APES ON FILM: Fear is the SPOILERS!

Posted on: Apr 30th, 2024 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.

 

FEAR IS THE KEY—1972
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Barry Newman, Suzy Kendell, John Vernon, Ben Kingsley
Director: Michael Tuchner
Rated: PG
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: A
BRD Release Date: February 13, 2024
Audio Formats: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.34:1
Run Time: 105 Min.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

FEAR IS THE KEY is rife with surprises, and too snug a review could ruin the viewing experience. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. Instead of plot specifics, let’s talk about some other stuff in the movie.  First of all, it contains a fantastic car chase. Stunt coordinator Carey Loftin did the driving here; he also did the chases in VANISHING POINT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, DUEL, and even THE LOVE BUG. Loftin is one of the unsung heroes of action sequences, and FEAR is another notch on his belt. Sure, Barry Newman and Suzy Kendell are fine, but damn… that chase! There are various twists and turns, with the film ending up in a submarine—actually, it’s a bathyscaphe, but why split hairs. Once again, I’m staying away from the plot on purpose.

We can talk about Alistair MacLean, at least a little bit. I remember stacks of the Scottish writer’s novels everywhere at the bookstores and the airport gift shops when I was younger. These mid-century potboilers usually had to do with various plots to assassinate, overthrow, destroy or steal Macguffins of various stripes, and several included themes of underwater suspense. Many of them became fine movies, like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA, and of course WHERE EAGLES DARE. In this film, everything clicks together in typical MacLean-ian fashion. No spoilers!

This picture has a great cast as well, many at the height of their powers. Newman had just finished VANISHING POINT and seemingly jumped right out of that and into the next car. Kendell was probably tired of all these Gialos (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, TORSO, SPASMO). This was certainly a change of pace for her. The villains are first-rate too. John Vernon is always great—and pretty much the same, whether he’s in DIRTY HARRY, SAVAGE STREETS, or ANIMAL HOUSE.  Villain #2 is a young Ben Kinglsey. He had done a lot of British television, but this was his first film—and then he went back to TV and didn’t return for ten years at which point GANDHI was released, and he swept out of nowhere to grab the Academy Award™ for Best Actor.  Everyone is on their game here.

Much of the picture was shot on location in Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, while most of the sets were done in England at Bray Studios. As it turns out, most of these folks are British, including the director, much of the cast, and the visual effects crew. American accents are mostly on point with an exception; Kendall didn’t really make the grade here, as she tries and fails to sound like a Southern American heiress. A false note, but not sounded by the loudest instrument in the orchestra. There are too many other wonderful things going on here. An unsung hero is Derek Meddings for his miniature and special effects work. Meddings work was just as good as any onscreen at the time and ever since, frankly. Starting with the Supermarionation series in England like THUNDERBIRDS and STINGRAY, he began working with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson  providing highly memorable visual effects. He became one of the best special effects designers in the world, creating work for various James Bond pictures, the SUPERMAN franchise, and BATMAN.

Arrow’s presentation is rather attractive and articulate. The video quality looks very good, as should be expected. The audio has a nice mono sound that gets the job done. This definitely needed a good, thorough commentary, and Howard S. Berger delivers. He’s almost always great, and this is no exception. Berger takes a deep dive here, and he gives all the answers to the questions you’ll be asking and more. There’s also a visual essay with the author Scout Tafoya. In addition, we also have two fairly long archive interviews from the crew members and the associate producer. Finally, the composer, Roy Budd, gets his own featurette. Budd was always different, with plenty of jazz chops. GET CARTER was arguably his best work, but FEAR IS THE KEY was right behind it. Music historian Neil Brand puts it all together for us.

There are a few more bells and whistles, particularly in this limited edition. We have an illustrated collector’s booklet, featuring the writer Sean Hogan. Of course, there’s also a trailer—and finally, artist Nathanael Marsh has created some sweet new artwork for the sleeve, as well as a poster. If you prefer the original poster artwork for display, it’s on the opposite side of the sleeve. All in all, FEAR IS THE KEY is an outstanding film, and worth the price of the disc for the movie alone. Everything else is cherries on top.

 

 

 

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.

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APES ON FILM: Life IS Like a Box of Chocolates in Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s THE DEAD MOTHER

Posted on: Jan 26th, 2024 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.

 

 

THE DEAD MOTHER – 1993
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Ana Álvarez, Lio, Silvia Marsó
Director: Juanma Bajo Ulloa
Rated: Not rated
Studio: Radiance Films
Region: Region A
BRD Release Date: October 10, 2023
Audio Formats: Spanish LPCM 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 111 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

The old saying “like taking candy from a baby” implies the ease of stealing something from someone particularly helpless or uninformed, but anyone with children knows this idiom is a bit misguided. When a child wants something badly enough, removal of said something is the equivalent to defusing an H-bomb with a sledgehammer.

The first instance of this phrase appears in the short story “Experiences of a Verdant Bookmaker” from the collection Taking Chances (1900) by Clarence Louis Cullen. In the story, a grocer who’s given up on his humble profession becomes a bookie and tries playing on an unfair advantage at the racetrack. The phrase originates: “Now, this looked like a pretty good thing to the groceryman. It looked like taking candy from a child.” So, no children were harmed or even involved in the saying’s origins, but over the years it’s become a cliché prevalent in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to a literal on screen translation in Spanish filmmaker Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 1993 film THE DEAD MOTHER (LA MADRE MUERTA).

Ulloa’s film begins with a burglar, Ismael (Karra Elejalde), searching for the home of an art restorer in the middle of the night. The requisite black sock hat and flashlight lets us know he’s up to no good. We don’t know what Ismael is looking for, just that he’s not finding it. What we do know is there’s a child in the house, and the mother, startled by Ismael’s knocking around, appears and informs him there’s no money, and finds herself on the business end of a shotgun. As Ismael makes his escape, he takes a chocolate bar from the child’s highchair, but before he can slip out the kitchen window, young Leire (Raquel Santamaría) stands combative, wielding a large stick poised to avenge her mother, and ostensibly defend the chocolate bar Ismael has helped himself to.

Fast forward several years later, we see that Ismael is still up to his crooked ways (not unlike author Cullen’s grocery store bookie), working as a bartender under an alias. Leire (Ava Álvarez) is now in her teens and is living out her days as a mute, afflicted with the arrested mind of a child in an institution for the mentally impaired. Leire’s caretaker Blanca (Silvia Marsó), takes the girl out on daily walks, and on one particular outing Leire and Ismael cross paths, both recognizing each other. This time Ismael and his girlfriend Maite (Lio) skip the candy and go for taking the baby instead, kidnapping Leire and holding her for ransom. “Like taking a patient from an institution.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

Aside from Blanca’s attempt to rescue Leire, the film is a character study of the strange dynamic amongst Ismael, Leire, and Maite. Jealousy abounds when Maite realizes that Ismael’s internal conflict won’t permit him to murder Leire. A rift forms between the couple as Ismael negotiates a spectrum of emotions regarding Leire; processing everything from guilt to paternal role play to outright lover becomes a crucible for Ismael.

Chocolate remains the connective tissue that binds the strange relationship between Ismael and Leire. At one point, as Ismael is about to force Leire in front of an oncoming train, she drops a candy bar into a puddle and attempts to eat it. Ismael pulls her from the railroad tracks just as the train passes and explains to the girl that she shouldn’t eat the candy because it’s dirty. In this case the mutual regard for chocolate and a strange parental instinct intervenes and saves Leire. The scene is also particularly odd given that while Ismael is contemplating a horrible manslaughter style death for Leire, he becomes more concerned with the poor hygienic choice to eat muddy chocolate.

Chocolate takes on a visually symbolic role permeating the film’s surroundings. Wall paneling and doors often mimic the delectable treat making it emblematic of protection, or imprisonment—your mileage may vary. If nothing else it is the one thing that remains to remind Leire of her dead mother and serves as a trigger for Ismael in the same regard.

As for dead mothers, there’s little mention of the one from the beginning of this film as the story progresses. Seconds before Ismael kills Leire’s mother, he spots a damaged painting of a mother and child; a diagonal slash through the canvas separates the two at the mother’s head. Imagery of that same slash appears throughout the film reminding us of the tragic separation between Leire and her mother. The image becomes representative of the loss Leire is unable to express because of her now impaired condition, the cause of which is eventually revealed, disclosing the catalyst for Ismael’s strange turmoil and affection for the girl.

Ismael’s peculiar obsession with odors and his attempts to earn a smile from Leire are other quirks reflecting the man’s internal unrest and response to personal change through his present experience. In a moment near the end of the film, Ismael, injured by a gunshot, is seated on a train next to a woman with a crying baby in a dirty diaper. Given Ismael’s well-established abhorrence for foul odors, we know he is aware of the soiled baby, but his metamorphosis through his fondness for Leire, along with his humbled and impaired condition, finds him silent and compassionate for the mother and child.

Radiance Films presents THE DEAD MOTHER in high definition on Blu-ray disc with a host of special features including a documentary on the making of the film; Ulloa’s short film “Victor’s Kingdom”; an audio commentary from the director; and, an image gallery. The limited edition features a booklet with writing on the film by Xavier Aldana Reyes and a newly translated archival essay by director Ulloa and co-writer Eduardo Bajo Ulloa. The crown jewel of this release, however, is the inclusion of a bonus CD of the film’s mysterious score by composer Bingen Mendizábal.

The bizarre, nearly inexplicable dynamic shared between Ismael and Leire is mostly foreign to us, but also anchors the film in curiosity. Its emotional beats are compelling enough to keep viewers involved, but seemingly at a distance. THE DEAD MOTHER is a vicarious experiment exploring specific scenarios of inner upheaval as a consequence of bad deeds by misguided people and the journey of loss through the mind of a child. Taking candy from a baby costs big bucks in emotional currency.

 

 

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. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: 2023 Holiday Gift Guide

Posted on: Dec 1st, 2023 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.

 

The Holidays surround us and penetrate us; they bind the galaxy together, to borrow a totally inappropriate quote from a famous movie. But seriously, if you have a film nerd or scholar you need gifts for, it’s Apes on Film to the rescue! Here, in no particular order, are the films that we think would make great gifts this holiday season. Rest assured these flicks have never looked or sounded better. Click the links below to snag one for yourself or your favorite geeky guy or gal!

 

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. – 4K UHD – KINO LORBER: Get rich or try dyin’, as Ape on Film Lucas Hardwick would say. My favorite William Friedkin film and one of my top picks for 1985 as a whole. The tense game of cat and mouse between Chance and Masters plus the fantastic soundtrack from Wang Chung makes this a winner for anyone into crime films. Filled with memorable images, dialog, and performances, this film gets under your skin and remains.

FREAKS, THE UNKNOWN, THE MYSTIC – TODD BROWNING’S SIDESHOW SHOCKERS – BLU-RAY, CRITERION COLLECTION: Rediscovered, remastered, revealing. Possibly the best set to see released in 2023, Criterion’s Browning box is a revelation. Outstanding visually, with an enormous set of supplemental features and deep-dive booklet, all put together by Monster Show author and Browning biographer David J. Skal. No fan of classic horror and thriller films should let this pass by.

CUSHING CURIOSITIES – 6 DISC SET – BLU-RAY – SEVERIN FILMS: The gentleman of horror had a more robust career than many give him credit for. Though best known for blowing up the Death Star and staking vampires and building monsters the Hammer way, Peter Cushing played many roles including Count Dracula himself! Check out his Sherlock Holmes as well in this essential collection from Severin, jam-packed with extras as they are wont to do.

WINGS OF DESIRE – 4K & BLU RAY – CRITERION COLLECTION: Another film that no one should live without. Peter Falk goes to Germany to appear on a chat show and meets an Angel having a crisis of faith. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds play live. It’s Wim Wenders’ masterpiece that was clumsily remade as CITY OF ANGELS with Nicholas Cage. Skip that one, WINGS is the real thing, and the Criterion disc is the one to treasure.

GLORIA – BLU-RAY – KINO LORBER: Gena Rowlands was a dot on my media horizon as a young Ape on Film until I saw this movie directed by her husband, John Cassavetes. She meanders onto the screen as a mob gun moll entrusted with not only evidence to convict a cartel of her former friends but a recently orphaned kid. Gloria builds a full head of steam emotionally and visually trying to stay one step ahead of her gangland pursuers as well as the cops, who think she’s a kidnapper. No extras on this disc, but the film is worth the bargain price any day.

THE DEAD ZONE, COLLECTOR’S EDITION – 4k UHD & BLU-RAY – SHOUT! FACTORY: The ICE. Is gonna BREAK! I wouldn’t have pegged David Cronenberg for the guy to adapt this moving Stephen King tale to the screen, but he hit the ball out of the park by keeping it simple and honest. Christopher Walken turns in a career-high performance as a crippled teacher who can psychically “see” the truth of the people around him, including a murderer, a friend, a concerned father, and a presidential candidate with plans for the world that must be stopped. Shout!’s collector edition is a two-disc set featuring a brand-new transfer and supplements galore.

THE PRINCESS BRIDE – 4K UHD & BLU-RAY – CRITERION COLLECTION: As you wish! Perhaps the most beloved film of the 1980s gets the Criterion treatment in an ultra-special edition which includes a hardback booklet, an audiobook reading of the original William Goldman book by director Rob Reiner, commentaries with the cast, the director, the writer, behind the scenes footage and so much more. There’s a reason why this movie is evergreen, and I can’t think of a single person on your holiday list that wouldn’t enjoy this two-disc set.

GORGO – 4K UHD – VINEGAR SYNDROME: He’s like Godzilla with a British accent. A cross between King Kong, Son of Kong, and Godzilla, Gorgo is a very well-made pastiche of the giant monster blockbusters set in London. Spoiler Alert: there’s a killer climax that results in a LOT of damage to the city. Always fun to watch giant monsters stomping world famous landmarks. Vinegar Syndrome went all out with a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, so their presentation is amazing. Chock full of new and archival extras as well.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN COLLECTOR’S EDITION – 4K UHD & BLU-RAY – SHOUT SELECT: It may not be the best Western film of all time, but three out of three Apes on Film agree that it’s a perfect movie. From the incredible cast to John Sturges’ directing, to Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable, breathtaking score, this film is always a pleasurable watch. Shout! Factory’s presentation boasts a new restoration and color grade from existing scanned elements resulting in a sharper picture than previous releases, and a plethora of supplemental features. Honestly, a must-have for any film buff.

SUPERMAN 5 FILM COLLECTION – 4K UHD & BLU-RAY – WARNER BROS: In 1978, we all believed a man could fly. Christopher Reeve’s amazing performance as the Man of Steel was utterly convincing, the special effects were state of the art, and Richard Donner’s directing coupled with a fantastic script from Mario Puzo and a cadre of re-writers combined to make the perfect superhero movie. In fact, SUPERMAN has been the template on which the best of all superhero films that followed was patterned after to some degree. WB’s new comprehensive 4-disc set contains all of Reeve’s films (including the Richard Donner cut of SUPERMAN II) and is festooned with special features. Absolutely a gift that will get you a kiss, even without any mistletoe around.

 

This is just a small selection of the amazing films that were released in ultra-high definition this year. What are your picks for the ultimate HD media stocking stuffers? Let us know in the comments below and hey – HAPPY HOLIDAYS from your favorite Apes on Film!

 

 

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, Retro Fan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more. He is the author of the book The Art of George Wilson from Hermes Press.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

Category: Retro Review, Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: No One Will Hear You Scream— Radiance Films’ MESSIAH OF EVIL

Posted on: Nov 29th, 2023 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.

 

 

MESSIAH OF EVIL1974
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Anitra Ford, Joy Bang, Royal Dano, Elisha Cook Jr.
Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Radiance Films
Region: Region A (B, C untested)
BRD Release Date: October 24, 2023
Audio Formats: English: LPCM 2.0 mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.93 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (original aspect ratio: 2.39:1)
Run Time: 90 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Point Dume is one of those spooky small towns where you really want to avoid conversation with any of the locals. Perched up on the Pacific Coast with its beautiful seaside sunset views, a humble grocery store, movie theater, gas station, and art gallery, Point Dume looks like a million other neon stucco towns. Its idyllic qualities are perfect for a cozy Airbnb weekend, but its hollow-eyed, laconic, once tax-paying citizens make Point Dume hardly the place to get away from it all.

Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s 1974 feature MESSIAH OF EVIL is the story of Arletty Lang (Marianna Hill) who arrives in creepy Point Dume in search of her estranged father. Arletty quickly gets more than she bargained for from the town’s welcoming committee when she stops at a gas station on the outskirts to find the attendant frantically firing rounds into the night. An albino man with an unpleasant disposition interrupts her transaction, and pretty soon the paranoid station employee is feverishly telling her to scram. The good people of Point Dume only become more troubling as Arletty investigates her father’s whereabouts.

Arletty’s father, Joseph (Royal Dano), is an artist who’s attracted the attention of a trio of Bohemians in search of his work. Thom (Michael Greer), and his “traveling companions” Laura and Toni (Anitra Ford and Joy Bang), are also curious about where to find Joseph and have bumped into their own local weirdo, Charlie (Elisha Cook Jr.), a bum who rattles on about his own birth and some business regarding a red moon dragging people to hell. Just your average street corner wino and his apocalyptic ravings, right?

Arletty and her Bohemian pals lounge around her father’s empty home while pondering the strange temperament of Point Dume’s residents and discuss what could have happened to Mr. Lang. When Thom’s companion Laura allows jealousy to get the best of her, she takes off in the middle of the night and winds up as a late-night snack for a handful of googly-eyed Point Dumers ravaging the meat counter at the local Ralph’s grocery store. Point Dume is even weirder than you thought.

Huyck and Katz’s film boils down to being a slow-burn zombie flick—and like most zombie flicks—with an inexplicable catalyst that’s turning the locals into chalky (but handsome) undead cannibals. The film’s mild epistolary structure reveals that zombification is most likely what happened to Mr. Lang, and in the meantime, serves as an expository WebMD that’s got Arletty worked up into an appropriate level of paranoia and jabbing straight pins into her thighs to see if she too has become afflicted.

The movie showcases three suspenseful key moments that reveal all the weirdness we can stand to know about Point Dume and its denizens of death. First is Arletty’s strange introduction at the service station, the second is Laura’s demise at the checkout counter in Ralph’s, and third is the soul-rattling experience Toni finds herself in at the movie theater. Coated in blood-red enamel, the theater is mostly empty save for a few scattered patrons, one in particular glaring at Toni over the back of his seat. The shot holds on him for a moment before the lights dim signifying Toni’s last chance to beat it before she becomes a featured concession stand item. It’s one of the most unnerving moments in the film.

While Point Dume is mostly devoid of small-town bustle, it’s Arletty’s father’s basement that is strangely the most populated place in the film. Sure, Arletty and her friends are hanging out there eating up all the food in the icebox and making long-distance phone calls, but the gang is joined by the landscapes and people of Mr. Lang’s murals that include Lee Harvey Oswald lookalikes and Supreme Court Justices. Not exactly the friendly faces most of us would select to adorn our ever-sacred wall-space, but still better than the relentless burgeoning hoard that’s festering in Point Dume.

MESSIAH OF EVIL unfolds hypnotically and fosters that good old fashioned “what the fuck did I just watch” vibe that with what little explanation it offers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—in a good way. It’s a film that reveals itself in moments like a disconnected nightmare that haunts you all night long. However, in spite of its vague narrative, the subtext suggests life amongst art—no matter how dull (i.e., Supreme Court Justices)—versus the zombie-minded vapidness of everyday people engaging in the diabolical act of capitalism. Each instance of undead onslaught or outright weirdness occurs in a place of commerce: the shiny new Mobil station, Ralph’s grocery, and the movie theater. Meanwhile, meaningful moments of revelation occur in the heavily muraled, post-modern realist world of Joe Lang’s basement where the only real live people in this world doing any thinking are artsy non-conformists.

Radiance Films presents MESSIAH OF EVIL with the best picture and sound it has ever had in a stunning 4K restoration on high-definition Blu-ray disc. The limited edition release features an audio commentary by film authors Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower; a new 57-minute documentary exploring the themes of the film; a visual essay by film writer Kat Ellinger; and an archival interview with the film’s co-writer and director Willard Huyck. The limited edition also includes an 80-page booklet with essays by Bill Ackerman, Joseph Dwyer, Amanda Reyes, Andy Marshall-Roberts, and Larissa Glasser. Packaged in a rigid box with reversible sleeve art, Radiance’s release is the best home video presentation of MESSIAH OF EVIL available.

MESSIAH OF EVIL is a bleak aberration that examines the end of the world through the contextually relevant eyes of self-aware beatniks. It is a revelation that exists in the construct of the mind adjacent to the spirit of the horror classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and the films of Jean Rollin. But its detached tendencies are what make it compelling and pertinent to a deeper connection to human paranoia, permitting it to function as a signpost to internal terror.

 

 

 

 

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. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: She’s Into Malakas, Dino!—Arrow Video’s WEIRD SCIENCE

Posted on: Oct 5th, 2023 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.

 

 

WEIRD SCIENCE– 1985
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler
Director: John Hughes
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: 4K UHD Region Free
BRD Release Date: August 22, 2023
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit), English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 97 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

The adolescent weekend sleepover is a realm of heightened possibility. Two like minds so alike they’ve agreed to spend the weekend together for the purpose of none other than to mine any variety of wall-to-wall amusement for a solid 48 hours. The usual parental mandates are loosened for these very special and often rare occasions, and in the best-case scenarios, parents are otherwise preoccupied or missing all together. These are the instances when the best laid plans between two inseparable cohorts come to bear. This reviewer’s most memorable sleepovers cultivated firing BB guns inside the house and peeping soft-core cable programming through heavy-lidded eyes. The adolescent sleepover is a dare to accomplish missions none would venture alone, and exists as a living laboratory of the pubescent mind.

In John HughesWEIRD SCIENCE, high school dweebs Gary and Wyatt (Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are left to their own hormonally charged devices for a weekend in Wyatt’s sprawling, well-stocked palatial home. The boys ingest piles of snacks and classic Universal horror films while pouting about the unrequited attention of two girls from the cheerleading squad—Deb and Hilly (Suzanne Snyder and Judie Arnonson).

Watching James Whale’s 1931 feature FRANKENSTEIN, and sizing up Wyatt’s state-of-the-art computer rig, Gary concocts the idea that the boys create the perfect woman for themselves. Plotted as a simulation only, inexplicable “weird science” occurs and produces the real live woman of Gary and Wyatt’s dreams in the form of the very beautiful and very adult Lisa (Kelly LeBrock). Lisa is not only the boys’ perfect female companion, but she’s also supercharged with powers to provide sports cars and fake IDs out of thin air. It’s the time-honored tale of the search for personal identity through unlimited means told in the horror-adjacent tactic of playing god by building bodies for exacting impossible demands.

Most famous for manifesting classic teenybopper angst and humor in his films, grown-up teenager John Hughes executes the most primal version of his fascinations in WEIRD SCIENCE. Charged with sex and wit, the story is a raw look into the teenage male psyche obsessed with the arduous task of solving identity, female desires, and ultimately their alpha roles within society. It’s a film so puerile and reactive, dare I say it could hardly be made today.

With barely any plot to get in the way of the story, the film unfolds on in-the-moment impulses of two boys with the world conceivably at their disposal. The first thing the guys do with Lisa once she appears is what any teenage boy would do: watch her shower. Then it’s a night on the town culminating in a scene that will shock the youthful progressive minds of the present day as Gary not only drinks and smokes as an underage young adult, but talks in jive and refers to “big-titty eighth-grade bitches.” The scene’s inappropriate nature charges it with a new sense of humor for modern audiences. In 1985 it falls in line with the typical brand of silliness found in most 80s comedies, but in 2023 it’s hilarious because it’s shocking.

With Lisa at their side, Gary and Wyatt seem unstoppable, but Wyatt’s older brother Chet (Bill Paxton) – a living roadblock armed with extortion and blackmail tactics – isn’t afraid to wave a gun around. When Chet isn’t on screen bilking Wyatt for money and slinging inappropriate slurs, he exists in the background reminding everyone of a reality beyond the fantasy Gary and Wyatt have created for themselves, that when Mom and Dad get home, there’s gonna be some explaining to do.

Deb and Hilly’s current love interests also exist as reminders of Gary and Wyatt’s uncool place in teenage hierarchy. Ian and Max (Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Rusler) are the pants-shucking high school bullies the boys are forced to compete against for the fickle affections of the freshmen females. Gary and Wyatt’s requisite trip to the mall winds up drenched in cherry-flavored public humiliation that has Lisa coming to their rescue with a couple of sports cars and an all-inclusive invitation to a climactic party at Wyatt’s house where the limits of the weekend fantasy knows no bounds.

The mechanics of Gary and Wyatt’s reverie become less and less important as the film moves along. How and why Lisa is able to do the things she does ceases to be of any concern for the boys, the audience, and even director Hughes himself. The final act, culminating in the party of the century, is fantasy unhinged as grand pianos are sucked up chimneys, nuclear missiles are willed into existence, and a barbaric motorcycle gang crashes into the scene at last forcing Gary and Wyatt to grow beyond dweeby status and establish their own identities as iconic cool.

Arrow Video presents WEIRD SCIENCE on 4K Ultra-High-Definition Blu-Ray disc. This new release is loaded with interviews from casting director Jackie Burch, editor Chris Lebenzon, composer Ira Newborn, makeup artist Craig Reardon, and supporting actor John Kapelos. The disc also includes the extended and edited-for-TV versions of the film as well as the archival documentary IT’S ALIVE! RESURRECTING WEIRD SCIENCE. Other features are an illustrated booklet with writing on the film by authors Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Amanda Reyes and a double-sided fold-out poster of original and newly commissioned artwork by Tracie Ching.

The magic of Gary and Wyatt’s fantasy weekend is never explained, and ultimately it’s not important as everything returns to normal seconds before Wyatt’s parents return home. The story is at best a heightened construct of the teenage mind, amplifying the trials of pimply-faced noggins and hormone-enraged hearts, reminding us of the politics and romance that rule the adolescent institution.

 

 

 

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. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: One Night In SoHo

Posted on: Sep 8th, 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.

 

 

 

AFTER HOURS – (1985) – 4K Ultra HD + Blu-Ray
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Catherine O’Hara, Verna Bloom
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: R
Studio: Criterion
Region: 4K – Free, 2K Blu-Ray – Region A (Locked)
BRD Release Date: 07/11/2023
Audio Formats: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: 4K Ultra HD Native 4K (2160p) HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray Disc, Two-disc set (1 BD-100, 1 BD-50))
Run Time: 97 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

The word absurdist is defined first as “intentionally ridiculous or bizarre; surreal,” and secondly as “relating to or supporting the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe.” Only the first definition applies itself well to Martin Scorsese’s AFTER HOURS, though it can hardly be described as anything but absurdist; delightfully, absolutely absurdist.

Paul Hackett (Dunne, also co-producer) lives a life of soul deadening corporate drudgery by day. A chance meeting in a diner with flirty and unusual Marcy (Arquette) leads him on an increasingly ridiculous and dangerous night of pursuit, evasion, and sheer desperation to remove himself from what any sensible Chinese person would call “interesting times,” in the warehouse district of SoHo and getting back to his predictable, secure existence in upper Manhattan. On his Odysseus-like journey, he is both guided and hampered by a profusion of modern-day nymphs, cyclops, witches, and oracles, none of whom can be trusted with his safety. The real standout is O’Hara as a demented ice cream truck driver who literally glows onscreen. Her turn in the long line to pummel Hackett is enhanced by her determination to utterly destroy him once she becomes convinced that he’s the serial burglar that’s been plaguing the neighborhood (in reality the work of a pair of likable no-goodniks played by Cheech and Chong).

Scorsese, drawn to the material as a recent SoHo resident himself after a fallow point in his career. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST was cancelled by the studio after four years of preparation and his recently released THE KING OF COMEDY was proclaimed Flop of the Year by Entertainment Tonight. It seems an awkward choice to direct the film, but he clearly felt a thematic resonance to Hackett’s predicament and handles his duties with aplomb, as one might surmise in retrospect.

Criterion Collection’s 4K UHD presentation of the film is a triumph both visually and auditorily. The story takes place almost exclusively at night, and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus‘s location shots in SoHo are gorgeously viewable with dense shadows and subtle light effects where appropriate. The uncompressed audio track is newly remastered from the original mono soundtrack and very well balanced – no scrambling for the remote to increase volume for dialog or decrease it for loud sound effects. Howard Shore’s music is mated at just the right level. Sporting a brand-new digital transfer approved by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, this is the best possible viewing one may have of the film.

The supplemental materials included are worthy of the presentation;  a new interview with director Scorsese by writer Fran Lebowitz (If you saw AFTER HOURS in 1985 and had spent any time in New York City, there are numerous inside jokes aimed directly at residents. Scorsese and Leibowitz discuss this at length.), audio commentary featuring Scorsese, Schoonmaker, director of photography Ballhaus, actor and producer Griffin Dunne, and producer Amy Robinson, a documentary on the making of the film featuring Dunne, Robinson, Schoonmaker, and Scorsese, a new program on the look of the film featuring costume designer Rita Ryack and production designer Jeffrey Townsend, as well as deleted scenes, the trailer, and an essay by critic Sheila O’Malley which is illustrated with the wanted poster of Dunne from the movie.

I confess that AFTER HOURS has been a non-guilty pleasure of mine since its initial release. Though Dunne remains as polite as he possibly can be throughout the film, there are a few instances where the constant ridiculousness wears him down and his performance becomes a true joy to watch. The film’s conclusion also puts the perfect cap on the theme of the film – sometimes you can escape the mundanity of life and sometimes you shouldn’t even try. Heartily recommended 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, Retro Fan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more. He is the author of the book The Art of George Wilson from Hermes Press.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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APES ON FILM: Do Not Open ‘til 2023 – The Delayed Legacy of MALLRATS

Posted on: Aug 11th, 2023 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.

 

 

MALLRATS – 1995
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Jason Lee, Jeremy London, Shannon Doherty, Claire Forlani, Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, Michael Rooker
Director: Kevin Smith
Rated: R
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: 4K UHD Region Free
BRD Release Date: June 27, 2023
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 94 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

Lucky for director Kevin Smith, a slew of big-name critics mined a wealth of cultural commentary and social subtext in his first film CLERKS. The critical success of the director’s first movie placed him in front of major studios looking to cash in on this new cultural firebrand. And while, yes, CLERKS does manage to muster some kind of then current subtext on commerce and the grind of the middle class, Smith has all but admitted that it wasn’t intentional. Inspired by Richard Linklater’s strangely paced film SLACKER, that follows one oddball conversation to the next and never returning to any kind of plot, Smith set out to basically borrow Linklater’s energy with CLERKS. For what it’s worth, a middle-class fanboy with a passion and a lot of free time, made out pretty damn good. CLERKS is indeed an entertaining and culturally relevant success that has aged relatively well in spite of its ramshackle style.

So, when the big studios came calling, Smith went with what he knew worked and essentially set about making the same movie that had earned him so much acclaim. Except this time, success was not in the cards. MALLRATS shapes up to be a mild revision of the characters in CLERKS, but set in the larger, more culturally pervasive environment of the American shopping mall. One could draw a parallel to George Romero’s zombie sequel with DAWN OF THE DEAD, stating that all roads lead to commerce, and what better spot to showcase such than the mall. At any rate, lightning did not strike twice for Kevin Smith; at least not at first.

Motormouth ersatz comic book scholar Brodie (Lee) and his pal T.S. Quint (London – a nod to Robert Shaw’s Quint from JAWS?), take their broken hearts to the mall to ease the forlorn burdens they’ve recently suffered and plot their way back into love with the women who’ve recently abandoned them. As the two mosey about the mall bumping into a cast of dynamic, hilarious characters they each have some narrative connection to, in the background is the impending taping of the cable access game show “Truth or Date” where T.S.’s now ex-girlfriend Brandi (Forlani) is the date-seeking contestant. It becomes the boys’ mission to infiltrate the show and win back lost loves in a grand show of affection and shocking revelation.

Financed by Universal Pictures’ new indie film division Gramercy, Smith had a new element breathing down his throat that he never had to contend with on CLERKS: major studio interference. While Universal/Gramercy prided itself on the conceit and the artistic notions of the independent filmmaker, it wanted to have its cake and eat it too, demanding Smith make compromises that likely affected the reception of the film. The most significant accommodation forced Smith to omit a fourteen-minute bit of exposition that laid down why the main character Quint is so loathed by his girlfriend’s father Mr. Svenning (Rooker). And while the studio sought the opportunity with Smith to make “a smart PORKY’S,” they also wanted to cut down on the foul language. Gramercy lobbied for big name stars and sought to recast Mewes’ iconic “Jay” character, the real heart of the film’s puerile comedy, with the likes of Seth Green. Though the studio was not successful, it’s clear that Smith and his bosses had different intentions. All this and a troubled marketing campaign arguably lead to a failed second feature for the director.

We’ve seen the plot of this film a million times, so the movie’s charm and reason to watch lies within its characters. Smith provides a range of smarmy youths with whipcrack language so sodden with post adolescent wit that it could only ever have the advantage of being written. While admittedly juvenile, Smith’s dialogue is at times hilarious and often helped by the actors’ performances, the strongest of which is Jason Lee who delivers most believably. The weakest of the gang is Jeremy London who rattles off Smith’s overwrought lines too fast and never more convincingly than a community theatre audition.

MALLRATS is more character study than anything, and remains as a glimpse into the youth of the 1990s. Time alone has built the success of the film more than any marketing campaign or opening weekend box office. And speaking as someone who came of age seeing this film within the decade it represents, subtext, context, and all that stuff you learn about in film class falls second to the lovable, relatable characters and the chemistry they concoct on screen.

Over the years, Smith’s energy and wit has been replicated to the point of exhaustion, saturating films up to and including the Marvel Universe with his brand of cross-reference and humor. In a career-defining meta move for Smith, Stan Lee who makes a notable cameo in MALLRATS can even be found in Disney/Marvel’s 1990s set CAPTAIN MARVEL rehearsing his lines for his appearance in this film – Marvel nerds can bounce around and hyperventilate about how MALLRATS is now technically canon within the MCU. In spite of the director’s bouts of mediocrity outside of his “Askewniverse” (named for his production company View Askew, that consistently features Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) amongst other recurring characters), Kevin Smith is less a filmmaking influence than he is an unstoppable cultural bellwether.

Arrow Video presents MALLRATS on 4K UHD Blu-ray disc with loads of special features including a wordy introduction from Smith; Theatrical and Extended cuts of the film; a commentary with Smith, his producer and stars; a number of interviews; deleted scenes; archival materials; and Erection of an Epic: The making of Mallrats documentary. Arrow’s release also features an illustrated booklet with writing by film writer Philip Kemp and a fold out poster of replica blueprints for “Operation Drive-by” and “Operation Dark Knight” plotted by Jay and Silent Bob in the film. The disc comes packaged in a reversible sleeve of original and newly commissioned artwork by Robert Sammelin.

MALLRATS’ success in 1995 is irrelevant. While it was a critical and financial failure, it remains a cult hit that lives on to be quoted and referenced to this day. A time capsule of a dying brick and mortar institution of commerce, MALLRATS remains steadfast as an exemplar of the tyranny of nostalgia as a personal museum exhibit for a specific group of people from a specific time within their generation. Recommended.

 

 

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. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: The Invention of Georges Melies

Posted on: Aug 1st, 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.

 

 

 

HUGO – (2011) Limited Edition 4K Ultra HD Three Disc Set
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: PG
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: Free
BRD Release Date: 07/18/2023
Audio Formats: DTS-HD MA 7.1 and LPCM 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: 4K Ultra HD (2160p) presentation of the 2D version of the film in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible), (1080p) Blu-ray presentation of the film in 2D and 3D
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Disc, Three-disc set (1 BD-100, 2 BD-50)
Run Time: 126 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

HUGO is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema. I’m going to assume that regular readers of this column have almost all seen the movie since its release in 2011, either in the theater in glorious 3D or at home via the device of your choosing. Based on the profusely illustrated book, THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, by Brian Selznick, the movie is as much an ode to films and those who make them as the book was to… well, books and those who write and illustrate them. Director Scorsese took the literary centric tropes of Selznick’s work and applied the cinematically equivalent ones to suit his own medium to great effect. In doing so, he makes a gentle but substantial case for film preservation, including much needed information to modern audiences of what is lost forever and what may yet be saved for posterity and why it’s important to preserve them.

The visuals, performances, music, directing, and other technical aspects of the film have been examined minutely by critics, but one of the attractions on the Arrow Special Edition release of HUGO that’s worth emphasizing is supplemental features, including producer Heather Buckley’s extended interview with author Selznick as he discusses the genesis of the book, his intentions and aspirations in creating it, and finally examining the theme of the story. He remarks that the theme was brought up with him by a fan who said they believed that the story centers around creating our own families by choosing the people one surrounds oneself with, an admitted revelation to Selznick. I see where that applies to both film and book, but my own thoughts lean more toward themes of healing ourselves through helping others heal, as Hugo (Butterfield) and Isabella (Moretz) demonstrate not only with Papa Georges (Kingsley) but with each other, and as Station Inspector Gustav (Cohen) and flower girl Lisette (Emily Mortimer) embody. Much of Hugo’s backstory supports this theme as well, without refuting Selznick’s preferred thesis.

Arrow Video’s presentation of HUGO on 4K UHD is presented in stunning 2160p in 2D, and in 3D as it was always meant to be viewed by Scorsese (in 1080p), as well as a 2D version on the included blu-ray disc. The image quality in 2D (I am not fully equipped to evaluate the 3D presentation, though the consensus among other reviewers is that there is a marked improvement from the Paramount BRD) is an order of magnitude crisper and clearer than the previous Blu-ray release, without being over-sharpened. Color fidelity is fantastic, as is density in blacks and whites. The sound is also up to speed, making this the most pleasing copy of the film I’ve seen since it’s theatrical release.

Extras include an audio commentary by Jon Spira; the theatrical trailer (HD; 2:18); as well as a third disc featuring Inventing Hugo Cabret, a new interview with Brian Selznick, author and illustrator of the original novel on which the film is based; Capturing Dreams, a new interview with director of photography Robert Richardson; The Music of Dreams, a new interview with composer Howard Shore; Ian Christie on Hugo, a new interview with the acclaimed film historian and editor of SCORSESE ON SCORSESE; Secret Machines: Hugo and Film Preservation, a new visual essay by filmmaker and critic Scout Tafoya; Creating New Worlds, a new featurette in which French film historian and author Julien Dupuy examines the life and the legacy of Georges Melies and his impact on cinema and special effects; Papa Georges Made Movies, a new featurette in which film critic and historian Pamela Hutchinson explores the days of early cinema; Melies at the time of Hugo, a new a visual essay by filmmaker and writer Jon Spira plus five archival featurettes on the making of the film – Shoot the Moon: The Making of Hugo; The Cinemagician: Georges Meliés; The Mechanical Man at the Heart of Hugo; Big Effects, Small Scale; and Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime. There is also an image gallery, a folded mini poster, and an insert booklet written by Farran Smith Nehme.

HUGO is what the French might call an “event cinemalogique,” and deserves all the accolades from critics and movies fans that it has received, as does Arrow Video for the care taken in preparing this package. Most highly recommended.

 

 

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, Retro Fan, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatcH*Dog, and many more. He is the author of the upcoming book The Art of George Wilson from Hermes Press.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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APES ON FILM: The Baby Bear of Kung Fu Flicks—WARRIORS TWO

Posted on: Jul 18th, 2023 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.

 

 

WARRIORS TWO – 1978
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Sammo Hung, Ka-Yan Leung, Casanova Wong, Hark-On Fung
Director: Sammo Hung
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: A
BRD Release Date: June 6, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Mandarin: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Run Time: 95 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

When you think of kung fu movies, the first things that come to mind probably aren’t 1) a hand-based martial art invented by a nun or 2) Sammo Hung. Those two slots are likely devoted to the stylings of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. But Sammo Hung’s 1978 film WARRIORS TWO is one of the ass-kickingest kung fu flicks of the genre’s heyday, and it’s the movie that places the director as an equal alongside the legends of martial arts filmmakers.

WARRIORS TWO is the simple story of the usual gang of baddies looking to overthrow the town leaving it up to a few scrappy citizens with hearts of gold to uphold the pillars of justice and exact their brand of brutal diplomacy. In the film, a banker, Cashier Wah (Casanova Wong) overhears that gang boss Mo (Hark-On Fung) is planning to kill the town mayor and take over the village. Wah accidentally reveals to one of Mo’s goons that he knows about the boss’s plans for a coup and the gang murders Wah’s mother. Conveniently, the town doctor Mr. Tsan (Ka-Yan Leung) quietly resides as a master of Wing Chun kung fu. Tsan’s lead student Fat Chun (Sammo Hung) eventually persuades the master to teach the unique martial art stylings to Wah, and Wah and Chun team up to vanquish Mo and his designs of usurpation.

Kung fu films are a lot like Kaiju films—most of us are here for the monsters—and in the case of martial arts, the heightened premise of effervescent action. Thankfully the narrative in WARRIORS TWO is so simple and fundamentally relatable that there’s not much plot to get in the way of the kung fu. This can be a slippery slope leaving the human elements of films that star ass-kicking and giant lizards up to mediocrity (see also, any number of GAMERA films guilty of this crime), but director Hung cajoles meaningful performances from his cast who deliver characters we truly care about. Hung’s Fat Chun is comic relief but never corny or over-the-top, and Casanova Wong as Cashier Wah transforms from a timid banker to an assured Wing Chun expert. Ka-Yan Leung as Mr. Tsan is the perfect foil for his eager students, portraying the legendary master as cranky and reluctant, creating a definitive dynamic amongst the cast that cheers on the task at hand.

The problem with kung fu movies is that the action can often drown out the story, and we, as the demanding audience, like to have our cake and eat it too. Many films are also guilty of the opposite problem of leaning on too much pesky talking and plot mechanics and not enough of the flying fists we demanded in the first place. WARRIORS TWO scratches the action itch with long, thrilling, satisfying kung fu sequences, yet never gives up on its characters or story. In an appropriate Zen way, it strikes quite an enjoyable balance.

Director Hung required his actors to study Wing Chun for two months before even developing the story. Once his cast was ready, Hung and his crew began preparing a script to fit the action. Script in hand, WARRIORS TWO took over a year to make, and has grown to be one of Hung’s unequivocal works.

As Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan filled theaters all over the world and thrilled audiences with their martial arts stylings, Sammo Hung wanted to establish himself with his own unique approach to martial arts cinema. His use of the Wing Chun style stands out as a close-quartered hand-to-hand combat form that predicates itself upon the simple notion of the closest distance between two objects being a straight line. So, while the opponents in the film flail about with the typical kung fu fighting, Hung’s heroes are more precise in the face of their attackers. Frankly, not being a martial arts expert myself, I’m not sure I could tell you the difference, but Hung’s premise and unrelenting action sure makes for solid entertainment.

Arrow Video presents WARRIORS TWO in high-definition on Blu-ray disc, with 2K restorations of both the original Hong Kong and shorter international versions of the film. This release includes commentary on the Hong Kong version by martial arts expert Frank Djeng and actor Bobby Samuels. The international version features commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. The disc also includes the archival documentary “The Way of the Warrior: The Making of Warriors Two” and an interview with actor Ka-Yan “Bryan” Leung who plays Mr. Tsan in the film. Other features in this release include trailers, a poster with art by Joe Kim, reversible sleeve art, and an illustrated collectors booklet with new writing by Jonathan Clements.

In the midst of a fount of recent 60s and 70s Shaw Brothers releases from various home video companies, Arrow Video’s release of Golden Harvest’s and Sammo Hung’s WARRIORS TWO arrives as an efficient action flick with no pressure thrills, that is everything the casual and expert kung fu viewer could ask for. Highly recommended.

 

 

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. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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

APES ON FILM: Just Another Day in Kung Fu Paradise

Posted on: Jun 27th, 2023 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.

 

BURNING PARADISE – 1994
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, John Ching, Kuei Li, Chun Lam, Kam-Kong Wong, Yamson Domingo
Director: Ringo Lam
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: May 29, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.90 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 105 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

 

 

The burning of the Shaolin temple is the best thing to ever happen to Chinese filmmaking. The historic rivalry of the Kung Fu practicing monks against the Qing dynasty is the gift that keeps on giving, blessing the world with a legacy of films loaded with martial arts-packed action. Kung Fu films are a staple of genre cinema, at times of varying degrees of quality, but rarely are they ever not entertaining.

Ringo Lam’s 1994 film BURNING PARADISE is yet another notch in the belt of Kung Fu’s cinematic tradition, once again taking advantage of the fateful clash of cultures within Chinese history.

After Shaolin disciple Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi) and his master Chi Nun (Wu Xi-qian) are attacked by a regiment of Qing soldiers, the two men find refuge with the prostitute Dau Dau (Carman Lee). Chi Nun is killed in a second attack by the Qing army, and Fong and Dau Dau are taken as prisoners to the Red Lotus Temple where dozens of Shaolin monks are held captive by the deranged Elder Kung (Kam-Kong Wong), a former Qing general. Kung keeps Dau Dau as one of his concubines while Fong is left for dead in a cavern of corpses. Dau Dau bargains for Fong’s freedom who is soon forced to a duel with one of Kung’s men, a former fellow Shaolin monk. From this point on, escape from the heavily armed and booby-trapped fortress is the name of the game as Kung reveals his depravity every step of the way.

BURNING PARADISE quickly becomes a simple action-packed story of exodus and rescue, and doesn’t do much to deepen the fabled conflict of good versus evil beyond the usual notions of bad guys do bad things, and good guys are left to clean up the mess. The magnificent martial arts duel in the desert that kicks off the film gives an allusion of a sweeping Chinese epic, but the film quickly becomes confined to the claustrophobic environs of the elaborate set-bound caves of the Red Lotus Temple.

Any narrative dynamic of the film arises from the development of the characters who become more interesting in the face of adversity as new allegiances are revealed as the story progresses. But the notion of “good” has a narrative ceiling, and those who align themselves as protagonists get there and stay there. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, imbuing it’s characters with good-natured but terrible humor loaded with groan-worthy one-liners.

The action, on the other hand, never stops and ranges from sensational swordplay and flying guillotines to deadly paint splatter that hits like shotgun blasts. Plenty of bodily bi-section and decapitation will keep mutant gore-monger audiences thrilled throughout the film. However, the final kills involving the big baddies are a little disappointing, likely because the most exciting attacks are used up in the rest of the movie’s non-stop action.

BURNING PARADISE is Ringo Lam’s first and only martial arts film. The director was typically known for making more modern crime-based movies and was recommended to direct BURNING PARADISE by the film’s producer, the celebrated martial arts filmmaker Tsui Hark. Actor Willie Chi was primed to be the next Jet Li after taking over Jackie Chan’s role in his next film DRUNKEN MASTER III, and is perfect as the best of good guys in BURNING PARADISE, but only went on to make three more films. The movie, considered a flop upon release, raked in just under two million Hong Kong dollars in 1994. But like many cult films, BURNING PARADISE found its audience through home video.

Eureka Entertainment presents BURNING PARADISE in a beautiful high-definition Blu-ray release, with vibrant colors and excellent sound. The disc contains few, but quality, features, the highlight being a robust commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng. Other features include a short archival interview with producer Tsui Hark and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Eureka’s limited edition offers a booklet written by film critic James Oliver and a lively slipcover with exclusive new art.

The Kung Fu film can hardly be considered dynamic storytelling, but filmmakers continue to get plenty of milage out of the genre. BURNING PARADISE may not offer anything particularly unique beyond pure entertainment but it is a no-pressure flick that’s an absolute joy of rich characters and electrifying action that would be fun transposed onto certain more contemporary western franchises (I’m talking to you, STAR WARS). Highly recommended.

 

 

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.

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