Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cinema Icon Sir Run Run Shaw dies at age 106!

Chinese movie mogul, pioneer, international co-producer and god of all studio honchos has died at the ripe old age of 106!  Shaw's movies continue to live on and they continue to be a part of my daily existence.




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:  http://www.somethingweird.com/

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?