Quatermass 2 08/06/19

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

What ought to be appreciated as one of the most prescient of 1950s suspense films holds a place among the best science fiction movies ever — and it formed a style template for a thousand paranoid spy thrillers to follow. Val Guest pares Nigel Kneale’s fantastic storyline down to its essentials, making his scientist-hero the perfect secret agent to confront a sinister techno-political conspiracy… from outer space. Brian Donlevy bulldozes and Hammershis way through red tape and confronts the aliens in their foothold base, aided by John Longdon, Sidney James, Bryan Forbes, William Franklyn, Vera Day, Charles Lloyd Pack, Tom Chatto, John Van Eyssen, Percy Herbert and Michael Ripper. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
08/06/19

Behold a Pale Horse 08/06/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Here’s a suspenseful, quality thriller with fine characterizations, set in a grim but meaningful place — Fascist Spain in the late 1950s, when Franco’s police still hold the country in a tight grip. The very modern story (by Emeric Pressburger) is also timeless: the old lost-cause warrior takes on one last mission into enemy territory. Gregory Peck (he’s good) is the legendary raider on a mission to kill an old enemy, Anthony Quinn. A beautiful B&W production, co-starring Omar Sharif, Raymond Pellegrin, Paolo Stoppa, Mildred Dunnock, Daniela Rocca and Christian Marquand. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
08/06/19

CineSavant Column-lite

Tuesday August 6, 2019

Hello!

It’s holiday time. The palm trees on my street have given me permission to hang with friends and family… yet the reviews will continue. See you Saturday —

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday August 3, 2019

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The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne 08/03/19

Powerhouse Indicator
Blu-ray

Someone save Judith Hearne, for she can’t save herself. Jack Clayton’s film of Brian Moore’s novel has stunning performances by Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins — but whew, for many of us its social cruelties will feel like traumatic emotional abuse. Not enough nasty people and clueless victims in your life? … this show will give you your fill. It all feels true to life, however. With Wendy Hiller, Marie Kean, Ian McNeice and Prunella Scales; filmed in Dublin. On Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
08/03/19

Lust for a Vampire 08/03/19

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

Courageous disc boutique Scream Factory takes on one of Hammer’s biggest embarrassments, that almost everyone connected to it would like to disown. I bailed from my first viewing around 1990 … yet this time around found it somewhat better than I expected. The girlie-show nudity is treated as a special effect, and the story at least hangs together. And like every Hammer horror, there’s a sizable, vocal cheering section out there that sings its praises. Yutte Stensgaard is the mortiferous Mircalla, with Suzanna Leigh, Barbara Jefford, Ralph Bates, Michael Johnson, Mike Raven and Pippa Steel in support. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
08/03/19

CineSavant Column

Saturday August 3, 2019

Hello!

Thanks for all the reactions to my non-spoiler thoughts about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood last Tuesday — it’s nices to share an experience with so many fellow fans at the same time. It’s sort of the same vibe as I felt in 1974 with Chinatown or 1976 with Taxi Driver or 1980 with Raging Bull or 1995 with Pulp Fiction … the decision to see it was automatic, as if we were sharks smelling blood in the water from five miles away. I sometimes feel awkward recommending movies, especially the odd titles I dote on at CineSavant — not everybody has my taste, so some of those that take my suggestions must think, what a maroon. So far no complaints on OUATIH.


Correspondent, commentator and friend Toby Roan has a new book just out, like, two days ago: A Million Feet Of Film: The Making Of One-Eyed Jacks. The title is self-explanatory, but Roan has a big story to tell, of a complicated development (Rod Serling, Stanley Kubrick and Sam Peckinpah were involved) and a shoot that tested Paramount’s patience and pocketbook. The budget tripled, the studio took over and took it away from Brando in post-production. They call the finished film a compromise, which makes me more eager to read the book — the movie I know plays like a masterpiece just the way it is.


CineSavant is all but drowning in desirable review titles right now. The idea is to give each its due, so they might be trickling out for a while. We’re in the middle of a summer of terrific vintage Sci-fi, horror and fantasy on Blu-ray; thanks to the able co-reviewing of Charlie Largent we’ve covered a lot of great stuff already. Working backwards: Piranha, The Reptile, Weird Science, Alphaville, This Island Earth, Mothra, Dead of Night, These Are the Damned, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Universal Horror Collection 1, The Day Time Ended, The Andromeda Strain, Fantomas Three Film Collection and The Mysterious Island.

Pictures in hand or expected that I will jump at reviewing are Val Guest’s Quatermass 2, Jack H. Harris’ 4D Man and Dinosaurus!, Mario Bava’s Hercules in the Haunted World, David Duncan’s The Leech Woman, Joe Dante’s Gremlins (UHD), the big Criterion Showa Godzilla Box, the deliriously Sadeian Circus of Horrors and probably a few I’ve forgotten. Hinted at and rumored as ‘out there’ from Arrow Academy is G.W. Pabst’s hotly desired L’Atlantide. Come December, putting together this year’s ‘best of’ CineSavant article is going to be impossible.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday July 30, 2019

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Piranha 07/30/19

Scream Factory
Blu-ray Steelbook

Steelbook Limited Edition  Charlie Largent takes a dip in waters ripe with fast chompin’ toe munchin’ fishy-fishies that you don’t want to tangle with. It’s a joyful all-star Jaws rip-off: Bradford Dillman, Heather Menzies, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller, Barbara Steele, Belinda Balaski, Barry Brown, Paul Bartel and Richard Deacon. Also John Sayles, who wrote the darn thing. Half the fun with a Joe Dante disc is the commentary and other add-ons. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
07/30/19

Death in the Garden 07/30/19

Kino Classics
Blu-ray

La mort en ce jardin  Finally out on Blu-ray in Region A, Luis Buñuel’s beautiful color adventure is a worthy jungle tale shot through with his signature negativity — it could be titled “The Bad, The Greedy and the Faithless.” The Spanish surrealist’s filmic obsessions steered toward the anarchistic, the anti-clerical and anti-bourgeois; all of his films are political, but this is one of the few that envisions an actual revolt against authority. With the presence of movie stars Simone Signoret, Georges Marchal, Charles Vanel and Michel Piccoli, this may also be the director’s most commercial feature. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
07/30/19

CineSavant Column

Tuesday July 30, 2019

Hello!

Zero Spoilers!

I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino’s newest. I’d talk about it in more detail, but most everything plot-wise or style-wise would be a spoiler, and that’s just bad form. This is the first picture since The Shape of Water that I felt compelled to see on its first weekend. I’m glad that I knew nothing about what would happen — avoiding the trailer and publicity paid off handsomely. The 1969 Los Angeles setting feels very familiar, even though I came to town in late 1970 and didn’t get out of the UCLA dorms much until ’71. I think the hippie population of Hollywood Blvd. had thinned out somewhat, but I do remember a classmate being nailed for ignorantly, innocently smoking a joint as he walked by Grauman’s Chinese, and being put through hell for it. What could he say — he was from Oxnard, and L.A. just seemed like a place where one could do anything.

I barely watched the news at that time yet was acutely aware of the Manson murders. Our first dorm outing in Fall ’70 was to go explore Stony Point out by the Santa Susana Pass. We saw bikers threatening people at the big park out there, the one with the railroad tunnel from White Heat. Only years later did my toes curl when I read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter and realized that the remnants of the Manson clan were still at large — bikers, cowboys and hippies — roaming in the same environs.

The show struck me like a perpetual motion dream of driving around town ‘in the day.’ When the stuntman character Cliff drives on the 101, we immediately notice the sound wall barriers, that didn’t exist in 1970. To get to the Spahn Ranch, he’d have to go to the end of the Freeway and continue on surface streets for several miles. I laughed when Cliff’s trailer is parked behind the Van Nuys drive-in theater. When somebody mentioned ‘Panorama City,’ I realized that I’m not sure where Panorama City is exactly, and I’ve lived here almost fifty years now.

Bob Birchard and Randy Cook drove me to the Larry Edmunds Bookstore several times; it was very close to the ‘Supply Sergeant’ across from the Vogue Theater, where I remember seeing The Wind and the Lion in 70mm in 1975. Westwood in the movie is a vision; as an usher and assistant manager in the chain that owned The National and The Village and The Bruin, these were my stomping grounds in film school. I once recognized Alan Alda in the ticket line and invited him in to see the show without paying. Back at the Norton Air Force Base I had winced through the whole smarmy mess that is The Wrecking Crew. Somewhere between Murderer’s Row and The Ambushers, Matt Helm became terminally uncool… or I stopped being quite so immature.

Once Upon a Time gets that intersection with The Village and The Bruin correct, except that the great Italian restaurant Mario’s is no longer katty-korner from The Bruin. Anyway, when I worked a parking lot in Westwood in ’72, I’d stop off in the morning at the little snack stand we see opposite The Bruin, where Sharon Tate crosses the street. A Westwood movie cost $3 at that time, and through most of the ’70s. But since I made about $20 a week, going to see shows was out of the question. Becoming an usher solved that problem, with free passes.

Tarantino’s latest is still a mix of his peculiar notions, but he’s in such a reverent mode that he leaves many of his more aggressive moves behind. He doesn’t have to play sassy genre games as his story is already immersed in film culture — the context of show biz, TV, features, commercials, Spaghetti westerns keeps the movie references lively. His mix of pop music and AM radio cacophony creates a fairly accurate picture of the times, even if a starving student like myself never got nearer to the glitz than the fancy hipsters that parked in my Westwood parking lot. Any fans of Paul Revere and the Raiders in the house?  The Child of Wonder known as Sharon Tate comes off as a life-loving fan of everything.

The characterizations are marvelous, and the way Tarantino intersects with creepy-crawly Manson lore is inspired. We sit in dread through most of the picture, trying to remember dates — shouldn’t Sharon Tate be pregnant now?  Is the particular song on her car radio commenting on that?   The same goes for the song Twelve Thirty, with the lyric ‘Young Girls are Coming to the Canyon,’ which in this context chills the blood. The bits of murderous Charlie M. philosophy offered by his ‘witchy’ operatives seem right-on accurate. It’s no longer prominent on Manson’s rap sheet, but the Bugliosi book established Charlie as a core White Supremacist. His psycho fantasy-excuse was to foment a black bloodbath, and then prevail because ‘blackie’ is stupid and needs to be led by somebody. Hey, MAGA. (actually, author Tom O’Neill recently presented new theories conflicting with those of Vincent Bugliosi.)

The finish for me was almost magical, with the ‘Once Upon a Time…’ title eliciting a sentimental reaction. Even though it deals with Hollywood’s most traumatic crime, Tarantino’s picture might be his least violent (well, overall). Only once or twice does he go Over the Top with violent hyperbole. I laughed out loud at the audacity of one scene, which becomes a bizarre re-cap of an equally outrageous scene in, of all things, a Mexican horror import.

Now I have to dig through 10,000 disorganized discs in search of the old TV movie Helter Skelter with Steve Railsback. Why it wasn’t remastered to coincide with the release of Tarantino’s picture, is a mystery. Rather than dump a pile of spoilers here, I might review Once Upon at Time In Hollywood later when it hits disc… you know, long after anything original I might have to say has been raked over fifty times in other reviews.

In this show, QT doesn’t toss ‘cool’ music around just because he can. Randy Cook pointed out on FB a sentimental jolt he received from Tarantino’s choice for a concluding music cue, which took me a minute to figure out. It’s Maurice Jarre, not Ennio Morricone… and both the song and the source movie are odes to a beloved actress lost to time. I’d rate Once Upon a Time… up at the top of Tarantino’s output, neck and neck with Jackie Brown.

If you’re going to see it, do it quick. Hey, I can even recommend it to my daughter — it has a heroic dog!

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday July 27, 2019

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The Reptile 07/27/19

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

Hammer’s attempt at a budget monster film for 1966 isn’t quite as good as its sister film Plague of the Zombies, but it has fine atmosphere and a couple of worthy grace notes, namely its fine actresses Jennifer Daniel and Jacqueline Pearce. Although the title monster bites some fans the wrong way, it works for this reviewer — it’s every appearance is a surprise, and for me it’s convincingly… reptilian. Also starring Noel Willman, Michael Ripper and Marne Maitland. Encoded in two aspect ratios, and including a full commentary and making-of discussion. On Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
07/27/19

Merrill’s Marauders 07/27/19

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Is this Samuel Fuller’s biggest production? He tries to convey the harrowing reality of a military campaign that tested the limits of endurance and punishment that troops could absorb. In his last movie, Jeff Chandler is the famed commander who must ask his special forces to march hundreds of miles in the unforgiving jungle, and then fight a pitched battle. Although Warners interfered with the final cut, it’s still a fine picture.. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
07/27/19

CineSavant Column

Saturday July 27, 2019

Hello!

For its 1000’th spine number, Criterion has announced an enormous, budget busting boxed set of, whoo’da-guessed it, Godzilla Pictures from the Showa Era, roughly the ’50s through part of the ’70s. I remember looking over a proposed Criterion laserdisc set of these films back around 1996 or so, that fell through almost immediately after being promoted through some expensive Criterion handouts … and it seemingly has taken 20-plus years for Toho to strike a deal. I pretty much check out of having interest in the series somewhere in the late ’60s. Taking my terrific little brother to Destroy All Monsters I realized that the thrill just wasn’t there, as it had been for me when staring up at a giant-screen monster battle in 1959’s Gigantis, The Fire Monster. THAT was a first-run delight for a seven year-old.

The big treat this time around, if announcements are correct, will be a quality encoding of the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla, which so far has only been released here in its Universal dumbed-down cutdown version. Criterion has a hit-and-miss record when it comes to pop pulp lowbrow/high style genre exotica, so we’ll be happy if they continue in the vein of their excellent 2011 Godzilla/Godzilla King of the Monsters! disc set — I wish they could publish and sell a poster of that release’s cover art by Bill Sienkiewicz!  I asked Gary about what he liked in Godzilla art, and he directed me to the page of artist Bob Eggleton to check out some creative ‘Big G’ paintings.


And I have a brief Book Review to offer here. It’s the tenth tome in the ‘Scripts from the Crypt’ series, this one entitled The Brute Man. In comparison to some other titles in the series, the final film of horror star Rondo Hatton isn’t much to shout about, but this SFTC entry is one of the most satisfying I’ve read so far. The series takes something of a scrapbook approach built around the film’s screenplay and a substantive essay or two, with editor Tom Weaver holding it all together with sidebar articles and incidental items.

I saw The Brute Man a long time ago and was not impressed — the mostly lifeless movie can’t hold a candle to Rondo’s best show (IMHO) House of Horrors. But the unique story of the ‘horror actor who didn’t need makeup’ makes for good reading. Scott Gallinghouse contributes the longest segment, a thorough and rumor-busting essay about Rondo’s life, from his sports triumphs to his exploits in France during WW1, through his career as a mainstream journalist while dabbling in, and finally committing to, movie work.

Rondo’s illness eventually ended his life; the acromegaly not only distorted his formerly handsome features, but also damaged his inner tissues, weakening his heart. Gallinghouse’s detailed account succeeds in showing us what an intelligent and thoughtful ‘good guy’ Rondo was, through incidents of generosity and fan interaction that show class and humility. The symptoms were becoming acute just as Universal had decided to feature Rondo as an unique horror character, The Creeper. But by the time of The Brute Man his ability to remember dialogue lines became impaired.

That’s followed by Tom Weaver’s production history, and an as-finished Continuity Script for The Brute Man. Dr. Robert J. Kiss’s ultra-detailed distribution article again furnishes a picture of show-biz practicalities in the year that that Hollywood suddenly began to lose its audience.

There’s more than enough respect reserved for Rondo, even though this entry retains its sense of humor. A special feature article I really enjoyed is a thirteen page, thoroughly annotated and illustrated glossary of actors Hollywood and international that made their living because of their ‘unusual’ looks. The rogue’s gallery begins with acromegalians like Rondo Hatton, but moves on to include giants, wrestlers, tall guys, boxers, ‘awesome brutes,’ just-plain ugly mugs — plus some actors that played acromegaly victims in makeup. It’s like a Hollywood Actors Directory for big brute guys, and it’s fascinating. At some point or another each must have hummed the lyrics of ‘Hooray for Hollywood:’ “I’ll try my luck / I could be Donald Duck!”

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday July 23, 2019

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Weird Science 07/23/19

Arrow Video
Blu-ray

Woo Hoo! We’re girl-starved teen nerds, and we’re cooking up our own living sex toy with our home computers!   John Hughes turns an infantile idea into one of his not-bad teen angst comedies, as Kelly LeBrock materializes to fulfill their wildest dreams. The idea is of course transformed into a basically benign coming-of age story … with the underlying message that we’d not all mind having Ms. LeBrock reformat our hard drive. It all begins as a bad arrested-development joke, but Hughes’ audaciousness and fine production values make this a nostalgic favorite for folk that miss their (ugh) 1980s memories. Anthony Michael Hall and Bill Paxton are standouts. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
07/23/19

Pin Up Girl 07/23/19

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Most of us know Betty Grable from the famous pin-up copied by the cover artwork for this release; by 1944 Ms. Grable was Fox’s biggest earner, and the Armed Force’s most popular daydream babe both back home and at the front. This movie pulled in the multitudes, even though Betty doesn’t even play a model suitable for pin-up duty!  But just imagine: in almost any town during wartime with a war industry somewhere nearby, movie theaters played around the clock, with sold-out audiences, to accommodate swing shift defense workers. With Martha Raye and Joe E. Brown. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
07/23/19

CineSavant Column

Tuesday July 23, 2019

Hello!

From Comic-Con, Scream Factory has reported a list of new horror/fantasy/sci-fi pictures coming up on their slate. They’re all but finished with the run of available Universal hits of the 1950s, assuming they don’t spring for the barrel-bottom likes of Curucu, Beast of the Amazon. The one item that jumps out is Val Guest & Nigel Kneale’s superior Hammer film The Abominable Snowman. Trailers from Hell was just celebrating Val Guest, with Joe Dante commenting on Abominable. I’m directing anybody in charge of the project to remember that one existing Blu-ray for the movie is missing part of a scene — as described in the 2015 CineSavant article CineSavant’s Guide To The New Wave Of Classic Hammer Blu-Rays. You’d be surprised by the kinds of slip-ups that occur, and not just because somebody calls out the wrong vault master to be authored for disc. An important release of this summer could have used some more timely film-source information.

And Gary Teetzel tells me that VCI is promising, for November, a Blu-ray of the 1939 Universal serial The Phantom Creeps, starring Bela Lugosi. We’re hoping for high image quality, because the the word is that previous Public Domain copies looked pretty sad. VCI’s scan is said to come from a 35mm fine grain duping element. I’ve only seen still of the odd-looking monster (a robot?) in old issues of Famous Monsters; to me it always looked like a parody of a Witch Doctor mask. Maybe it will look better in motion.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday July 20, 2019

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