APES ON FILM: Mars Ain’t the Kinda Place…

Posted on: Jan 24th, 2023 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

EYES OF LAURA MARS – 1978
2 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Faye Dunaway , Tommy Lee Jones , Brad Dourif , Rene Auberjonois , Raul Julia
Director: Irvin Kershner
Rated: R
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: Free
BRD Release Date: October 18, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 103 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

With a screenplay by John Carpenter and David Zelag Goodman  and a cast featuring one recent and one future Academy Award™ winner as well as several multiple-time nominees, EYES OF LAURA MARS should be a classic of the thriller genre, a notable pin on the map of suspense films. So why isn’t it? Producer Jon Peters and director Irvin Kershner. This is a film made by a hairdresser with a big-shot girlfriend and his yes man, and it shows.

Which is not to say that either of them never improved or did better work; on the contrary. Peters went on to produce many great films, and Kershner went on to direct better films. Eyes was Peters’ second film as producer, after mega-hit A STAR IS BORN (1976), so he might be forgiven a bit of brash egotism after being given carte blanche by the studio for his next effort. As he matured into the role of executive producer, his work improved and includes AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), RAIN MAN (1988), and BATMAN (1989). Kershner was at the beginning of a string of films for which he was hired specifically for his reputation for pliability and his willingness to let strong-willed producers take the reins. His follow-ups for this picture were STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for George Lucas and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN for Kevin McClory. He spent the final years of his career directing television and the lackluster ROBOCOP 2 (1990).

The duo’s faults are evident in self-indulgent story choices, stilted performances from a stellar cast, ham-fisted attempts at creating suspense, endless exposition scenes, and a hand-wave of a plot device – Mars “sees” murders of her friends and colleagues through the eyes of the killer, psychically – that’s never questioned nor explained. I’m certain the screenplay was a taut thriller and it might have been done justice by a more experienced producer and a director like Brian De Palma, at the height of his powers in 1978. As it stands, what we get is a soggy mess of a disco era mystery that mystifies the viewer, with protagonists who are far less interesting than the supporting characters. The most watchable and entertaining people in the film are Rene Auberjonois as Mars’ manager Donald, and Darlanne Fluegel  as doomed model Lulu. The photographic tableaus by Helmut Newton are dazzling as well.

Kino Lorber’s presentation of the movie on Blu-ray seems a bit of shovel-ware, to be honest. Sourced from an existing master that’s been released twice already by competitors, the picture has some issues with color and contrast balance, especially in darker scenes. Film grain bloom is distractingly evident. The single audio track is quite good, and in fact seems better than the one included on the disc released by Mill Creek Entertainment in 2019. Though listed as a “Special Edition” on the Kino website, the only special features on this single disc are a legacy commentary by Kershner (natch, as he passed away in 2010), a making-of featurette from 1978, a featurette with commentary on the photographs in the film, and trailers. Not a very special edition at all.

EYES OF LAURA MARS has a pedigree that should have delivered a better viewing experience, and Kino Lorber has a reputation for releasing better product than this. It’s hard not to be disappointed on all levels by this presentation. Give it a pass.

 

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

 

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Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: KARLOFF — The Quiet Maniac

Posted on: Jan 3rd, 2023 By:

By Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

MANIACAL MAYHEM: THE INVISIBLE RAY, BLACK FRIDAY, and THE STRANGE DOOR — 1936, 1940, 1951
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Stanley Ridges, Anne Nagel, Charles Laughton, Richard Stapley, Sally Forrest
Director: Lambert Hillyer, Arthur Lubin, Joseph Pevney
Rated: PG
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: October 17, 2022
Audio Formats: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 230 minutes total
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Anytime the name Karloff is blasted across a film’s title card in big, scary letters, audiences can pretty much count on a degree of the macabre to grace their forthcoming entertainment.

“Karloff” is such a fitting name to correlate with horror, it seems strange that it was devised before the fame of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN came to Boris Karloff. If it weren’t for the name belonging to the actor, “Karloff” could very well be its own title for a horror film; in fact, it is sometimes seen before or bigger than the titles of the films it’s featured in. The name evokes the exotic and mysterious, and is strange enough to warn viewers that they’re not in Kansas anymore. The name so easily rolls off the tongue that it seems a miracle of marketing; a perfect conceit designed to transmit its associations exactly.

William Henry Pratt chose the Boris Karloff pseudonym at the beginning of his acting career with the very intent to assert an exotic sensibility. The name Karloff is said to be derived from the Pratt family’s Slavic roots; however, this is just one of many theories regarding the moniker. At any rate, “Karloff” was good enough for Universal to bill the actor for several years so garishly. The final instance of Karloff’s singular label occurred in 1936 with the movie THE INVISIBLE RAY, which is the first of three Boris Karloff films in Eureka Entertainment’s new MANIACAL MAYHEM collection.

[Invisible Ray]

THE INVISIBLE RAY is the textbook mad scientist tale of Dr. Janos Rukh who is intent on harnessing the power of an ancient element known as Radium X. Rukh invites a group of colleagues to his gothic laboratory, and using a powerful telescope and the ancient light rays of the Andromeda galaxy, demonstrates that Radium X exists in the form of a meteorite that crashed in southern Africa millions of years ago. There are probably less convoluted ways to go about discovering an ancient radioactive element, but where’s the fun in that?

Once Rukh is able to exploit the power of Radium X, he’s not only melting rocks and scaring the local natives, but he’s also glowing in the dark and losing his temper. Rukh’s precarious condition becomes compounded by a little IP infringement and good-natured infidelity, sending him into a murderous mindset. Upon pursuing his colleagues to a conference in Paris, the maddened doctor becomes hellbent to use his rock-melting ray gun to dispatch the expedition team that did him so wrong.

As if “Karloff” alone wasn’t enough to get asses into seats, Universal doubles down in THE INVISIBLE RAY and casts Bela Lugosi as Rukh’s contemporary, Dr. Benet. Playing against type, Lugosi’s Benet is cool and collected and only wants to help his comrade. Benet is one of Lugosi’s most reserved and mature performance, demonstrating what he could be capable of aside from the usual demented heavies and crazed monsters. And despite being equipped with the kitschy traits of a Batman villain, Karloff never takes his performance over the top, but does convey an elevated sense of the maniacal. He’s frantic and harried, but never as nutty as rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the next step of his scheme. Rukh comes across more troubled than downright evil.

[The Invisible Ray]

With more plot than the story needs, THE INVISIBLE RAY is a brisk account of too much science in the hands of an emotionally driven individual, which is usually bad for characters but great for entertaining. And showcasing just the right amount of weirdness with impressive special effects, this Karloff vehicle is a thrilling entry in Eureka’s MANIACAL MAYHEM collection.

The title BLACK FRIDAY may evoke some sort of interstitial holiday-themed horror about a bloodthirsty mob of Christmas shoppers. Instead, the 1940 film is a switcheroo tale that has little to do with the penultimate weekday aside from an unfortunate accident involving a carload of gangsters and a literature professor occurring on a Friday the 13th.

Karloff is Dr. Ernest Sovac, seen at the very beginning of the movie being escorted to his execution. On his way to the chair, Sovac shares his final notes with a newspaper reporter, retrospectively permitting the audience to learn how the good doctor arrived at this mortal predicament.

Essentially told in flashback, BLACK FRIDAY is more a story about Sovac’s colleague than Sovac himself. The doctor’s journal reveals the tale of how his friend, literature professor George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges) suffers severe brain injuries after being on the business end of a carload of gangsters

in hot pursuit of rival thug Red Cannon (also Stanley Ridges). Cannon and Kingsley are both injured in the accident, and Sovac being the doctor on scene, tends to the two men.

Once Sovac learns that Cannon is privy to a hidden pile of cash to the tune of five-hundred thousand bucks, the doctor starts daydreaming about the kind of laboratory that amount of money could buy. This, of course, steers Sovac into concocting a little surgery, transplanting the good parts of Cannon’s brain into the dying parts of his friend Kingsley’s in hopes that the mixing of minds will reveal the location of the gangster’s secret stash.

Sovac’s procedure saves Kingsley’s life, but before long, the dweeby, good-natured professor begins to exhibit unsavory proclivities. Sovac gets more than he bargained for as Cannon’s personality sporadically takes over Kingsley and sets about exacting revenge on the group of gangsters that ran him down. From this point on, Sovac is not only desperate to achieve his original motives, but he’s at the mercy of a gangster gone wild. And much like Dr. Frankenstein, Sovac has created a monster.

[Black Friday]

Karloff basically plays second fiddle to Ridges for the rest of the film, which unfolds like a Jekyll and Hyde story. There’s hardly any redeemable characters, especially since Karloff’s motives are so misguided to begin with. He doesn’t perform crazy experimental brain surgery to save his friend, he does it in hopes to uncover a gangster’s ill-gotten gains. What’s more, is Sovac had to anticipate some degree of identity crisis in order to learn where Cannon hid his money. This puts Sovac in an even more diabolical role for risking his friend’s mental state. Yet, somehow, the film seems to want to audience to sympathize with Sovac. Sure, he’s in a mess, but it’s a mess of his own making under the guise of a really troubling rationale.

BLACK FRIDAY pairs Karloff with Bela Lugosi in the credits once again. This time, Lugosi is one of Cannon’s adversaries and never really engages Karloff in the sense audiences might expect. The role of Sovac was originally written for Lugosi, but Karloff showed interest, so the part went to him instead. Lugosi, however, may have been better suited as Sovac considering the scheming nature of the part. Lugosi’s Marnay is a pretty stale character, and doesn’t demonstrate the actor’s strengths. Lugosi is fine in the role, but any actor would have been just as suited for it.

BLACK FRIDAY is another example of science gone mad; however, the film doesn’t know quite know what it wants from its audience. It’s easy to sympathize with poor professor Kingsley who never asks for anything that happens to him. Meanwhile, Karloff’s reserved disposition doesn’t villainize him, yet his dubious motives are the driving force of conflict in the film. And while Karloff and Lugosi may be enough to get the audience’s attention, it’s Stanley Ridges’ cracking performance as he darts between the mild-mannered Kingsley and the disreputable Cannon that viewers won’t want to miss.

The third and final film in Eureka’s collection is the 1951 gothic period thriller THE STRANGE DOOR. Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story “The Sire de Maletroit’s Door,” Universal’s adaptation stars Karloff in a supporting role next to the scene-devouring Charles Laughton who portrays the film’s heavy.

[The Strange Door]

In yet another story of elaborate revenge, Sire Alain de Maletroit (Laughton) entraps local high-born scoundrel Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley) in a barroom brawl that stages him as a murderer. Beaulieu makes a break for it, and in his escape from the pursuant mob, he happens across the de Maletroit estate secured by its “strange door.” Beaulieu finds more than the refuge he bargained for inside, falling right into de Maletroit’s trap.

In the spirit of big gestures, it’s revealed that Alain’s snare is part of a much larger, longer grudge against his brother Edmond (Paul Cavanaugh) who he’s secretly locked up in a dungeon for the past 20 years. The duplicitous Alain intends to force his niece Blanche (Sally Forrest) into marrying de Beaulieu as an insult to her father Edmond, with the underhanded arrangement of holding the couple prisoner on the de Maletroit estate. This is all part of Alain’s over-baked revenge directed at Edmond for marrying his unrequited love who died giving birth to Blanche. It’s a lot to process.

Karloff plays the family servant Voltan, who spends most of his time tending to Edmond and sneaking around the mansion peeping through holes in the walls. At one point, Edmond asks Voltan to kill de Beaulieu, but de Beaulieu isn’t quite the scum everyone thinks he is, and he and Blanche eventually fall in love causing big problems for Alain’s once air-tight plans for vengeance.

THE STRANGE DOOR is a wonderful show of excess on several fronts, with a scene-chewing Charles Laughton leading the way. Laughton picks this film up and runs away with it; it’s a shame he didn’t have a mustache to twirl to make him all the more devious. From sets and costumes to Laughton and his band of bloused bullies and their meticulous scheming, this movie is a delightful cartoony extravagance that will give viewers a heart-racing case of the wim-wams in its final anxiety-inducing moments.

Eureka Entertainment presents these three Universal horrors in high-definition as an exciting two-disc, Blu-ray set, packaged in a limited-edition slipcase. Special features include three chatty and insightful commentaries from film historians Stephen Jones, Kevin Lyons, Kim Newman, and Jonathan Rigby, along with three radio adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Sire de Maletroit’s Door.” A limited-edition booklet with new essays from film writers Andrew Graves, Rich Johnson, and Craig Ian Mann is also included in the first 2000 copies.

Invisible rays, a gangster with two brains, and a ruthless patriarch, MANIACAL MAYHEM never falls short of deranged individuals making everyone’s life a living hell, yet Karloff’s performances throughout evoke a quieter madness: something more troubling that greed or revenge. These films boast Karloff’s subtle abilities as a performer, oddly with roles that are seemingly more fit for an over-the-top talent. This Eureka collection offers a revelation of Karloff as he taps into the internal, tortured aspects of these disturbed characters, and conveys the unspoken human elements of maniacal movie monsters.

 

 

 

When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.Related: slDxB, voPT, EeQV, mFVBRj, sfu, tBFB, wgoBd, xLyb, wOXiYk, tMsV, HTHQv, jdl, ZvmSP, RZm, fTiG,

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APES ON FILM: [DOUBLE-FEATURE] – Good Guys -AND- Vampires Wear Black

Posted on: Dec 28th, 2022 By:

By Contributing Writers
John Michlig and Anthony Taylor

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (SPECIAL EDITION) – 1978
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Chuck Norris, Anne Archer, James Franciscus, Dana Andrews, Lloyd Haynes
Director: Ted Post
Rated: PG
Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Region: A (Locked)
BRD Release Date: August 20, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 95 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

There are a certain set of expectations when cueing up a Chuck Norris film that GOOD GUYS WHERE BLACK does not live up to, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Norris’s role in GOOD GUYS WHERE BLACK is the debut of the persona he would eventually make famous. His previous film and debut as star was 1977’s BREAKER! BREAKER!, which was not at all in the vein of the eventual stoic martial-arts-hero-doing-helicopter-kicks character he would portray for the balance of his career. However, one of the reasons this film is genuinely entertaining is the fact that Norris hasn’t yet latched onto the simpler “fighting fury” cartoon his subsequent roles encompassed.

After an intriguingly long and eerie opening credits sequence (the ’78 version of “hi-tech visuals”–and all that implies – accompanied by a soundtrack that still haunts me) the film opens in Vietnam, circa 1973, where we meet a wise-cracking dressed-in-black special ops crew – the Black Tigers – and get to know them well enough to be deeply disturbed when we witness a POW rescue attempt gone wrong (and, as made clear on the 2K Master, very obviously shot day for night ). Also disturbing is Chuck Norris, who portrays Major John T. Booker, parading around without his signature mustache or beard.

After that tragic sequence of events (the failed rescue, not the facially bald Chuck visage), we fast-forward to 1978, where we see Booker racing cars. From the track, he goes directly to a small classroom where he is a professor teaching a class on the Vietnam war.

See what they did there? Our guy is an intellectual, sure – but he also races cars, so we know he hasn’t shed his adventurous side and gone all egghead. That’s not all; Professor Booker is openly critical of the Vietnam war and America’s role in the conflict, which is pretty darn forward-looking for a late-seventies adventure flick.

He meets Margaret (Anne Archer), who stays behind after his lecture and says she is a reporter digging up information on his unit’s failed raid in ‘Nam and possible government complicity in the disaster. At the very same time, it appears that members of Booker’s Black Tigers team are being eliminated one by one. As per adventure film guidelines, Booker “gets with” Margaret, culminating in a truly rare – but entirely period-accurate – shot of Norris in “tighty whities.” Their coupling is not entirely arbitrary however, as it provides an opportunity to show Booker enduring night sweats as he relives wartime nightmares.

GOOD GUYS WHERE BLACK is Norris’s breakout film, but it’s surprisingly – and refreshingly – free of the action-drenched, by-the-numbers formula that made up his subsequent films. This may be attributed to the direction by Ted Post, who helmed HANG ‘EM HIGH, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, MAGNUM FORCE, GO TELL THE SPARTANS, and NIGHTKILL.

After the opening Vietnam sequence, the film becomes more political thriller than the patented Norris martial arts blur of combat that became his trademark (James Franciscus is a perfect smarmy politician). Good Guys is a film that Norris constructed and pitched, not a vehicle he merely climbed aboard. We get a peek at some elements of the Norris-to-be, particularly when he watches a plane, in which newfound bedmate Margaret is a passenger, vaporize soon after takeoff, and we never hear her mentioned again in the film.

The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray presentation includes energetic and genuinely entertaining commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, a “making of” featurette, an interview (curiously unedited) with director Ted Post, radio and TV promotional material, and theatrical trailers.

Revisiting this film for the first time in many years was a real pleasure, and it’s highly recommended for both Norris fans and action/thriller lovers. Get to the chopper!

John Michlig

 

 

MARK OF THE VAMPIRE – 1935
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Jean Hersholt, Carroll Borland
Director: Tod Browning
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Brothers Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: October 11, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 60 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

A remake of director Browning’s most infamous lost film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE lands wide of the mark, missing the bullseye by a fairly wide margin while remaining a stimulating viewing experience.

Though Lionel Barrymore (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, KEY LARGO) is ostensibly the star of the picture, the real attraction for modern viewers is the tantalizing glimpse of what LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT might have offered, as well as Lugosi’s first revisit of Dracula under the guise of Count Mora. Also of note is the introduction of Carroll Borland as Mora’s daughter Luna, who provides the original visual pattern for multiple generations of Goth girls – inspiring not only Charles Addams’s Morticia and Wednesday Addams, but Lily Munster and the likes of television horror hosts Vampira and Elvira as well.

In 1927’s silent LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, Lon Chaney played three different parts, as assayed in this film by Barrymore, Atwill, and Lugosi – much more a tour de force performance one would assume without being able to actually see the film, which was by many reports no more successful creatively than this talkie remake. Lugosi would go on to play similar vampire roles in THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, MOTHER RILEY MEETS THE VAMPIRE, and finally returned to the role that made him world famous as Dracula in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in 1948. What sets this film apart is the feeling that Lugosi – having been a major horror film star for four years at this point – is letting it all hang out as Count Mora, playing the role of Dracula as he would like to have played him 1931. More toothy, less verbose (he has almost no dialog whatsoever), and really leaning into the campiness of the stereotype he provided in Dracula. This performance almost plays as a parody of Count Dracula, and it’s enjoyable because he was embracing his destiny to be the go-to visual for vampires in media for time immemorial. Likewise, amateur actor Borland is really only in the film as set dressing, but she is unforgettable and iconic as the vampire girl Luna. In two possible cinematic firsts, she provides a performance embracing female-on-female vampire activity as well as the first recoil and hostile hiss by a vampire – something that has become de rigueur for night walkers when faced by a cross or holy water in subsequent genre films.

Where MARK OF THE VAMPIRE fails is at a story level. The convoluted screenplay produced an original edit of the film that ran twenty minutes longer than the version released to theaters, which hints at a lot of subplots and scenes that were ultimately deemed superfluous by the studio. Whether they might have made the farfetched plot more palatable is hard to say – as it stands, the plot isn’t difficult to follow, but it’s not even remotely realistic – but should that matter in a film about “vampires” that looks this gorgeous? Art direction and set design far surpass that of Universal’s DRACULA, with MGM a latecomer to the horror film, throwing money at the latest box-office-darling genre. Cinematography by L. William O’Connell and John Stumar set the mood well, and acquit the story with appropriate gothic panache.

Warner Brothers Archive Collections presentation of the film was sourced from a new 4K scan from the original nitrate negative, and the results are impressive. Picture density, film grain, detail, and contrast are all the best I’ve ever seen for this title, and absolutely worth the purchase price. Supplemental features include a legacy commentary by author/critic Kim Newman (Anno Dracula) and writer/editor Stephen Jones is entertaining and informing, as it’s more of a conversation between two film loving friends than dry historical annotation. Also included are “A Thrill for Thelma” – a 1935 featurette unrelated to the film, as well as a Harmon-Ising cartoon, The Calico Dragon and the film’s original trailer. Only the feature is in HD.

Though the production history and performers and creators of this film are of more interest than the film itself, I still recommend grabbing a copy. For a film with this much historical significance to Lugosi/Browning completists as well as vampire lovers, this disc is worth picking up.

Anthony Taylor

 

*Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

*When he’s not hanging around the top of the Empire State Building, John Michlig spends his time writing books like It Came from Bob’s Basement, KONG: King Of Skull Island, and GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action. Read more at The Fully Articulated Newsletter and The Denham Restoration Project.

 

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Blonde On Blonde On Blonde — Desire, Identity, and Sacrifice in DRESSED TO KILL

Posted on: Dec 13th, 2022 By:

By Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

DRESSED TO KILL – 1980
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen, and Keith Gordon
Director: Brian De Palma
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: 4K UHD Blu-Ray and 2K Blu-ray, Region Free
BRD Release Date: October 25, 2022
Audio Formats: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono and 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265 (70.00 Mbps)
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Run Time: 104 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

The lament of the sexually frustrated housewife gets everyone rooting for adultery. It’s never not a shame to see a beautiful woman carnally neglected or subject to something as mundane as “married sex,” or in the case of Angie Dickinson’s Kate Miller, obligatory sex. But where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s a sexually frustrated housewife, there’s a split diopter and a cross-dressing maniac with a straight razor, eventually making us all complicit to murder. Brian De Palma spells out the consequences of this particular instance of infidelity in his 1980 thriller DRESSED TO KILL.

Kate Miller has needs just like everyone else, the extent of which is luridly expressed in the film’s opening scene as her fantasy of being violently ravaged in the shower unfolds before revealing a two-pump chump reality. Kate is not a satisfied woman. That’s not to say her husband isn’t a good-looking man. He’s quite handsome, but he’s not a guy who’s really into “needs.”

It’s no surprise that Kate 1) sees a therapist who very openly, yet somehow very professionally, confesses that he’d like to sleep with her, and 2) that she’s willing to side-step a few Commandments when Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome takes a seat next to her at the art museum.

In what amounts to a horny game of cat-and-mouse, Kate and her handsome stranger pursue each other through the labyrinthine museum, culminating in a sultry cab ride that puts Kate in Mr. Handsome’s bed without her panties. Mr. Handsome’s name is Warren Lockman (Ken Baker), and at least part of Kate’s apprehensions are realized when she discovers Mr. Lockman has a venereal disease after pilfering the man’s desk drawer while he sleeps. This is only the beginning of a fatal exacting of Murphy’s Law for poor Kate.

Her walk of shame is interrupted when she goes back to retrieve her wedding ring from Lockman’s apartment. At this point Kate is feeling pretty low; she’s going to be late getting home, she’s cheated on her husband, and she may have a gnarly venereal disease pulsing through her veins. Things couldn’t get much worse—that is until she winds up on the business end of a straight razor at the hands of a strange blonde woman in sunglasses in a near verbatim remake of the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO.

Witness to Kate’s murder is hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Liz Blake (Nancy Allen). Liz is mid-escort when the murder occurs, which sends her client running. During the fracas, Liz catches a glimpse of the killer, immediately conscripting herself into the role amateur detective and dramatically changing the film’s tone from sordid romance on the down-low to a bona fide murder mystery of the giallo variety. From this point forward it’s Liz’s movie as she teams up with Kate’s nerdy teenage son Peter (Keith Gordon) to track down the mysterious blond-haired butcher, and tries not to get herself killed or arrested in the process.

The problem with the traditional murder mystery is there’s only so many people who can be the killer. Anyone with half a brain and an astute sense of empathy and narrative can pin down whodunit with relatively little difficulty. This is one instance where the saying “Italians do it better” rings true. The typical Italian giallo film will have audiences guessing to the very end with any number of red herrings at varying degrees of coherency along the way. And usually, it’s not the person you least expect, rather, it’s the person you least, least expect, like the paraplegic who’s been laid up in a bed the entire movie.

Once it’s revealed that Kate is in danger as she leaves the museum, De Palma mostly ditches the Hitchcock vibe he was working with and leans more into the giallo aesthetic. All the right pieces are there: a black-gloved hand, a weird cutting tool, a pretty blonde, and a bad disguise. Narratively, however, the director plays it safe and sticks to a pretty standard murder thriller.

This movie in any other director’s hands would be dangerously close to coming across like a made-for-TV film (not that there’s anything wrong with that). DRESSED TO KILL isn’t really about being a murder mystery, though; it’s about the thrill of a murder mystery, the shock of revelation, and the vicarious event of watching other people endure terror. It is an experience, and conclusively, it’s an opportunity for De Palma to play around in that old Hitchcock sandbox and lay down some of the distinct visual style for which he’s known.

De Palma’s critics corner him as misogynistic for his treatment of women in his films. DRESSED TO KILL, in particular, is an example of implicating a woman in a dangerous situation where arguably her own decisions lead to her death. What’s really happening in this film is more along the lines of satire. At face value, sure, Kate Miller does bad things, and as a result, bad things happen to her; but what about the bad things Kate’s husband is guilty of? If only he were more attentive in the way Kate needed him to be, she wouldn’t be compelled to do the bad things that get her killed. The lack of attention from Kate’s husband empowers her to go find what she feels she deserves.

Furthermore, if there were any doubt about De Palma’s intentions, one needs to look no further than the occupation of Liz Blake, who could have been a schoolteacher or a bank teller, but in a story where a woman searching for sex is murdered, what better hero than a sex worker? How appropriate that Kate’s husband is exactly the type of man with which Liz so often works. And while Kate’s husband isn’t interested in the needs of his sexual partner, Liz reciprocates this particular theme as someone who is only interested in the needs of her sexual partners. Liz, the expert on the needs of others, becomes empowered to find Kate’s killer. Liz, the sex worker — not the schoolteacher or the bank teller — is a hero. Liz’s role is emphasized in the final moments of the film that finds her waking in terror in the very bed in which Kate was having all that unsatisfying sex. Kate’s marital bed — curiously missing Kate’s husband, but involving Peter as a comfort to Liz—represents the thematic stakes of the movie. The prostitute is the sacrificial lamb of chilly sex, making Liz not only the hero of the film, but the Patron Saint of passion.

The killer’s confused sexual identity certainly adds to the film’s sexually charged dynamic, but seems to be employed mostly as a red herring device. Kate’s murderer is driven by the male side of jealously, but acts as a female. It seems that a true case of sexual identity crisis would work better if the killer were a woman killing as a man. In the case of what occurs, the psychological implications lean more into a dual identity disorder. The killer’s motivation and identity crisis are particularly interesting because the script for this film was originally written for CRUISING (1980) until that project went to William Friedkin. De Palma repurposed the script into DRESSED TO KILL.

DRESSED TO KILL is presented in Ultra High Definition on 4K UHD disc by Kino Lorber. New and legacy supplementary features, including multiple interviews and documentaries, are featured on a bonus Blu-ray disc. The UHD disc also contains a new commentary by film critic and author Maitland McDonagh.

Brian De Palma is eager to let audiences know what a Hitchcock fan he is, almost to the point of overdoing it. DRESSED TO KILL is textbook De Palma and holds up as one of the director’s best films. Here, De Palma isn’t interested in satisfying anyone’s need to solve a murder so much as he’s looking to thrill with good old-fashioned sex and violence with a troubling twist that’ll have you hankerin’ for a stick of Doublemint gum.

 

 

When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

 Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: It Never Pours, But It RAINS!

Posted on: Nov 29th, 2022 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (Il Pianeta Degli Uomini Spenti) – 1961
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Claude Rains , Bill Carter , Umberto Orsini , Maya Brent
Director: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony Dawson)
Rated: Unrated
Studio: The Film Detective
Region: A
BRD Release Date: August 9, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 16-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (29.28 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 84 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Antonio Margheriti worked as a model maker and special effects artist while making the transition to Director, and his talent for creating dynamic space battles is on display in BATTLE OF THE WORLDS. In his second outing in the big chair, Margheriti delivers a film high on concept but low on coherent storytelling; his directing skills were still being honed, and it shows. With a penchant for working with maquette and models, his lack of experience with actors is obvious – especially in relation to his star, Claude Rains.

Rains had recently starred as Prof. Challenger in Irwin Allen‘s production of  THE LOST WORLD, but was nearing the end of his career. An over-the-top personality, Rains was set loose on a cast of Italian actors and English-speaking bit players and literally chews them up and spits them out all over the screen. It’s like watching a lawnmower approaching a litter of puppies in some scenes. Both director and actor had brighter days ahead; Rains was yet to appear in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and Margheriti had better fish to fry in films like THE WILD, WILD PLANET, TAKE A HARD RIDE, and WEB OF THE SPIDER, just to name a few.

The “Outsider,” an interstellar satellite on a collision course with Earth, proves to be a planetoid-sized mothership filled with hostile flying saucers bent on destroying our defense forces so that the alien controllers can colonize our planet. Dr. Benson (Rains) has plans to stop them, but will only share them if he is given complete control of the task force charged with combatting the invasion. It’s all highly melodramatic and the conclusion is a bit disappointing to all involved, but there are definitely entertaining moments in the film. The art direction by Umberta Cesarano —on a shoestring budget— is colorful and appealing, as might be expected in an Italian sci-fi film of the era. Music by Mario Migliardi  is atonal and unsettling, which works some of the time and annoys just as often.

The Film Detective’s presentation of the film is a definite improvement in terms of picture and sound quality than previous releases, but is problematic on other fronts. Approximately nine minutes that was included in a previous DVD release from Reel Vault seems to be missing and, to be honest, this Blu-ray is rife with jump cuts throughout. Though created from a new 4K scan of the source material, the source was a 35mm print that itself needed restoration, though provided the best quality elements that could be found. Though the packaging claims it is “newly restored”, there are numerous analog artifacts present from the original source. I suspect that The Film Detective did in fact do some audio restoration to smooth the dialog during the jump cuts, and possibly ran the new master through several A.I. filters for stabilization purposes.

While I do understand their dilemma regarding a full restoration- which should include new color timing to correct a visible red shift due to the source print’s Eastman-color film stock, as well as a total audio remix – is there enough of an audience for this film to make the cost of restoration commercially viable? It’s hard to say. Should the film be preserved? Absolutely. But as a less than classic offering in the genre, does it warrant a stem-to-stern restoration? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

The disc also includes a new featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, “A Cinematic Outsider: The Fantastical Worlds of Antonio Margheriti” (HD; 30:38) with historian and critic Tim Lucas discussing the director’s oeuvre, as well as a new feature length commentary from author Justin Humphreys. Both are well put together and informative, and worth viewing.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

 

 Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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APES ON FILM: Meek Are the Children in ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

Posted on: Nov 2nd, 2022 By:

By Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS – 1964
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Celia Kaye, George Kennedy, Carlos Romero, Larry Domasin, and Junior
Director: James B. Clark
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Kino Lorber & Scorpion Releasing
Region: 2K Blu-Ray, Region A
BRD Release Date: October 18, 2022
Audio Formats: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1
Run Time: 93 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Ask any kid in a Steven Spielberg movie and they will tell you that grown-ups are terrible people. But long before Spielberg was torturing children with dinosaurs, aliens, ghosts, and death, movies like ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS were around to introduce kids to the very grown-up institution of suffering at an early age.

Based on author Scott O’Dell’s young adult novel, which is based on a true story, the film tells the account of Karana (Celia Kaye), a young Native American girl living alone on San Nicholas Island off the coast of California, it doesn’t seem so horrible at the outset. In fact, the Chumash tribe as portrayed in James B. Clark’s (FLIPPER,MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN) 1964 film live a rather idyllic existence on the California Channel Islands. That is until the day a white sea captain (George Kennedy) and a group of Aleut natives swing by to round up a few otter skins and renege on the promise to exchange the otter hunt for iron knives and harpoons. Instead, Chief Chowig (Carlos Romero) — Karana’s father — takes a couple of fatal rounds to the chest, eventually forcing the tribe to seek refuge on the mainland with a group of Spanish missionaries. In a rush to escape the island, Karana’s brother Ramo (Larry Domasin) is left behind. Being the only family Ramo has left, Karana swims back to the island to be with him.

In the spirit of suffering, things do not get easier for Karana as the story progresses, and she continues to endure one hardship after another. Considering the limited population on the island after her tribe leaves, it’s easy to deduce that Ramo’s fate is sealed early in the film. Viewers needn’t sweat these early plot twists; the movie isn’t as concerned with storytelling mechanics so much as it is with character development and Karana’s singular journey.

At the heart of the film is Karana’s relationship with the Aleut dog that’s left behind. Karana’s kinship with the dog she calls Rontu (Junior) — meaning “fox eyes” — is rather ironic, and becomes a comment on grief, forgiveness, compassion, and ultimately companionship. While most audiences will grapple with how to reconcile their feelings for Rontu considering his alliance with the wild dogs on the island and ultimately his fatal attack on Ramo, Karana becomes the example of benevolence out of simple kindness or loneliness, or little of both. Karana does reluctantly attempt to kill Rontu out of revenge at first, but the dog survives and then never leaves her side, forging a nearly inseparable bond between the two. Later in the film, Rontu disappears for a time leaving Karana alone to build arguably less meaningful relationships with other animals. Between his attack on Ramo and his penchant for disappearing, it can be a bit difficult for the audience to have a consistent fondness for Rontu. When Rontu eventually passes (we all saw it coming, right?) our hearts break for Karana’s loss and not necessarily for Rontu.

Unlike the adults in the film, Karana’s motivation is frequently driven by compassion. It’s Karana who goes back to be with her stranded brother, not the grown-ups. Karana forgives Rontu for killing Ramo. Karana pardons the Aleuts enough to make friends with one of their own when they return for more otters. Karana’s isolation gives her the freedom to make any choice she wants, and at every turn she chooses empathy and kindness. Meanwhile, the adults in the film routinely choose greed, betrayal, and cowardice.

Celia Kaye — the future ex-Mrs. John Milius — is simply adorable as the lovable Karana. Her spirited performance not only exhibits her resilience during the tough times, but guides the viewer’s emotions through the struggles of her lonesome existence.

Audiences familiar with Hollywood dog pedigrees may recognize Rontu’s (Junior) resemblance to his father Spike who famously portrayed the ill-fated OLD YELLER in the 1957 Disney film. Unlike Rontu’s fair-weather disposition, Junior never left Kaye’s side during the film’s production.

Very little is known about the real Lone Woman of San Nicholas Island, but most of what is known remains true for Clark’s adaptation of O’Dell’s novel. Eventually baptized as Juana Maria after she was brought to the mainland, the Lone Woman’s real name was never known. She belonged to the Nicoleño tribe who had inhabited the islands for 10,000 years, but were indeed forced to seek refuge when an opposing Alaskan tribe made their way down to California to hunt otters. Some accounts say Juana Maria had a son who eventually died, while most contend that she was completely alone until discovered by a fur trapper in 1853. Maria was assumed to be around 50 years old at the time of her discovery and not one member of the Nicoleño tribe remained alive upon her arrival to the mainland.

In the film, Karana is eventually rescued by a group of missionaries. And while suffering is a mainstay throughout the movie, the story ends on a happy note of relief, leaving out the part where the real Juana Maria dies of dysentery seven weeks after her arrival to the mainland. Thankfully, the film doesn’t play out the theme of suffering to its fullest extent.

Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing present ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS in a vibrant 2K high-definition restoration on Blu-ray disc. The only feature to speak of is a fun collection of trailers for young adult movies of the era. And with a briskly paced 93-minute runtime, Karana’s life on film is a historical storybook tale suitable for the whole family.

Written by grown-ups, made by grown-ups, produced by grown-ups, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS presents a family-friendly version of a true tale that’s just troubling enough for children to consider things like death, betrayal, and loneliness as real constants that they must eventually face.

 

 

 

When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Aliens, Vampires, and Italians – Oh, My!

Posted on: Oct 18th, 2022 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES – 1965
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Ángel Aranda , Evi Marandi
Director: Mario Bava
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A (locked)
BRD Release Date: July 26, 2022
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 88 minutes
5 Disc Set
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Mario Bava is high in the pantheon of admired and revered film directors among film lovers, with good reason. He never failed to create an eminently watchable film, many of which were then copied incessantly by admirers and detractors alike. Starting his career as a cinematographer, Bava applied his unique vision as a colorist and scenarist to the kind of story material that appealed to him, most of which consisted of horror, science fiction, or fantasy. The list of directors and writers that he inspired is long and varied, but for the sake of this review, let’s confine that list to Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and Ridley Scott, the men behind ALIEN (1979).

The trio were heavily influenced by Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES in which; a spaceship (or two) responds to a distress signal from an uninhabited planet, descends to the surface to find an abandoned alien craft with giant skeletons (an idea Shusett admitted stealing from Bava) and crew members begin to die one by one. Scott denied ever seeing it at the time of ALIEN’s release, and O’Bannon admitted to only seeing part of it many years before writing his screenplay. Somehow, the film seeped into their collective groundwater, as did Edward L. Cahn‘s IT! THE TERROR BEYOND SPACE (1958), in which a malevolent alien stalks the inhabitants of a rocket in space, and several other sources including Clifford Simak’s story Junkyard,” published in the May 1953 edition of GALAXY Magazine.

Bava’s film is seminal and stylish, truly worth the watch whether you’ve seen it before or not. While Scott’s movie provides more character definition and development, Bava achieved incredible visuals without the use of a single optical process shot. All of the special effects were achieved in-camera, and the planetary landscapes and vast interior shots of the ships were achieved with the Schufftan process. The art direction and production design would go on to influence many movies and television programs, especially as U.S. broadcasting moved into the “…IN COLOR!” era. The film’s costumes, sets, and props show a consistence of style that was only equaled by directors like Hitchcock or John Ford at the time.

Kino Lorber’s presentation of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is sourced from an exclusive new 2K master. Color saturation is gratuitous – as it should be here – and picture sharpness is only slightly softer than would be my preference having seen the film on 35mm several times. The single audio track is perfectly adequate and recreates the eerie atmospheric sounds and music of Gino Marinuzzi Jr. (of which I wish there was more) well. Supplemental materials include an exclusive new audio commentary by writers Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw; an archival audio commentary by critic and Bava biographer Tim Lucas; episodes of Trailers From Hell with Joe Dante and Josh Olson; the original trailer for the film and more.

Planet of the Vampires should be an old favorite for just about anyone with an interest in science fiction, horror, or Italian movies. Bava’s resume is filled with fantastic films that should be on every cineaste’s list; this one is near the top of the heap for me, superseded by both earlier and later works. Add this disc to your collection without hesitation.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more.

 Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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APES ON FILM: Hold that Tiger!

Posted on: Oct 4th, 2022 By:

By Chris Herzog
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems, and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD – 1961
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring
: Gordon Scott, Yoko Tani, Hélène Chanel
Director
: Riccardo Freda
Rated
: No rating
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region
: A
BRD Release Date: 8-16-2022
Audio Formats: English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio:  Widescreen (2.35:1)
Run Time: 98/76 Min.
Click Here to Order

 

For decades, the Italian Sword-and-Sandal film (aka the “peplum”) has been an object of frequent ridicule, even among cult cinema afficionados. This is largely because these ‘60s epics have been primarily seen in edited, panned-and-scanned U.S. television cuts with washed out color, damaged prints, and of course, ridiculous dialogue dubbing choices. Such critical external faults can also make internal issues like phony-looking monsters all the more detrimental. Happily, the digital home video era has provided more opportunity to see such films as they were meant to be viewed, in nice looking prints with proper widescreen aspect ratios and sometimes even in the original Italian. While such upgrades don’t exactly cure all of the ills inherent in low-budget fantasy flicks cranked out by the dozen, they can reduce the giggle factor considerably.

This is the case with SAMSON AND THE 7 MIRACLES OF THE WORLD, a 1961 saga helmed by Riccardo Freda, one of Italy’s most highly regarded genre directors. Freda had already enjoyed a 20-year career as a writer/director when he made SAMSON, and would soon go on to direct such favorite gothic horrors as THE GHOST (1963) and THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK (1962) with Barbara Steele. Just a few months prior, he had completed work on GIANTS OF THESSALY (1960), widely considered a top-tier peplum. SAMSON is also one of his better efforts, as Kino Lorber’s nice looking new Blu-Ray makes abundantly clear.

Our hero for this one (called “Maciste” in the original Italian version) is played by stoic-and-shredded Gordon Scott, star of arguably the best cycle of TARZAN films after the Johnny Weismuller MGM run. In fact, Scott looks as if he just walked over from the TARZAN set, loincloth-and-all, playing essentially the same character. The biggest differences, really, are that this picture is set in ancient China and that SAMSON has a degree of super strength, at least enough to do things like pushing trees over, tossing boulders around, and showing teams of horses who’s boss. In fact, Samson’s unnatural strength appears to be just about the only truly fantastic element in the picture, which may disappoint those viewers (like me) who prefer a high monster quotient in their pepla. The more papier-mâché dragons and ragged ape suits, the better, as far as I’m concerned. The closest we get here, however, is a wrestling match with a tiger, played by a stuffed tiger in close-ups and an alarmingly drugged tiger in the long shots. Nevertheless, SAMSON proves to be an entertaining experience on its own terms, as a colorful, action-packed historical epic with a smattering of super heroics.

The plot here is the very familiar mixture of court intrigue, evil despots, and enslaved populations that we find in most examples of the genre. Less familiar is the medieval Chinese setting, although it’s well-mounted and could occasionally pass for something the Shaw Brothers cooked up. Samson comes to town to help get rid of the evil Mongol warlord who has usurped the throne, hopefully restoring the rightful royal family to power in the process. Along the way, he fights the above-mentioned tiger, survives the perils of the warlord’s arena, engages in multiple battles and bar fights, and helps foment a revolution. You know the drill. There’s nothing particularly original or surprising here, but there is plenty of spectacle. This one at least looks like it has a higher budget than the average Hercules/Maciste picture, and that’s all that counts. Freda and his colleagues knew how to put every lira of the production budget on the screen, and this film is a great case in point.

Kino’s transfer looks great, with the often-opulent art direction really popping when it needs to and more realistic imagery like surfaces and skin tones registering naturally for the most part. The film is presented in two versions, the 98-minute original Italian cut and the 76-minute AIP cut which was the version commonly seen in the United States. Note that both cuts feature only English-language soundtracks. The chief extra is a commentary track from film historian Tim Lucas which accompanies the AIP cut. Lucas, of course, is a world-class authority on Italian genre cinema, and the track provides a wealth of production information and analysis. It’s difficult to imagine how this commentary could be any better. A sampling of trailers for other fantasy films available from Kino is also included.

 

 

When he’s not casually shuffling across dry creek beds, Chris Herzog is a writer, researcher, and teacher. His film criticism can also be found in Screem magazine and back issues of the late, lamented Video WatcH*Dog.

 

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Art For Art’s Sake

Posted on: Sep 6th, 2022 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems, and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

Night Gallery Season 2 – 1971-’72
4.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Rod Serling, Leslie Nielsen, Vincent Price, Laurence Harvey, Patty Duke, Elsa Lanchester, Stuart Whitman, Jill Ireland, Bill Bixby, Richard Thomas, Lana Wood
Directors: John Badham, Jeannot Szwarc, Jeff Corey , Jack Laird, John Astin
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A (locked)
BRD Release Date: July 26, 2022
Audio Formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Run Time: 1164 minutes
5 Disc Set
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Silent Snow

Sigmund Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but then again sometimes it’s not. Sometimes a painting is just a pretty way to ornament one’s walls, but sometimes, as Rod Serling might say, “Each one captures on a canvas, suspended in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.” This was the premise of Serling’s second television series, Night Gallery.

The series began as a rotating segment in a wheel anthology series called FOUR IN ONE, with series mates McCloud, The Psychiatrist, and SFX (San Francisco International Airport). Only McCloud and Night Gallery made it to a second season, and Night Gallery became a weekly series under the supervision of producer Jack Laird and Serling. But in the case of this series, Laird was the creative show runner and Serling merely a staff writer and on-air host. As such, he had little control over the path the series took, and some of Laird’s choices didn’t sit well with the multiple Emmy winner.

Caterpillar

More a horror anthology than The Twilight Zone, which had been comprised of mainly science fiction tales, Serling was very concerned with providing a continuity of viewer experience throughout each episode that was usually comprised of two or three stories. Laird, on the other hand found the format a suitable showcase for his own personal sense of humor and inserted a series of short “black-out” sketches as time fillers between stories. Only occasionally were these humorous sketches actually funny, unfortunately, and it did certainly break the tension between the horror-based stories in each episode.

Kino Lorber has released the second season of Night Gallery with an embarrassment of riches on the supplemental features department. Suffice it to say that the team who provided commentaries for the first season volume is back with guns blazing. Many special features from the earlier DVD release of the series are included as well, the full list is included below.

You Can’t Get Help

Though the set contains some very memorable episodes – Green Fingers, Class of ’99, Silent Snow, Secret Snow, Sins of The Father, The Caterpillar, and You Just Can’t Get Help Like That Anymore to name but a few – the real reason to buy this set is all of the amazing extras contained within. They do a lot of heavy lifting to fill in gaps in behind-the-scenes and production information and give context to many moments that might otherwise leave some people scratching their heads. As a snapshot of early 1970’s television horror, Night Gallery Season 2 is unsurpassed.

Blu-ray Extras:

– BRAND NEW 2K MASTERS
LOST TALES FROM SEASON 2 (DIE NOW, PAY LATER/ROOM FOR ONE LESS/WITCHES’ FEAST/LITTLE GIRL LOST)
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE BOY WHO PREDICTED EARTHQUAKES/MISS LOVECRAFT SENT ME/THE HAND OF BORGUS WEEMS/PHANTOM OF WHAT OPERA? by Film Historian Craig Beam
– NEW Audio Commentary for DEATH IN THE FAMILY/THE MERCIFUL/CLASS OF ’99/SATISFACTION GUARANTEED by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson
– NEW Audio Commentary for A DEATH IN THE FAMILY/THE MERCIFUL/CLASS OF ’99/SATISFACTION GUARANTEED by Television Music Historian Dr. Reba Wissner
– NEW Audio Commentary for SINCE AUNT ADA CAME TO STAY/WITH APOLOGIES TO MR. HYDE/THE FLIP-SIDE OF SATAN by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for SINCE AUNT ADA CAME TO STAY/WITH APOLOGIES TO MR. HYDE/THE FLIP-SIDE OF SATAN by Television Music Historian Dr. Reba Wissner
– Audio Commentary for A FEAR OF SPIDERS/JUNIOR/MARMALADE WINE/THE ACADEMY by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE PHANTOM FARMHOUSE/SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by Screenwriter/Historian Gary Gerani
– Audio Commentary for THE PHANTOM FARMHOUSE/SILENT SNOW, SECRET SNOW by Legendary Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
– NEW Audio Commentary for A QUESTION OF FEAR/THE DEVIL IS NOT MOCKED by Novelist/Critic Kim Newman and Writer/Editor Stephen Jones
– NEW Audio Commentary for MIDNIGHT NEVER ENDS/BRENDA by Night Gallery Author/Historian Jim Benson and Actress Laurie Prange (Star of BRENDA)
– NEW Audio Commentary for MIDNIGHT NEVER ENDS/BRENDA by Author/Historian Amanda Reyes
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE DIARY/A MATTER OF SEMANTICS/BIG SURPRISE/PROFESSOR PEABODY’S LAST LECTURE by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for HOUSE—WITH GHOST/A MIDNIGHT VISIT TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD BLOOD BANK/DR. STRINGFELLOW’S REJUVENATOR/HELL’S BELLS by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE DARK BOY/KEEP IN TOUCH – WE’LL THINK OF SOMETHING by Author/Historian Amanda Reyes
– NEW Audio Commentary for PICKMAN’S MODEL/THE DEAR DEPARTED/AN ACT OF CHIVALRY by Actress Louise Sorel (Star of PICKMAN’S MODEL) and Night Gallery Authors/Historians Scott Skelton and Jim Benson
– NEW Audio Commentary for PICKMAN’S MODEL/THE DEAR DEPARTED/AN ACT OF CHIVALRY by Screenwriter/Historian Gary Gerani
– NEW Audio Commentary for COOL AIR/CAMERA OBSCURA/QUOTH THE RAVEN by Author Mark Dawidziak, Director John Badham and Screenwriter/Historian Gary Gerani
– NEW Audio Commentary for COOL AIR/CAMERA OBSCURA/QUOTH THE RAVEN by Novelist/Critic Kim Newman and Writer/Editor Stephen Jones
– Audio Commentary for COOL AIR/CAMERA OBSCURA/QUOTH THE RAVEN by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– Audio Commentary for THE MESSIAH ON MOTT STREET/THE PAINTED MIRROR by Legendary Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE DIFFERENT ONES/TELL DAVID…/LOGODA’S HEADS by Film Historian Craig Beam
– NEW Audio Commentary for GREEN FINGERS/THE FUNERAL/THE TUNE IN DAN’S CAFE by Director John Badham and Night Gallery Author/Historian Scott Skelton
– UPDATED Audio Commentary for LINDEMANN’S CATCH/THE LATE MR. PEDDINGTON/A FEAST OF BLOOD by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE MIRACLE AT CAMAFEO/THE GHOST OF SORWORTH PLACE by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE WAITING ROOM/LAST RITES FOR A DEAD DRUID by Author/Historian David J. Schow
– NEW Audio Commentary for DELIVERIES IN THE REAR/STOP KILLING ME/DEAD WEIGHT by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU – EVER/THERE AREN’T ANY MORE MACBANES by Author/Historian David J. Schow
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE SINS OF THE FATHERS/YOU CAN’T GET HELP LIKE THAT ANYMORE by Night Gallery Author/Historian Scott Skelton
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE SINS OF THE FATHERS/YOU CAN’T GET HELP LIKE THAT ANYMORE by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas
– NEW Audio Commentary for THE CATERPILLAR/LITTLE GIRL LOST by Screenwriter/Historian Gary Gerani
– Audio Commentary for THE CATERPILLAR/LITTLE GIRL LOST by Legendary Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
– Audio Commentary for LOST TALES FROM SEASON 2: DIE NOW, PAY LATER/ROOM FOR ONE LESS/WITCHES’ FEAST/LITTLE GIRL LOST by Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton
Revisiting the Gallery: A Look Back – Featurette with Actors Lindsay Wagner, Pat Boone, Joseph Campanella, Laurie Prange, James Metropole; Directors John Badham, Jeannot Szwarc, William Hale; Composer Gil Mellé; Make-Up Artist Leonard Engelman; Artist Tom Wright; and Night Gallery Authors/Historians Jim Benson and Scott Skelton (29:55)
THE SYNDICATION CONUNDRUM PART 2: A Look at the Show’s Troubled Second Life in Reruns – A Featurette by Film Historian Craig Beam
– Art Gallery: The Paintings – Featurette with Artist Tom Wright (3:28)
– 19 TV Spots (Newly Mastered in HD)
– NBC TV Promos (12:51) – From the 2008 DVD Release
– DVD Easter Eggs
– Optional English Subtitles

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and more.

 

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM – More Than Just a Monster

Posted on: Aug 30th, 2022 By:

by John Michlig
Contributing Writer

 

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems, and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

 

UNIVERSAL TERROR: Karloff in NIGHT KEY, THE CLIMAX, THE BLACK CASTLE Special Edition 2-Disc BluRay – 1937-1952
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Boris Karloff , Jean Rogers, Turhan Bey, Lon Chaney Jr., Richard Greene
Directors: Lloyd Corrigan, George Waggner, Nathan Juran
Rated: Not rated
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B (UK & Ireland) A, C untested
BRD Release Date: July 18, 2022
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 68 minutes, 86 minutes, 82 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

A confession straight out of the gate: When I first encountered Eureka Entertainment’s new Universal Terror collection featuring Boris Karloff in NIGHT KEY, THE CLIMAX, and THE BLACK CASTLE, my thoughts drifted to the childhood disappointments that invariably arose in a small television market. I grew up in the Midwest, where you were guaranteed good reception of two local channels: CBS WSAW-7 and ABC WAOW-9 (a fortunate few — owners of antennae or with houses perched atop hills — also got NBC WAEO-12). That meant that you consumed that which ABC (9) and CBS (7) provided and were aware of little else.

The CBS affiliate’s weekly creep show entry, 7 CEMETERY ROAD, featured a pretty effective (if low budget) opening featuring eerie music and a graveyard. If you were up that late for some reason, it was a terrific set-up that put visions of Frankenstein, Dracula, and even Kong Kong(!) in your head. These movies aired at 12:30 a.m., which was far, far beyond grade-school bedtime. For some reason the name of the film being shown would rarely appear in advance. The TV Guide listed “Movie,” and even the local newspaper schedule failed us. That meant if you negotiated the ability to stay up into the wee hours of the morning, you had no guarantee whatsoever that you’d be treated to some actual, classic monster-containing horror.

(THE BLACK CASTLE)

For a period of time, the Universal “horror” catalog that went to small markets did not include the “cornerstone classics” of the 30s and 40s. The package featured promising-titled flicks from the 50s like REVENGE OF THE CREATURE, CULT OF THE COBRA, THE PROJECTED MAN, and THE WASP WOMAN—the “close, but no cigar” class of films that caused my 12-year-old self to sigh deeply after negotiating late night viewing based upon reading or hearing a flimsy description that tossed out a reliably iconic horror-genre name in the cast. Occasionally, I would be treated to older films that “starred” familiar horror icons, which brings us to the new UNIVERSAL TERROR collection from Eureka Entertainment.

This collection consists of three films that do indeed feature Boris Karloff — a “trigger name” for young film geeks, to be sure — including two from the 30s and 40s. However, the package title and contents are highly reminiscent of the 7 CEMETERY ROAD formula in that, alas, there are no classic monsters to be seen. And, let’s face it, these are not horror films.  However, they are very, very entertaining. Bear in mind that this set is coded for UK and Ireland viewing, and you’ll need a region-free player to view it in the U.S.

(NIGHT KEY)

NIGHT KEY (1937) features Karloff as the inventor of a high-tech security anti-theft system who is victimized by a nefarious businessman who wants to market his devices and rip off his patents and profits. Facing the onset of blindness, Karloff’s character is then kidnapped by bad guys who want to use his knowledge of the devices to pull off serial robberies. Yes, this does sound like an almost impossibly accurate allegory for, and prediction of, cybercrime, does it not? That being said, Karloff or not, it isn’t “terror.” Watching a late-thirties film predict hackers and viruses in the pre-transistor era is great fun, however.

THE CLIMAX (1944) comes at you in what can very honestly be described as stunning Technicolor (Karloff’s first color film). This is not studio hyperbole; it really is beautifully photographed, and the filmmakers take full advantage of the new visual tool to fill the screen with magic. Sets from 1925’s and 1943’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA are re-used, and revealed in all their glory, throughout the film. (THE CLIMAX was announced as a sequel to the 1943 Phantom, though the final product is only loosely related thematically.)

Again, the film is visually astounding. However, it must be said that motion picture depictions of opera in this era are a bit hard to take. Opera as seen and heard in films of this period did not represent an accurate reproduction of actual staged performances. Rest assured the shrill, “look how high this note is” noise you hear in is not what audiences experienced in live venues. Get used to vocal gymnastics, however; you are treated to four (!) musical numbers in the first 20 minutes.

(THE CLIMAX)

Plot-wise, this is the closest we get to a horror film in the set. Karloff plays the Vienna Royal Theatre’s in-house physician, Dr. Hohner. He is an obsessed and jealous man; he wants his fiancée, a prima donna, to himself and therefor kills her, preserving her in his “chambers.” A decade later, another young singer, Angela, reminds him of his late diva, and he decides she too must sing only for him or die. Pretending to examine Angela’s throat following a performance, he hypnotizes her and commands her never to sing again.

THE BLACK CASTLE (1952) takes place in the 18th century (and all over the Universal Studios back lot, you will notice), so there’s a lot of swordplay, and mid-battle smart-ass comments fly freely from the mouth of our dashing hero, Sir Ronald Burton, a British gentleman played by Richard Greene (who went on to portray Robin Hood). He is investigating the disappearance of two of his friends at the Austrian estate of the sinister Count von Bruno, and nothing — be it sudden swordplay at an inn while trying to have dinner, or the appearance of an alligator pit (in Austria!) — breaks his cool. Sir Ronald, it could be said, was the proto-James Bond (“I can condone bad swordsmanship, but not bad manners…”).

(THE CLIMAX)

In this film, Karloff plays a good guy(!), a doctor who helps the protagonist in his quest for justice. We also see Lon Chaney, Jr. in his last role at Universal (which is, unfortunately, pretty ragged). So, you have Chaney and Karloff, as well as a pretty creepy scene with our protagonists sealed alive in coffins, making this the closest to “horror” of the three. It’s a very entertaining ride, however. Director Nathan Juran went on to work with Ray Harryhausen (and also directed THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, previously reviewed here).

The audio commentaries provided with these films are absolutely first rate, full of useful information and a solid sense of humor throughout. NIGHT KEY and THE CLIMAX are handled by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby; THE BLACK CASTLE features author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman.

Are these horror movies? Not so much. However, they are solid entertainment — and, unlike childhood visits to 7 Cemetery Road, do not require negotiating with parents to stay up past midnight.

 

 

When he’s not hanging around the top of the Empire State Building, John Michlig spends his time writing books like It Came from Bob’s Basement, KONG: King Of Skull Island, and GI Joe: The Complete Story of America’s Favorite Man of Action. Read more at The Fully Articulated Newsletter and The Denham Restoration Project.

 

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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