Saturday, December 31, 2016
Once again it's time to list my top DVD/Blu-rays of the year. I tried to cut down on my home video purchases--and I still bought way too much stuff, despite the fact I skipped a number of discs. The biggest culprit for taking my money was Kino. That company has been regularly releasing cult movies on Blu-ray with new extras and commentaries, and they've got a bunch of enticing things already lined up for next year. I do have to say that other than the top two on my list, most of what I spent my hard-earned money on slotted more in the "very good" category instead of "excellent".
1. THE THING-1982 version (Blu-ray) from Shout Factory
John Carpenter's controversial remake gets more extras than you can shake a shape-shifter at, and the movie looks and sounds fantastic. Shout Factory is to be commended for going all out on their releases--that's something very few companies do anymore.
2. DESTINY (Blu-ray) from Kino
Fritz Lang's legendary silent fantasy classic receives outstanding treatment from Kino. I wrote a full post on it in September.
3. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Blu-ray) from Criterion
I always wind up having at least one Criterion release on one of these lists. Herk Harvey's low budget masterpiece is one of the creepiest movies ever made. I wrote a full post on it in July.
4. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (Blu-ray) from Warner Archive
This release made the list for one reason--it looks absolutely spectacular. If it had any new extras at all, it would have most certainly ranked higher. I wrote a post on it in June.
5. THE VIKINGS (Blu-ray) from Kino
I could have placed several other Kino releases at #5....I chose THE VIKINGS because it's such a great film, and the visual quality on the disc is magnificent. I wrote about it back in March.
Friday, December 30, 2016
Now that some time has passed since the opening of ROGUE ONE, this post will further examine the film. (WARNING: If you haven't seen it yet, don't read ahead, because there will be spoilers.)
I honestly believe that ROGUE ONE is the third-best Star Wars film, behind the original and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. When I stated that on Facebook, some folks reacted with surprise, but I can't see why. It's far better than the prequels, and it's better than either RETURN OF THE JEDI and THE FORCE AWAKENS (both those films are basically retreads of the original STAR WARS). ROGUE ONE is most definitely a war film, and it is a dark one. So dark that all the main hero characters in it wind up getting killed (even the sarcastic droid gets bumped off). When I first saw ROGUE ONE I was amazed that Disney/Lucasfilm allowed this to happen. After all, it's hard to sell action figures and toys of characters that don't have a future. But having the group of heroes not survive was the right choice story-wise. It gave emotional weight to the film, and reinforced how powerful the Galactic Empire was, and how overwhelming the odds were against the Rebel Alliance. How many geek culture films have we seen in the last 15 years where all the violence and destruction in them seemed to have no consequences whatsoever?
As I wrote in my first ROGUE ONE post, the movie is not just a war film--it is specifically a WWII film. A rag-tag group attempts to pull off a desperate mission behind enemy lines against a powerful enemy during a major conflict--this description could fit dozens of WWII movies made in the 1960s. The Empire in ROGUE ONE is building a terrifying super weapon, just like Nazi Germany was doing in many of the WWII films. ROGUE ONE has a scene where dozens of Imperial officers gather to watch a demonstration of said super weapon, and a sequence of high-ranking Nazis conferring with one another was expected in a classic war movie. Most of those Second World War flicks featured actual historical characters such as Hitler, Churchill, Ike, etc. ROGUE ONE also has famous "cameos", the most controversial being the CGI representation of Grand Moff Tarkin as played by Peter Cushing. I've already written a post on that, so I'll just say here that the ROGUE ONE Tarkin worked for me. If the CGI version of Tarkin caused some fanboy angst, the CGI Leia featured at the climax of the story seemed to tick fans off even more--but with what has happened in the last week, closing out the film with the Princess now gives ROGUE ONE a whole new level of poignancy.
The biggest Star Wars "historical" character of them all is of course Darth Vader. Vader's appearances in ROGUE ONE are short but long on impact--exactly the way the Dark Lord should be portrayed. Seeing Vader's "home" on Mustafar was a huge treat....but did he have to choke Director Krennic? Is there some sort of rule that whenever Vader shows up, he has to choke someone?? (And that "choke on your aspirations" line wasn't needed.) Vader's all out attack on the Rebels at the end, though, was a Star Wars geek's dream come true.
I figured that with all its darkness, and all the "inside baseball" Star Wars knowledge contained in it, ROGUE ONE might turn off those that didn't obsess over the franchise. However, the movie is continuing to rake it in at the box office. Be prepared to see Star Wars movies every year for a long. long time--Disney is going to squeeze as much out of this franchise as they can. I wonder, though, how the other stand-alone Star Wars films can match up to ROGUE ONE. What helps ROGUE ONE work so well, I think, is that the story had to integrate exactly with the beginning of the first STAR WARS--it had a very thorough base to proceed from. The Original Trilogy timeline is what I and many others believe to be the real Star Wars, so I hope that Disney places their future stand-alone entries in that period.
One last thing I have to go over--the fact that ROGUE ONE underwent a fair amount of re-tinkering before its final cut. The revelation of this was met with a distinct sense of worry on the internet, with rumors that the film had been ruined. Personally I didn't notice anything in ROGUE ONE that made me think of a troubled production. Some have claimed that the character of Jyn Erso was watered down, but for me the story was far more important than any of the individual characters. Many great and successful movies have had various troubles during production--creativity isn't simple or easy. ROGUE ONE, for me, is a satisfying and entertaining tale, and a true prologue to the greatest movie ever made.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
This is one post I do not want to write.
As I've stated on this blog over and over again, STAR WARS has had a major impact on my life. When this film came out, I was eight years old, and I became obsessed with every aspect of it. The performers in the film were those characters to me. They almost became something of an extended family--I knew more about them than I did my actual relatives, and that statement holds true today.
There was only one major female character in the original Star Wars saga--and yes, I had a major crush on her. I'm sure every young boy who resided on this island Earth in 1977 had a crush on Carrie Fisher, and I'm sure untold generations in the future will have a crush on her as well.
I've been thinking about why she was seemingly everyone's first crush. The massive popularity of STAR WARS was a major factor, and she was an extremely attractive young woman--but I believe it was more than physical beauty. Her Princess Leia wasn't a dream-girl princess--she had an attitude. She was feisty, and she was tough--and she was a little bit intimidating. Young boys have no understanding of the opposite sex (heck, most adult males have absolutely no understanding of the opposite sex). To any young boy, especially a four-eyed nerdy one like me, any female could be intimidating. Carrie's attitude as Leia--and make no mistake, her attitude as an actress made that character--was something that felt real. Leia was kind of like the girls who tried to boss you around the playground at recess. You were annoyed by them--but at the same time, you wanted them to like you.
Over the years I followed Carrie's various travails with a mixture of worry and frustration. Princess Leia made her an icon--but like most iconic roles, it limited her acting career as well. Carrie Fisher was a lot more talented than she was given credit for--she was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds, after all--and if you want proof of that, check out her appearance on the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY TV show. On that episode she got to be sexy, funny, and she even had a chance to sing.
What really hurts me the most about all of this is that I had a chance to meet Carrie Fisher at this summer's Wizard World Chicago--or at least I thought I did. (The details of this are in a post I wrote in August 2016.) Needless to say, I didn't meet her. And now....
I'll admit it, that's going to haunt me for the rest of my life. If I had met her, what would I have said? I honestly don't know. I probably would have just stood there like thousands and thousands of other geeky guys who lined up to meet her over the years.
Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia still affects pop culture to this day. All the female geek movie icons that have followed in her wake--Ripley, Lara Croft, Black Widow, Katniss Everdeen, etc.--have a little bit of Leia in them. Carrie Fisher has very likely touched more lives than any performer before or since. I hope in some way she understood that--and that all those geeky guys like me truly did care about her.
Rest easy, Princess.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Out of all the movie genres, the wildest and the wackiest has to be the Spaghetti Western. 1971's BLINDMAN certainly lives up that reputation, with a main character who is...blind. (At least the title doesn't fool you into thinking the movie is something it is not.) The film also stars none other than Ringo Starr. BLINDMAN has just been officially released on DVD by ABKCO, the company that produced the film.
Tony Anthony, who had a long history of appearing in Euro Westerns, stars as the Blindman (he also wrote the script). The Blindman (following Spaghetti Western tradition, we never find out his real name) is a bounty hunter who is tasked to deliver 50 mail order brides to a group of miners in Texas. The Blindman has been sold out by his partners, however, and the brides have been taken by a ruthless Mexican bandit named Domingo. The Blindman travels south of the border to get them back, and faces off against not only Domingo's gang, but the Mexican Army as well.
The very idea of a blind gunslinger seems ludicrous, but Anthony does an exceptional job in making the viewer believe that a guy like this could operate and survive in the Old West. The soft-spoken Blindman fools his opponents into thinking he is helpless, but he's a crack shot with his Winchester rifle (which he also uses as a makeshift cane). The Blindman is also proficient in the use of dynamite (like most Euro Western characters, he seems to have a few sticks on his person at all times). I presume that Anthony was inspired by the Japanese film series concerning Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman.
As for Ringo Starr, he plays Domingo's vicious brother Candy. Nowadays, whenever Ringo posts something on the internet, he adds the phrase "Peace & Love". Well, in BLINDMAN, Ringo isn't very peaceful and loving. His Candy not only tortures the Blindman, he kicks him in the face afterwards for good measure. The reason for Candy's ire is a local girl he's obsessed with who tries to help the Blindman. Those Beatles fans who decide to watch this film will be shocked at how cruel Ringo acts in it. Why he even wanted to play a role like this--in a film like this--is a mystery. Was he trying to show off his acting range? Whatever the reason, the melancholy-looking mop-top appears even more melancholy here--while most Spaghetti Western villains revel in their heinous acts, Candy comes off as droopy and depressed. One would assume that Ringo didn't like making this movie very much--but he did record a song called "Blindman", which appears on the B-side of the "Back Off Boogaloo" single. The song is not in the film, however...it is readily available on YouTube.
Director Ferdinando Baldi uses the widescreen Techniscope format very well, and the action scenes are staged successfully. The music score by Stelvio Cipriani is a good one for this genre, and it fulfills the bizarre aspects of the movie. I must point out, though, that BLINDMAN is not exactly for all tastes. The 50 mail order brides are treated worse than 50 head of cattle would be. Not only do we not get to know any of the women, none of them have any dialogue! During the course of the story the brides are manhandled and assaulted at various times, and their clothes get ripped off frequently. The Blindman's affliction is taken advantage of, and the movie does try to derive some humor from his situation, though not as much as one might expect.
ABCKO's DVD of BLINDMAN presents the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the DVD case says the film was mastered from the original 35mm negative. The movie does look impressive, and considering it's a lesser-known Spaghetti Western, I doubt one can find a version that looks even better. The soundtrack is in English, with a choice between a 5.1 or a 2.0 mix--I listened to the 5.1 mix and it sounds very robust, especially the music score. I assume that since this DVD comes from the company that made the film that it is uncut--there's plenty of topless shots of the hapless brides--but with any Euro Western, you can never say for certain that it is complete.
BLINDMAN will be of most interest to Spaghetti Western fans. I would call it an above-average example of the genre, due to its quirkiness. Beatles fans may want to see it at least once because of Ringo--but they won't be too happy with how his character acts on-screen.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
I was going to wait a bit before writing this post, but the discussion over the use of a CGI version of Peter Cushing in ROGUE ONE has gone viral. Since Peter Cushing is my favorite actor of all time, and STAR WARS is my favorite movie of all time, I felt I had to write a post dealing solely with the subject.
I had heard plenty of rumors beforehand that a CGI Tarkin would be featured in ROGUE ONE, so I wasn't all that surprised to see it in the actual film. What did surprise me was that this wasn't a mere cameo--Tarkin plays a rather significant role in the story. He wasn't hidden in the shadows, and we didn't just get a quick glimpse of him--he's right there, front and center, in a number of scenes.
For better or worse, it definitely looks like Peter Cushing--I even have to say that the effect is almost uncanny. It's a bit jarring, no doubt, but it's also somewhat thrilling to see one's favorite actor "back" on the big screen.
The biggest problem with the CGI Tarkin, from my perspective, is the voice. Actor Guy Henry performed the "base" for the CGI rendering (he's credited on screen as Tarkin), and I assume he did the voice as well. Peter Cushing had a very unique and specific look--and he also had a very unique and specific voice and speech pattern. You might even say Cushing's voice is harder to imitate than his physical appearance. The CGI Tarkin looks so much like the actual Cushing, that hearing a very non-Cushing voice coming from it is kind of disconcerting.
Is it Cushing...or is it Memorex?
I would say that for me, the CGI Cushing worked, even with the strange voice. There's one thing in particular that really sold me on it. It happens at the end of Tarkin's first appearance, after he has a heated discussion with Ben Mendelsohn's Krennic on the Death Star. After Krennic leaves, Tarkin looks back and gives a wicked smirk. That smirk is absolutely, totally something the real life Cushing might have done--he used that type of smirk many times throughout his acting career, especially when he was playing Baron Frankenstein. When I saw that, I started nodding my head and saying to myself, Yes, that's him.
Now, there are plenty of folks who are not so impressed by the CGI Tarkin--and a few others who are upset about it. Many (like my brother Robert) believe that the effect is distracting, and takes one out of the movie. Some think that it is creepy, because Cushing has been dead for over 20 years. The thing about that is, movies constantly have long-dead famous or historical figures in them (played by actors, of course). No one seems creeped out over that.
There's a also a number of people who feel that Disney/Lucasfilm crossed some sort of ethical line by using Cushing's image in this way. Joyce Broughton, who oversees the Cushing estate, gave her permission to Lucasfilm, so from that standpoint I don't think the filmmakers did anything wrong. Some will argue that Lucasfilm shouldn't have done it, period--that they should have hired another actor, or kept Tarkin out of the story altogether.
The problem with that viewpoint is that Tarkin plays a very important role in the proceedings--the character had to make an appearance somehow. As for casting another actor, as I've already stated, nobody really looks--or sounds--like Peter Cushing. Who would you have cast? David Warner? Bill Nighy? In my opinion, to have another actor play Tarkin would have been just as distracting.
As for the idea of "Get another actor and slap some makeup on him", that was done before in REVENGE OF THE SITH. Wayne Pygram played Tarkin, and we only see him very briefly at the end of the film, in a long shot. I think the reason he wasn't shown more is simple, if you look at the picture below. The makeup Pygram wore seems in my estimation overdone--the sunken cheeks may look natural on Cushing, but when applied to someone else it appears bizarre.
Wayne Pygram as Tarkin in REVENGE OF THE SITH
I sincerely believe that the makers of ROGUE ONE wanted to use the "real" Tarkin, and they wanted to honor Peter Cushing, who is, after all, a major geek icon. One of the end credits of ROGUE ONE says "With Special Acknowledgment to Peter Cushing, O.B.E." But I also think there might have been an ulterior motive in the use of a CGI Tarkin. It might just have been a sort of test...remember that Disney/Lucasfilm plans to make several stand-alone Star Wars features, and they may have wanted to see if this was a viable way to bring back an original character. Besides, there's another CGI version of a famous role in ROGUE ONE, and I won't get into that, in case you haven't seen the film yet.
I've been reading a lot of posts on the internet about ROGUE ONE and the CGI Tarkin, and from I can ascertain, the more you love the movie (and the Star Wars Universe in general), the more willing you are to buy into the effect. Those who are bothered by the effect the most seem to be those that could care less about anything having to do with Star Wars. My feelings on the subject are obviously biased, and I'll admit that if a CGI version of a late actor I didn't have any major feelings for appeared in a movie franchise that I wasn't a major fan of, my reaction would most likely be, "What a goofy gimmick!!"
It's one thing to see the CGI Tarkin in a darkened theater, while you are caught up in the film, than it is to be watching it at home, on a HD widescreen monitor, where you can examine it in more detail. Whether the CGI Tarkin will hold up on Blu-ray remains to be seen.
Another part of the CGI Tarkin discussion is what ramifications this will have on the future of movies. I personally don't foresee dead actors popping up everywhere. ROGUE ONE is a science-fiction fantasy film, and most viewers would be more willing to accept a CGI recreation of a performer in that context than they would in a "normal" movie. I doubt that we are going to have to worry about seeing a CGI Carole Lombard placed in a contemporary romantic comedy, or a CGI Ingrid Bergman showing up in a contemporary drama. But...I wouldn't put anything past the 21st Century entertainment industry. In the end it will be the public that eventually decides how far this thing might go.
The CGI Grand Moff Tarkin isn't 100% perfect, but I, as a Peter Cushing fan, got a kick out of it. Think about it this way--all over the internet, people are mentioning Cushing's name. This is very satisfying to me, since the usual reaction I get when I tell people that Peter Cushing is my favorite actor is, "Who's Peter Cushing??" We don't know what Cushing himself might have thought of this, but considering that he mentioned in interviews how disappointed he was that Tarkin's death prevented him from being in the other Star Wars films, I bet he would have enjoyed it. Wherever he's at right now, he's probably nudging Christopher Lee in the ribs, saying, "I'm on the silver screen again, dear boy!"
Friday, December 16, 2016
I went and saw ROGUE ONE today after work. And what are my first impressions?
I absolutely loved it.
This film is set right before the events depicted in STAR WARS. As I'm sure most of you know, STAR WARS is my favorite movie of all time. So, to go back to that "time period" is a huge treat for me. This is MY Star Wars Universe--the Universe of the Sacred Original Trilogy.
I'm not going to go into particular details here, because I don't want to ruin anything for anyone. I'll do what I did for THE FORCE AWAKENS and write a more extensive blog about a week from now...besides, I really want to see ROGUE ONE again.
There are a few things I can discuss. One point I must make is that this is a dark film. It deals directly with the rebellion against the Galactic Empire, and the story is filled with subterfuge and intrigue. I believe older pre-teens can handle it--but very young children will either be bored, or constantly questioning their adult companions why so many characters died. ROGUE ONE was the subject of extensive re-shoots, supposedly to make the movie lighter--and it that is true, it makes me interested in what the original cut must have been like.
I also must make clear that one's enjoyment of the film will be predicated on how big a Star Wars fan one is. If you happen to only "like" Star Wars--in other words, if you have never read a Star Wars novel, or a Star Wars comic book, but you've seen the movies a couple times--you may not truly appreciate all the little surprises that pop up. If you are a major Star Wars geek such as myself, you'll feel as if you were transported to Nerd Heaven.
Another thing I have to point out is that from my perspective ROGUE ONE is basically a World War II movie, much like the ones made in the 1960s. Try to imagine as if the Star Wars Universe actually happened--then the destruction of the Death Star was as important an historical moment as, say, Pearl Harbor or the invasion of Normandy. Many movies have been made about the lead-up to famous World War II events, and they usually revolve around a rag-tag group of heroes tasked with an impossible mission--just like the main characters of ROGUE ONE. These WWII movies often feature "cameos" from important figures such as Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, etc. ROGUE ONE also features cameos from famous Star Wars figures (I'll go into that more deeply in my future post).
If you are a major Star Wars geek, you need to see ROGUE ONE right away, before everything about the movie gets plastered all over the internet. Be warned, however, that this really isn't a movie for very little kids. I heartily endorse it...I think it's better than THE FORCE AWAKENS. Unlike that movie, ROGUE ONE isn't a rehash of the greatest film ever made...it is more like an addendum to it, an addendum that adds and expands to one's love of the Star Wars Universe.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Here's a list of famous film performers and directors who were born in Indiana. I have to point out that many of these folks spent relatively little time actually living in the state (Carole Lombard, who is pictured above, Steve McQueen, and Howard Hawks fit this category). I'm sure this will only reinforce the idea that some people have about Indiana--that it is a place you have to leave in order to "be somebody". The city in which the person was born is listed after their names.
Anne Baxter (Michigan City)
James Best (Corydon)
Beulah Bondi (Valparasio)
James Dean (Fairmount)
Vivica A. Fox (Indianapolis)
Brendan Fraser (Indianapolis)
Will Geer (Frankfort)
Greg Kinnear (Logansport)
Carole Lombard (Fort Wayne)
Shelley Long (Fort Wayne)
Marjorie Main (Acton)
Karl Malden (Gary)
Strother Martin (Kokomo)
Steve McQueen (Beech Grove)
Red Skelton (Vincennes)
Alice Terry (Vincennes)
Forrest Tucker (Plainfield)
Clifton Webb (Indianapolis)
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson (Gary)
Dick York (Fort Wayne)
Musicians Michael Jackson (Gary) and Hoagy Carmichael (Bloomington) appeared in a few films, and songwriter Cole Porter (Peru) made a significant contribution to the Hollywood musical.
Among the film directors born in Indiana, the most notable are Howard Hawks (Goshen), Robert Wise (Winchester), Sydney Pollack (Lafayette), David Anspaugh (Decatur), Norman Foster (Richmond), and Lambert Hillyer (some sources say Tyner, others say South Bend)
Sunday, December 11, 2016
Today is the 200th anniversary of Indiana officially becoming an American state. To coincide with this momentous occasion, I've decided to take a look at how Indiana has fared in the movies. In all honesty....there isn't really much to go over.
A few movies have been based in Indiana, but not nearly as much as other, more famous states--and there's even fewer movies that were actually filmed in the state. Indiana has a reputation as being "flyover country"--a dull place with no natural wonders, a place filled with boring, ordinary folks. Whenever a character in a film or a TV show is revealed to be from Indiana, it is usually a shorthanded way of showing that the character is naive, or unsophisticated, or a "rube" (does anyone even use the term "rube" anymore?).
Probably the most famous movies set in Indiana are A CHRISTMAS STORY, HOOSIERS, BREAKING AWAY, and RUDY. It's no coincidence that three of those films feature protagonists trying to succeed at athletic events against daunting odds. Most Americans would naturally assume that someone in Indiana would be one of the "little guys", therefore it would make sense to base a sports film in the Hoosier state. Anyone living in Indiana just has to be an underdog.
As for other Indiana films, there's KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL-AMERICAN (like RUDY, a film based more on the University of Notre Dame than the Hoosier state), all the various movies based on the life of John Dillinger, the MGM epic RAINTREE COUNTY, and a number of titles which have sequences concerning the Indianapolis 500, such as the THE CROWD ROARS with James Cagney.
Indiana has made a "cameo" in many famous films. When it comes to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, one always thinks of Devil's Tower in Wyoming--but the scenes involving Richard Dreyfuss' character and his family are set in Indiana. Remember in THE BLUES BROTHERS when the band makes a stop at Bob's Country Bunker? That toddlin' joint is supposed to be located outside of Kokomo, Indiana. (Don't try looking for it--Bob's never existed, although people still ask where it is to this day.) The crop duster sequence in NORTH BY NORTHWEST is one of the most renowned movie set-pieces of all time--and in the story it takes place somewhere in Northern Indiana, even though it was filmed in California. In THE PHILADELPHIA STORY my birthplace and hometown of South Bend is mentioned, and I always get a kick out of that. In REMEMBER THE NIGHT, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck travel to the Hoosier state, and they fall in love while there.
There have been plenty of famous performers who were born in Indiana...including some that would surprise you. I'll examine that list in part two of this post.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Following up on his magnificent volumes ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, Author Johnathan Rigby examines 20th Century European horror cinema with EURO GOTHIC.
In this new book, Rigby deals with four specific European countries--Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Those who might feel that Rigby should have expanded his coverage must be advised that EURO GOTHIC is over 400 pages long, and hundreds of films are given thorough analysis. (If Rigby had tried to deal with every European horror film made since the dawn of cinema, he probably would never had gotten the book done.)
Rigby begins in the silent era, with the German Expressionist classics that laid down the groundwork for so many future productions. The coming of sound (and the coming of fascist dictatorships soon after) curtailed Euro Gothic cinema for a period, and it wasn't till the late 1950s that the genre began to pick up steam, inspired of course by the success of England's Hammer Films.
The 1960s saw Euro Gothic at its full height, and in the 1970s, with violence and particularly sex ramped up, the floodgates opened with an array of bizarre titles and stories. Rigby stops at the early 1980s, when gore & zombies flourished on the continent.
The careers of many leading figures of Euro Gothic are delved into, such as Riccard Freda, Mario Bava, Jess Franco, Antonio Margheriti, Jean Rollin, Dario Argento, Paul Naschy, Lucio Fulci, and of course the iconic Barbara Steele.
The book retains basically the same design of ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, and it is lavishly illustrated with two different color sections.
Rigby as usual does a brilliant job in placing the films within the context of the times in which they were made, and while he discusses their pluses and minuses in an authoritative manner, he still manages to work in servings of dry humor. The author makes many perceptive comments about the various titles, such as his statement that 1963's THE LAST MAN ON EARTH would have been better served with a "regular guy" actor in the lead role such as Martin Balsam or Lee J. Cobb instead of Vincent Price.
The titles used of the films covered are those which they were known in the countries in which they were produced, which might cause some confusion for readers familiar with the English versions. (An Midwestern American guy like myself can barely spell TERRORE NELLO SPAZIO, let alone pronounce it--besides, that movie will always be PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES to me.)
When it came to ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, I had seen--or at least heard of--just about every single one of the movies featured in those books. With EURO GOTHIC, most of the films featured I had very little or no knowledge of. If you think you've seen everything when it comes to horror films, EURO GOTHIC will dissuade you of that notion. A few of the movies covered in the book I even sought out and viewed on the internet, and I intend to find more. I do have to admit that a number of the titles, especially many from the 1970s, hold no appeal for me at all. The author deserves some kind of award for viewing all these productions--he must have had an infinite amount of patience (and a very strong stomach). If you are someone like me, you've read just about every important book on classic horror films that there is. It's nice to find a volume on the subject that increases your knowledge of it, instead of reiterating what you already know.
ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC are two of my favorite movie books of all time, so it's no surprise that am I going to heartily recommend EURO GOTHIC. I assume that this will put an end to Jonathan Rigby's "Gothic" film series....but I hope that he might decide to write a sequel to AMERICAN GOTHIC (that book ended in the late 1950s), or maybe he can examine the American science-fiction film boom of the 1950s. Perhaps he can call that book AMERICAN FUTURE?
Friday, December 9, 2016
On this day exactly 100 years ago Issur Danielovitch was born. Under the name Kirk Douglas, he went on to become one of the greatest leading men in cinema history. I couldn't let such a momentous occasion as a 100th birthday go by without writing a blog post.
It's ironic that Kirk Douglas' film debut was as Barbara Stanwyck's weak-willed husband in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946). Douglas became a symbol of American male movie masculinity, helped by his most outstanding acting trait, an almost manic intensity. Douglas didn't just play a role--he consumed it. Just watching a typical Douglas performance can wear a person out.
In the decade of the 1950s, Douglas starred in an amazing run of renowned films: ACE IN THE HOLE, DETECTIVE STORY, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, LUST FOR LIFE, GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, THE VIKINGS, PATHS OF GLORY, and the vastly underrated LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL. He finished the decade starring in and producing SPARTACUS. How many other movie stars have had a ten year period like that?
What made Douglas' leading man credentials different was that he almost never played what would be considered a "normal" starring role. Today actors like Leonardo DiCaprio are lauded for choosing difficult characters to portray, but Kirk Douglas was doing that over a half-century ago. The men Douglas enacted were not simple one-note heroes--they were often conflicted, troubled men, men who could exasperate as well as inspire. Consider his Vincent Van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE--what I feel is his all-time best screen performance. Could any other American leading man of that period have been able to star in that film? And what about his role in THE VIKINGS, in which his character gets disfigured early on in the story? How many big stars would spend almost an entire film with their handsome faces covered in a gruesome makeup?
Douglas produced several of the films he starred in, and he even directed a couple as well. It was Douglas who helped bring ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST to Broadway, as well as playing the lead role. The multi-tasking, multi-format celebrity we hear so much about today is walking a trail blazed long ago by Douglas.
There are very few real movie stars alive today, and Kirk Douglas is one of them. The best compliment I can give the man is that he never did anything easy.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
36 years after his death, Steve McQueen remains an important pop culture icon--he wasn't called "The King of Cool" for nothing. The documentary STEVE MCQUEEN: THE MAN & LE MANS examines one of the pivotal moments of McQueen's life--the 1970 production of his dream project, LE MANS.
Steve McQueen had spent most of his life involved in some form of motor sports or another, and by the late 1960s, he had accumulated enough clout as a movie star to get his dream of making a "real" movie about auto racing started. As this documentary (directed by Gabriel Clarke & John McKenna) shows, the dream soon turned into a nightmare.
At first McQueen was determined to actually participate in the real 24 Hours of Le Mans race, but insurance concerns stopped that idea cold. Production began without a finished script, and as the filming slogged on and on, and the budget got bigger and bigger, the film's backers wondered if the movie would ever be completed.
McQueen personally chose John Sturges as director--the two men had worked a number of times before. As things began to spiral out of control, Sturges grew impatient with McQueen and quit. The actor finally had to make a major sacrifice just to get the film finished, and the documentary puts forth the idea that the experience soured McQueen on competitive racing altogether.
THE MAN & LE MANS features a fair amount of footage shot for McQueen's film that was never used, and several clips taken on the set during the production. It goes into detail about the many technical advances that were used to film the cars going at their full speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Many people who were part of the crew of LE MANS are interviewed, including some of the professional auto racers who drove on the film.
Steve McQueen's first wife and son are also interviewed. THE MAN & LE MANS pulls no punches when it comes to McQueen's rather complicated personality. The things that made McQueen so exciting on-screen, such as the sense of danger he exuded, his anti-authoritarian, rebellious attitude, and his inability to conform to anyone's standards except his own, were traits that also carried into his personal life--not always to his advantage. McQueen was determined, one way or another, to get his vision of what racing was like on the big screen--and this determination affected his family, his friends, and those who risked their lives driving the cars for the film. Many private audio clips are used of McQueen musing over a number of subjects, and these sound bites reveal the actor to be far more thoughtful than one would expect from his usual public brashness.
This documentary is a must-see for anyone who is interested in Steve McQueen, and for those who get into the "inside baseball" aspects of the movie industry. It is worth a look to racing fans as well, especially for the footage of the vintage cars and the racers interviewed.
The actual movie LE MANS isn't really the bomb some people have suggested--but if you are not a racing or Steve McQueen buff, you'll probably be bored. STEVE MCQUEEN: THE MAN & LE MANS is definitely not boring--McQueen is just as much a fascinating subject as he was during his heyday as a iconic leading man.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Kino Lorber, through their Studio Classics line, has released the 1986 film BIGGLES on Region A Blu-ray. (On the disc case the movie is sub-titled ADVENTURES IN TIME, but the actual movie only has the title BIGGLES.) The most noticeable thing about this picture is that it is the last theatrically released film to feature a performance from the great Peter Cushing.
BIGGLES is based on a character of a World War One-era Royal Air Force pilot which appeared in a number of novels written by English author W. E. Johns. The only other time I have ever heard of Biggles in any other context other than this movie is when Monty Python would mention the character in some of their comedy skits. Being an American, it's not surprising that I wouldn't know much about Biggles, but I have to wonder how many people knew about him even in 1986.
The movie tries to introduce audiences to Biggles by sticking him with a "modern" counterpart. 1980s New York yuppie Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) finds out that he is a "time twin" of WWI pilot James "Biggles" Bigglesworth (Neil Dickson). The two men continually pop into each other's time streams. While in Biggles' time, Jim is forced to help the war hero stop the Germans from using a sonic super weapon to change the course of history.
Apparently the producers of BIGGLES felt that the character needed some sort of gimmick to get the attention of contemporary viewers--hence the time travel element. This begs the question--if the filmmakers were not comfortable in Biggles carrying a film on his own, why did they use him in the first place? Director John Hough (who worked with Cushing in Hammer's TWINS OF EVIL) does his best with what he has, and the movie has some nice aerial sequences, but BIGGLES has more than a few problems. The synth-pop music score hurts the movie badly, and ruins whatever adventurous mood is trying to be conveyed. The "time twin" concept doesn't make a lot of sense, even after Peter Cushing himself tries to explain it. The script's many lame attempts at humor fall totally flat, and Jim Ferguson is not written very well--he comes off as annoying and someone you're not all that interested in. Neil Dickson is fine as Biggles, but there's nothing in the story that makes Biggles particularly noteworthy--he seems like just another typical "Steady on, chaps" type of British military officer. BIGGLES would have worked far better as a straight period piece.
The main attraction in this Blu-ray is watching Peter Cushing in his final film performance. He plays Colonel Raymond, who was a commanding officer of Biggles. Raymond is the one who informs Jim Ferguson on what is really going on, and because of this whatever emotional weight the movie has is provided by Cushing. Col. Raymond's "lair" is located inside the supports of London's Tower Bridge, and a large portrait of Queen Victoria is quite prominently featured (Hough places Cushing in front of it a number of times). Cushing looks incredibly frail (he was 72 during filming, but he appears even older), but his determination and conviction as an actor is as strong as ever. As he did throughout his entire career, Cushing brings an absolute sincerity to his role, and it's nice that in his cinematic swan song he got to play an Englishman--and a Defender of the Realm to boot. Cushing fans can at least give thanks that the Great Man's final performance wasn't one of those "old Nazi" parts he played a number of times during his older years.
I must point out that the character of Jim Ferguson's supposed comic relief co-worker is played by William Hootkins, who will forever be known as Porkins, one of the Rebels who attacked the Death Star in STAR WARS. At the end of BIGGLES, the X-Large X-Wing Pilot and Grand Moff Tarkin (Cushing) actually are in the same scene!
Kino's Blu-ray of BIGGLES features the usual fine picture & sound quality one expects from the company. The extras are two brand-new interviews with Neil Dickson and Alex Hyde-White. Dickson reveals that not only did he know about Biggles, he had even read some of the books. Dickson has nothing but positive memories about the project--he even gushes about the film's soundtrack! Hyde-White shares that even though he was the son of British character actor Wilfrid Hyde-White, he was raised in America. Both Dickson and Hyde-White share their admiration for Peter Cushing.
BIGGLES is supposed to be a light-hearted action adventure tale, so maybe my nitpicking is not the proper response to it--but I do feel it could have been better than what it was. The movie will be mostly of interest to Peter Cushing fans. His last movie isn't great, but it gave the actor the chance to go out in a decent role.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Valerie Gaunt, who passed away a few days ago, may not be known to the average film buff, but she holds a high position among fans of Hammer Films. It could even be said that she provided the template for what would come to be known as "Hammer Glamour".
Gaunt only had two theatrical film credits in her short acting career: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. But those two credits were enough to make her a classic horror film icon. She not only starred in two of the most famous English Gothic movies ever made, she played an important part in some of the most famous scenes in English Gothic cinema.
In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Valerie plays Justine, the maid to Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein. Justine isn't merely the hired help--she and the Baron are carrying on an affair. When the Baron's attractive cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court) shows up, Justine is rightfully jealous--the Baron and Elizabeth have an agreement to be married, and Justine isn't too happy about it. Justine tries to blackmail the Baron--not a good choice, considering that Frankenstein has created a being out of corpses, and he's not about to let anyone get in his way. The Baron locks Justine in the laboratory with his creature (Christopher Lee), and even though we don't get to see her eventual fate, we can easily guess. The next scene contains the famous line "Pass the marmalade"--a darkly humorous counterpoint to Justine's travails.
As Justine, Gaunt uses a cute accent--I still haven't figured out if it is Spanish or French--and she shows some fiery passion after the Baron informs her of his upcoming marriage to Elizabeth. During her trip to the Baron's laboratory, she gets to wear a nightgown (of course) and she gets to let loose an impressive scream--technically she was the very first Hammer Gothic Horror Scream Queen. (She also is featured in the trailer for THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN--her name is even flashed on the screen during it.)
In HORROR OF DRACULA (I'm an American, so that's the title I'm gonna use), Valerie is credited as "Vampire Woman". She appears early on in the film, eerily sneaking up on Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen). Once again the actress is nightgown-clad, and if anything she looks even more spectacular than she did in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The Vampire Woman at first desperately pleads to Harker to save her from Count Dracula, but within an instant she tries to put the bite on him. This causes Dracula himself (Christopher Lee) to angrily intervene--and the following is probably the scariest moment in Hammer Films history. Later Harker destroys the Vampire Woman in time-honored fashion--which means that Valerie Gaunt was the recipient of the very first Hammer vampire staking. (By the way, Wayne Kinsey's stupendous book THE HAMMER DRACULA SCRAPBOOK shows a picture of Gaunt's contract for her role in HORROR OF DRACULA--her salary was 100 pounds!)
The impression that Gaunt made in her two movie roles far outweighs the total amount of screen time she actually had. As both Justine and the "Vampire Woman", she showed quite a bit of range in a very short amount of time. Justine goes from sexy maid to angry jilted lover quite quickly, and the Vampire Woman first seems a frightened victim before she turns on Harker with a ferocity that is only topped by her master, the King of Vampires. It makes one wonder what Gaunt could have done with a full-fledged leading role.
After completing her role in HORROR OF DRACULA, Gaunt married Gerald Reddington in 1958 and retired from acting. As far as I know, she never gave interviews about Hammer in her later years, and I don't believe she ever attended any autograph shows. It appears that she didn't seem to regret not continuing her acting career. While looking up photos of Gaunt on the internet in preparation for this blog post, I noticed something about many of her posed "cheesecake" photos. Check out a few of them and see what you think:
I don't know about you...but when I look at these photos, it's very easy to discern that Valerie Gaunt has very little enthusiasm for what she has to do. I'm sure almost every actress who had to pose for pictures like these felt silly...but Gaunt can't even offer up one fake smile. Maybe she was encouraged to act "pouty", but I personally think it was more than that. The message she seems to be sending in these shots is one that says, "I really could be doing far more important things right now." Maybe Valerie Gaunt didn't want to spend the rest of her screen career wearing nightgowns and posing next to haystacks.
The fact that Valerie Gaunt stayed out of the limelight made her an enticing mystery among Hammer fans. They all wanted to know what she felt about Cushing, Lee, Terence Fisher, Bray Studios, etc. You could say that Valerie Gaunt left a lot of monster movie fans wanting....but what she did contribute to the horror genre was so overwhelming, it's hard to be disappointed that she didn't have a larger acting career.
At her passing Valerie Gaunt was still married to Gerald Reddington, and the couple had four children. One can easily assume that she lived a happy, contented life--and in the end that is far more important than giving interviews or autographs to crazy fanboys like me.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
A couple months ago, one of my Twitter followers (yes, I actually have some) asked me if I had seen a film called HELL OR HIGH WATER. I had not even heard of it, but my internet friend stated that it was the best movie he had seen in a long time. A few weeks ago, Glenn Erickson reviewed the film in his excellent DVD Savant web column. Erickson was also impressed by it--he even called it a "Trump Western". Erickson felt that the film accurately reflected the angst felt by lower middle-class white folks, supposedly the type of people who voted for Donald Trump.
I believe that Erickson might be reading too much into the film--HELL OR HIGH WATER is the type of story that would work just as well in the 1970s or 1980s as now. It isn't really a modern Western, or a crime story, as it is a serious American modern adult drama--the type of picture that it is almost totally ignored today.
The main character in HELL OR HIGH WATER is Toby Howard (Chris Pine). To say that Toby is down on his luck is an understatement--his mother has just died, he is separated from his wife and children, he owes money on his farm, he's behind on his child support payments--and he's broke. Toby decides to start robbing banks--specifically branches of the Texas Midland bank, the same institution that he owes money to. Toby is assisted in this endeavor by his ex-con older brother Tanner (Ben Foster)--an unstable bad-ass acting fellow. The brothers' crimes attract the attention of a soon-to-be-retired Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges), who is convinced that there is some sort of purpose to these robberies. Toby hopes to get enough money to pay off his debts before he gets caught, or before his brother screws things up.
HELL OR HIGH WATER is set in a economically depressed section of West Texas, a location the movie shows as filled with abandoned buildings and foreclosed homes. The small towns that the Howard brothers travel through are arid and desolate, contributing to the movie's mood of foreboding. Director David Mackenzie uses a very welcome traditional movie making style, with lots of wide angels and long takes. There is some gunplay, but it is shot in a realistic manner instead of the video-game tactics one sees in so many features of today. Taylor Sheridan's impressive script is sparse and to the point. What's even better about it is that the people in this film look and act like regular folks, instead of Hollywood's usual way of portraying red-staters as either country bumpkins or excessively quirky weirdos.
The movie doesn't try to show the Howard brothers as heroes, or ask the audience to feel sorry for them. Chris Pine really impressed me as Toby--the cocky arrogance the actor shows as the modern Captain Kirk is nowhere to be found here. Pine's Toby is a man who has been beaten down by his circumstances, and a man who takes no pleasure or satisfaction in doing wrong to solve his problems. Ben Foster gets the showier role of Tanner, the type of guy who goes out of his way to show everyone how tough he is. (I know plenty of guys like that in Northern Indiana.) Every time Foster is on the screen, you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, because the actor does a fine job in putting across how out of control his character is.
Jeff Bridges could very well get another Oscar nomination for his role as Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton. The Ranger is old in age and in attitude--his politically incorrect conversations with his Native American-Mexican partner (Gil Birmingham) are among the film's highlights. Bridges makes you totally believe that Marcus is a real person, and he dominates every scene he is in.
HELL OR HIGH WATER is the type of film that Hollywood used to make all the time--a lower budget realistic drama that doesn't look cheap and is still able to have big-name stars. It also has an ending which one rarely sees anymore--an ending showcasing acting and dialogue instead of explosions. If you are tired of superheroes and billion-dollar franchises, HELL OR HIGH WATER is the perfect medicine. It certainly deserves to get more attention.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
My Euro Gothic tour continues with a 1963 Italian-Spanish production called HORROR. The movie was released in the U.S. as THE BLANCHEVILLE MONSTER. The print I viewed on YouTube had the HORROR title, but with an English dub track.
As you can see on the poster above, HORROR tries to pass itself off as a Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, even though officially it isn't. The movie owes more to the Roger Corman/AIP film adaptations of Poe than anything the author actually wrote. HORROR contains elements similar to such Corman entries as HOUSE OF USHER, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, and THE PREMATURE BURIAL. The lead actor, Gerard Tichy, bears a certain resemblance to Vincent Price--and he plays a brooding character named Roderick. To top it all off, HORROR has a fog-shrouded dream sequence much like the ones Corman would put into almost all of his Poe productions. The one major thing HORROR does not have in common with the AIP Poes is that series' lush color--but the atmospheric black & white photography is more than sufficient.
The story concerns the young & pretty Emily de Blancheville, who, in the late 19th Century, has returned to her French home after a number of years abroad. Accompanying Emily is her best friend Alice, and Alice's brother John. The trio are dismayed to find that Emily's brother Roderick acts strangely, and that he has replaced all the servants with a group of suspiciously acting newcomers. Soon Emily begins to feel that the spirit of her late father is calling her to an early grave, and Alice and John try to get to the bottom of things.
Director Alberto De Martino piles on the Gothic trappings in spades. The new housekeeper, played by European cult actress Helga Line, comes off as a younger and more attractive version of Judith Anderson's character in Hitchcock's REBECCA. (If you have seen HORROR EXPRESS, Helga Line almost steals that movie as the sultry spy.) The supposed "spirit" of Emily and Roderick's father goes about in a black cloak, and both Emily and Alice spend a considerable amount of time--you guessed it--wandering dark corridors while wearing nightgowns and holding up candles. HORROR has a slow, stately pace to it, and at about 90 minutes, some might say that much of the spooky aspects of the tale might have been curtailed a bit. At least De Martino does take his time enough to stage some striking shots, such as having Emily (in a white nightgown, of course) slowly making her way through the de Blancheville's ruined abbey in a long shot.
HORROR is very much a traditional Gothic thriller, without the wild excesses that one usually finds in a Euro Gothic. Everything in it is familiar, and there's nothing in the movie that is particularly groundbreaking--but it does what it is designed to do. It is the type of movie that is best watched late in night when you are unable to sleep. It would be interesting to see a remastered version of HORROR on Blu-ray, especially one that didn't have the dubbed track--if I could view it that way I'm sure my appreciation of it would grow. HORROR does have some striking sequences, and those who are drawn to this genre will enjoy it.
Friday, November 25, 2016
My "Euro Gothic" viewing binge continues with the 1960 Italian film L'ULTIMA PREDA DEL VAMPIRO, which was released in the U.S. as THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. The version I watched on the internet had the American title and was dubbed in English.
THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE was produced soon after THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA (see my last post), and the two films share a lot in common. Both pictures have a group of gorgeous dancers involved with the undead, and Italian actor Walter Brandi stars in each. Brandi was the very underwhelming head vampire in THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA--here in PLAYGIRLS he plays another sadly lacking vampiric menace, and his modern-day descendant. Both films are also in black & white, and both are set in contemporary times.
The "Playgirls" of the story are five alluring members of a down-and-out dance troupe, who seek shelter at a mysterious castle along with their comic-relief manager and the group's accompanist. (The accompanist, by the way, is a young, handsome man who is constantly being hit on by the ladies, so one would assume that he winds up being the story's hero--but at the climax he doesn't contribute much help at all.) The castle is the ancestral home of the Kernassy family, and the current Count (the aforementioned Walter Brandi) isn't too happy about letting the group stay. The Count warns his guests not to leave their rooms at night--and of course no one listens to him, because this is an Italian Gothic horror film, and you've just got to have nightgown-wearing cuties wandering around dark corridors.
It isn't too long before one of the girls is found dead, and another girl starts to feel strangely attracted to the dour Count. The Count is supposed to be one of those soulful romantic types, but due to Brandi's non-magnetic personality and a mediocre English dubbing job, one wonders what the beautiful dancer sees in him. (The plaid suit jackets the Count constantly sports doesn't help his cause.)
The late member of the troupe rises out of her grave to become a vampire--but the twist in this film is that she wanders around naked. Except for one very brief topless shot, she's always in shadow--but the very idea of her being undead in her birthday suit is a rather racy one for an early 1960s black & white horror film, even if it is from Europe. Remember that this was a decade before THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. The nudie vampire gets the stake, in a scene that kind of anticipates a similar one in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA.
For most of the film the Count is set up as being the main menace--but it's really his centuries-old ancestor who is the cause of all the trouble. Apparently the modern-day Count is trying to "cure" his relative's affliction (shades of HOUSE OF DRACULA). Writer-director Piero Regnoli brings some decent atmosphere to the tale, but the Gothic trappings are watered down by the girls. Collectively they're pure eye candy, but individually none of their characters are very interesting. One does get to see them in lingerie numerous times, and we're treated to one dance number, in which one of the ladies starts performing a striptease--she's stopped from concluding it, however, by the doleful-looking maid of Kernassy Castle.
Like THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE is an okay early Italian Gothic, but it certainly can't be put on the same level as something like Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY. The ladies are attractive, if a bit annoying, and the climax, set in the Kernassy crypt, brings to mind the Universal classics of the 30s and 40s (except those movies didn't feature a nude bloodsucker). If you are a fan of classic horror it is worth seeking out.
Monday, November 21, 2016
I'm currently reading EURO GOTHIC, the new book by fantastic film expert Jonathan Rigby. In ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, Rigby covered classic horror films made in Britain and the United States. EURO GOTHIC looks at 20th Century terror movies made in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.
EURO GOTHIC deals with a number of movies that I have never seen before--and some I've never even heard of before. The book has inspired me to go on the internet and seek out some of these obscure titles. One picture that piqued my interest was an Italian film made in 1959 called L'AMANTE DEL VAMPIRO--it is was released in America as THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. I found the movie on YouTube, and it was the uncut Italian version, with the Italian title and English subtitles. The print that I watched looked fantastic, by the way.
The release of Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA was a major inspiration for THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA--in Rigby's book director Renato Polselli is quoted saying he was impressed by it. THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA was one of the first true Italian Gothic films, and though it certainly isn't up to the later examples of that genre from such filmmakers as Mario Bava and Antonio Margheriti, it's an efficient tale with a few unusual twists on the vampire legend.
Despite its being a Gothic horror, the movie is set in contemporary times. A troupe of ballerinas are practicing in a large house, which is located near a village beset by a number of mysterious deaths. (Sound familiar?) One day, two of the ballerinas, Luisa and Francesca, along with Francesca's boyfriend Luca, seek shelter from a storm in an abandoned castle. They find the castle tenanted by a beautiful but strange Countess and her "servant" Herman. The dour duo of course are vampires, and they set their sights on the lovely ballerinas.
The best thing about THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is the atmospheric black & white photography by Maria Ciampaglia. Director Polselli uses natural outdoor locations instead of Hammer's typical lush production design--two different real-life castles were used during filming. The movie starts out with an effective sequence of a young farm girl being stalked and attacked. Later the vampirized girl "watches" her own burial--her coffin has a handy window built into it--and the camera takes her point of view, in a reference to the classic VAMPYR.
The girl revives at night and leaves her grave...only to be staked by Herman himself. The idea of a head vampire staking one of his own victims is one of the twists in this tale. Another is the Countess and Herman (who actually is the real power of the two) feeding off one another to keep themselves youthful. When Herman is at his most vampiric, he has a makeup job that looks like a very bad Halloween mask. This is by far the movie's biggest letdown--it's hard to take Herman seriously as a viable threat when he looks so goofy.
The climax of the film owes a great deal to the aforementioned HORROR OF DRACULA, with one of the young male heroes making a cross out of candlesticks, and vampires being forced out into the sun to be destroyed. Unfortunately THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA doesn't have the same acting talent of that classic Hammer film. The Italian performers are adequate, nothing more. The role of the Countess really needed someone like a Barbara Steele, and the actor who plays Herman is more David Manners than Bela Lugosi. It does need mentioning that the ballerinas are quite a collection of beauties, Luisa and Francesca especially. The movie anticipates many, many other vampire films that use the contrivance of having a bunch of gorgeous young females around while the undead are roaming about, such as THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. Since this is a very early entry in the Italian Gothic sweepstakes, there's no nudity (or gore either)....but the ballerinas get two different dance sequences to strut their stuff. The numbers are more like burlesque routines than any ballet, but there's nothing wrong with that from my point of view.
I wouldn't say that THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA is a underrated classic. It's a decent Gothic vampire film--it's enjoyable if you are interested in this type of fare, and the girls are certainly easy to look at. I've seen plenty of vampire movies that were worse. It is definitely worth checking out if you get a chance to see it.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
This week the heavy metal rock group Metallica released their first studio album in eight years. I point this out because the Beatles recorded all of their "official" albums in about an eight year span. The prolific amount of work the Beatles did in the short time they were actually together as a group is astounding, and it is the main subject of the documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK--THE TOURING YEARS, directed by Ron Howard.
If you are a major Beatles fan, almost all of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK will be very familiar. What one does get out of this film is the hectic pace the Beatles were under during the first years of Beatlemania--they recorded several albums, went on many tours throughout the world, made numerous personal appearances, and managed to film two movies as well. Considering that all four Beatles were in their early 20s--and the fact that they couldn't go anywhere without being mobbed--it's hard to believe that at least one of them didn't crack under the pressure. (The movie does show that the four Beatles bond as a group helped each of them individually deal with the various strains put on them.)
The highlight of EIGHT DAYS A WEEK is watching all the rare concert footage of the Beatles performing--there's even some film of their very last concert in 1966 at San Francisco. The most surprising fact I learned from this documentary was how primitive the Beatles tours were, even though they were the biggest music group in the world at that time. While music groups today travel with tons of equipment and a full support staff, the Beatles were literally on their own, save for a handful of roadies. They played some major stadiums, but they also held a number of gigs at what were basically the equivalent of county fairs. Surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr go out of their way to say that manager Brian Epstein took care of them, but I can't help but wonder about that, since the group seemed to be put in a number of precarious situations while on their tours.
Ron Howard keeps the pace of the film at a steady clip, and if things do get slack, a Beatles song always starts playing eventually on the soundtrack--you can't help but feel good when you hear a Beatles song. There's a number of famous faces expressing their love for the Beatles, such as Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver. I can understand having famous talking heads to draw the viewer's attention--many documentaries do this now, and obviously someone like Ron Howard had easy access to them--but I really wish that Howard had included regular folks who had seen the Beatles play live.
As mentioned, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr look back on their experiences in EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, while John Lennon and George Harrison are represented by vintage interviews. It's always nice to hear from Paul and Ringo, but I kind of feel that the movie is missing something without the true input of John and George.
There's nothing very revelatory about EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, except maybe the idea that the reason the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album was so groundbreaking is that the Beatles were freed from the constraints of touring. Beatle fans will enjoy it, and it is worth seeing at least once. It's a nice documentary, but I wouldn't call it a great one.
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Issue #37 of Richard Klemensen's wonderful LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS is now available, and it's filled with all sorts of goodies. This issue focuses on the wild & woolly Hammer production THE LOST CONTINENT (filmed in 1967), and the cover, featuring artwork by the ultra-talented Mark Maddox, perfectly sums up the film's tone.
The last issue of LSOH, which examined the 1979 film version of DRACULA, inspired me to write a blog post on that movie, which was well received. So I've got no choice but to put down my thoughts on THE LOST CONTINENT.
I first saw THE LOST CONTINENT on the American cable network TBS back in the early 1990s. (TBS and its sister station TNT showed Hammer movies quite regularly in the late 80s and early 90s.) I now own the Anchor Bay DVD of the film. For many years THE LOST CONTINENT was considered one of the weaker Hammer outings. It is not a straight "horror" film--it is really a bizarre adventure tale, with horror and science-fiction elements mixed in. It doesn't feature Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, or any of the more famous Hammer Hotties. It is a film that is almost impossible to categorize, and for that reason some have overlooked it. When I first saw it I felt it was just too strange for me to fully embrace--but upon later viewings I have come to recognize it as a rather intriguing attempt by Producer-Director-Writer Michael Carreras to do something different within the Hammer formula....and I would say he succeeded.
THE LOST CONTINENT is based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley called UNCHARTED SEAS. (At an early point in the film, the character played by Nigel Stock is seen reading a paperback version of this novel.) Dennis Wheatley was a popular British author of the mid-20th Century, but I'd venture to say that if anyone knows of him now, it is because of the Hammer film adaptations of his work, specifically the 1968 Terence Fisher-directed THE DEVIL RIDES OUT. I haven't read the novel, but Michael Carreras was taken by it, and felt it would be perfect for a film.
Michael Carreras was the son of Hammer's chief James Carreras, and he felt that the company should branch out into other genres than just classic horror. The films that Michael Carreras personally directed for Hammer vary wildly in the final outcome, but one thing you have to say for them is that they all try to be different in some way. In his main feature article in LSOH on THE LOST CONTINENT, Bruce Hallenbeck calls the movie Hammer's wildest--and he's probably not far off the mark with that statement.
THE LOST CONTINENT has everything including the sink--at one point the captain of the ship, efficiently played by Eric Porter, sets off some explosives in a sink. The movie features a ship's mutiny, a hurricane, a shark attack, treacherous seaweed, giant monsters, a cargo hold filled with dangerous explosives, descendants of 16th Century Spanish explorers, beautiful women (who all have various issues)...it's a smorgasbord of numerous B movie elements, all served up with a cast that plays it absolutely straight the entire way.
The story of THE LOST CONTINENT centers on a run-down freighter called Corita, which is sailing in the South Atlantic Ocean. The ship is carrying a few passengers, and all of them have secrets they are hiding or pasts they are running away from--it is literally a "ship of lost souls". If that isn't enough, the captain (Eric Porter) has decided to carry aboard a large amount of explosive phosphates. The ship is given a hurricane warning, but neither the captain or the passengers wish to turn back. The crew, however, has other ideas--especially when they find out about the explosives. They mutiny and leave the ship on a lifeboat, and the captain and the passengers also have to leave the same way when the Corita runs into the storm.
As the lifeboat approaches the Sargasso Sea, the survivors find that the water is becoming more and more filled with a thick seaweed that seems to be forcing the boat in a certain direction. The motley group discovers a "graveyard" of wrecked ships, some of them several years old, that have been trapped by the weed. The Corita is there as well, and the group gets back on the freighter, and tries to figure out how to escape. But their plans are interrupted by the discovery that there are other beings in this strange sea of weed....a young woman arrives out of this mist, walking on the weed, with the help of pontoon shoes and balloons strapped to her shoulders.
The sight of actress Dana Gillespie appearing out of nowhere in such a getup isn't just one of the weirdest scenes ever in a Hammer movie--it is one of the weirdest scenes in any movie, period. What makes the scene even more outlandish is the fact that Dana Gillespie is wearing balloons, because....well, let's just say that in 1967, Dana Gillespie was a very healthy young woman (see the cover of LSOH above).
Dana Gillespie and her....um, balloons
Gillespie's character is on the run from men dressed like Spanish conquistadors, who attack the ship. It turns out that this unsavory realm is ruled over by these Spanish descendants, who impose a harsh judgment on those who defy them. The survivors of the Corita use the explosives in the ship's hold to fight the religiously fanatic Spaniards, and destroy their Galleon.
My description of the plot just doesn't do it justice--THE LOST CONTINENT is something you have to see for yourself. I didn't even cover the giant crab, or the giant scorpion, which were both built by Disney FX artist Robert Mattey, or the culture of the hardcore Spanish Catholics that give the main characters so much trouble (you could do an entire film based on that aspect of the plot alone--I think it's the most fascinating thing about THE LOST CONTINENT).
In his article on the film Bruce Hallenbeck states that THE LOST CONTINENT was Hammer's most expensive production up to that time. It may not look like that today, but for me the sea of weed, with its many trapped ships, is rendered most effectively. The Spanish Galleon set is quite impressive, and its eventual destruction during the film's climax is one of the most spectacular scenes ever in a Hammer film.
THE LOST CONTINENT may not have what one considers a "typical" Hammer cast, but the actors that do appear work very well. I've already mentioned Eric Porter, and he is joined by a couple of striking ladies in Hildegard Knef and Suzanna Leigh. (I've met Suzanna Leigh at a Monster Bash, by the way.) The great character actor Michael Ripper even shows up in a small role as one of the mutinous crew. The appeal of Dana Gillespie is, uh, obvious, and mention must be made of stuntman Eddie Powell as "The Inquisitor", the man who controls the leader of the Spanish descendants, the young "El Supremo". There's something very disturbing about how the Inquisitor goes into deep prayer while he and the Galleon he is on go up in flames. (According to Bruce Hallenbeck, Christopher Lee was at first going to play the role of the Inquisitor in a unbilled cameo. Lee apparently turned it down, but it wouldn't have made much sense for a publicity-obsessed company like Hammer to use Lee in such a way.)
A couple other things I have to mention about this film. The movie actually has a title song, which was very unusual for a Hammer production. The song hasn't aged as well as the film--the tune is very much a 1960s style lounge piece. And I have to point out the creature that is kept inside of the bilge of the Spanish Galleon, a creature used to dispatch those who trespass against El Supremo. The creature appears to be a killer salad, and looks very much like the Sarlacc featured in RETURN OF THE JEDI. Did George Lucas see THE LOST CONTINENT while he was a film student as USC?
To sum it all up, THE LOST CONTINENT is a wild, wacky out-and-out strange adventure tale--but it is an entertaining one. Many other adventure films that have far bigger budgets--and far bigger reputations--aren't nearly as fun as THE LOST CONTINENT. Some Hammer fans have dismissed this movie because it is not a true horror film. Hammer movies have never really scared me as much as they have set off my imagination. I would define the best Hammer films as bizarre adventures instead of horror movies. THE LOST CONTINENT is probably the most bizarre Hammer adventure of them all.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Olive Films has just released the 1955 Air Force epic STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND on Blu-ray. The movie is one of the many collaborations between actor James Stewart and director Anthony Mann.
Jimmy Stewart was a life-long aviation buff, and he had a distinguished record serving as a pilot in World War II. After the war Stewart continued to serve in the U. S. Air Force Reserve. Stewart got to know General Curtis LeMay, the head of Strategic Air Command (SAC), and felt that the department would be a worthy subject for a film.
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND almost plays as a sequel to a couple of earlier Jimmy Stewart films: THE STRATTON STORY and THE GLENN MILLER STORY. In both those movies June Allyson plays Jimmy's supportive wife, and she does the same thing again in STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND. THE STRATTON STORY had Stewart playing real-life baseball pitcher Monty Stratton, and here he plays Robert "Dutch" Holland, a star baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals, who is recalled by the Air Force.
At first Holland is frustrated by his situation--he and his wife Sally have only been married a few months, and it may be a couple years before he's able to play baseball again. As the story goes on, Dutch starts to grow into his role as a pilot for SAC--so much so that he decides to stay on full-time, much to the consternation of Sally.
There really isn't much of a plot to STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND--the most dramatic sequence in the movie details Dutch and his crew having to crash land in Greenland. The film is basically a tribute to the United States Air Force, which gave the production full cooperation. It is a Cold War era presentation for why America must be prepared at all times, with the audience following along Stewart through his experiences. If any other actor had played Dutch Holland, the movie would be a bit stiff--but Jimmy Stewart's likable persona, as always, shines through. Despite the fact that Dutch is a famous baseball player, and the pilot of one of the most advanced machines of the time, he still comes across as an ordinary fellow, and the type of guy we'd like to watch and spend time with.
The real stars of STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND are the majestic planes featured in the film, especially the B-36 and B-47 jet bombers. About midway through the film, after his experience in Greenland, Dutch is told about the birth of his daughter. A few minutes later, Dutch is shown the B-47 for the very first time--and he reacts with more emotion than he did when he found out about his new child! That kind of tells you where this movie's sympathies lie. The flight sequences are spectacular, and they will be very appreciated by film buffs. (Baseball fans should also take note that this film features footage shot at Al Lang Field, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals at that time.)
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND was filmed in the famed Vista Vision process, and Olive's Blu-ray has gorgeous color and precise clarity. The Blu-ray is in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, and it looks as if it was made this year instead of 60 years ago. (William Daniels was responsible for the cinematography.) As usual with Olive's releases, there are no extras...and that's too bad, because a title like this begs for a audio commentary by someone who is an expert on James Stewart's life and acting career.
James Stewart is one of my favorite actors of all time, so obviously I was going to buy this. It isn't on the level of the Jimmy Stewart-Anthony Mann Westerns, but it is of great interest to aviation fans. STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND is very much a Cold War period piece. Can you imagine any major film actor of today wanting to make a film extolling the virtues of an American military defense program?
Friday, November 11, 2016
This is my contribution to the Great Imaginary Film Blogathon, hosted by Silver Scenes. Coming up with your very own Classic Movie is a fantastic idea...the last time this blogathon was held, I conceived a Hammer Films-Toho Studios co-production called GODZILLA VS. ENGLAND. It remains one of my most popular blog posts.
So what was the result of my bizarre imaginings this time? How about a Universal horror film....starring Karloff & Lugosi, of course. But wait! You not only get Boris & Bela, you get Basil Rathbone as well...and Lionel Atwill! And George Zucco!!
If that's not enough to peak your interest...the film is based on a novel by H. P. Lovecraft!! Wouldn't this have been a incredible thing to see? Well, unfortunately, what I am about to relate to you was never produced on screen. But who knows....maybe in some alternate universe somewhere, it does exist....
The year is 1940. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN has been an unexpected hit for Universal, and the studio is getting ready to start a whole new program of thriller pictures. Filmmaker Rowland V. Lee has just finished TOWER OF LONDON, starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. Universal wants Lee to do another picture with Basil & Boris, and they'd like Bela Lugosi to be part of the cast as well. In a meeting with the studio brass, Lee is informed that Lionel Atwill and George Zucco should also be involved with the project.
Lee racks his brain trying to come up with a story that has major roles for all five actors. Thumbing through a stack of pulps one day while at the studio, Lee comes across a serialized novel featured in a number of issues of AMAZING STORIES. The novel is called AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, and something about the story--a tale of a doomed Antarctic expedition--intrigues him. Lee believes that the desolate frozen landscapes the story takes place in can inexpensively be shown through weird lighting and shadows--much like how he directed many scenes in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. The writer of the novel is an obscure deceased Rhode Islander named H. P. Lovecraft--Lee has never heard of him, but he appreciates the fact that the man will not be around to complain how the story is being adapted. Universal buys the rights to the story (rather cheaply, by the way), and assigns Curt Siodmak to write the screenplay.
The tale begins in the present day, at Miskatonic University, located in Arkham, Massachusetts. Dr. William Dyer (Basil Rathbone), head of Miskatonic's Geology Department, is in a meeting with the University's President (Samuel S. Hinds). The President informs Dyer that for over two weeks now, no contact has been made with the University's Antarctic expedition. The last time there was word from the group, there was strange stories issued about various relics and artifacts being unearthed. Dyer is told to head a new expedition to the Antarctic to find out what has happened to the first group.
Dyer goes back to his home and excitedly informs his wife, Susan (Anne Nagel) about his upcoming trip. Susan is understandably nervous--"You're going to the end of the world!!!"--but Dyer is as giddy as a schoolboy. "My dear, think of it! This will be a grand adventure in science!!" Among Dyer's main companions on the trip will be Professor Peter Danforth (Boris Karloff), an anthropologist and expert in occult sciences. The brooding Danforth is considered a bit odd, but Dyer respects his arcane knowledge. Dr. Franklin Pabodie (Bela Lugosi) is also going along--he is the man who invented the drill the first Miskatonic expedition used to burrow into the earth. To his dismay, Dyer finds that Pabodie is as strange as Danforth--and that the two men are bitter rivals.
The two other experts for the trip are Professors Benton Lake (Lionel Atwill) and Gavin Atwood (George Zucco). Lake and Atwood are considered major authorities on ancient cultures, but both men have also been accused of being tomb robbers. Also joining the team is former Marine and all-around mechanic Joe Forrester (Dick Foran), who will fly the customized airplane located at the Antarctic base.
The group is shipped to Antarctica, and travels to the camp of the first expedition. The party finds corpses everywhere--all the men of the first expedition have been mysteriously wiped out--but by who? Or what? Dyer and Danforth find large, mysterious things preserved at the camp--a type of being unknown to modern man. Dyer is shocked to find that Danforth and Pabodie seem to react to the things with a type of reverence.
Dyer finds a log from the first expedition going into detail about the discovery of the things, and the "lost city" located several miles away. The log also has a number of symbols which cause Danforth and Pabodie to almost fight each other in an effort to decipher them. Both men exclaim to Dyer that the symbols can be found in the dreaded tome know as the "Necronomicon"--and that the beings are actually remains of the great and powerful Old Ones, ancient Gods that once ruled the Earth!!
Danforth and Pabodie demand that Joe fly the group to the location of the lost city mentioned in the first expedition's log. Dyer reluctantly agrees. Lake and Atwood consider Danforth and Pabodie superstitious fools....but they also believe that the lost city may contain precious treasures. ("We must agree to this, Atwood! Who knows what valuables we may find!!")
The five men take off in the specially-equipped plane and find a mountain range longer and taller than any ever recorded in human history. Even more amazing is the fact that there are aged structures resting on the high peaks!! Joe lands the plane in a clearing and the men venture into one of these bizarre buildings. The group finds that inside are a series of caves stretching off into all directions. The caves are festooned with all sorts of weird writings and drawings--and these images drive Danforth and Pabodie into almost insane behavior.
Danforth demands that the group pay homage to the Old Ones--and that he will kill them all if they do not agree! Pabodie angrily replies that only he knows how to tap the ultimate power of the Necronomicon, and he battles Danforth in one of the caves. The cave collapses, and the duo are separated from the rest of the group. The other men continue on, going deeper and deeper. Lake and Atwood find brightly colored stones, and their shared greed causes them to fight each other over them, much like Danforth and Pabodie did. The two stop their struggle when they hear Danforth's voice bellowing out a strange rhythmic chant--followed by a rustling sound, as if many creatures are scurrying about. The rustling sounds like a phrase--the phrase being "TEKELI-LI".
Lake and Atwood, now scared to death, grab as many stones as they can carry and try to find their way back to the surface. Dyer and Joe try to stop them, but Lake pulls out a revolver, firing in the air. The rustling sound grows louder, and this cave starts to collapse as well. Dyer and Joe escape into a passageway, while Lake and Atwood come upon a deep chasm, blocking their escape to the surface. Lake drops his stones, preparing to leap the chasm--but Atwood pushes him into it! The madly grinning Atwood tries to go on another way, while carrying both sets of stones. Atwood is starting to collapse when he turns a corner and runs straight into the dead body of Pabodie! Atwood is so startled by this that he falls screaming into a nearby cavern.
Poster designed and created by Joshua Kennedy
Dyer and Joe continue on, and find themselves in a huge chamber filled with fantastic machinery--machinery that was not designed for use by human beings. Danforth is there, crazed beyond belief. Danforth, staring daggers at the two men, intones that by killing Pabodie and using his blood as a sacrifice, he has awakened the Old Ones. Dyer pleads to Danforth to help them escape, but the madman laughs. "We are but specks compared to the Old Ones...what happens to us is of no consequence!!"
Joe attacks Danforth and forces him into one of the strange machines. The machine suddenly hums to life, while the weird rustling becomes louder and louder. The injured Danforth starts to chant again--but before he can finish, the chamber begins to collapse. Joe and Dyer rush out and start down another corridor, while the rustling continues to follow them. The two men finally do make it to the surface--but not before Dyer takes one look behind him. As the rustling reaches it loudest height, Dyer's face--shown in extreme close-up--is paralyzed with fear. Joe pulls away Dyer just in time before a rock slide covers up the entrance to the surface.
A screen title informs us it is one month later. Joe, Susan, and the Miskatonic President are sitting inside a doctor's office. The doctor (Edward Van Sloan) tells the group that William Dyer "...may recover someday--but the road ahead is a long one." Susan asks the doctor, "Do you have any idea what may have forced him into this condition?" "We still have much to learn," replies the doctor, "but it may have been something he had seen...something inside of those mountains of madness..."
The camera pans outside the room, down a hallway, and through a door marked, WARNING: NO UNAUTHORIZED VISITORS BEYOND THIS POINT. The camera moves to another door, with a small window. The camera goes up to the window, which is barred, and we see inside the empty room the figure of William Dyer, dressed in hospital patient garb, sitting on a cot.
We then see an extreme close-up of Dyer's sweaty face, still paralyzed in fear. Dyer is whispering...
THE FILM'S RECEPTION
Released near the end of 1940, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS was not received with any great fanfare. A VARIETY review stated: "Universal's new chiller diller really is a chiller, set in snowy climbs...the lead actors give out generous helpings of ham, but the story is so outlandish it's difficult to care what happens." As H. P. Lovecraft's stature climbed, the movie's reputation climbed as well. It became a baby-boomer favorite due to its many TV airings in the 1950s and the 1960s and its being showcased in several monster movie magazines of the period. The once-in-a-lifetime cast also made popular.
In later years movie historians such as Greg Mank and Tom Weaver reassessed it with a more critical eye. Despite the joy of seeing Boris & Bela face off, along with Atwill & Zucco facing off as well, many film geeks have pointed out that Dick Foran as the affable ordinary guy gets as much screen time as the masters of mayhem. One recent publication has stated, "...while the movie deserves credit as the first true cinema adaptation of Lovecraft's work, Curt Siodmak's screenplay just doesn't do justice to the author's cosmic vision. Director Lee's constant use of shadows and lighting to hide the film's meager budget shows that Universal simply wasn't able to properly present the vast city of the Old Ones."
Universal released AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS on VHS in the early 1980s, and on DVD in the early 2000s as part of the "Bela Lugosi Collection" (despite the fact that Karloff's role was bigger than Bela's). There have been rumors for years that Bela's death at the hands of Karloff, which was not shown on screen, was filmed, due to a famous posed publicity shot showing Boris as Danforth getting ready to stab a frightened Lugosi. To this day it has not been ascertained whether the scene exists or not.
BASIL RATHBONE BORIS KARLOFF BELA LUGOSI in
AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS
with LIONEL ATWILL GEORGE ZUCCO Dick Foran Anne Nagel
Screenplay by Curt Siodmak (based on a serial appearing in "Amazing Stories")
Produced & Directed by ROWLAND V. LEE
Released November, 1940--87 minutes