Wednesday, November 26, 2014

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI On Blu-ray From Kino-Lorber






Before I start my review of this disc, I'd like to tell the story of when I saw THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI for the very first time.

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my elementary school (Warren Elementary in Lydick, IN) had a Halloween assembly. At this assembly it was planned to show Halloween-themed cartoons, but for some reason the school couldn't get any, so they showed a copy of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI instead. Why they did this I have no idea--maybe they figured that a black & white silent movie was safe for kids--but needless to say my classmates and I had certainly never seen anything like CALIGARI before. I have to admit that the movie creeped me out--and my first viewing of CALIGARI has stuck with me to this day.

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is one of the most famous and influential movies ever made. The ultimate example of cinematic German Expressionism, CALIGARI still has the power to shock, confound, and intrigue audiences to this day. It has been called the first true horror film, and two of the film's main characters--Werner Krauss's Caligari and Conrad Veidt's Cesare--are considered the templates for all the mad scientists and monsters that have filled  movie screens ever since.

Up till now, even the best available prints of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI have looked substandard. Recently a 4K restoration was produced using an original camera negative of CALIGARI. This restoration is featured on Kino-Lorber's new Blu-ray, and the result is absolutely stunning.

The visual quality of this version of CALIGARI is so sharp, and it has so much depth, that I felt like I couldn't have been watching something made in 1919....I felt like I was seeing a recreation of CALIGARI using 21st Century actors. It really is like watching the movie for the very first time. The bizarre sets and production design of artists Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Rohrig stand out even more clearly now, enough that even a person who has seen CALIGARI numerous times will be noticing various "new" details in just about every scene. If you have one of those old versions of CALIGARI, you have to upgrade. There's that much of a difference.

Two different music scores are on this disc, one from the University of Music, Freiberg and the other from DJ Spooky. The Freiberg score is acceptable, but nothing outstanding. The DJ Spooky score tries to be as unusual as CALIGARI itself, and in my opinion, it just becomes distracting. I don't think a music score for a silent film should be noticed for being too weird, even for a film like CALIGARI. Just about anyone who does a score for CALIGARI attempts to be expressionistic...trust me, I've heard plenty of them over the years.

This new restoration of CALIGARI has already been featured on a Region B Blu-ray from Masters Of Cinema. I still don't have a multi-region Blu-ray player (if any of you out there would like to buy me one, feel free), so I'm more than happy that Kino has released this for Region A. The main extra is a 52-minute German documentary entitled CALIGARI: HOW HORROR CAME TO THE CINEMA. It gives a concise history of German Expressionism in the cinema, and it features a number of scenes from other 1920s German films. A rather generic stills gallery is included, along with a couple of restoration examples (unfortunately there isn't a thorough documentary on the restoration itself). There is also a booklet essay on the film by Kristin Thompson.

What this release really needs is an audio commentary. The Masters Of Cinema version has a commentary by film historian David Kalat, and I wish that Kino had been able to include that on their disc. Kalat is one of the best when it comes to doing audio commentaries, and I would have loved to hear him address some of the many urban legends that surround the making of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI.

The extras for this Blu-ray may not be up to the quality of the CALIGARI restoration, but that shouldn't stop you from getting this disc. Any true silent film aficionado has to have THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI in his or her collection. And if you haven't seen CALIGARI, I recommend you should do so at least once....just make sure you watch the restoration and not one of those cheap public domain versions.






One of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, and one that would be repeated several times over in dozens of horror and science-fiction films--a creature of menace carries off a beautiful woman in a nightgown.






Thursday, November 20, 2014

My 100 Favorite Films Of All Time: Stats And Observations





It was last year that I started listing my 100 favorite films of all time in increments of 10. I finally finished the list in the last couple months. I have to admit that towards the end it was becoming somewhat of a crapshoot. I know there's some movies I forgot to put on the list, and there are some movies on the list that might be ranked too high.

One thing I tried to do is not load up the list with classic horror and science-fiction films. Despite that I'm sure a few people will still say there's too many monster movies on it. I also tried to spread out certain types of films throughout the list, and I also tried to make sure that certain directors and stars didn't have their movies bunched up together--for example, I wanted to avoid having two or three John Ford titles in one of the segments.

I hope readers realize that just because a movie is not on the list does not mean I don't like it. I could have made a list with 200, or even 300 films....but you have to stop sometime, and how the heck would you judge the difference between entry #213 and entry #214?

Here's a breakdown of the list by the decade in which the films were released:

1920s.......8
1930s.....12
1940s.......6
1950s.....14
1960s.....21
1970s.....19
1980s.......7
1990s.......4
2000s.......9

I always though of the 1930s as my favorite movie decade, but the decade of the Sixties contains the most titles, closely followed by the Seventies. I'm surprised that the Sixties has more titles than the 80s 90s, and the 21st Century put together. Maybe I'm not such a black & white old movie wierdo after all...but to a lot of folks movies from the 1960s are positively ancient.

Here's the directors whose titles appeared the most on the list:

John Ford..............6
Buster Keaton........4
Alfred Hitchcock.....4
Frank Capra...........4
Sergio Leone..........4
Fritz Lang...............3
Peter Jackson.........3
Martin Scorsese......3
John Sturges...........3
Terence Fisher........3
Michael Curtiz.........3
Francis Coppola......3

A lot of great filmmakers here. The big surprise would be John Sturges, a director who gets almost no type of recognition from film buffs these days. Another surprise would be that Norman McLeod directed two films on my list (IT'S A GIFT and HORSE FEATHERS), although considering those films starred W. C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, one has to wonder how much "directing" he actually did.

Here's the stars who appeared in the most films on the list:

Peter Cushing..........6
Christopher Lee........6
John Wayne.............6
Clint Eastwood.........6
James Stewart.........6
Harrison Ford...........5
Alec Guinness.........5
Buster Keaton..........5

This compilation is hardly scientific....I just picked the biggest and easiest names to remember. I'm sure there's some character actors who have more appearances that I just didn't notice (Ward Bond, maybe?).

Random thoughts:

-Eight silent movies made the list. I bet most Americans haven't seen eight silent movies in their entire lives.

-The earliest-released film on the list is NOSFERATU (1922). The latest-released film is CASINO ROYALE (2006)

-Speaking of CASINO ROYALE, it is one of three James Bond movies on the list. The others are FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.

-15 Westerns made the list.

-74 films on the list are in color opposed to 26 in black & white.

-How many Woody Allen or Julia Roberts movies appear on the list? Absolutely zero.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

COMPANEROS






One of my latest Blu-ray purchases is a 1970 Spaghetti Western called COMPANEROS, released by Blue Underground.

COMPANEROS was directed by Sergio Corbucci, who helmed a number of famous European Westerns, including DJANGO and THE GREAT SILENCE. The movie stars Franco Nero, who was the original Django, and Tomas Milian (THE BIG GUNDOWN).

Nero and Milian were two of the biggest stars of the whole Spaghetti Western genre, and teaming them up was a major coup at the time. Usually when there are two male stars in a Spaghetti Western, one is a taciturn Clint Eastwood-type, and the other is a colorful Mexican bandit. Milian fills the Mexican bandit role, but Nero's character--a Swedish arms dealer--is made out to be as "colorful" as Milian. Most of the plot deals with Nero and Milian double-crossing and double-dealing each other as they try to find a Mexican professor (Fernando Rey) who knows the combination to a safe held by revolutionaries.

Sergio Corbucci's Westerns have been considered to be political, but if COMPANEROS does have a message, it is lost among the antics of Nero and Milian. Fernando Rey's character is portrayed as a true voice of political protest--he doesn't even believe in violence (how long do you think a guy like that is going to last in a Spaghetti Western?). The beliefs of Rey's professor do not mix very well with the rest of the film, which is filled with the typical violence and goofy humor associated with this kind of feature.

The main villain of COMPANEROS is none other than Jack Palance, who plays a mercenary named John who has a grudge against Nero's gun runner. In just about every scene that John is in, he's puffing on a marijuana joint...and one has to wonder if Palance really was smoking the wacky weed. He spends the entire movie looking and talking like he's constipated, and he seems to be using some type of Irish-Scottish accent that changes tone every time he opens his mouth. His character also has a wooden hand and a falcon. One of the major archetypes of most Spaghetti Westerns is having a villain that is bizarre as possible, but Palance is so over-the-top that he's just distracting instead of dangerous.

Sergio Corbucci did know how to direct effective action sequences, and COMPANEROS is filled with them. Even if the story doesn't make much sense, a viewer won't have to wait long for something violent to happen. COMPANEROS is entertaining, at least for European Western fans. Nero and Milian do have excellent screen presence, and they make a very good team. The Blue Underground Blu-ray of this title contains two versions of the film--an English version which runs 115 minutes and a Italian version which runs 119 minutes (there's not much difference between the two). COMPANEROS is a bit long at almost two hours--it is certainly not on the level of a Sergio Leone-type epic.

One major treat COMPANEROS has is a music score by the iconic Ennio Morricone. I love Morricone's work, but even I have to admit that his score for this film is not one of his best. The main title theme, which is a sarcastic up-tempo song about killing, is played so many times during the story that you get a bit annoyed by it after awhile. But average Morricone is better than most other composer's best.

The Blu-ray contains a short featurette containing interviews with Franco Nero, Tomas Milian, and Ennio Morricone. This extra really should have been longer (Morricone has very little time in it). There is a rather rambling audio commentary from Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, and a selection of trailers, TV commercials, and a still & poster gallery.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA On Blu-ray










THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is the last film director Roger Corman made which was based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Corman's Poe adaptations, produced by American-International Pictures, were hugely successful during the first half of the 1960s. However, the filmmaker was getting tired of the Poe formula--he had already started tweaking it with doses of comedy (THE RAVEN) and shooting an entry in England (THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH). With THE TOMB OF LIGEIA Corman and his screenwriter Robert Towne would bring in more changes to the cinematic Poe cycle.

All of Roger Corman's other Poe films had been filmed totally in a studio. It was Corman's belief that Poe's world was a world of the mind, and real locations would not adequately present the atmosphere Corman was working toward. Art Director Daniel Haller played a major role in the look and feel of the Poe series, along with cinematographer Floyd Crosby. Composer Les Baxter's music also became associated with Poe and Corman.

Because THE TOMB OF LIGEIA was filmed in England, Corman was not officially able to use Haller as art director (even though Haller did help out with preparatory work). The cinematographer on LIGEIA was Arthur Grant, a Hammer Films veteran. The music was composed by Kenneth Jones.

The biggest "new" effect for THE TOMB OF LIGEIA was real location shooting. A 1000 year-old abbey in Norfolk was used, and a fox hunt sequence was part of the story. The abbey serves as the home of the morose Verden Fell (Vincent Price), who is deep in mourning over the death of his wife Ligeia.

Robert Towne's screenplay (which is set in the early 19th Century) has the spirited Lady Rowena Trevanion (Elizabeth Shepherd), bored over the fox hunt, discovering the ancient abbey. Rowena comes upon Ligeia's grave, and meets up with Fell. Rowena is intrigued by Fell, and the two marry--but Rowena soon learns that the most powerful force in the household is the memory of Ligeia.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is not really a straight horror film. It is a dark Gothic love story, in which the power of the will is the most important feeling. (Kenneth Jones' lush score contributes to the mood.) Ligeia's spirit is represented by a black cat (the cat spooks Rowena's horse at the beginning of the story, leading to her meeting with Fell). Like other movies such as REBECCA and LAURA (which Vincent Price appeared in), the unseen Ligeia hovers over all the other characters, and influences everyone's actions.

Because LIGEIA is basically a romance, Robert Towne had wanted a younger actor, such as Richard Chamberlain, to play the role of Fell. Of course, Towne must have known that there was no way Roger Corman and AIP were going to make a Poe movie without Vincent Price (THE PREMATURE BURIAL notwithstanding). During the 1964 filming of LIGEIA, Vincent Price was twice the age of his leading lady Elizabeth Shepherd. Despite this Price does an outstanding job. While Price's Roderick Usher is white-haired and pale, Verden Fell is dark-haired and black-garbed, and he almost always sports a pair of wrap-around dark glasses (see picture above). I've always thought those glasses are one of the best-looking movie props ever....but they also have a plot significance. Verden Fell has lost his ability to "see" things as they really are (and this will be taken to its ultimate end at the movie's climax, courtesy of that black cat). The gloomy Fell could only be played by Price--the actor was the human personification of Edgar Allan Poe's stories.

As for Elizabeth Shepherd, she gives what I think is the best female performance in a Poe/Corman/Price movie...it may even be the best female performance in any Roger Corman-directed movie. Corman knew that he needed more than just the typical AIP starlet for THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. When Elizabeth Shepherd was hired for the film, she was already an accomplished British stage actress. Her mature attitude and patrician bearing enabled her to more than capably hold her own when sharing scenes with Vincent Price. One of LIGEIA's highlights is a scene where Fell gives a demonstration of mesmerism using Rowena as a subject. During the demonstration the spirit of Ligeia takes command of Rowena--and Shepherd believably presents this all through acting, without any camera tricks or sound effects. It is Shepherd who carries the film--she has more screen time than Price does (she also "plays" Ligeia at the end of the story).

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA may be different in most ways from the other Poe/Corman/Price films, but it still has some similarities as well. There's a dream sequence, and Elizabeth Shepherd spends a fair amount of time wandering around in a nightgown. There's another one of Roger Corman's fiery climaxes, which means we get to see once again that "burning barn" footage first used in HOUSE OF USHER. (I don't know who actually owned that barn, but if the person that did had residuals on the footage that was shot of it, he or she would be a millionaire today.)

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is the most accomplished film included in THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II Blu-ray set. Unfortunately it is also the worst-looking of the bunch. The only thing that seems enhanced visually are the scratches on the print. This LIGEIA Blu-ray doesn't look all that much better than the "Midnite Movies" DVD of the title. This is fairly disappointing, especially considering that Arthur Grant did one of his best jobs as a cinematographer on the picture.

The major extra for the LIGEIA Blu-ray is a new audio commentary featuring Elizabeth Shepherd with Roy Frumkes. When I met Ms. Shepherd at the October 2014 Monster Bash, she went out of her way to tell me that I must listen to this commentary--she said "It's very good". The lady was right--the commentary is informative and entertaining, and Shepherd obviously did her homework. If you do have this Vincent Price set, or you are planning to buy it, make sure you play this special extra.

The Blu-ray also has commentaries from Roger Corman and film historian Constantine Nasr (yes, that's right...three different commentaries). A still gallery and a theatrical trailer are included as well.


With Elizabeth Shepherd at Monster Bash (original THE TOMB OF LIGEIA poster in the background)








Sunday, November 9, 2014

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II











Last year Shout Factory scored a huge success with their release of the VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Blu-ray box set. This year the company has come out with a box set sequel--called THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION II, fittingly enough.

This set consists of seven movies on four discs. The first disc could be called the "comedy" disc, since it contains THE RAVEN and THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, two pictures which took the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Poe formula and played it for laughs. THE RAVEN features not only Price but Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as well.....and it even has a very young Jack Nicholson. THE COMEDY OF TERRORS was directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by Richard Matheson, and it also has Karloff & Lorre, along with Basil Rathbone.

The second disc has THE TOMB OF LIGEIA and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. I'm going to do a separate blog on LIGEIA, since I met Elizabeth Shepherd a couple weeks ago. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH is based on Richard Matheson's acclaimed modern Gothic novel I Am Legend. Although LAST MAN did not do well on its original release, the film's reputation has grown over the years--it may be the best cinematic adaptation of Matheson's work.

The third disc could be called the "sequel" disc, since it has two follow-ups to Vincent Price's most famous films. DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN is of course the continuing adventures of Dr. Anton Phibes from THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. It is not as impressive as the first Phibes film--but seeing Price in his (in my opinion) best role is a treat. RETURN OF THE FLY is a very low-rent sequel to the far superior THE FLY. Why RETURN OF THE FLY is on this set is a head-scratcher--the movie isn't even in color, and Price has very little to do in it.

The fourth disc has the legendary HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, Vincent's first teaming with the great showman William Castle. The rest of the disc is filled with various featurettes on Price's life and career. There's also another 32-page booklet written by David Del Valle, which is filled with pertinent information and stories about Price.

Just like the first Shout Factory Vincent Price set, this one has tons of extras--new audio commentaries, still galleries, trailers, featurettes, etc. (I still haven't gotten to all the extras on the first Price set). All of the films included here have been released on DVD before, most of them on the famed MGM "Midnite Movies" label. At least Shout Factory has gone out of their way to make sure buyers get something more than just the movies....let's face it, if you are a Vincent Price you more than likely already have these titles on home video.

With the exception of THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (which I will discuss on a separate blog), the movies look rather impressive on Blu-ray. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL has been out on various public-domain discs for a while, but the Shout Factory Blu-ray version blows the other ones away. A few reviewers on the internet have mentioned that the film selection for this box set could have been better. Having three black & white movies on a Blu-ray box set, when there are so many Vincent Price color titles that could have been chosen, is the first thing that comes to mind. (And why not THE FLY instead of RETURN OF THE FLY?) I assume that Shout Factory will put out other Vincent Price Blu-ray sets--here's the titles I'd like to see on the next one:


MASTER OF THE WORLD
TALES OF TERROR
WAR GODS OF THE DEEP
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN
MADHOUSE
THEATER OF BLOOD

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My 100 Favorite Films Of All Time--The Master List




1. STAR WARS (Original Theatrical Version) Directed by George Lucas
2. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY Directed by Sergio Leone
3. THE SEARCHERS Directed by John Ford
4. VERTIGO Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
5. METROPOLIS (1927) Directed by Fritz Lang
6. THE GENERAL Directed by Buster Keaton
7. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING Directed by Peter Jackson
8. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON Directed by Frank Capra
9. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN Directed by James Whale
10. THE BLUES BROTHERS Directed by John Landis
11. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Directed by Irvin Kershner
12. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA Directed by David Lean
13. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK Directed by Steven Spielberg
14. THE BRIDES OF DRACULA Directed by Terence Fisher
15. PATTON Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
16. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY Directed by Stanley Kubrick
17. THE WILD BUNCH Directed by Sam Peckinpah
18. THE GODFATHER Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
19. NOTORIOUS Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
20. THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) Directed by Michael Ritchie
21. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI Directed by David Lean
22. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON Directed by John Ford
23. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST Directed by Sergio Leone
24. APOCALYPSE NOW Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
25. RIO BRAVO Directed by Howard Hawks
26. THE SHINING Directed by Stanley Kubrick
27. HOOP DREAMS Directed by Steve James
28. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925) Directed by Rupert Julian
29. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE Directed by Terence Young
30. HORROR OF DRACULA Directed by Terence Fisher
31. SEVEN SAMURAI Directed by Akira Kurosawa
32. THE GODFATHER PART II Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
33. CASINO Directed by Martin Scorsese
34. WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Directed by Mel Stuart
35. THE QUIET MAN Directed by John Ford
36. FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE Directed by Sergio Leone
37. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE Directed by Frank Capra
38. REAR WINDOW Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
39. ZULU Directed by Cy Endfield
40. THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES Directed by Clint Eastwood
41. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT Directed by Hal Needham
42. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS Directed by Sergio Leone
43. THE GREAT ESCAPE Directed by John Sturges
44. GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER) Directed by Ishiro Honda
45. THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM Directed by Michael Curtiz
46. ARMY OF DARKNESS Directed by Sam Raimi
47. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE Directed by Peter Hunt
48. THE NAKED SPUR Directed by Anthony Mann
49. WHITE ZOMBIE Directed by Victor Halperin
50. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS Directed by Peter Jackson
51. KILL BILL VOLUME ONE Directed by Quentin Tarantino
52. CASINO ROYALE (2006) Directed by Martin Campbell
53. KELLY'S HEROES Directed by Brian G. Hutton
54. SEVEN CHANCES Directed by Buster Keaton
55. BLACK SUNDAY (1960) Directed by Mario Bava
56. NOSFERATU (1922) Directed by F. W. Murnau
57. X-MEN Directed by Bryan Singer
58. THE SEA HAWK (1940) Directed by Michael Curtiz
59. STAGECOACH (1939) Directed by John Ford
60. THE GETAWAY Directed by Sam Peckinpah
61. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES Directed by Mario Bava
62. NORTH BY NORTHWEST Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
63. DIE NEBELUNGEN Directed by Fritz Lang
64. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN Directed by John Sturges
65. BLAZING SADDLES Directed by Mel Brooks
66. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN Directed by Nicholas Meyer
67. JURASSIC PARK Directed by Steven Spielberg
68. THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH Directed by Roger Corman
69. TAXI DRIVER Directed by Martin Scorsese
70. RETURN OF THE JEDI Directed by Richard Marquand
71. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER Directed by Clint Eastwood
72. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL Directed by Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam
73. THE UNTOUCHABLES Directed by Brian De Palma
74. PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES Directed by John Hughes
75. MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN Directed by Frank Capra
76. SUNSET BOULEVARD Directed by Billy Wilder
77. IT'S A GIFT Directed by Norman McLeod
78. M (1931) Directed by Fritz Lang
79. GANGS OF NEW YORK Directed by Martin Scorsese
80. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD Directed by Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
81. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE Directed by John Ford
82. KING KONG (1933) Directed by Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
83. HELP! Directed by Richard Lester
84. BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK Directed by John Sturges
85. ARSENIC AND OLD LACE Directed by Frank Capra
86. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON Directed by Ang Lee
87. THE MUMMY (1959) Directed by Terence Fisher
88. COOL HAND LUKE Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
89. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING Directed by Peter Jackson
90. SHERLOCK, JR. Directed by Buster Keaton
91. THE LAST HURRAH Directed by John Ford
92. NOTHING SACRED Directed by William A. Wellman
93. THE NAVIGATOR Directed by Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp
94. THE BODY SNATCHER Directed by Robert Wise
95. THE VAMPIRE LOVERS Directed by Roy Ward Baker
96. HORROR EXPRESS Directed by Gene Martin
97. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM Directed by Roger Corman
98. HORSE FEATHERS Directed by Norman McLeod
99. THE JERK Directed by Carl Reiner
100. BATMAN BEGINS Directed by Christopher Nolan

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

SUPERNATURAL








If you've been reading my blog posts over the last couple years, you'll know that I've been doing a fair amount of whining and moaning about Universal's home video release selections. The company owns a great number of features that still haven't seen any type of official DVD or Blu-ray release.....but at the same time they keep re-releasing product that the average movie buff has probably bought about two or three times already.

Like most entertainment conglomerates these days, Universal has their own DVD-R line. Under this line they have recently put out a group of features that collectors have been asking for. Among the group are a few obscure Universal thrillers that I've never seen....but the movie I had to buy right away was SUPERNATURAL, starring my favorite actress, Carole Lombard.

SUPERNATURAL, made in 1933, was actually produced by Paramount (Universal owns the rights to most of the 1930s Paramount films). The movie was directed by Victor Halperin and produced by Edward Halperin, the men behind WHITE ZOMBIE. The success of the low-budget Bela Lugosi chiller enabled the Halperin Brothers to move up to the big time at Paramount.

The movie starts out with a very nifty montage sequence which covers the arrest, trial, and conviction of the notorious Ruth Rogen (Vivienne Osborne), who murdered three men after a "riotous orgy". On the eve of her execution Dr. Houston (H. B. Warner) asks to experiment on Ruth's body after her death so he can prevent her "essence" from escaping and causing people to commit similar crimes. (Peter Cushing basically tried to do the same thing 34 years later in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN.)

Dr. Houston is a friend of rich heiress Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard). Roma is devastated by her twin brother's recent death. In one of those incredible movie coincidences, Roma is being targeted for a scam by a shady spiritualist (Allan Dineheart), who happens to be Ruth Rogen's former boyfriend.

Roma and her boyfriend (Randolph Scott) consent to go to a seance held by the con artist, where Roma is convinced she has made contact with her late brother. After the seance, Roma goes to Dr. Houston for advice....only to interrupt him just at the moment he is experimenting with Ruth Rogen's body. Roma faints, and Houston believes that Ruth was somehow trying to take control of her. Houston thinks Ruth failed, but at another seance the spirit of Ruth shows up again--and claims Roma....

SUPERNATURAL is nowhere near the level of WHITE ZOMBIE, but it does have some good moments. The Halperins re-used cinematographer Arthur Martinelli, who had worked on WHITE ZOMBIE, and Martinelli keeps the camera almost constantly moving--at a level unusual for a 1933 picture. Being a contemporary story, SUPERNATURAL doesn't have the true chiller atmosphere of similar films. Victor Halperin tries hard, but he also tries to have it both ways--he wants the audience to buy into the "soul" going on and affecting the living, while at the same time having a major character who is a phony psychic (and showing the tricks behind his trade).

The real reason to watch SUPERNATURAL is of course Carole Lombard. This was made before her breakthrough role in TWENTIETH CENTURY. At this point in her career she was placed in a string of underwhelming roles (even though she did have some good parts in VIRTUE and NO MAN OF HER OWN). SUPERNATURAL does give her a chance at a sort of "dual" character, even though Roma doesn't come under the spell of Ruth Rogen until the very end of a 64-minute picture. Subtle makeup and lighting help Roma "become" Ruth. Seeing Carole act like a sexy murderess is certainly unique. Lombard does a very good job, under the circumstances (she even gets some giant Lugosi-like close-ups of her eyes during her "evil" state).

Apparently Carole was not too happy during the making of SUPERNATURAL. There's a story attributed to Sidney Salkow, who was the dialogue director on the film, which says that after an earthquake hit in nearby Long Beach during filming, Carole walked over to a cowering Halperin while the set was still shaking and said, "Victor....THAT was only a warning!!" Carole Lombard had a reputation for being loved by her co-stars and co-workers, and she wasn't known as a diva....so whatever happened between her and Victor Halperin must have been really bad....or maybe Carole was just tired of the roles given to her by Paramount at this time.

Randolph Scott is okay in the "David Manners" role, and Allan Dineheart is particularly slimy as the con artist. Vivienne Osborne doesn't have much screen time as Ruth Rogen, but she makes the biggest impression. A great movie could have been made about Ruth Rogen's life before SUPERNATURAL (but it could only have been made during the Pre-Code era).

The quality of the SUPERNATURAL DVD-R is okay....the picture and sound is fine. This DVD-R has no extras....heck, it doesn't even have a menu--when you put the disc in, it automatically starts playing the movie. It's nice that SUPERNATURAL is finally officially available...but I wish it had come out as part of a new Carole Lombard box set (there's still plenty of Lombard features that Universal controls that have not been put out on DVD).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES On Blu-ray









One of the most highly anticipated Blu-rays of 2014 has just been released--Mario Bava's Gothic science-fiction extravaganza, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, from Kino Lorber.

Two spaceships land on a distant planet in response to a mysterious distress signal. Various crew members wind up being taken over by a strange intelligence, and the distant planet turns into a house of horrors. This sounds like the usual low-budget sci-fi flick, but legendary director Mario Bava's style and panache turn it into one of the best fantasy films of the 1960s.

Despite not having a major budget, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES has more atmosphere than most CGI epics of the 21st Century. Mario Bava uses color, lighting and practical FX to turn the planet into a phantasmagorical dreamscape. Even the fog effects in this movie seem perfectly composed. Without Bava at the helm, and without his bag of cinema tricks, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES would scarcely rate any type of notice today.

The best part of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is the discovery of an ancient spacecraft on the planet's surface, containing giant misshapen skeletons and strange technology. This sequence is about as Lovecraftian as you can get without anything being actually based on Lovecraft. (It makes me wonder what Bava could have done with a Lovecraft story like "At the Mountains of Madness".) When the ancient ship's recorder is accidentally played, the sound effect is memorably eerie--it ranks right up there with the "Wilhelm Scream" and the creaking old mill in WHITE ZOMBIE.

Another highlight of this film is the design of the spacesuits used by the stranded crews. Black leather with yellow piping, they're like nothing seen before in a science-fiction film, and they give PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES another reason to stand out among the monster movie pack.







PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES had been released on DVD in the early 2000s as part of MGM's "Midnite Movies" line. This Blu-ray from Kino is a huge improvement picture wise. Bava's colorful compositions stand out even more now--I felt like I was watching the movie for the very first time. If you already have the DVD, you should buy the new Blu-ray just for the visual improvement alone.

But there's more here than just a great looking film. Kino provides some great extras, including two "Trailers From Hell" entries featuring PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, an extensive still gallery (with a ultra-rare color photo of star Barry Sullivan in costume and Mario Bava), and the text of the original story that PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES was based on, "One Night of 21 Hours".

The biggest extra of them all is a brand new audio commentary from Mario Bava expert (and VIDEO WATCHDOG editor) Tim Lucas. Lucas does excellent work when it comes to commentaries, and this one is no exception. Lucas tells you just about everything you need to know about PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, including the numerous effects that Bava employed to create the picture.

It is pleasing to know that Kino decided not to treat PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES as just another classic sci-fi film. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is a true cult classic of fantastic cinema, and a major entry in Mario Bava's body of work.






Sunday, November 2, 2014

My Favorite Films Of All Time: #91-#100





91. THE LAST HURRAH Directed by John Ford

92. NOTHING SACRED Directed by William A. Wellman

93. THE NAVIGATOR Directed by Buster Keaton & Donald Crisp

94. THE BODY SNATCHER Directed by Robert Wise

95. THE VAMPIRE LOVERS Directed by Roy Ward Baker

96. HORROR EXPRESS Directed by Gene Martin

97. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM Directed by Roger Corman

98. HORSE FEATHERS Directed by Norman McLeod

99. THE JERK Directed by Carl Reiner

100. BATMAN BEGINS Directed by Christopher Nolan