Review Page and Column
Night of the Demon 10/20/18
(+ Curse of the Demon): A top horror title gets the Powerhouse Indicator treatment just in time for Halloween — it’s not a domestic release but it plays in our Region A players. You can shuffle the alternate versions like a deck of cards: one basic movie, but six separate encodings: by length, title sequence and aspect ratio. Plus fascinating extras and a killer versions comparison feature. You have only your time allowed! On Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
Dracula A.D. 1972 10/20/18
Dracula and Van Helsing seem more than a little confused, fighting the good fight of virtue against evil in a modern setting dominated by painful Mod fashions and flaky pop rock ‘n’ roll. Hammer’s desperation bid to make itself ‘relevant’ at least gives us Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who keep the show on the rails despite the disastrous concept. The two leading ladies are favorites as well: Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Friend Allan Peach was able to attend the Aero screening of the reconstituted Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind last Tuesday. When I asked what he thought, his answer was so thorough, I asked if I could print it:
“Glenn: The Other Side of the Wind was not what I expected. Most of Welles’ unfinished pieces had poorly recorded audio and often looked rough due to piecemeal and interrupted productions. The restoration crew did amazing work on Other Side. The sound track is consistently clean and the photography precise and often rather stunning. I expected the performance by Bogdanovich and those of the non-actors to be weak, but all were very good. Norman Foster was especially interesting as a lackey of John Huston’s Jake Hannaford character. He’s played in the mold of Welles’ Shakespearean eccentric comedy relief types, like Dennis Weaver in Touch of Evil: Kabuki-like over the top excessive. The professional actors were, as usual, great, with Mercedes MacCambridge, Paul Stewart, Edmond O’Brien, and Lili Palmer perfect. Gary Graver photographed Susan Strasberg, Palmer and Oja Kodar beautifully, they all look really stunning.
Although Stéphanie Audran and Polly Platt (who originally was to play the Strasberg character) were in the titles, I missed seeing them in the film. I don’t think Rich Little was in the titles but I saw him in at least one shot, perhaps an outtake from when he was to play the Bogdanovich part? Claude Chabrol was at this same time shooting Ten Days Wonder with Welles, and appears briefly with other directors such as Curtis Harrington, Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, Cameron Crowe, and even the controversial Leslie Moonves. Huston’s character is based on Ernest Hemmingway, but comes across more like Donald Trump. He calls Kodar’s character Pocahontas, and humiliates Dan Tobin (from Welles’ 1958 TV short The Fountain of Youth). It is odd to see some of these actors on the screen together. George Jessel, for example, seems to be from another lifetime. Edmond O’Brien is fantastic, but looks really old and haggard. Lilli Palmer looks agelessly beautiful. Dan Tobin always looks the same age, neither old nor young. All seem to be from different eras, yet in the same film.
The editing style is fresh and inventive, a continuation perhaps of F For Fake but much more eccentric. In some ways, the editing becomes the most important part of the film. It feels very experimental. It is sometimes hard to follow, is at times slow and plodding and at others extremely fast paced and exhilarating. Comparing Other Side to Welles’ other films is like comparing Ulysses to The Dubliners or The Sound and the Fury to Pylon. Precise storytelling and sharp characters have been replaced by an abstract, fractured, avant-garde style. The film within the film is in yet another different style, but is also pitched toward the avant-garde. The sex scene in the car is like nothing else I have seen on film.
I was impressed by most of the dialog, which seemed both natural and well written. Welles wanted it to be improvised, but the editor said that all the were precisely as written in the script. The dialog delivery is staccato with many very brief lines. Critic FX Feeney said that the film is a dissection of the Huston’s character’s soul, but I can’t say I learned all that much about the character. It is a difficult film, not really a masterpiece as much as an exciting experiment in restructuring the nature of film. I need to give it more viewings to be more accurate in my feelings, but despite its flaws, it is pretty inspiring. Not to be missed, when it hits Netflix. — Allan Peach”
A mini- review for a mini-book with appeal:
Friend Phil Hall from the Online Film Critics Society has a new book out, a fun nonfiction pamphlet-novelette about a topic that just won’t go away — Bigfoot, the Sasquatch monster that rational thought and logical reasoning cannot make go away. A.I. Bezzerides was right: the more ‘civilized’ we get, the more we want to believe in irrational ‘facts.’ The more marketing-oriented our consumer driven political lives become, the more eager will be the hucksters out to profit from our gullibility.
Phil’s slim tome The Weirdest Movie Ever Made: The Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot Film doesn’t waste time or space with irrelevant errata: he gets right to the case of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, two Northern California guys that in 1967 set out to prove the existence of Bigfoot with a wind-up 16mm camera. They came back from the High Country with 59 seconds of movie film that have since been shown and re-shown ad infinitum with the admonition, “Is this real? Dare you believe?”
Normally we’d expect a run-around writer’s argument that presents no evidence but asks us to maintain an open mind, or as they never say in Reality Television-speak, swallow whatever bile they care to throw at us. Phil does indeed remain neutral, but he doesn’t refrain from telling the complex backstory of the two Bigfoot investigators, which includes the rather sketchy, contradictory tales of how the film was shot and developed. We then hear the odd story of how the footage was examined by multiple groups of experts, until Patterson found a couple that did not utterly discount it as a hoax. That limp endorsement led to a film being made about the discovery which Patterson promoted in a traveling theatrical presentation across the country — a scheme that helped kick off the ’70s practice of four-walling spurious documentaries, a fad now associated with Sunn Classics features. That 59 seconds of film had legs — yes, you too can read about how getting in on the action caused a falling-out between the partners (and additional partners) over a film that for some time was quite a gravy train.
Phil brackets his detailed research with a quick once-over of earlier ‘scientific finds’ that were proved to be hoaxes by overeager promoters. He also gathers reactions from a number of interested parties as to whether the film could possibly be real. Some of the analyses of the film delve fairly deeply into the way the Bigfoot/Sasquatch creature doesn’t walk like an ape or really like a man either. Personally, I haven’t seen the film in a while, but to me the shot looked like an outtake from somebody’s backyard horror movie. The creature’s leisurely pace makes it look like a man in a suit, not trying to be a monster, but perhaps striding back to ‘position A’ to begin another ape-man take.
The Weirdest Movie ends up a good read for those that want to put this particular phenomenon under a microscope. Phil Hall has a light touch throughout but maintains a civil attitude, leaving it for us to decide if Patterson and Gimlin were fooling us, or if we have fooled ourselves and the hairy critter was genuine all along.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
A review by Charlie Largent: these two legendary TV movies spawned a series for monster hunter Darren McGavin, a modern-day cross between a tabloid reporter and vampire hunter Van Helsing. Produced by Dan Curtis, written by Richard Matheson and starring a rogue’s gallery of supporting faces: Simon Oakland, Barry Atwater, Carol Lynley, Ralph Meeker, Charles McGraw, Elisha Cook Jr., Richard Anderson, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton, Jo Ann Pflug and Al Lewis. The audio commentaries are by Tim Lucas. Separate purchases on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Beverly Hills 1968 — Sunset Blvd., The Strip, The Bistro, the haze in the Hollywood Hills — where a lowly hairdresser-stud is locked in a crazy lifestyle free-fall while having the time of his life with four beautiful women. Warren Beatty puts a facet of his public personality on display as a world-class ladies’ man who just can’t keep things together. His quartet of conquests in a single day are Lee Grant, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie and a teenaged Carrie Fisher. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
Les parents terribles 10/16/18
Jean Cocteau’s film work wasn’t limited to fairy tales and art-house fantasies; this adaptation of his hit play shows us fine theater at its best. A family is a tangle of not-quite-normal relationships that reach an impasse when the emotionally spoiled son seeks to marry — a woman his father already knows. The cast bears repeating: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Yvonne de Bray, Marcel André, Gabrielle Dorziat. On Blu-ray from The Cohen Group.
Lots of talk about the new Invasion of the Body Snatchers disc this week, especially on Facebook. Over at DVD Beaver they confirm that the transfer is new, and has improved contrast. And let’s pull in some other opinions, like Svet Atanasov at Blu-ray.com and Cliff Balcony at In the Balcony.
Steve Haberman wrote that Don Siegel was unhappy that some of Miles Bennell and Becky Driscoll’s light banter was dropped during a fine cut; Gary Teetzel reached out and confirmed this by referencing a “Rutgers Films in Print” publication of the shooting script, with annotations, essays and production paperwork. Gary sent me a list of eleven minor dialogue deletions that indeed might have altered the film’s overall tone. Miles jokes around more with Uncle Ira and Dr. Kaufman, and tries out some more ‘bedside manner’ with Becky at the breakfast table.
One deleted remark seems potentially wrong for 1955 — Miles jokes (nervously) about the pods when they are forming right before his eyes. And Gary notes that another scripted but un-filmed detail specifies that dust is left behind to indicate what happens to the human bodies that have been duplicated and replaced.
I would bet that after Allied Artists and Walter Wanger added Miles Bennell’s past-tense narration, they trimmed these quips and asides because of a conflict in tone. The narration enforces a grim anticipatory mood, which might clash with, or be undercut by additional joking by Miles. That’s my guess. What I was happy to learn is that the new past-tense narration does not replace expository dialogue in the film, it just reinforces things Miles has learned and that are making him increasingly worried. This means that when I eliminate Miles’ narration in my personal no-flashback fan cut of Invasion, I’m not dropping information that the audience was meant to know. The no-flashback fan cut makes the movie a subjective, this-is-happening-right-now experience.
And one last note: Dick Dinman is repeating his audio show done with me six years ago (gulp) on Olive’s first Invasion release, A Salute to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That’s when I was ‘DVD Savant,’ of course. That’s thoughtful of Dick — his show plugs my Sci-fi essay book.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 10/13/18
A super-classic receives a super ‘Olive Signature’ Blu-ray release. CineSavant clears up some online rumors complaining that the disc producers didn’t do a full restoration. The original release Superscope version of Don Siegel’s soul-shaking chiller has been handsomely remastered — and with the extras we’ve awaited for 12 years. They include never-before-seen interviews and never-before-heard commentaries with stars Dana Wynter and Kevin McCarthy. On Blu-ray from Olive Signature.
The Swarm 10/13/18
It’s time to celebrate the Irwin Allen disaster epics for what they are — huge, indigestible spectacles that first seem funny and then congeal into a cinematic badness that words cannot describe. This sprawling ordeal tortures good actors and shatters every limit of audience patience. Enough stars for you?: Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, Richard Widmark, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, Lee Grant, José Ferrer, Patty Duke, Slim Pickens, Bradford Dillman, Fred MacMurray, Henry Fonda… Is a fair review even possible? I alone have survived to tell thee. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Official Story 10/13/18
Political terror hits home, as a Buenos Aires teacher and housewife discovers that her family life is not only a lie, it’s a lie grounded in government treachery and murder. Forget conspiracy foolishness, for Luis Puenzo’s Oscar-winning tale is based on solid, documented truth, with an American connection. This is one of the first of the modern filmic political exposés from Latin America. Starring Héctor Alterio and Norma Aleandro. On Blu-ray from The Cohen Group.
Here’s an interesting ‘flashbak’ article by Rob Baker about the English comic Benny Hill, The Rise, Fall, and Lonely Death of Benny Hill. Hill’s Music Hall and TV background is more interesting than he is, but overall it’s a fascinating article, especially parts about the business during the war years.
And correspondent Marshall Crawford has kindly tipped me off that the newly restored version of the 1953 The War of the Worlds is now available, with extras, on iTunes. I’ll hold off a review until a disc surfaces (c’mon Paramount!) but I might just spring for this. The WOTW’53 restoration was premiered at the AMIA’s The Reel Thing last about two months ago; the big news is that the ‘wires’ are no more. It really ought to be circulated on one of those TCM nationwide special screening programs — the movie was incredibly exciting on a big screen, in Technicolor.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Trilogy of Terror 10/09/18
The ‘seventies brought forth some well-remembered TV horror movies, that shocked impressionable kids back in the days of Watergate and Sonny & Cher. Karen Black toplines Dan Curtis’s trio of malevolent tales, all from original stories by Richard Matheson. The third story about a killer Zuni Warrior doll, is considered a must-see genre gem. The disc carries two commentaries and three interviews, with Matheson, the composer and the much-missed Ms. Black as well. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Last Hurrah 10/09/18
In the last decade of his career John Ford produced and directed this ode to crony politics, with Spencer Tracy as an old-fashioned mayor who uses underhanded ploys to do right by his constituents. Tracy is backed by a veritable army of supporting actors, neatly orchestrated in Frank Nugent’s screenplay. We’re talking scores of John Ford stock company players; it’s like old home week, with Ford in firm control. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Horrors of Malformed Men 10/09/18
No, it’s not about the U.S. Senate. Teruo Ishii’s kitchen-sink Japanese horror show tosses in everything under the rising sun: madmen, murder, strange doppelgängers, a return from the dead, freakish deformities and Oedipal nightmares. Will our hero help his depraved father with his hobby of atrocious surgery? Reviewer Charlie Largent sorts out the slime and the shudders of a storyline cobbled from various tales of the uncanny by the legendary Edogawa Rampo. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Friend and advisor Allan Peach has been telling me about a new visual attraction right next to Los Angeles’ Echo Park called 3-D Space. Their self-description reads in part, “Affectionately called the ‘3-D Bunker,’ our new center is a public space for stereoscopic art, science, and history. We are utilizing the gallery to rotate between exhibiting pieces from our museum collection, displaying contemporary works by 3-D image makers, and holding classes and presentations.” They’re holding a screening in 3-D of Creature from the Black Lagoon downtown on October 21; their website is touting a soon-to-open Exhibit called 3-D Monsters.
I’ll be curious to see what Sony’s new Blu-ray of the Toho gem Battle in Outer Space (Uchu daisenso) looks and sounds like — the rumble on the web is mostly negative, in that complainers are saying that the Blu-ray will repeat the 2009 DVD’s annoying ‘dub-title’ problem on the Japanese audio version. I explained it in my review of that older Icons of Sci-Fi Toho Collection DVD set. Will the release indeed have two language versions? I’ve heard that it will include the older commentary, and August Ragone has reported that it will be a pressed Blu-ray, not a burned disc. I figured I’d toss these doubts out there, in case somebody with an early copy can report in. Frankly, the show could use a new transfer — Ragone (I believe) reported several years ago that some new material had been found and added to the Japanese version, but I haven’t heard any followup on that story. The disc is expected on September 25.
And finally, my mental equilibrium from Saturday is returning … but I think this image represents well the present state of affairs in the Good Old U.S. of A. I’m putting a “VOTE!” sign on my front yard!
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson