Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Things From the Attic: I, MARQUIS DE SADE (1967)

1967, Baywater, 69m 30s, $19.99, DVD-0

Reviewed by Tim Lucas

Long feared lost, this penultimate feature from writer-director Richard Hilliard (THE LONELY SEX, screenwriter of Del Tenney's VIOLENT MIDNIGHT aka PSYCHOMANIA) supports his reputation as one of the stranger 1960s poets of dark erotic obsession.

A kind of roughie version of Buñuel's THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ, it stars Sheldon Pearson (who looks remarkably like the young Roger Corman) as Donald Marquis (an allusion to the creator of Archie and Mehitabel?), a translator of the Marquis de Sade's works who, while awaiting and fearing the results of a biopsy test, indulges in fantasies of abandoning the bookish life and acting out the more violent philosophies of Sade on a series of women. He meets a wealthy, overweight yacht-owner (Cindy Ellis) and becomes her gigolo, setting his sights on amassing enough money to have "all the girls." One fateful afternoon, intending to find and torture a beautiful stranger, he meets an English woman (Ann Grant) on the beach, who responds to his philosophical regurgitations and picks him up, but soon proves herself the more experienced Sadist. After returning to his cashcow, he invites two other women back to her place, only to discover that their lesbian proclivities exclude him. He then attempts to exact more control by hiring a rented soundstage for an afternoon stripshow-cum-tryst with Russ Meyer starlet Babette Bardot (was this the only time a known actress portrayed herself - as a prostitute?), but even she finally snubs him after an unexceptional hump. After this, Donald becomes more violent, attacking his benefactor and determining to avenge himself against the earlier dolly bird, who he sights in the parking lot of the bank where he's cashing one last forged check.

Opening with credits lipsticked onto the body of a compliant model, this movie is consistent with Hilliard's earlier themes about the disadvantages of sensitive, creative men in the face of abusive female sexual power, but it is unusual for the ways it blends such dark bitterness about male-female relationships with passages of experimentalism and surrealism and puckish humor. It's also pre-Cronenbergian for the way it subtly suggests that Donald's derangement could be based in a tumor that produces extreme fantasies disassociable from his reality, and certainly pre-VIDEODROME in that it includes scenes the viewer likewise cannot readily identify as fantasy, dream or reality. But nowhere else are you likely to find a film that sabotages its protagonist's sexual self-image quite so viciously, with Ann Grant's psycho tease revealed as the far more dangerous character.

According to internet reports, a 35mm print of this film was recovered in Scandanavia. This clean-looking, if not entirely sharp 1.66:1 release (copyrighted by Retromedia Entertainment) runs somewhat shy of that print's reported running time of 73m, indicating that it may stem from a PAL tape conversion master; it does not appear to be missing any footage. An unrelated nudie short, "Hollywood Beauties", rounds out the package.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Things From the Attic: THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (1982)

Der Zauberberg
1982, Koch Vision, 624m, DVD-1

Reviewed by Tim Lucas

Included in the seven-disc box set THE THOMAS MANN COLLECTION (2007, now out of print) with Franz Peter Wirth's epic 10-hour miniseries of BUDDENBROOKS and Franz Seitz's three-hour feature of DOCTOR FAUSTUS (starring Jon Finch as composer Adrian Leverkuhn) is this frustrating but nevertheless remarkable three-part miniseries directed by Hans W. Geissendorfer, based on Mann's splendid 1924 novel.

It's the story of Hans Castorp (Christoph Eichhorn), a young engineer who ascends a mountain to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland where his cousin Joachim is being treated for tuberculosis. Intending to stay for only three weeks, impressionable Hans finds himself affected by the elevation, which diverts him from his schedule to undergo treatment himself; various characters who undertake the reshaping of his malleable personality; and the reassuring routine of the place, which abstracts time, each day following the pattern of those previous, and causes him to become passive and detached even when confronted with the first, and possibly only, great love of his life, a fellow patient named Clavdia Chauchat (Marie-France Pisier, miscast but not fatally so). As the story continues - with Hans remaining at the sanitorium a full seven years, until the outbreak of World War I - the clinic becomes an increasingly surreal metaphor for the European passivity, decadence, morbidity and surfacing territorial hatreds that climax in an almost biological need to purge itself through a declaration of war.

Even at slightly under seven hours, this epic can't begin to cover all the ground as the novel and inevitably disappoints, obviously cutting back the tense philosophic and political debates between Settembrini (SUSPIRIA's Flavio Bucci) and Naphta (Charles Aznavour) and sometimes rewriting character interactions to the detriment of its suspense. (In the novel, Hans and Clavdia have no direct interaction prior to the Mardi Gras party; here, she actually reprimands him for gazing soulfully at her.) However, approached as a complement to the novel, the film reproduces more scenes and settings with fidelity than one would ever believe possible and, by virtue of some serendipitous casting, allows some of Mann's fuzzier characters blossoming into unforgettable characters. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are Ann Zacharias as the luminous medium Elly Brand (in Prt 3's séance sequence, one of the most convincing possessed women ever filmed), Fassbinder favorite Kurt Raab (THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES) as the closet occultist Dr. Krokowski, and most of all, Gudrun Gabriel as Marusja, Joachim's unspoken love. (Her moment at the end of Part 2 is heart-rending, and made me think Marusja went on to marry Mr. Crich, becoming the character Catherine Willmer played in Ken Russell's WOMEN IN LOVE.) Rod Steiger also turns up in the final third as the pivotal Myneer Peeperkorn, but what appears to be an inspired performance is undercut by German dubbing and English subtitles that complete what should be a chronic inability to form coherent sentences.

Lensed by later Scorsese collaborator Michael Ballhaus, THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN is preserved by this 2007 release in a dated, standard, analog transfer that stutters during panning shots, yet it remains the definitive release to date. A 2010 stand-alone, two-disc release from E1 Entertainment, which looks worse, also condenses the production to feature length (153m) with disastrous results. A four-disc edition, with supplementary materials, was issued in Germany last year that I've heard renders a more definitive presentation and includes a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer of the feature version - alas, it's not English friendly.

Friday, September 25, 2015

F.W. Murnau, Michael Mark and... Charles Lane?

Last night, while making overdue acquaintance with F.W. Murnau's charming CITY GIRL (1930), I was surprised to notice a familiar face hovering in the background of the second café scene. As this centrally placed customer leaves his seat at the bar, waitress Kate (Mary Duncan) slips her new friend Lem (Charles Farrell, seen beside her) into that slot - to the annoyance of the mustached man in the background. That is actor Michael Mark, who would score a major speaking role in 1931's FRANKENSTEIN as the father of the tragically fated child, Maria. Though released in 1930, CITY GIRL was actually filmed in the latter part of 1928, so Mark had a few years between in which to ascend from extra to speaking parts. While at Universal, Mark would also appear in THE BLACK CAT (1934 version), SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, TOWER OF LONDON, HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES, THE MUMMY'S HAND, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE, THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (as "Herr Strauss"). During that time he also slipped away to MGM where he worked on MAD LOVE, THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT with Peter Lorre and THE BLACK ROOM with Boris Karloff. In later years, he ended up with bit parts in THE RETURN OF THE FLY, ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE, and the movie with which the IMDb identifies him, Roger Corman's THE WASP WOMAN! Busy guy.

I thought I'd made an important catch but someone on the IMDb had already caught Mark's cameo, but it still hasn't been added to the site's official list of uncredited players.

Since they'll need to do that anyway, I believe I may have caught another one for them. During the scene when Lem returns to the café and bends over to peer through the window in search of Kate (who has, in fact, followed him to the train station and will soon end up in his arms), there is a cutaway to a group of pedestrians walking nearby, with some crossing the street. The man in the light-colored suit and hat caught my attention. There was something familiar about him, not just his face but his adroit, tightly-wound body language was familiar.

Then it struck me. This was the young Charles Lane.

Charles Lane lived to be 102 and acted in more than 360 motion pictures, according to the IMDb. Anyone who loves movies and television has seen him countless times, usually as a snappy, tightly-wound, hectoring old man - a part he had evidently played for more than half his professional life.

His earliest known roles, again re the IMDb, were in a spate of Warner Bros. pictures where he was uncredited, beginning with Alfred Green's SMART MONEY in 1931. In 1928, when CITY GIRL was made, he had a job with the Pasadena Playhouse, where he trained stage actors to work onscreen.

If this is Charles Lane - and I believe it is - this appearance would predate the earliest known screen work of America's most ubiquitous actor by several years, and inaugurate a screen acting career that bests even that of John Carradine by a couple dozen titles.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Audio Commentaries by Tim Lucas - A List

I've been receiving some requests of late for a complete list of the audio commentaries I've done for DVD and Blu-ray. I compiled such a list a couple of years ago, which appeared as a sidebar to an article I wrote about my commentary work for GOREZONE #29, but there have been quite a few more in the meantime. The list is presently up to 38 commentaries, but only 37 are listed here. I recently completed another for Kino Lorber, for a release that hasn't yet been announced.

I update this list, as needed, on the Notes page of my Facebook account.

• Black Sunday, Image Entertainment / Anchor Bay Entertainment (2007), Kino Lorber (2013), Arrow Video (2013, UK)
• Kill, Baby... Kill!, Image Entertainment (unreleased), Dark Sky Films (2007, withdrawn)

• Blood and Black Lace, VCI Entertainment (reissued 2005)
• The Whip and the Body, VCI Entertainment, Kino Lorber (2014)

• Danger: Diabolik, Paramount DVD (with John Phillip Law)
• Monster Kid Home Movies, "The Gentle Old Madman" , PPS Productions (with Tom Abrams)

• The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Films (UK, 2014)
• Black Sabbath, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Video (2013, UK)
• Rabid Dogs, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Video (2014, UK)

• Baron Blood, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Video (2013, UK)
• Lisa and the Devil, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Video (2013, UK)
• Bay of Blood, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Arrow Video (2012, UK)
• Erik the Conqueror, Anchor Bay Entertainment (with Cameron Mitchell)

• Thriller: The Grim Reaper, Image Entertainment (with David J. Schow and Ernest Dickerson)
• Thriller: The Premature Burial, Image Entertainment (with David J. Schow and Ernest Dickerson)

• Das Geheimnis des Doktor Z (The Diabolical Dr. Z), Subkultur Entertainment (Germany)
• Hatchet For The Honeymoon, Kino Lorber

• Five Dolls for an August Moon, Kino Lorber
• The Awful Dr. Orlof, Redemption
• Nightmares Come At Night, Redemption
• A Virgin Among the Living Dead, Redemption

 2014 • Trans-Europ-Express, BFI (UK)
• Successive Slidings of Pleasure, BFI (UK)
• Pit and the Pendulum, Arrow Video (UK)
• Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Arrow Video (UK)
• The Man Who Lies, BFI (UK)
• L’Immortelle, BFI (UK)
• Eden And After, BFI (UK)

• The Whip and the Body - new revised commentary, Odeon Entertainment (UK)
• Planet of the Vampires, Kino/Scorpion Releasing

  • Tales of Terror, Kino Lorber
  • Blood and Black Lace - newly recorded commentary, Arrow Video (UK)
  • The Evil Eye with The Girl Who Knew Too Much - newly material added to 2007 commentary, Kino Lorber
  • X - The Man with X-Ray Eyes, Kino Lorber
  • The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Redemption
  • Videodrome, Arrow Video (UK)
  • Eyes Without a Face, BFI (UK)
  • ?

Some of my audio commentaries have appeared on other releases of these films in other countries. These releases may be properly licensed, but my commentaries were neither licensed from me nor compensated. Except for the BFI releases, which are exclusively licensed for a five-year period, my commentaries are available for licensing in other territories.

Friday, September 04, 2015

21 Drops of BLOOD

Sometimes a film comes along to make words seem almost superfluous, and if images alone could ever persuade someone to buy a Blu-ray disc unseen, wouldn't that film be... Andy Milligan's BLOOD?

Made in 1974, it was Milligan's first feature to be shot in 35mm at his place on Staten Island. As these frame grabs from Code Red Releasing's new limited edition BD attest, it is an absolutely hallucinatory shot of bargain basement Grand Guignol, made all the more irresistible by its dollops of soap. It's about the miserable arranged marriage of an incognito Lawrence Talbot (who has an understandably wandering eye) and Dracula's daughter (who is not only a vampire, but jealous, condescending and relentlessly needy). She's basically bedridden as Lawrence and a team of literally rotting, pustulent assistants use the blood of a halfwit donor to raise a crop of carnivorous plants with the capacity to wean the Countess from traditional forms of feeding. But is she appreciative? "Oh, go to Hell!" she tells her husband at bedtime. "We're there already," he says, rolling over - and that scenario is made riotously literal in the film's closing moments, as vampire and werewolf try their best to strangle each other in the midst of a raging inferno.

BLOOD is now available as the second half of a delightful Bryanston Double Bill from Code Red Releasing, a limited edition Blu-ray available from Screen Archive Entertainment and other outlets. Collectors should be advised that Code Red's print in nearly a full 10 minutes longer than the only other home video release, a VHS from Iver Film Services taken from a PAL master - but collectors will want to hang onto the earlier one too because it has bolder color and unmattes the framing to open aperture. The restored footage consists mostly of dialogue, but oh! what dialogue! Be aware that there is one unfortunate scene of mouse abuse, at least part of which appears to be faked - so let's pretend it all is.

Monday, August 31, 2015

RIP Wes Craven (1939-2015)

Wes Craven with a recreation of a certain celebrated Edvard Munch painting.

Early this morning, when the unexpected news of Wes Craven's death at age 76 from brain cancer began to circulate, Kim Newman made this perspicacious observation on Facebook: "Wes Craven reinvented horror at least four times - most directors don't even manage it once."

THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) was superficially a trespass of true crime on horror movie turf, but in retrospect it can more easily be seen as the introduction of urban myth into horror, a genre up to then predominated by legends, superstitions and campfire stories. While nightmares have always been depicted in horror cinema, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) was the first film since CALIGARI to extend a story's landscape into the slippery terrain of the unconscious. When success turned Craven's creepy creation into New Line Cinema's flagship title, and revised the nightmare figure of Freddy Kruger into a comic monster of ceremonies for the FANGORIA generation, he explored other variations of horror franchise misfires (CHILLER, SHOCKER) until returning to the franchise with the brilliantly recursive WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which provided not only a metaphor for how the series' success had affected its various participants, but seemed to add a new wing onto the genre that might be termed an alternate reality. Then, with SCREAM (1996), he applied the principles of deconstruction to the genre and found that something still new could be created in the act of taking the traditional constructs of genre apart.

As is true of most artists whose work in the genre achieves such levels of potency, Craven was playing the hand that life had dealt him. He had been born to a reportedly dysfunctional family consisting of a fanatically religious mother (so strong a personality that she left him fearful of women till he moved away to go to college) and an abusive, violent father who died when Wes was only four. He also drew knowledgeably on earlier work in the genre; for example, I noticed him drawing from Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964) in a pivotal scene in NEW NIGHTMARE (when a prop disappears from a film set) and in the revelation that the white-masked SCREAM killer was not one perpetrator, but two individuals working in concert. But most importantly, he made films that reflected the world as he perceived it, and he worked hard at extending that perception for the sake not only of his art, but for himself. Important works like his 1985 TWILIGHT ZONE episodes "Shatterday" and "Her Pilgrim Soul", and more significantly his 1988 voodoo opus THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, reflect his private side as a voracious reader of texts pertaining to psychology, perception and mysticism, not to mention the literature of the fantastic. 

After a very strong beginning with LAST HOUSE and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977, arguably the best of his horror films - which, like all of his best movies, seemed to contrast the reality and myth of the American family), Craven's career seemed to follow a patchwork pattern alternating strong work with weaker material. So far, I've mentioned only the home runs, but his filmography also carries the weight of THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART II (1984), A VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN (1995) and DEADLY FRIEND (1986), a film whose level of disaster actually spills over into hilarity - a hilarity that one suspects its creator shared - as the end credits roll. Craven also directed a few of the better made-for-television horror offerings (1978's STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, 1984's INVITATION TO HELL) and some features that fell between his usual extremes without succumbing to mediocrity, like DEADLY BLESSING (1981), SWAMP THING (1982), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) and three SCREAM sequels, almost always spinning out at least one sequence that wouldn't look at all out of place in a Best-Of reel.

One of the few horror directors of his generation to earn name-above-the-title status and to stand out from the pack as a genuine creator and innovator, Wes Craven's volatile spark will be much missed.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Steele Crazy After All These Years

Barbara Steele and Rik Battaglia in Mario Caiano's NIGHTMARE CASTLE.
A Barbara Steele bonanza, Severin's triple-feature NIGHTMARE CASTLE Blu-ray ($29.98) is a splendid-looking, must-have disc. In the audio commentary he shares with the film's star, David Del Valle opines that the main feature is somewhat burdened by a tedious plot and could have used a few more delirium sequences - but if you're fishing for delirium, look no further than the extras allotted to this disc. Beginning with said commentary, which repeatedly describes the film as a valentine to its star Barbara Steele - whose name is actually misspelled onscreen. The track ends with an aghast Steele asking if something can't be done to change this. (You mean, like actually monkey with Severin's beautiful 2K restoration?)

Two bonus Steele films are also included - and frankly, they're the better ones. TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE's direction is credited to Ralph Zucker, someone who was real but who didn't direct it. The real director (Massimo Pupillo), or so claims one of the film's stars (Riccardo Garrone), was known among the cast and crew as "The Wanker." Garrone can't stop laughing at the fact that someone has taken this film seriously enough to want to interview him - about Pupillo, of all people! - and his sides really split when the suggestion is made that the film possibly had some additional US financing. When we hear an excerpt from an audio interview with Pupillo, he comes across as the first completely informed person on topic - and to make the circumstances more surreal, we are told that the interview was conducted at a time he was widely presumed to be dead! 

Then there is CASTLE OF BLOOD, the real gem of this set, whose featurette informs us that director Antonio Margheriti's original screen name Anthony Daisies was changed because someone told him that "Anthony is picking daisies" was a popular American expression to point out someone who is gay. Over the course of its 16 minutes, the CASTLE OF BLOOD featurette somehow fails to mention the vital presence in the film of Steele's BLACK SUNDAY co-star Arturo Dominici, or that Silvano Tranquilli (who plays Edgar Allan Poe) was also her romantic lead in THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK, or that it was the first Italian Gothic to imitate Italian horror rather than the popular English and American varieties of that period. Perhaps Dominici's alias prevented his identifcation. Nearly all of the credits on all three films are aliases, except for that of Barbara Steele - who alone stands exposed, with or without the final E. Defiant. Unquestionably iconic. The Queen of all this auteur-directed misdirection.

People have asked me how the two bonus features look. Well, they look gorgeous too - but in that splicey way that a friend's 35mm print might look gorgeous if you were treated to a private screening. They are presented in high definition, but they have not been restored. Somehow, their flaws are forgivable. Interestingly, at the same time, in its 2K restoration, NIGHTMARE CASTLE somehow becomes a little less forgivable. Which is interesting because NIGHTMARE CASTLE (presented here in its significantly longer, original English export version titled THE NIGHT OF THE DOOMED) may now look a little too real, a little too perfect. The more filmic, dupey element sampled in the accompanying featurette somehow looks more like the film's intended ambiance. Granted, any opposing arguments - for example, that it deserves restoration because it is an early film scored by Ennio Morricone (make that "Ennio Morigone") and shot by Enzo Barboni (who, as "E.B. Clucher," later directed the Trinity westerns) - would be at least as valid. 

But I feel that something important about these films could be lost if we were to do away with all the scratches and splices that heralded our first acquaintance with them - some evidence of prior use and wear which connects us to the place of otherness and mystery where these imitation Gothics have always worked their strongest magic - inferring, at 3:00am on a distant broadcast signal, that they have come to us from a great distance and that we are not alone in our love for them.