An enterprising distributor like K. Gordon Murray could have made a box office killing with some cheap dubbing and lurid advertising.  The VCI DVD is 4x3, in the Spanish language un-subbed with a soft but colorful image.  You can watch BAT WOMAN in its entirety on YouTube with decent fan subs.  Cardona’s son, Rene Jr., went on to become a prolific director in his own right.

MEN IN WAR (1957- U.S.) Olive Films Blu-Ray

D: Anthony Mann.  A bleak, hard-boiled Korean war drama starring the always interesting Robert Ryan (ON DANGEROUS GROUND) as Lt. Benson leading a rag-tag battle-fatigued team of platoon survivors through enemy territory. All the men are paranoid and irritable as hell while traveling sniper infested terrain when they encounter a shell shocked, speechless colonel (Robert Keith) and his trigger-happy aid, Montana (Aldo Ray).  As the men continue on, the enemy  is rarely seen  and each man must wage battle with both the snipers and their own personal demons.  Post WWII  Hollywood films, starting with the Korean conflict and continuing with Viet Nam, became increasingly disillusioned, morally vague and apocalyptic.  Filmmakers like Mann and Fuller would further explore the darker psychological aspects as opposed to the triumphant, heroic and strategic victories of previous war movies. The film ends on a suitably strong but ambiguous note.

Originally released through United Artists, MEN IN WAR showcases a solid ensemble cast of rugged, weary faces including Vic Morrow (THE LAST SHARK), Aldo Ray (THE NAKED AND THE DEAD), James Edward (Kubrick’s THE KILLING), L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH) and Victor Sen Yung among others.  Ray is a stand out as a brute survivor who knows how the enemy thinks (“you shoot or you die“) much to Ryan’s horror.  Morrow was just a few years away from starring in TV’s COMBAT.  The Chinese actor Yung plays a Korean sniper and is best remembered as Charlie Chan’s son in the Sydney Toler run of the detective series.  Stark and psychologically grim, Mann creates a quiet, dusty and desolate vision of hell expertly aided by the dynamic monochrome compositions of veteran cinematographer Ernest Haller (GONE WITH THE WIND) and a sparse but powerful score by Elmer Bernstein (MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, ROBOT MONSTER).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

MAN HUNT (1941 - U.S) Twilight Time blu-ray

D: Fritz Lang.  A big game hunter named Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, the movie) has the leader of the Third Reich in his rifle scope's cross-hairs and is about to pull the trigger!  This is the startling opening sequence to one of Lang's lesser known pre-WWII noir thrillers.  Soon the hunter becomes the hunted in a riveting thrill ride obstacle course through war torn London that echoes elements of Richard Connell's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME.  The story was probably innovative for its time and the plot twists and turns are still captivating due to the dynamic visuals.  Joan Bennett (SUSPIRIA), soon to become a noir femme fatale, co-stars as Jerry, a street-wise young woman, who romantically falls for the safari hunter and takes great risks to aid and hide him from his ruthless pursuers.
Producer Daryl Zanuck and the Fox studio brass tried to reign in the German refugee director's strong anti-Nazi sentiments since the U.S. was not yet at war with the Fuehrer.  Bennett's character was also toned down to be more vague and appear less blatantly streetwalker. Although this would change by the time Bennett returned to the same on-screen occupation in Lang's WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) and SCARLET STREET (1945).  Bennett would work with Lang again in 1947's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR.  The top-notch supporting cast includes George Sanders (PSYCHOMANIA), Roddy McDowall (PLANET OF THE APES), John Carradine (BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA), Lester Matthews (WEREWOLF OF LONDON) and Ludwig Stossel (HOUSE OF DRACULA).  Pidgeon and the young Roddy would co-star together the same year in Zanuck's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.  The archtypal Germanic character actor Stossel would appear in at least two other Hitler related movies- HITLER'S MADMEN and THE STRANGE DEATH OF ADOLF HITLER, both in 1943.

The Twilight Time BD is a limited pressing (3,000 copies) and is a monochrome wonder to behold.  The film's grain is very fine with deep black levels, a rich gray scale and razor sharp focus.  The package, including scholarly extras and a booklet, make this a good value for serious noir connoisseurs and Lang completists.

Available here:

DEEP END (1970- U.K./Germany) BFI blu-ray

D: Jerzy Skolimowski.  An under-appreciated, little known art house oddity from Polanski 's script collaborator on KNIFE IN THE WATER.  John Moulder-Brown (VAMPIRE CIRCUS) is gangling, hormone-wracked Michael, a freakish puberty-impaired boy who gets a job at the local bath house where he is relentlessly teased by his slightly-older mod, mini-skirted, flame-haired co-worker, Susan (Jane Asher of MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH).  Abused by the middle-aged female clientele and driven to delirious desire and jealously over Susan's two unworthy boyfriends, Michael tries to get a grip on his raging sexual urges.  One of the film's many highlights includes Michael funny, trippy and infernal trip through the sleazy Soho subculture of strip clubs, hookers and hustlers. A series of erotically bizarre, humorous and disturbing events leads to a sexually dark climax that will challenge your emotions in a revealing way, although many initial viewers were not so pleased.  If you give yourself up to Skolimowski's vision, you will have a great time wallowing in the DEEP END.
All the performances are stellar.  Also features Christopher Sanford (DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE), Dieter Eppler (SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES) and a stand out, mostly improvised ,cameo by bloated ex-sex bomb, Diana Dors.  Keep an eye out for Burt Kwouk (Cato of the original Pink Panther series) as a hot dog salesman.  The score consists of a Cat Stevens main theme and contributions by kraut-rock band CAN and Richard Wagner.
The quality of this U.K. 1.85, all-zone/region BFI restored blu-ray/DVD combo is excellent as well as the generous extras and profusely illustrated booklet.  An odd bit of trivia is revealed in the featurette is that art director Anthony Pratt is the nephew of Boris Karloff and proves it by proudly displaying an autographed photo!  The Paramount print has been shown uncut a few times on Turner Classics but has never had an official U.S. video release.  Asher was probably more famous for her long-time romance with Paul McCartney than her rather extensive film, TV and modeling career.  Moulder-Brown dialed up the freak factor in Skolimowski's more overtly comical follow-up, KING, QUEEN, KNAVE (1972) with David Niven and Gina Lollobrigida and currently not on DVD.


D: Andre De Toth.  Robert Ryan (THE NAKED SPUR) is Blaise Starrett, a cranky rancher who lives among a small community of disgruntled ranchers in a lawless, snowbound wilderness.  Starrett gets into a petty disagreement over a barbwire fence with a fellow stubborn rancher  that results in verbal death threats. Surprisingly, the rancher's wife (Tina Louise of TV's GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) offers her smokin' body to Starrett in exchange for the sake of her husband's life and to keep the peace.  As tensions and tempers mount, things only get worse when a psychopathic posse led by the cold-blooded Bruhn (played by usually jovial Burl Ives  of TV's RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER) who gallops into town and declares new rules.  One of the crazy new rules demands that the ranchers' wives be available to Ives and his posse on demand!  This is one of the final straws that force the ranchers to set aside their petty differences to plot and dispose of the despicable mini-despot.  In typical noir style, things get much worse as the suspense and body count mounts.

As usual, Ryan is excellent as the perpetually pissed Starrett and he's more than adequately supported by a colorful cast of B thespians that include Elisha Cook Jr. (THE MALTESE FALCON), Betsy Jones-Moreland (CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA), Alan Marshall (William Castle's THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), David Nelson (TV's OZZIE & HARRIET), Lance Fuller (THIS ISLAND EARTH), Helen Westcott (MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS) and a few other familiar faces.  Ives is good in an atypical sinister role that is similar to the novel use of Sebastian Cabot (FAMILY AFFAIR's mannered Mr. French) in Joseph H. Lewis' TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958).  The terse hard-boiled dialog is courtesy of veteran scribe Philip Yordan (JOHNNY GUITAR).  From the eye-patched director of Vincent Price's 3D classic HOUSE OF WAX (1953).  The image is 16x9 framed at 1.78, from a pristine but grainy print.  Quality is fine for a triple feature, single disc budget-price DVD.  The MGM single DVD is out of print and pricey.   Here's the amazon link but the disc can be found even cheaper at liquidators and dollar stores.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Original Saw Will Shine Again on the Big Screen!

The original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE has been restored in 4K splendor (for the first time from the original 16mm A&B rolls!) and will tear up the big screen once again!  I'm sure we can expect a new blu-ray release shortly after.  Read here for more details:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Angela Mao finally gets her own box!

Shout Factory unleashes a box set of Angela Mao's best- WHEN TAE KWON DO STRIKES, THE TOURNAMENT, A QUEEN'S RANSOM,THE HIMALAYAN, STONER, BROKEN OATH.  STONER, co-starring George (007) Lazenby, is especially a favorite of mine.   No disc specs yet but stay tuned...

To pre-order:

Sunday, January 5, 2014


MGM/Timeless Media Group. D: Sydney J. Furie.  In a rural community, a herpetologist injects his pregnant invalid wife with King Cobra venom to cure her insanity.  The wife's anxiety over the venom's affect on her unborn daughter foreshadows the film's premise when she gives birth to a cold, clammy, unblinking baby.  The mother doesn't survive the traumatic premature delivery and the villagers storm the scientist's lab where he is engulfed in flames along with his scaly specimens.  Soon after, the baby girl goes missing.  Years later, a rash of mysterious cobra bites in the village catch the attention of Scotland Yard who send their best man (John McCarthy of DR. STRANGELOVE) to investigate.  Predictably, the detective meets the alluring, all-grown-up serpent vixen (Susan Travers of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES, PEEPING TOM) and tries to save her from the wrath of the angry, torch-wielding townsfolk.  

The film's screenplay makes the ridiculous mistake of believing that a cold-blooded animal is actually ice cold to the touch!  Obviously hoping to ride the wave of success that Hammer studios were enjoying, this black-and-white programmer blatantly misses all the cues that would insure even the slightest spark of box office fire.  The script is clumsy, overly-talkative and there is practically no action to allieviate the plodding pace.  Any potential thrills or chills are merely talked about amongst the characters.  Most annoying is the repetitive structural device whereby an event plays out and the characters verbally reiterate it in the proceeding scene.

All the characters are really dumb and the disappointing, abrupt wrap-up is trite as hell!  This film had all of the basic production elements for a competent effort but the screenplay and direction annihilate any chance of that.  Hammer took a similar premise and not much more budget to create the enjoyable and colorful THE REPTILE (1966).   Director Furie (DOCTOR BLOOD'S COFFIN) went on to make real studio movies like THE IPCRESS FILE,  LADY SINGS THE BLUES, SUPERMAN IV and others.  The DVD quality is sharp and clean with a 1.66 letterboxed image inside the 4x3 frame.  On the same quadruple feature disc as THE FACE OF MARBLE (see below).


MGM/Timeless Media Group.  D: William Beaudine.  John Carradine is Dr. Randolph in this obscure Monogram chiller as a scientist obsessed with reviving the dead in his spiffy Strickfadden-style home laboratory with understudy cohort Dr. Cochran (Robert Shayne, Inspector Henderson of TVs SUPERMAN).  As the team gets closer and closer to success, they notice that as the corpses start to show signs of life, they attain a blanched marble-like skin texture, hence the bewildering, nonsensical title.  When a dead sailor washes up on the shore, the local detective immediately suspects Carradine.  Meanwhile as the experiments resume, Carradine's wife (Claudia Drake of Ulmer's DETOUR), Shayne's fiance (Maris Wrixon), a love triangle, a missing family pet and the annoying detective provide constant interference to complicate things.  What's really bizarre is how the Frankenstein resurrection plot unexpectedly takes a backseat to the strange voodoo ceremonies of Maria (Rosa Rey of Fritz Lang's SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR), the creepy housekeeper, who really gums up the works and turns the revived subjects, both human and canine,  into ghosts! Weird and unnecessary.
Well-shot and lit, the script is just ridiculous with none of the campiness that makes some of Lugosi's best Monogram and PRC potboilers a sheer joy.   It might just be me, but a Poverty Row thriller usually requires a Lugosi or George Zucco with a flea-ridden gorilla suit and dwarf to really deliver the goods.  Too much screen time is padded with the ensemble cast, in their Sunday best, gathering around the breakfast table each morning discussing plot developments.  Willie Best, doing his best Stepinfechit, is on hand to provide bug-eyed comic relief before actually being pivotal in solving the case!
Pretty low-rent goings-on for even a prolific hackster like William Beaudine, the director of DRACULA VS. BILLY THE KID, THE APE MAN and TVs THE GREEN HORNET.  Recommended for Monogram maniacs only (count me as one of them!).  The film is one-fourth of a single-disc quadruple feature from Shout Factory's budget-priced Timeless DVD label.  Picture quality is jittery and overly dark and murky with muffled audio but it's probably the best we'll ever see (there is a disclaimer stating that these are best available masters).  The other MGM sub-licensed titles on this platter include THE SNAKE WOMAN, Edward L. Cahn's FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE and Albert Band's I BURY THE LIVING.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

R.I.P. Mike Vraney

I was shocked to learn that Something Weird Video founder Mike Vraney has passed away.  Mike was a home video pioneer and amassed a Library of Congress-scale archive of indie exploitation gems and duds that will continue to entertain and culturally educate for centuries to come via his massive DVD cataglog and in-demand/streaming services.  Mike was always friendly and supportive of Video Confidential and eager to help and advise in anyway he could.  Most importantly, he single-handedly rescued and perserved many lost and forgotten gems and not-so-gems.  For that we will always be grateful.  For more information, visit:

A GAME OF DEATH (1945- U.S.)

Amazon Kindle HD.  D: Robert Wise.  I've been searching for this title ever since learning of its existence in the first edition of Michael Weldon's landmark Psychotronic Encyclopedia.  As far as I know, this RKO production was never available on any home video format and never showed up on TV in my neck of the woods.  I was excited when a search on Robert Wise films turned this title up on my Amazon Kindle.  Without hesitation, I clicked on it and it unspooled in stunning HD instantly!  As I expected, this screen version of the classic Richard Connell short story boasts those great, dependable RKO B-movie production values that include first-rate sets, production design and artful, expressionistic lighting.  Released the same year as Wise's THE BODY SNATCHER, GAME ultimately comes off as a routine, by-the-numbers retelling.  The cast is competent but lackluster, especially the part of Count Zaroff (renamed 'Erich Kreiger' here for no good reason) played by genre vet Edgar Barrier (THE GIANT CLAW).  In comparison, Leslie Banks played the part so delightfully over-the-top in the original RKO version.

John Loder is the shipwrecked hunter/author Rainsford who washes up on the island shores and meets his icy host, Herr Kreiger, a proud big game hunter and fan of the author's work.  There are two like-wise stranded 'houseguests'- a brother (Russell Wade of THE BODY SNATCHER) and sister (Audrey Long of Wise's BORN TO KILL)y reprising the parts played by KONG's Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray.  (According to Psychotronic, Fay's screams were looped into this remake!)  The trio soon learn about Kreiger's favorite prey and plot to escape.  When their plans are discovered, the human safari begins!  Krieger has two thug assistants, one of them is played by the great Noble Johnson (KING KONG) who played Zaroff's right-hand, bearded thug in the 1933 version.  What's really odd but cool is that Johnson actually plays both parts simulataneously via the use of stock footage so he actually gets two death scenes as two different characters in this film!  The rest of the cast is filled out nicely with RKO regulars Jason Robards Sr., Russell Hicks and Robert Clarke (HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, BEDLAM), glimpsed for about a second.

Although GAME delivers less in every department compared to the original, there is one excellent scene that surpasses the same scene in the original- the human trophy room!  In this version, Wise really delivers and we get a good look at Krieger's collection of mounted heads and a grisly decapitated relic floating in a tank.  The same shots were censored in the 1933 version when the code was instituted and only reinstated much later.  Also sadly missing here is the original's elaborate Kong Island painted glass mattes and the great Max Steiner score.  Overall, A GAME OF DEATH is a sturdy RKO programmer and it's great to have it finally available!  The streaming HD version looks exceptionally sharp, glossy and nicely restored.  Paramount is listed as the title's controlling studio so this might explain why this RKO title has never turned up on the Turner channels?