APES ON FILM: Viva Karloff!

Posted on: Aug 16th, 2021 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!

 

 

VIVA – 2007
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Anna Biller, Bridget Brno, Chad England, Jared Sanford
Director: Anna Biller
Rated: R
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A
BRD Release Date: August 24th, 2021
Audio Formats: TBA
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 121 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Anna Biller’s VIVA is a spot-on parody of early 1970’s porn films without the explicit sex – and you’ll never miss it. Biller the auteur has curated every visual, every performance and every sound to reflect the awkward, amateurish filmmaking of the San Fernando Valley of the decade to bring forth a polished, hilarious spoof of the rite of passage that was the sexual revolution. Biller the actress commits fully to her role of Barbie, a naive housewife on the verge of shedding her inhibitions in favor of awkward sex with a cadre of cringe-inducing men and a lovely female friend played by Robbin Ryan. Actually, what makes the film so watchable is that Biller and company aren’t playing the roles assigned to them in the script; they’re playing a bunch of bad actors attempting to play those roles and failing, which makes for a much more subtle performance. The howlingly amusing dialog (and confused smoldering looks) is delivered just as poorly as if it was lifted wholesale from a Gerard Damiano movie set.

Having enjoyed Biller’s second feature, THE LOVE WITCH (2016), I was eager to see her initial offering and wasn’t disappointed. The whole film is stylized and over the top, but Biller manages to evoke a sincere nostalgia for the 1970s, and the over-saturated cinematography of M. David Mullen  reinforces that. The director/actress not only wrote, directed, and starred in VIVA, she also edited it, created the costumes, sets, music, set decoration and designed the production. With the results she achieved on such a shoestring budget here, I’d love to see her sink her teeth into a larger budget production with some dramatic chops; she’d kill something like BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997).

Kino Lorber’s presentation of the film looks gorgeous and sounds great, naturally. Extras include a new audio commentary by writer/director/star Anna Biller, behind-the-scenes footage narrated by Biller, and the theatrical trailer. I’m surprised to find the film with an R rating instead of NC17 — it’s very, VERY naked throughout.

VIVA is the kind of film I like to see being made and released in this era of tentpole franchise mania among studios. Biller’s signature touches are unmistakably those of someone who loves and reveres the films she’s spoofing. Worth a watch for the fabulous costumes alone, including a Paco Rabanne dress that appeared in the original  CASINO ROYALE (1967).

 

 

KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA – The Black Room / The Man They Could Not Hang / The Man with Nine Lives / Before I Hang / The Devil Commands / The Boogie Man Will Get You
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Lorna Gray , Roger Pryor , Evelyn Keyes , Richard Fiske , Peter Lorre
Directed By: Roy William Neill, Nick Grinde, Edward Dmytryk, Lew Landers
Studio: Eureka! Classics – 2 Disc Limited Set (3000 copies)
BRD Release Date: May 03, 2021
Region: B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC 2K
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.34:1, 1.33:1
Run Time: 400 Minutes
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Boris Karloff is most closely associated with the Universal Monsters films of the 1930s and 40s, having played Frankenstein’s monster several times as well as essaying memorable roles in films like THE BLACK CAT (1934), THE RAVEN (1935), TOWER OF LONDON (1939) and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), to name just a few. While he cranked out horror hits for Universal, Karloff was also a man about town working for other studios as well including Columbia, for which he created a cycle of “Mad Doctor” films and a single period gothic terror called THE BLACK ROOM (1935). His Columbia movies have now been collected into an excellent box set by Eureka! Classics in the UK.

THE BLACK ROOM finds Boris playing a set of twins cursed by fate to murder each other, and allows him to really stretch his acting muscles as he portrays the pair, one benevolent and caring, the other a despicable tyrant. In fact, watching all six films, I was struck by what a good actor he truly was, and what he was able to create in performances beyond the guttural murmurings he was limited to in portraying Frankenstein’s monster. He really is quite watchable in all six films, and elevates even the least of the films into an hour or two well spent.

The other five films comprise his mad doctor series for the studio, and sadly they all seem cut from the same cloth in terms of story, characterization, and performances by other cast members. Clearly, Karloff was a star that Columbia was afraid to take a chance on in a dramatic role unassociated with the genre that spawned him. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy these films, I did; but they are similar in many ways and by the end of the run I felt the concept had been strip-mined and was happy to move on. THE DEVIL COMMANDS (1941) ramped the crazy science factor up in an attempt to keep viewers interested, and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (1942) is an outright comedy, most likely because Karloff had co-starred in the smash hit comedy play ARSENIC & OLD LACE on Broadway the same year.

Eureka! Entertainment’s box set is a wonderful presentation of these films. Though unrestored, all the prints are watchable though feature damage in some areas. Film grain is high throughout as well, and there are some audio artifacts present that are occasionally distracting. Truthfully, I’m certain this is still the best all of these films have looked in years. Extras include new audio commentaries on THE BLACK ROOM, BEFORE I HANG and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby as well as new audio commentaries on THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES and THE DEVIL COMMANDS with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman, plus a collector’s booklet featuring writing on all six films by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann.

If your experience of Boris Karloff is limited to his Universal horrors or some of his later films like THE COMEDY OF TERRORS or THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, grab this set and enjoy him in a different light. You won’t regret it. Make sure you live in Ireland or the UK or have a region free player, though.

 

 

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*WatcHDog, and more.

 

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

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APES ON FILM: Terrors Abound: Somnambulists and Conjurors!

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2020 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.

 

 

STEPHEN KING’S SLEEPWALKERS – 1992
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Brian Krause, dchen Amick , Alice Krige
Directors: Mick Garris
Rated: R
Studio: Eureka! Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: October 19, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Run Time: 89 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The 1980s were truly rife with film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, for better (THE SHINING, STAND BY ME, THE DEAD ZONE) or for worse (CUJO, CAT’S EYE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE). The 1990s started strong with MISERY, but as they settled in, his horror-related work took a back seat to adaptations of more mainstream stories such as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and THE GREEN MILE, which garnered more attention from critics and audiences. King’s first direct-to-screen story, not based on a previous work, was SLEEPWALKERS (1992).

The film introduces us to the “legend” of the Sleepwalkers – immortal monsters that feed on the life force of virgins, supposedly based on Native American folklore. Luckily, these maiden-sucking vampires have a fatal weakness; cats hate them and can scratch them to death, releasing the fires of hell within their souls. Owing as much to Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (and coming only a decade after Paul Schrader’s stylish remake of it), SLEEPWALKERS trades in the same psycho-sexual horror headspace, focusing on the mother-and-son monster duo of Mary and Charles Brady (Krige and Krause), an incestuous pair that’s just moved into town and set their sights on the lovely life force of movie theater popcorn girl Tanya Robertson (Amick).

King really misses an opportunity to craft a story of substance by making Charles a one-dimensional vampiric douchebag, tossing off one-liners as he kills a teacher, terrorizes the initially smitten Tanya, and tears through town in his Trans Am. Had he been torn between the past and the fate thrust upon him by his evil mother and his true love for Amick’s character, the film could have been much more substantial than a teen monster movie of little consequence, which it eventually becomes.

Eureka’s Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great, but is Region B encoded, so you’ll need a region-free player to view. If you’re unable to play a Region B disc, Shout! Factory has released the film in the U.S., and the supplemental materials on the Eureka release were all ported from the Shout! Factory discs except for a new audio commentary by director Mick Garris and Lee Gambin. The Eureka release does come with a Limited-Edition O-Card slipcase with silver laminate finish and a Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann which is included with the first two-thousand copies only.

Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS is cheesy fun but could have been so much more. Recommended for King completists.

 

THE MAGICIAN – 1973 – ‘74
1.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Bill Bixby , Keene Curtis , Julian Christopher , Joseph Sirola
Created By: Bruce Lansbury
Studio: Visual Entertainment Inc
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2017
Audio Formats: Dolby Audio, English Stereo
Video Resolution/Codec: NTSC 1
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (or is it?)
Run Time: 1025 minutes

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

THE MAGICIAN was the third of Bill Bixby’s (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) network series, and the least successful. It lasted only a season on NBC from 1973-74, and I recall it fondly as helping to ease the sting of the cancellation of SEARCH, a show that my eight-year-old self obsessed over the year before. The series found Bixby playing the world’s greatest illusionist, Anthony Blake – a professional magician and amateur sleuth and “fixer” for friends and acquaintances who needed his special kind of help. Think of him as a cross between Houdini and The Equalizer.

The series was entertaining and the concept interesting enough, but it suffered from network meddling; bad luck (Bixby’s character name was Anthony Dorian in the pilot, and a stage magician named Tony Dorian came forward after it aired which prompted the name change to Anthony Blake); producers trying to wrestle spiraling budgets under control (halfway through the season, Blake’s private live-in jet airliner was discarded in favor of an apartment at Los Angeles’ The Magic Castle); and even a writer’s strike. Regular characters disappeared halfway through the season and new ones added with no explanation. The hook for the series was Bixby’s likable magician, but it wasn’t enough to keep viewers tuned in through all the inexplicable changes and the show folded after just twenty-one episodes.

Visual Entertainment Inc. has released the full series and pilot episode in a four-disc set in DVD format, and I was happy to get them. At first. The company admits in a warning screen at the beginning of the discs that quality is not as high as many other DVD series releases from the time period, so I was forewarned. This is excusable – the show quality is a bit rough here and there, but the fact that it was released at all (and for a reasonable price) was something for which to be thankful. What I can’t abide is that they label the video as appearing in the original NTSC 4:3 aspect ratio, which it does not. The ratio has been stretched to fit modern television screens’ landscape orientation rather than simply allowing the black bars on either side of the picture, as any sane person would have formatted it. The stretching results in loss of picture at the top and bottom of the screens to some degree, but mainly it makes everyone appear wider than normal, which pulls me (and everyone else, I assume) out of my “comfort” zone and makes the whole experience unwatchable. In some scenes it’s hardly noticeable; in the next, it’s grossly exaggerated. Maddening and completely unnecessary.

I can’t recommend purchasing this set, no matter how big a fan you might be. The best we can hope for is a release from a responsible company who respects the viewing experience at some point in the future. Save your money for that day.

 

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*WatcHDog, and more.

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

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

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