Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Top Five DVD/Blu-rays Of 2018

It's the end of the year, and it's time once again for my top five DVD/Blu-rays list. As usual, I spent way too much money on home video--especially movies that I had already owned on other formats. (Three of the films on this list I already had versions of.)

If you are a hardcore movie buff you'll know that the double-dipping problem is getting worse and worse. In the last few months I've re-bought four different Hammer Christopher Lee Dracula movies, mainly because they were making their American Blu-ray debuts. Being a fan of any aspect of Geek Culture is an expensive proposition. But, would I want to be a normal person, whatever that may actually be? No, not really.

As always, each of these picks are from my own personal collection, and no, I still don't have a region free Blu-ray player.

1. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Blu-ray) from Criterion
The most influential American independent film ever made finally gets the ultimate home video edition it deserves. Criterion thankfully pulled out all the stops for this one. I wrote a full review of this in February.

2. NIGHT OF THE DEMON/CURSE OF THE DEMON (Blu-ray) from Indicator
This was my very first purchase of an Indicator product, and it's an amazing release. It comes with a 80-page booklet, a double-sided poster, multiple versions of the film, and reams of extras.

3. THE COMPLETE SARTANA (Blu-ray) from Arrow
Nobody presents Spaghetti Westerns better than Arrow Video. This set presents the five "official" Sartana films, with tons of extras on each disc. I reviewed each of the films individually during the summer.

4. DJANGO (Blu-ray) from Arrow
The day after Amazon sent me an email saying this had shipped, Arrow announced it had to cancel this release due to rights issues. But I got mine! One of the greatest (and most depressing) Spaghetti Westerns of all time is magnificently presented and fully analyzed, and this steelbook edition comes with a bonus disc featuring another Franco Nero Euro Western, TEXAS, ADIOS.

I was seriously thinking about putting the Criterion Blu-ray release of Universal's early talkie musical KING OF JAZZ on this list, but these two compilations get the last spot due to the fact that their release finally means all the Thelma Todd/Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly short subject comedies are available on official home video. It also means that my obsession with attractive blonde actresses such as Thelma Todd wins out again.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS On Blu-ray From Shout Factory

I got quite excited when I found out earlier this year that Shout Factory was planning on releasing a number of Hammer Films horror titles on Blu-ray. My enthusiasm was tempered a bit when it was announced that DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS was going to be the first in the series. Nothing against the movie, mind's just that I've purchased this movie way too often on home video.

I've bought DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS as a VHS release (in widescreen) from Anchor Bay, then the Anchor Bay DVD, then as part of a 3-movie Hammer DVD set from Millennium, then a Blu-ray from Millennium, which I reviewed back in September of 2013. And that doesn't even count me taping it off of TV back in the 1980s, or the multiple times I saw it on Svengoolie during that decade.

Frankly, I've seen DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS way more times than most people ever have, and I've spent more money on it than most people have. Do we really need another home video release of it??

Thankfully Shout Factory has attached some enticing extras for this version. First of all there's a limited edition 18 x 24 poster, which replicates the stunning Mark Maddox artwork that graces the Blu-ray cover sleeve. (I honestly don't know whether the poster is still available at this time.)

Shout Factory has also included what are essentially two different versions of this movie on the disc. There is a U.S. version of the film and a U.K. version. The U.S. version features the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning and slightly different opening credit titles. The content in both versions is basically the same, but the visual quality of each is very different.

The U.S. version (which according to Shout Factory is a new 4K scan of the original film elements) has a darker, grainier look to it. It kind of reminds me of how the movie looked when I saw it on TV back in the 1980s (sans the correct aspect ratio, of course). The U.K. version is much brighter looking, and one can see much more detail in the sets and the costumes. This U.K. version looks about like what the movie looked on the Millennium 2013 Blu-ray.

Some may say the U.K. version looks too bright, and isn't very atmospheric...but after so many years of seeing DPOD with a dark, murky aspect to it, I kind of like the brighter version. No matter how you feel about DPOD's visuals, at least with this Blu-ray you've got two versions to choose from.

Most of the extras from the older DPOD home video releases are carried over here, including an audio commentary featuring Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley, and Suzan Farmer (sadly Shelley is the only one of the group still alive now), and behind-the-scenes footage taken during production by Francis Matthews' brother. Particularly welcome on this Shout Factory release is an extensive stills gallery, which features a number of images even I've never seen before!

Shout Factory has also included two brand new (and welcome) audio commentaries. One features Constantine Nasr and Steve Haberman, and the other Troy Howarth. All three men are huge Hammer fans and their appreciation for DPOD comes out most effectively. Among the aspects the commentaries cover include why Hammer took so long to make another Dracula film with Christopher Lee, why Lee has no dialogue in DPOD, and Hammer's status as a company during the making of the film. Howarth's talk is particularly lively.

I assume that if you are reading this blog you probably have DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS on home video already. I know a lot of movie buffs (like me) prefer not to buy the same movies over and over again, especially when one considers you could take that money and get something on home video you haven't owned before. Shout Factory has gone out of their way to give folks a reason to double-dip. I must admit that it was the Mark Maddox poster that swayed me in getting this Blu-ray. Even if you are not able to get the poster you still get two versions of the film and two new commentaries. Hopefully Shout Factory will continue to add new extras to their future Hammer releases (hint: more Mark Maddox artwork will be most welcome).

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Lately Clint Eastwood has been on a run of films detailing real-life American heroes such as SULLY and AMERICAN SNIPER. His new movie THE MULE is also based off of a real-life American story, but this time the narrative is much more complicated. THE MULE is reminiscent of MYSTIC RIVER and MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

In a welcome return to on-screen acting, Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a horticulturist from Illinois who is in his eighties. Despite a lifetime of hard work, Earl is broke, and he has almost no relationship with his immediate family. A chance encounter leads Earl to become a courier for some rather intimidating employers--he winds up being a very unlikely (and very successful) drug mule. For the first time in his life Earl is making some big-time money, and he believes he can use it to rectify the problems that he has, but he soon has to face the consequences of what he has involved himself in.

THE MULE is a perfect story for Eastwood's understated film making style. It's not a rip-roaring story about drug cartels, it's an adult drama featuring an imperfect working-class man who winds up in a situation where's he's way over his head. In his excellent performance as Earl Eastwood shows us that the man has been way over his head when it comes to life period. He's politically incorrect and plain-spoken, and despite his advanced age he still tries to act like a 30-year old player around the ladies. Earl can turn on the charm when he has to, and he has a regular-guy type of common sense which helps him out in certain times of trouble, but he can also be exasperating. Some may feel that Eastwood makes Earl too lovable, but I don't think so....he's portraying a type of American that still exists, no matter how many people today may look down on such folks. Eastwood mines a lot of humor from Earl's reactions to 21st Century life, but I know plenty of people who would react the same way.

THE MULE was written by Nick Schenk, who also wrote GRAN TORINO. The two movies share a few similarities, but the character that Eastwood played in GRAN TORINO would never become a drug mule. The very outlandishness of a 80-something very white guy being a drug courier is why it worked in real life, and it comes off very believably in this film. As usual Eastwood is surrounded by a top-flight cast: Bradley Cooper, Andy Garcia, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dianne Wiest (what notable movie actor wouldn't want to work with Clint Eastwood?).

It's nice to see a film that tells a story about ordinary people, and doesn't have CGI, over-the-top action scenes, or ear-splitting music and sound effects. In my opinion Eastwood's performance in THE MULE is one of the best of his career, and it would be nice if he got a Best Actor Oscar nomination (although in today's political climate, that's probably not going to happen). At the very least Eastwood should be commended for showing that an 88-year old man can produce, direct, and star in a film that stands up to anything being released in theaters lately.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

HORROR OF DRACULA On Blu-ray From Warner Archive

The Region A Blu-ray debut of the most famous Hammer film of all time has already stirred up a fair amount of controversy--so much so that I've debated on whether I should even write this blog post at all.

Instead of going into the history and/or the importance of the film, I'll get right to the point and give my personal opinion on how this movie looks on this Blu-ray.

Warner Archive claims that "This presentation of HORROR OF DRACULA is based on the British Film Institute restoration of 2007 and additional elements subsequently discovered." This restoration was the basis of a British Blu-ray release a few years ago that was accused by some as having a bluish tint to it. I don't have a Region Free player, so I haven't seen that release, but I have seen screen grabs from it and I don't think I'd like to see HORROR OF DRACULA with a bluish tinge.

The Warner Archive version of HORROR OF DRACULA does not have a bluish tinge--but it is, in my opinion, very dark looking. How dark? As an example, I'll use the famed fur-collared coat that Dr, Van Helsing wears in the film. The color of the coat is dark blue--but in many scenes it looks a solid black. Other dark-colored costumes and furnishings appear black as well, and the backgrounds of most interior sets are lost in shadows.

In certain close-ups there is an increased sharpness of detail--but the overall color tone, for me, doesn't seem as vibrant as I'm used to seeing on this movie. Does it look terrible, as some reviewers have said? Well, for me, it looks different.

I have the old Warners DVD of HORROR OF DRACULA, and I've seen it several times on TV over the years. Turner Classic Movies showed it in HD last October, and I thought it looked magnificent--the colors were bright and vivid, and there was plenty of sharpness and detail. I wish that version of it had been released on Blu-ray--and I honestly prefer the color scheme of the Warners DVD to the Warner Archive Blu-ray.

I have to point out that how I feel about the look of HORROR OF DRACULA is just my personal opinion--I'm not going to presume to say how the movie should "officially" look. I wasn't around when it was originally released in theaters in 1958.

Some other things about this presentation....the 1958 version of the Universal-International logo is at the beginning and the end of the film, reminding us that in America HORROR OF DRACULA was released by Universal (a fact that seems almost forgotten by now). The actual title of the film is the British one, DRACULA, due to the use of the BFI restoration. The thing is, this is an American home video release, so...wouldn't the HORROR OF DRACULA on-screen title be more appropriate?

The aspect ratio on this Blu-ray is 1.66:1, which makes the shot compositions look better (the Warners DVD was 1.78:1). The sound quality is excellent--the audio is in DTS 2.0 Mono, and James Bernard's score practically booms on it.

The only extra is an original trailer in very poor condition. Setting aside one's personal preference on how this movie should look, the lack of extras is the biggest letdown. HORROR OF DRACULA is THE Hammer horror film, and this year marks its 60th anniversary. Any home video release of it should include tons of relevant extras. I was holding out hope that because of the 60th anniversary, a company like Criterion might consider putting out HORROR OF DRACULA, but no such luck.

So, all in all, should one get this Blu-ray? I assume if you are a Hammer fan, you've probably pre-ordered it already, especially if you don't have a Region Free Blu-ray player. I don't really want to say "don't buy it", because this may be the only Region A Blu-ray of this film that will be released for awhile.

I will say, though, that this release could have been much, much better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Monster Kid Radio's Classic Five Core Deck Card Of The Month For December

There are two ways to answer this question: "Who is your favorite mad scientist character?" and "Who is your favorite mad scientist actor?"

When it comes to favorite mad scientist character, there's so, so many to choose from....just off the top of my head, there's Boris Karloff's Dr. Gustav Niemann in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Lionel Atwill's Dr. Otto von Niemann in THE VAMPIRE BAT, George Zucco's Dr. Alfred Morris in THE MAD GHOUL, and Ernest Thesiger's Dr. Pretorius in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. And what about Bela Lugosi's Dr. Vollin in the 1935 version of THE RAVEN?

I could go on naming dozens of others, but my ultimate pick for favorite mad scientist character of all time came to me rather easily. It's C. A. Rotwang, as played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, in Fritz Lang's magnificent silent epic METROPOLIS.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang

I was totally mesmerized by METROPOLIS from the first time I saw it, and I remain so to this day. The character of Rotwang is so striking, so intriguing, so mysterious, so....expressionistic, you can't help but be overwhelmed by him. He dresses like a mad monk, he lives in what appears to be a medieval cottage smack dab in the middle of futuristic ultra-modern city, and he has abilities and talents far beyond that of the average member of the populace. Despite the ancient trappings of his abode, he has a laboratory filled with all sorts of complicated equipment, and he seems to have managed to create for himself a fully functional prosthetic right hand.

He has also managed to create one of the most iconic characters in movie history, a rather shapely robot who is given the appearance of the beautiful young Brigitte Helm. This "False Maria" almost brings the entire society of Metropolis down, which is what Rotwang had in mind in the first place--the woman he loved (and lost) married the Master of Metropolis.

Nearly every mad scientist trope you can come up with is represented by Rotwang. His looks, his actions, his creations, his righteous anger, his quest for revenge....all these elements would be used over and over and over again in hundreds of fantastic films, and they are still being used today. Out of all the movie mad scientists, Rotwang is the one that has fascinated me the most, the one that has had the most effect upon my imagination.

Now, for my favorite mad scientist actor--once again, there's plenty of worthy candidates....Karloff, Lugosi, Carradine, may have wondered why I haven't mentioned Peter Cushing yet. In all honesty, I've never thought that the scientists that Cushing played were mad--they were dedicated and dangerous, but I never believed they were totally off the rails.

There's one actor, though, who was the expert when it came to playing scientists who were totally off the rails--and that was Lionel Atwill. When Atwill was playing one of his many mad scientist characters, his eyes would light up with an insane glee, he'd usually have a wicked smirk on his face, and no one--men, women, children, or animals....was safe. It also appeared to me that Atwill enjoyed portraying loony medicos...he seemed to take it up a notch. If I had to pick just one actor in all of movie history to play a mad scientist, it would be Lionel Atwill.

Lionel Atwill 

Sunday, December 9, 2018


A week or so ago I wrote a post on an Italian WWII film called FIVE FOR HELL. In it I made reference to the fact that Klaus Kinski played a SS Colonel by asking the question, "What else would Kinski play in a WWII movie?" My friend Troy Howarth, who has written a book about the actor (REAL DEPRAVITIES: THE FILMS OF KLAUS KINSKI) informed me that Kinski actually played an American soldier in a 1969 production called SALT IN THE WOUND. This intrigued me enough to search the movie out on YouTube and view it. 

SALT IN THE WOUND begins (at least in the version I saw of it) with various shots of a barren landscape, while a stentorian-voiced narrator quotes scripture. Just when you think you've stumbled onto a Biblical epic by mistake, the scene abruptly switches to the Italian theater of World War II. Two GIs, played by Klaus Kinski and Ray Saunders, have been convicted of murder by a military court and are sentenced to be executed. (Kinski's character shot an elderly Italian woman while looting a house, and Saunders' character killed an officer.) A newly-arrived clean-cut by the book Lieutenant (played by George Hilton) is ordered to preside over the executions. The condemned men are taken out to the countryside to be shot, but German soldiers attack the group. The execution squad is wiped out, and Hilton, Kinski, and Saunders escape. The three men form an uneasy alliance to survive, and they stumble into a small village, where they are hailed as liberators. Their short idyll away from the war comes to and abrupt end when the Germans attack the town, and the trio must fight them off by themselves.

I expected SALT IN THE WOUND to have plenty of Spaghetti Western-style flourishes, but it actually is more of a drama than a action picture. The conflict comes from the strained partnership between the three main characters, who all have widely divergent backgrounds and mistrust of one another. Kinski's corporal is cynical and surly, with a "I only care about myself" attitude--but at the same time, the actor is still able to show the self-loathing the man feels for what he has become. At the beginning it's somewhat disconcerting to see Kinski as an American infantryman, but he's talented enough to make it work (this time the English dubbing is a help instead of a hindrance). Kinski even gets to have a poignant romance with a young Italian girl who sees him as a savior of her hometown.

Ray Saunders' character, who is African-American, gets to bond with a pre-teen Italian boy, and despite his newfound status as a liberator, the man still comes off as an outsider. George Hilton, who got one chance to play the "official" version of the Euro Western character Sartana, does very well as the uptight Lieutenant who begins to realize that rules and regulations mean very little in war.

SALT IN THE WOUND does have a few action sequences, the main one being the climatic battle. These sequences are handled capably, and they thankfully lack the more outlandish elements one usually sees in Italian genre films made during this period. The whole film, in fact, has a more down-to-earth tone than one expects from this type of product. The Italian locations give the story plenty of verisimilitude, and Riz Ortolani's militaristic score sets the mood properly. The movie was co-written and directed by Tonino Ricci (on the credits he's billed as Teodoro Ricci), and all in all he does a fine job in making a low-budget WWII story intriguing and interesting without being overly violent or exploitative.

According to my researches, SALT IN THE WOUND is known under several different titles, including WAR FEVER, THE LIBERATORS, and THE DIRTY TWO. The original Italian title is IL DITO NELLA PIAGA. The version I saw on YouTube was 87 minutes long, and in widescreen, and the print didn't look all that bad.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Tribute To Sylvester Stallone And Rocky Balboa

I watched CREED II yesterday, and I thought it was even better than the first CREED. It got me thinking about the entire Rocky film series--a series that has gone on for over forty years and includes eight movies so far. It's a series that has made a significant impact on pop culture, and with Sylvester Stallone recently announcing his presumed "retirement" from playing the Rocky Balboa character, I think it's high time to give the actor some respect for what he has accomplished. 

The original ROCKY itself wasn't just an underdog story--the behind-the-scenes efforts of the then unknown Stallone to bring his script to the screen with him starring as the lead character was even more of one. At first glance the original ROCKY may seem a very simple concept--it's the type of story that has been done over and over again and will continue to be--but the material was treated with such earnestness and respect that it made an emotional connection to audiences--a connection that lasts to this day. Are the Rocky movies predictable? Yes. Have you seen them so many times that you know exactly what is going to happen? Yes...but the important thing is that they still work. 

There's not one entry in the entire Rocky series that I would call truly bad. Even ROCKY V isn't as mediocre as many assume it to be. If you go back and watch all the Rocky films, including the Creed ones, the characters in them all go through believable progressions through the series. Watching all the Rocky characters over the years is like watching a family or a group of friends you know--heck, most folks would say they know these characters better than real people. Stallone has written, co-written, or directed every film in the Rocky series, and to be able to present this ongoing storyline over such a long period of time without going off the rails shouldn't be underestimated...consider that most movie franchises lose steam around the third entry. Stallone must be doing something right as a writer. 

We also have to give credit to Stallone as an actor. One of the reasons that Rocky Balboa is one of the most iconic film characters ever is due to Stallone's portrayal. Rocky truly is a good guy, and Stallone has always presented him as someone who audiences feel they know and like. Stallone has often used light humor to touch upon Rocky's lack of polish...but he's never looked down on the character. Rocky isn't sophisticated or an intellectual, but he's honest and well-meaning, and most importantly, audiences relate to what he's going through. If you can get the audience on your character's side, you have a major advantage.

Sylvester Stallone has gone through plenty of critical dubbing over the years--he has been in films such as RHINESTONE and OVER THE TOP, after all. But he's also been involved in three different major film franchises--Rocky, Rambo, and the Expendables--and he's written and directed scores of films that have made tons of money. Every major holiday some cable TV channel is running a Rocky marathon, and if you drop any sort of clever reference to any of the Rocky movies on the internet, you'll get some feedback. It's easy to make fun of Sylvester Stallone, but in all honesty, how many filmmakers have had as much influence on mass entertainment as he has?

In closing, the best way I can pay tribute to Sylvester Stallone and Rocky Balboa is to offer up a hearty and heartfelt "YO"!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2018


FIVE FOR HELL (original Italian title 5 PER L'INFERNO) is a 1969 Italian WWII action adventure that tries to fit the mold of such films as THE DIRTY DOZEN and WHERE EAGLES DARE. This movie, however, is at a far lesser scale than those big-budget epics. 

The story is set during the Italian Campaign of World War II. Brash American Lt. Hoffman (played by the official Sartana, Gianni Garko) gathers together four other soldiers with special skills--an acrobat, an explosives expert, a safecracker, and a muscular fellow--to take on a secret mission. The five are to be transported behind enemy lines, where they will attempt to infiltrate the Italian headquarters of the German High Command, break into a safe, and steal the plans for an upcoming offensive against the Allies. As expected, the mission doesn't come off quite as planned, as the five have to deal with a sultry German army secretary who may or may not be a double agent (Margaret Lee) and a determined SS Colonel (Klaus Kinski). 

FIVE FOR HELL is basically a Spaghetti Western set during the Second World War. The problem is the more bizarre elements of that genre do not stand up too well when inserted into a story involving history's greatest conflict. This movie was directed and co-written by Gianfranco Parolini, under his "Frank Kramer" pseudonym. Parolini was the man who inaugurated both the Sartana and Sabata movie series, and many of the aspects of those films can be found in FIVE FOR HELL. There's a fair amount of goofy humor that doesn't work, and Parolini's penchant for circus-style stunts (which he used repeatedly in the Sabata films) is firmly in evidence here. The five heroes use such weapons as a trampoline and a softball, and the gags resulting from these instruments get more outlandish as the story goes along.

The Spaghetti Western influence extends to the cast as well. Besides Gianni Garko, three of the men who portray members of his group--Aldo Conti, Sal Borgese, and Luciano Rossi--were longtime Euro Western veterans. Samson Burke, who plays the muscle of the unit, was Hercules in THE THREE STOOGES MEET HERCULES (how many people can claim they worked with the Stooges and Klaus Kinski??).

Speaking of Kinski, his portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Mueller is predicated more on smugness than viciousness. He does make a viable threat (what else would Kinski play in a WWII movie?), and, as usual, he steals every scene he's in. Kinski spends most of his time leering at Margaret Lee, a Eurocult actress and Jess Franco favorite. Lee's double agent character winds up bedding Kinski's SS Colonel to distract him (I'm sure Klaus wasn't complaining about that scene).

As he does in his Spaghetti Westerns, Gianni Garko brings a lot of screen presence to the role of Lt. Hoffman. He's actually quite believable as a WWII American army officer, even though the actions of him and his team are not. FIVE FOR HELL has a lot of explosions and a rousing climax featuring a machine gun battle, but like a lot of Italian films made during this period that attempted to imitate more notable American-made productions, it bites off more than it can chew. The movie attempts to be a hard-edged war tale, but there's too much bizarre stuff going on to take it more seriously--such as a music score which seems cobbled together from a bunch of other movies which are not war films.

The version of FIVE FOR HELL that I viewed was English-dubbed, with English titles, and it was not in widescreen. A Italian language subtitled version in the correct aspect ratio might be much better...but my final verdict has to be that Gianfranco Parolini was much better at Westerns than at war.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

THE SAINT--"The Man Who Gambled With Life"

While going through my XfinityOne on-screen guide recently, I found out that I have free access to nearly every episode of the classic 1960s British TV series THE SAINT starring Roger Moore. This has allowed me the opportunity to view one particular episode that I've always wanted to see--a season six story entitled "The Man Who Gambled With Life", featuring the lovely Veronica Carlson.

"The Man Who Gambled With Life" has plenty of horror/science-fiction connections other than Veronica. The episode was directed by Freddie Francis, who helmed several English Gothic feature films for Hammer and Amicus. The man who plays the main threat to Roger Moore's Simon Templar in this story, Clifford Evans, had appeared in two fine Hammer films, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF and THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE. Barry Andrews also appears in this tale--he co-starred with Veronica Carlson, and under Freddie Francis' direction, in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. Hedger Wallace, who played small roles in many of Freddie Francis' films, has a supporting part here as well.

The actual story in this episode, written by Harry W. Junkin, has many horror/science-fiction elements on its own. The suave Simon Templar has encounters with two gorgeous blonde sisters, who make quixotic statements about death. The Saint tracks down the ladies to a large remote country house, which is owned by a rich entrepreneur named Keith Longman (Clifford Evans). The ladies, Vanessa (Veronica Carlson) and Stella (Jayne Sofiano) are Longman's daughters. After he infiltrates Longman's home, the Saint finds out from the man himself that he is experimenting with cryogenics. Longman has a bad heart, and he is determined to freeze himself into suspended animation until years later, when he assumes that heart transplants will be simple and common. Longman's freezing process has never been tested on humans--and he believes that the Saint will be the perfect subject.

"The Man Who Gambled With Life" also has a James Bond tinge to it--and I'm not referring to Roger Moore. Keith Longman seems very much like a Bond style villain. He's highly intelligent, cultured, and he spends a lot of time dressed in a smoking jacket. In true Bond villain fashion, Longman is the one who reveals the plot details to the hero. Longman's home could easily be a subsidiary of SPECTRE--it contains hidden control rooms bristling with computer banks and secret underground passages. Longman even has a platoon of uniformed security guards--and just like in the Bond films, the goons don't really amount to much.

Clifford Evans is a fine foil for Roger Moore, but let's face it, the Longman sisters are the ones who steal the show. Jayne Sofiano's Stella is the more emotional of the two, and she even winds up going against her father and helping out the Saint (another Bondian plot device--the bad girl who is so won over by the hero she joins his side). Vanessa Longman is very different from the usual nice girl roles Veronica Carlson would play in her career. Vanessa is determinedly devoted to her father's plan, and Simon Templar's charms have no effect on her (I don't even think Veronica genuinely smiles once during the entire episode). Veronica's role isn't actually very big, and that's a shame, because she looks absolutely stunning, especially when she's wearing the costume shown in the picture below.

Veronica Carlson as Vanessa Longman

"The Man Who Gambled With Life" is like most episodes of THE SAINT--it's fun, entertaining, and it's not too heavy or complicated. Roger Moore is his usual likable self, and his charisma makes the episode all the more enjoyable. At one point Moore even tosses off a reference to Mrs. Peel of THE AVENGERS (I laughed out loud at that). Freddie Francis doesn't get much of a chance to show off his visual sense, but in all honesty, his best shots are when Veronica Carlson is in front of the camera. The story has all sorts of wild aspects to it (including a gorilla in a cage!), but it's played rather straight, and it even has a very unexpected (and disarming) ending. All in all, "The Man Who Gambled With Life" is a prime example of classic television.

Friday, November 23, 2018


In Joshua Kennedy's THE FUNGUS AMONG US, the main cast is holed up in an empty house up for sale. During their stay, the characters turn on the TV and watch a film being shown--a film that I was not familiar with. Josh informed me that the movie was HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND, a title that I had never seen, but certainly had heard of. HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND has a reputation for being one of those Golden Turkey-type "so bad it's good" low-budget monster flicks, and I decided to check out the film for myself on YouTube.

HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND starts out presumably in the USA, with a sleazy manager named Gary (Alex D'Arcy) auditioning showgirls for a dance troupe bound for a Singapore nightclub. Instead of getting the story off to a roaring start, we actually see some of these auditions, which are nowhere near as enticing as one would expect (one of the girls performs a ballet recital!). Finally Gary and the chosen girls take off, but their plane catches fire and crashes somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. Going by the stock footage used for the crash, there's no way anyone should have survived this--but Gary and his curvy beauties did survive, and they are now floating aimlessly on a emergency raft. The group does make it to an island, and during their explorations of it they come across a shack, where inside they find the corpse of a middle-aged man trapped in a giant spider's web.

A reading of the dead man's journal reveals that he was a Professor searching for uranium on the island. The fact that there might be lethal giant spiders around doesn't deter the girls from sniping and whining at each other, or from Gary to go off walking alone at night. The guy gets bitten by a--or should I say the large spider, since it's the only one we see in the movie. Gary shoots the creature but he becomes a werewolf--or werespider?--type of monster himself. He kills one of the girls, and the rest of them are at a loss about what to do with this situation. Two men, who were working with the Professor, then arrive on the island. They inform the girls that a boat will be coming in a few days, and despite the fact that WereGary is still out there roaming around, the girls start trying to seduce the Professor's helpers. WereGary shows up to put a stop to all the in-heat hijinks, and the rest of the cast eventually chase him around with signal flares, driving him into a quicksand bog, where the poor guy goes under.

A cursory reading of the plot of HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND is not enough to reveal the various sundry details of the actual film. The movie tries to be an exploitative potboiler--there's a catfight, a few moments of skinny dipping, and the tendency of the girls to lounge around half-dressed--but it's never as entertaining (or as seductive) as one expects it to be. The girls are all attractive (in an obvious sort of way) but none of them stand out particularly. In my opinion the most interesting part of the film is Gary being turned into a creature by the large spider--but this subplot almost winds up being forgotten.

As for the (one) large spider--it's about the size of a small dog--it's an effective menace, with a frowning visage that reminded me of one of FX man Paul Blaisdell's many creations for American-International Pictures. Apparently the budget could only afford one of these creatures, and the one we do see isn't used enough. There's no explanation for why there's a large spider on this island, at least in the version of the film that I watched (I assumed it had something to do with the uranium deposits that were found).

It's understandable why HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND is considered notable by bad-movie lovers. The English dub on this version is filled with atrocious dialogue ("Hello about turning those lamps on someone else for a change?"), and some of the voices almost sound cartoonish. The music score sounds cartoonish as well, at least when it's not sounding like it comes from a cheap nightclub. Even if I had heard the original voices of the performers I doubt that would have made their acting any better.

According to my research, HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND is actually an edited English version of a 1960 West German film called EIN TOTER HING IM NETZ (which roughly translates to "The Body in the Web"). The movie has also been referred to as IT'S HOT IN PARADISE and THE GIRLS OF SPIDER ISLAND. The movie was written and directed by Fritz Bottger, and it was supposedly shot on location in Yugoslavia. The version I watched ran about 75 minutes--running times such as 86 and 82 minutes have also been listed for this feature.

Would a viewing of a full-length version of this story, with the original voice track, cause me to change my mind about this movie? Maybe, but I doubt it. I honestly wouldn't want to watch this movie again. Josh Kennedy told me that he was actually thinking of doing a remake of HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND, and that project wound up being THE FUNGUS AMONG US. I'm pretty sure Josh's version would have been much more entertaining.

Monday, November 19, 2018


I can emphatically state that I had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Joshua Kennedy's latest film, THE FUNGUS AMONG US. (That statement alone might make some of Josh's fans happy). That fact enables me to write a totally unbiased (yeah, right) blog post about the production.

How creative is Joshua Kennedy? While busy prepping the most important project of his young life--HOUSE OF THE GORGON--Josh decided to make another film altogether. The result is a wild mixture of neo-noir, 1950s low-budget monster movies, "bad girl" flicks, and 1970s grindhouse attitude.

The story begins in Vandorf County, Texas, in the middle of the night, where four brazen young women (played by Stephanie Marie Baggett, Gabriela Pedraza, Jamie Trevino, and Natalie Wise) kidnap an innocent girl (Stephanie Jo Saez) who they believe to be a mayor's daughter. Trouble is, she isn't the mayor's daughter--and a massive rainstorm is heading for the area. The women, and their captive, take shelter in an empty house that is up for sale. The ladies have more moxie than brains, and they are at a loss at what to do about the situation. Soon a tough-talking fellow named Dutch (Marco Munoz) arrives. Dutch is the one who planned the kidnapping in the first place, and the four ladies "work" for him (you can probably guess what their job description is). Like his "employees", Dutch isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, and he tries to think of a way how they all can still get some ransom money. But this motley crew has bigger problems--the house is inexplicably filled with cotton candy-like strands of deadly fungus!

THE FUNGUS AMONG US reminded me of a pre-Poe Roger Corman film--it's in black & white, the few characters spend a lot of time arguing with one another, and there is a monster that at first seems ridiculous but is actually quite effective. What's really surprising about the film is that it clocks in at a crisp 40 minutes or so. It's as if Josh skipped all the extraneous filler that one finds in so many low-budget fantastic movies of the 50s and 60s right off the bat and just focused on the "good stuff". There's no sequences of characters relating their backstory, or scenes of the kidnap victim bonding with her captors--and there's no explanation for the fungus whatsoever. The story may be a bit predictable, but because there's no detours along the way, it works rather well.

The black & white photography is very well done, and most of the scenes involving the fungus are tinted a sickly green. I'm not going to dwell on the fungus attacks--I don't want to give too much away--but there is a very nice Freddie Francis-style shot which reveals the fungus' POV!

One thing you can expect from every Joshua Kennedy movie is a cast featuring some very attractive female talent, and THE FUNGUS AMONG US is no exception (Natalie Wise in particular has excellent screen presence). You can also expect plenty of in-jokes and geeky references--I'll let you spot those for yourselves.

THE FUNGUS AMONG US is short--so short that I was left wanting more. It's still a worthy addition to the Joshua Kennedy Cinematic Universe. The movie features a John Carpenter-esque original music score by Tom Milligan, so I assume this means that Josh will be able to release it on home video in the near future.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA On Blu-ray From Warner Archive

The Warner Archive Collection follows up its Blu-ray release of Hammer's DRACULA A.D. 1972 with that movie's sequel, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973).

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA was the last Hammer Dracula film to feature Christopher Lee. It continues the modern setting of DRACULA A.D. 1972, along with many of that film's characters, such as Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing, Michael Coles' Inspector Murray, and Jessica Van Helsing (this time around portrayed by Joanna Lumley). While DRACULA A.D. 1972 had a goofy mod sensibility and was rated PG, SATANIC RITES is much darker in tone and was rated R. SATANIC RITES features such things as a young naked girl being stabbed as part of a....satanic rite, and a putrefying plague victim.

Director Alan Gibson and screenwriter Don Houghton (both returning from DRACULA A.D. 1972) give this entry more of an urban crime thriller feel, with motorcycle chases, fistfights, and sniper attacks. John Cacavas' music score (which I am listening to on CD right now as I write this) also has a cop movie-Lalo Schifrin feel to it. Houghton's story has a number of far-reaching elements that the actual movie doesn't have the budget to live up to. In SATANIC RITES Dracula is in disguise as a mysterious tycoon, almost a Bond villain type, who is using various influential members of the British ruling class to help bring about his final vengeance on mankind.

Many have compared the SATANIC RITES plot to that of an episode of THE AVENGERS, but Jonathan Rigby in his seminal book ENGLISH GOTHIC makes the case that it seems more like a DOCTOR WHO serial (a show which Don Houghton wrote several stories for). Imagine the characters of Van Helsing, Jessica, and Inspector Murray being replaced by the Doctor, one of his female companions, and the Brigadier, and substitute the Master for Dracula, and you'll know what Rigby means.

I've never been much of a fan of THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, but after seeing it in such pristine condition, I have to admit the story seemed to flow a little bit better. What more praise can I heap on Peter Cushing? He basically explains all the plot points of the movie and has them not only make sense, but feel important as well. Christopher Lee gets a bit more to do as the Count than usual in a Hammer Dracula movie, but you still get the feeling it's not enough. (He does get to use a Bela Lugosi-like accent during a scene in which he is trying to hide his identity.)

Freddie Jones has a small but memorable role as one of the influential men Dracula is using, and Valerie Van Ost has a notable part as one of Dracula's victims. Joanna Lumley is hindered by a new characterization for Jessica Van Helsing. When Jessica was played by Stephanie Beacham in DRACULA A.D. 1972, she had a spunky aspect to her, and she was as different from Dr. Van Helsing as one could imagine. Here, she's mentioned in dialogue as being an important assistant to Dr. Van Helsing, but she doesn't do much of anything except wind up in Dracula's clutches at the climax.

THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is a long way away from the glory days of Hammer, but it does feature a couple of great Cushing-Lee confrontations, including the very last time the two would battle each other on-screen.

The Warner Archive Collection's Blu-ray of THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is by far the best I have ever seen this movie look. The film has had a tortured history on home video, with several public domain versions and even a few that were actually the American release version of the film which was titled COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE. The Warner Archive Blu-ray is the full original uncut version of the film, and it is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is much sharper and clearer than all the other versions, and the sound is vastly improved as well, being in DTS-HD. The only extra is a trailer, but thankfully it is one for the original release version, not one of those floating around for the COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE theatrical release.

Simply put, this Blu-ray of THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is the only one of this title any Hammer fan needs to own.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Monster Kid Radio's Classic Five Core Deck Card Of The Month For November

Now, there isn't really of lot of choices for this question. When it comes right down to it, for me anyway, there's only three: WHITE ZOMBIE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (the original version, of course). 

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE is an excellent film, but like most of the Val Lewton RKO thrillers, at times it seems too stately for its own good. The original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the ultimate true modern horror film, and I also believe it is the most influential American independent film of all time. 

Now WHITE ZOMBIE...I'm a huge fan of that movie. It has a distinctive, weird fairy tale quality to it. Yes, at times it feels archaic and amateurish (especially in the acting of some of the supporting cast), but I think that reinforces the unusual atmosphere. WHITE ZOMBIE doesn't have the polish of a major studio production, and for whatever reason that makes the film have more impact for me. 

The major reason I favor WHITE ZOMBIE is Bela Lugosi's performance as zombie master Murder Legendre. Bela truly is a show in himself here....he's made up to look like a malevolent Satan, and you can tell he's clearly enjoying himself in the role. He makes the most out of several memorable lines of dialogue ("We understand each other better now." "For you, my friend, they are the angels of death.") and he's afforded many expressionistic close-ups. I honestly think that Bela has more of a showcase in WHITE ZOMBIE than he does in the 1931 DRACULA!

If Bela wasn't in WHITE ZOMBIE, this movie would definitely suffer. Supporting players Madge Bellamy, Robert Frazer, and John Harron are all a bit ragged (I don't think working with actors was one of director Victor Halperin's strengths), but they do accentuate the movie's bedtime story mentality. The characterizations are not important here--it's the overall creepiness, the sense of long-ago dread that pervades throughout. One of the most notable sequences in the film is when we are shown Lugosi's zombies slaving away at his mill. The sound of the mill grinding away--I can hear it even while writing this!--that chalkboard scratching-like noise is one of the greatest movie sound effects I have ever heard.

So WHITE ZOMBIE is my favorite black & white zombie movie. It is old-fashioned and kind of silly, but try watching it alone late at night. It still has the ability to fascinate, especially since it features one of Bela Lugosi's most impressive performances. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

THE WASP WOMAN On Blu-ray From Shout Factory

The 1959 Roger Corman THE WASP WOMAN isn't one of the director's better films, and it's not even one of the more notable fantastic films of its period--so why did Shout Factory give it a major Blu-ray release? Because that's what Shout Factory does, and let's all give thanks that they do it.

THE WASP WOMAN contains elements of THE FLY, THE WOLF MAN, and the Jekyll & Hyde story. Set in contemporary times, the tale concerns Janice Starling (Susan Cabot), the head--and main spokesmodel--of a major cosmetic company. The company's sales are starting to go down, and Janice is worried it may be due to the fact she's not as young as she used to be--she's now (gasp) entering her forties! A mysterious Dr. Zinthrop (Michael Mark) creates a serum from royal wasp jelly that he claims rejuvenates animals--and Janice decides to test it on herself. The serum works--all too well, as various complications ensue (the title of this movie is THE WASP WOMAN, after all).

THE WASP WOMAN is an okay little film (its original running time is around an hour), but I don't think it even ranks among the best of Roger Corman's 1950s movies, such as NOT OF THIS EARTH. What helps it the most is the lead performance by Susan Cabot. Instead of going to extremes with the character of Janice Starling, Cabot makes her believable and likable. Janice doesn't come off as obsessed with youth or beauty (at the beginning of the film she in fact doesn't look all that much different then when she becomes "younger"). Instead of ranting or raving, Cabot brings a measured tone to the film which offsets the more outlandish parts of the story. When she is in Wasp Woman mode the makeup is about what one would expect from a movie of this type made during this period, but in context I think it works.

Several members of the Roger Corman stock company had a hand in THE WASP WOMAN, either in front or behind the camera. Among the supporting players are Corman vets such as Barboura Morris and Bruno Ve Sota. Actor Leo Gordon, another long-time Corman associate, co-wrote the script, and Gordon's wife, Allison Hayes-lookalike Lynn Cartwright, has a small but memorable role as a smart-aleck receptionist. Future Spaghetti Western star Frank Wolff also has a tiny but showy role as a moving company employee. Michael Mark, who plays Dr. Zinthrop, was in several classic Universal horror films--Corman of course would use more famous Universal monster veterans such as Karloff, Lorre, Chaney Jr., and Rathbone in his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Roger Corman himself makes an acting cameo in the movie as a doctor, and his brother, co-producer Gene Corman, also puts in an appearance.

Shout Factory touts this disc of THE WASP WOMAN as presenting a new 2k scan of a fine grain print, and the black & white picture is razor sharp, with a full, clear soundtrack to go with it. The movie is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.

What really makes this Blu-ray desirable are the extras. Shout Factory provides two different excellent commentaries. Troy Howarth gives a talk that is wry, informative, and entertaining. He discusses all the relevant details of the film, and he makes the case that Roger Corman should be credited with being economically creative instead of being called cheap. Tom Weaver's commentary focuses mostly on the life and career of Susan Cabot, who Weaver got to know personally in the mid-1980s. Cabot's life after her film career is a sad and bizarre one, as told by Weaver. Her story involves such subjects as King Hussein, growth hormones, and murder. Weaver takes some time off to allow Dr. Robert J. Kiss to give a short discussion on the theatrical and TV releases of THE WASP WOMAN.

Also included on this disc is the television version of THE WASP WOMAN, which runs about 10 minutes longer (apparently the theatrical version was too short for a movie on TV time slot). The added 10 minutes are at the beginning (the commentators credit them being directed by Jack Hill), and the sequence concerns footage of Dr. Zinthrop and his wasps--it's not really all that important to the rest of the story.

Some might consider the idea of  Shout Factory putting so much effort into a release of something like THE WASP WOMAN as overkill, but all that effort was why I bought the disc.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts: The Hal Roach Collection 1931-33

This summer Classic Flix released the entire series of Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly short subject comedies on DVD, and now the Sprocket Vault brings us the complete Thelma Todd-Zasu Pitts series on DVD as well. The Todd/Pitts/Kelly comedies, produced at the Hal Roach Studios, are now finally all available officially on home video.

Whoever came up with the idea to team Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts knew what they were doing. The gorgeous Todd and the flighty, spinsterish Pitts were as different on-screen as two women could be, but they made an effective comedy duo. The ladies were a believable screen couple (they were friends in real life as well), and despite the crazy antics they had to go through, they still came off as appealing and likable.

I have to rate the Todd-Pitts shorts a bit higher than the Todd-Kelly series. The Todd-Pitts series has much more of a Pre-Code vibe to it--Thelma takes her off dress, or gets it torn off, in just about every entry (not that I'm complaining). The ladies are definitely put through the wringer in these films when it comes to physical slapstick. If one watches these shorts closely one can see visible bruises on both Thelma and Zasu. Richard Roberts, who provides audio commentaries on many of the films in this set, surmises that Zasu Pitts may have left the series not just due to monetary reasons--she may have been tired of being knocked around so much. I agree with that premise--Zasu really does get a workout, and she doesn't look very comfortable while having to engage in the horseplay. (By the way, despite the title of this DVD set, it is Zasu who gets top billing in all the shorts.)

Thelma Todd gets her share of knocks as well, but she still looks absolutely fantastic no matter what (her smile is simply devastating). Watching these shorts I began to wonder if it was a waste that someone as photogenic as Thelma spent so much time doing this type of comedy. But one has to consider that today Thelma's cult continues to grow and grow, while many of her female acting contemporaries who had starring roles in major films are basically forgotten.

My favorites among the Todd/Pitts shorts include ON THE LOOSE, which has the ladies complaining about being constantly taken on dates to Coney Island, only to find out their new beaus are treating them to a day at...Coney Island. This short also features a famous cameo at the end. THE BARGAIN OF THE CENTURY is an excellent entry, mainly due to the fact that it was directed by Charley Chase. SHOW BUSINESS is notable for being directed by Jules White, and it actually would be reworked as a Three Stooges short called A PAIN IN THE PULLMAN. ONE TRACK MINDS is my pick for the best of them all. It has the girls taking a train trip to Hollywood, were Thelma hopes to become a big star. This entry co-stars Spanky McFarland, Sterling Holloway, and Lucien Prival as a Von Stroheim-like movie director. The rest of the shorts are filled with performers familiar to fans of classic Hollywood comedy, such as Anita Garvin, Billy Gilbert, Charlie Hall, and Bud Jamison.

The Sprocket Vault has put an on-screen disclaimer on this set saying that the shorts included here may not be in the most prime condition, but they all looked fine to me...I would even say that visual & sound quality here is better than the Classic Flix Todd/Kelly set. The Sprocket Vault released a set of Charley Chase at Hal Roach shorts earlier this year, and this Todd/Pitts set has similar extras. Each short subject is treated to an audio commentary, and film historians Richard W. Roberts, Randy Skretvedt, Brent Walker, and Robert Farr do the honors. All four men spend quite a bit of time going over in minute detail the career histories of various supporting actors and bit players who appear in the shorts. They are so determined to do this that it feels at times that they forget about the shorts they are commenting on. Much information is repeated by the commentators, so that a few biographical sketches are given two or three different times. I'm not trying to knock these commentaries--I commend Sprocket Vault for including them--it's just that I wish the men had spent more time discussing Thelma and Zasu, and analyzing the series as a whole. (At least the commentaries tell you how to properly pronounce Zasu's name--it's "SAY-ZOO".) A stills gallery is included as well.

I sincerely hope Sprocket Vault comes out with more sets showcasing productions from the Hal Roach studios. Having all the Thelma Todd/Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly comedies on official home video has been a long time coming, but it's well worth it. For the most part these shorts hold up very well, and it's nice to watch something humorous that doesn't remind you of the real-world problems that we have to put up with today. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween Movie Memories

Whenever it gets near Halloween, a few people usually say to me, "Since you are a big monster movie fan, you must always get excited around this time of year." In all honesty...I don't. Especially in this day and age, when Halloween has basically become what every other holiday celebrated in America is now--an excuse for trendy yuppies to get drunk and/or hook up.

Back in the distant past, however...there was a reason for me to get excited over Halloween. Back before the internet, before YouTube, or streaming, or the availability of thousands of movies on home video....there was a time when most TV stations showed classic horror films around Halloween. I'm not just talking about special-themed cable stations--I mean ordinary, average local TV stations.

In the 1980s, when I was a young teenager and a burgeoning film buff, classic horror and science-fiction films were quite rare on TV. Yes, there was the great Svengoolie, but other than that......every so often, independent stations would show an old monster movie very late at night, but unless it was on the weekend, I wouldn't be able to see it.

So back then I always looked forward to Halloween. That's when the vaults were thrown wide open, so to speak. All sorts of classic fantastic films would be shown, and many of them were ones I had never actually seen! When October came around I would scan the TV Guide intently, and circle any monster movie listings that were on a channel I could get. Does anyone else remember doing that? Those were the days when TV Guide was the real TV Guide--when it was specifically tailored to each section of the country. I can imagine that now there are a fair number of Americans who have never even used a TV Guide, or any newspaper TV listing. Back then there were no on-screen guides or personal devices to remind you when something was on. You had to figure out on your own how to keep aware of any classic monster movie showings.

My family did eventually get a VCR, but as some of you may know, setting up a 1980s version of those things to receive and record channels was practically a thankless task. It always seemed that whenever I tried taping something late at night, the movie would get delayed, and I'd wind up not getting the ending.....or for whatever reason there would be a different program than the one listed. I much preferred watching an old horror or sci-fi movie as it was being shown--that way I knew for sure I wouldn't be missing it.

It's almost impossible to articulate how exciting it was for me to watch a classic monster movie that I had never seen before on TV back then. Now you can go online and find the story synopsis of just about any movie ever made, or at least read dozens and dozens of blogs and reviews written about any movie ever made. In the 1980s, if you wanted info on classic fantastic films, you either read the few monster movie magazines that were still around, or you checked out horror movie books from your local libraries. (As I learned in later years, a lot of the info that I found was wrong.) To actually see a classic horror or science-fiction film--one that I had only read about or only seen a few stills of--was a treasured experience. Would the movie live up to my expectations? Would it be a dud? Would it be something I would remember for the rest of my life?

Today we take for granted all the entertainment content we have surrounding us. Most of the classic films we see now are in pristine condition, and they are in the correct aspect ration, and they're uncut, and we have audio commentaries and special features to accompany them. It's getting to the point now that viewing any classic film is as easy as turning on a light switch.

I'm certainly not complaining about being a present-day film buff--in many ways movie geeks are too spoiled. But there was something about seeing a classic monster movie for the very first time, late at night, on television....yes, the aspect ratios were wrong, and there were too many commercials, and it was more than likely edited...but that sense of discovery, that memory of seeing great performances by Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Cushing, Lee, Price, etc., that you had only read about....being exposed to master craftsmen such as Bava, Whale, Harryhausen...those experiences just can't be recaptured today. In a way I wish I could watch all the great fantastic films again for the very first time, just to have those moments of enchantment and wonder, just to have my imagination reinvigorated.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Monster Kid Radio's Classic Five Core Deck Card Of The Month For October

My favorite mummy movie of all time is the 1959 THE MUMMY from Hammer Films.

Yes, the 1932 THE MUMMY from Universal is a great classic horror film. It has a dreamlike, creepy atmosphere, moody expressionistic direction from Karl Freund, and it features one of the best overall performances from Boris Karloff.

But can you even classify it as a "mummy movie"? Karloff only wears the full wrappings at the beginning of the story, and we really don't get to see him in action. My definition of a mummy movie is one where an actual mummy (an undead creature wrapped in bandages) has a major role.

The Hammer THE MUMMY isn't just a remake of the Karloff version, it's a reboot of the entire Universal Mummy franchise. It allows Christopher Lee to reenact Karloff's role as a ancient Egyptian lovesick High Priest, and also portray a new version of Lon Chaney Jr's Kharis. The result is one of Lee's best overall performances. Simply put, Christopher Lee is the best movie mummy of all time. He's not the typical movie mummy that most people expect--he isn't a guy with a pot belly stumbling and shambling about. Christopher Lee's Kharis is powerfully built, and powerfully expressive. The old joke about how all you have to do to get away from the Mummy is move at a fast walk doesn't apply here. Lee's Kharis, with his strength and determination, undeniably gives the impression of a supernatural creature that could easily stalk you down and kill you. Out of all the movie mummies, Lee's is the only one that feels dangerous.

There's another aspect to Lee's Kharis that gets overlooked--the poignancy of the character. He's punished because of his great love for a Princess, sentenced to a fate worse than death, then brought back to life into a world beyond his understanding and used by a man who considers him little more than a weapon. Despite being covered head-to-toe in a very complex and effective FX makeup (brilliantly realized by Roy Ashton), Lee is still able to convey Kharis' emotions through his body language and his eyes. Lee makes Kharis into more than just an unstoppable being--at times he's sad and shameful, and the viewer appreciates that there still is a human being underneath all the wrappings.

The Hammer THE MUMMY does have a somewhat messy story structure, due to the many flashbacks in the story. But it also has many other notable elements than just Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing makes a lot out of the John Banning character, and his interactions with Kharis result in some of the best moments in the history of the Cushing-Lee screen relationship. There's plenty of fine character actors on display here, such as George Pastell, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, and the wonderful Michael Ripper. Yvonne Furneaux brings an exotic bearing to the leading lady Hammer Glamour part.

The '59 THE MUMMY is one of the best directed films of Terence Fisher, with top-notch color cinematography by Jack Asher and production design by Bernard Robinson. It also has a magnificent music score by Franz Reizenstein. It was produced during the height of Hammer's great Gothic period, and while it doesn't get the attention that THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA today, it should. It's my choice as the best mummy movie.

Monday, October 22, 2018


Budget conscious mavens Mill Creek have released a Blu-ray double feature entitled "Psycho Biddy". (Is that a politically incorrect term, or what?) The two films on the bill both star Joan Crawford--STRAIT-JACKET, directed by William Castle, and BERSERK!, co-written and produced by Herman Cohen. 

Both movies have more in common than just the main star. William Castle and Herman Cohen were far better at exploitation and hucksterism than they were at filmmaking, and the titles they did turn out are almost always never as fun or entertaining as one expects them to be. Both STRAIT-JACKET and BERSERK! were advertised as gripping, violent, edge-of-your-seat thrillers, but with a few snips here and there these two productions could have easily passed as 1960s American TV fare. For today's purposes I'll be examining BERSERK!

The 1967 BERSERK! belongs to the very small sub-genre of murderous happenings set in a circus. The two other major examples of this mini-genre, CIRCUS OF HORRORS and CIRCUS OF FEAR, are far more interesting than BERSERK!

Joan Crawford plays Monica Rivers, the no-nonsense, hard-driving head of a traveling circus based in England. Monica's circus is played by a series of deaths, which ironically makes the show more popular than ever. The suspects are legion--nearly every member of the troupe seems to dislike everyone else. Monica also has to put up with a new high-wire artist (Ty Hardin) who wants to be her partner in business and in life, and her troubled young daughter (Judy Geeson).

BERSERK! may sound like an early version of a "body count" movie, but there's really not that many bodies, and the gore is kept to a minimum. The murders wind up taking a back seat to the various campy aspects to the story. Joan Crawford, who was in her early 60s when this film was made, struts about in a ringmaster's outfit that includes short-shorts and tights. She also gets to have a bizarre relationship with the much younger Ty Hardin (they even have a candlelight dinner, with Joan sporting a nightgown). The duo spar with one another like a couple of teenagers, and what really makes their pairing so unbelievable isn't their ages--it's the inane dialogue they have to recite. As usual with any Herman Cohen production, the lines are ripe to be quoted by bad movie geeks. I do have to give credit to Crawford for one thing--she plays Monica Rivers dead seriously, as if she's back at MGM and it's 1935. (Some might say that this approach actually adds to the camp factor.)

As in many of the other Herman Cohen productions, BERSERK! features a group of characters that are not likable or even relatable. You don't care whether any of these people get knocked off or not--they're either grist for the murderer's mill or they are set up as red herrings. All the folks who work at the circus are constantly sniping at each other or complaining about their situation--it's hard to believe such a group could be able to successfully work together to put on a show day in and day out. It would seem that the Ty Hardin character would turn out to be the hero, and catch the killer, but he's as much of a jerk as everyone else. Among the supporting players are such British cult movie veterans as Michael Gough, Diana Dors, and the ubiquitous Milton Reid.

Michael Gough is to Herman Cohen as Peter Cushing is to Terence Fisher. As a matter of fact, if Gough had not starred in such Cohen entries as THE BLACK ZOO and KONGA, those movies would be just about unwatchable. Sadly, he doesn't have much to do in BERSERK!--he gets killed very early on, and he isn't even allowed to throw one of his famous on-screen temper tantrums. Diana Dors does her familiar "faded beauty who has a bad attitude" act, but she also doesn't get much screen time before she's done away with. Robert Hardy plays the Scotland Yard man investigating the crimes. The "Police Inspector in a horror film" part can be a thankless role, but Hardy gives the character a foppish, cultivated air, and at least avoids being forgettable.

The entire affair is blandly directed by Jim O'Connolly, and the story isn't helped along by the numerous real circus acts that are presented. The acts are rather dull, and what's worse is the far too many shots of audience reactions to them that are edited into the performances. If the actual circus scenes were cut out of the film, the running time probably would have been under an hour. If you have notable acting talent like Crawford, Gough, and Dors, and a story involving outlandish murders, why spend time showing trick poodles and elephants?

But there's still other things I can complain about--such as the head-scratching sequence where some of the circus troupe decide to sing a "humorous" ditty during a party (if you've ever wanted to see Milton Reid lip-sync, this movie is what you've been waiting for). Then there's the climax, where the movie really goes off the rails. I'm not going to reveal the murderer--but if you do see this film, you'll no doubt come to the same realization as I did at the end....if you stop and think about it, the killer would have needed the ability to circumvent space and time to commit all the various slayings.

So what is the point of buying a movie like BERSERK! on Blu-ray? Well. Judy Geeson does look rather fetching in her circus costume, and I did actually get to meet her a few years ago and ask her what working with Joan Crawford was like. (She told me Crawford was a true professional, and she had great respect for her.) I'm not one of those people who get entertainment from viewing truly bad movies, but if I did, BERSERK! would be on my watch list. It adequately fits the definition of camp, and the cast alone does give it some worth to film geeks.

The print of BERSERK! on this Mill Creek Blu-ray is very colorful, and it is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. As usual with Mill Creek, there are no extras. Indicator recently announced that they are going to also release this film on Blu-ray, and I'm sure it will be loaded with extras...but honestly, I don't consider BERSERK! to be the type of film you would want to spend a lot of money to get on home video. The Mill Creek "Psycho Biddy" Blu-ray was very cheap, and that's fine for me.

A BERSERK! publicity still signed by Judy Geeson

Saturday, October 20, 2018

DRACULA A.D. 1972 On Blu-ray From Warner Archive

The Warner Archive Collection made a lot of fanboys happy when it was announced they would be releasing DRACULA A.D. 1972 and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA on Region A Blu-ray. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA disc has been delayed to November, but DRACULA A.D. 1972 is available now.

With DRACULA A.D. 1972, Hammer Films took the Count into the modern age. It was a decision that remains controversial to this day. There are many folks who can't stand DRACULA A.D. 1972--I am most certainly not among them. I happen to think it's an entertaining film, with two fantastic confrontations between Christopher Lee's Dracula and Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing (technically two Van Helsings--one in 1872 and a ancestor in 1972). I even believe that the first fight between Dracula and Van Helsing--the one that begins A.D. 1972--is one of the best Hammer film sequences of all time.

Some have complained that Lee's Dracula spends all of his brief screen time inside a deconsecrated church, but I think having him out and about in the London presented here wouldn't have worked too well. Besides, the mere appearance of Lee in his Dracula getup is more than enough. Peter Cushing as always brings authority and stability to the tale--no matter how many times I have seen him go off on one of his "I'm going to explain vampires to you" lectures, he still amazes me with how effortless he does it, and how realistic he makes it sound. 

Cushing & Lee are the true foundation on which this movie is built, but let's give some credit to the younger cast (despite some of the goofy dialogue they have to utter). Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing's daughter turns what could have been just another ditzy modern horror heroine role into a young woman that actually has some emotional depth. She's also quite gorgeous here, and along with Caroline Munro, Marsha Hunt, and Janet Key, the ladies form one of the best single film collections of Hammer Glamour. Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard just about steals the film from Cushing & Lee. For those of you raising your eyebrows at that statement, let me unequivocally declare that Neame gives one of the best supporting performances in any Hammer horror film. Neame lets loose and gives it his all, and I agree with his approach here.

Director Alan Gibson does a very good job juggling the modern and Gothic elements, and I even appreciate Mike Vickers' funky music score--as a matter of fact, I'm listening to it on vinyl even as I write this post! DRACULA A.D. 1972 does have a few silly elements to it, but all in all the movie remains one of my great guilty pleasures.

Warner's Blu-ray of DRACULA A.D. 1972 is the best I've ever seen the movie look. Usually A.D. 1972 has had a dark, murky look to it, due to the many day-for-night scenes. On this Blu-ray the entire movie is much clearer and the visual presentation is more defined. This bodes well for any future Hammer releases that the Warner Archive have in mind.

Sadly the only extra is an original trailer. Any Hammer movie on home video deserves some supplementary material--hopefully Warner will consider this point.

Many Hammer fans such as myself were anticipating that someday the Warner Archive would come out with a follow-up to their "Horror Classics" collection of a few years ago (which was subtitled Volume One, after all). That may not happen, but the fact that these two Hammer Dracula releases have gotten so much attention on the internet might cause the company to put out other Hammer product. DRACULA A.D. 1972 is a groovy start--and even if you don't enjoy the film as much as I do, how can you turn down the chance to see Cushing & Lee battle each other to the death twice??

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Last night on his weekly MeTV program, the legendary horror movie host Svengoolie showed the 1944 Columbia film CRY OF THE WEREWOLF. This was one of the very, very few American monster movies made during that period that I had never seen. It doesn't have much of a reputation, and after actually viewing it I can see why.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF is something of a follow-up to Columbia's RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, but it doesn't have the major presence of that's film star, Bela Lugosi. Nina Foch, who played the nightgown-clad damsel in distress in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, this time around is the main threat, a gypsy princess called Celeste who happens to be a werewolf. Foch's character is the daughter of a notorious woman named Marie La Tour, whose own supernatural tendencies were so pronounced that the ancestral La Tour home has been turned into a museum as a result.

An elderly researcher is determined to reveal the truth of the La Tour family history, and Celeste kills him--bringing the unwarranted attention she was so hoping to avoid. The researcher's son and his girlfriend, who happens to be from Transylvania, start their own investigation, and the usual local dopey police force noses in as well.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF is very much influenced by the Universal Wolf Man films and the Val Lewton thrillers that had been recently made at RKO. There's a gypsy camp featured in the story which one swears could have been found on the Universal lot, and director Henry Levin throws in a few shadowy sequences which try to mimic the Lewton style. But CRY OF THE WEREWOLF falls short of the Universal and Lewton catalogue. The movie is only 63 minutes long, which doesn't leave much time for character development or an expansive plot. What's worse, there are no human-to-wolf transformations--Celeste just immediately dissolves into what looks like a German Shepherd. There are even a few times in the story where it seems the screenplay is trying to suggest that there isn't a werewolf--which makes no sense, considering that early on we are shown there definitely is a lycanthropic curse affecting the La Tour family.

Nina Foch in a publicity still for CRY OF THE WEREWOLF

Nina Foch dominates this film as Celeste. She gives the wolf woman a sultry, almost femme fatale type of quality as she stalks about wearing high heels and black stockings. There are a few times where Celeste drops her imperious manner--such as when she sobs after one of her wolfish kills, and when she tries to seduce the researcher's son. In addition to being a werewolf, Celeste also has the ability to hypnotize people and put them in a trance. These moments make the character all the more intriguing, but the script doesn't develop them enough.

Like so many horror/science-fiction films made during the classic Hollywood period, far too much time of CRY OF THE WEREWOLF is spent on the "normal" romantic couple and the noisy cops involved in the case. The researcher's son (who has the splendidly generic name of Bob) is played by Stephen Crane, who acts as uncharismatic as one could possibly be when confronting his father's death by werewolf and his girlfriend being threatened by the same creature. The girlfriend is played by Osa Massen, an attractive girl who bears a resemblance to Nina Foch. At one point in the tale Celeste tries to put the girl under her spell, promising to make her "a sister". The script should have made the two women actual relatives--that would have given some complexity to the girl's plight. Long-time screen tough guy Barton MacLean plays the cop in charge of the case, and if anything he gets more screen time than Nina Foch does.

Maybe it's unfair to expect too much out of a film like CRY OF THE WEREWOLF--after all, it's only a 1940s B movie. But when you're like me, and you've seen so many pictures in this type of genre, one can't help but come up with various ideas on how a mediocre entry like this could have been improved. The one thing I am thankful for is that even in 2018 I'm still able to experience vintage horror films I've never seen before due to the courtesy of Svengoolie.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Yesterday I covered Kino's Blu-ray release of the famed TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER. Today I'll examine the sequel, THE NIGHT STRANGLER, which Kino has also put out on Blu-ray.

TV movies very rarely received sequels, but THE NIGHT STALKER was such a success a new story featuring the character of Carl Kolchak was almost a given. Much of the same team behind the first film was reunited--writer Richard Matheson, producer Dan Curtis (who also took over as director), and actors Darren McGavin as Kolchak and Simon Oakland as his exasperated boss.

THE NIGHT STRANGLER finds Kolchak in Seattle, once again working at a newspaper under Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Kolchak has barely started his new job when he winds up once again investigating a series of mysterious murders. A number of women have been strangled, and they each have had blood removed from them. Kolchak's snooping leads him to find out that every 21 years before the present, Seattle has been the setting for similar killings. Once again the local authorities consider the reporter nothing more than a nuisance, and once again Kolchak must confront the threat on his own--this time in an eerie preserved section of the city that is underground. There is a major difference, though--the killer is not a vampire, but a doctor born in the 19th Century who has discovered an elixir to prolong life.

THE NIGHT STRANGLER is almost a semi-remake of THE NIGHT STALKER. The story is structured very much the same, and many sequences are almost virtually repeats from the first film (watching the two movies in close proximity to one another vividly brings this out). It's still an entertaining story, and Dan Curtis' use of Seattle locations does much to enhance it. Richard Matheson's idea of using the real-life Seattle underground as the killer's lair is an effective concept, and the unnaturally old scientist seeking to preserve his elongated life brings to mind many other classic tales, such as THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Long Live Walter Jameson" and the Hammer film THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH.

As in the first Kolchak tale, Dan Curtis brings in a number of notable performers, such as Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, and Al Lewis. The ancient doctor is played by Richard Anderson, one of the most proficient actors in American television during the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike the vampire of THE NIGHT STALKER, who had no dialogue, Anderson gets to exchange lines with Kolchak (he explains his killings much the same way a Bond villain explains a plan for world domination). Anderson gives the fiend an air of cultured intelligence, and the scenes set in his underground lair are the best in the film.

THE NIGHT STRANGLER is a very fine follow-up to THE NIGHT STALKER. But while watching it I came to the realization that the character of Kolchak suffers from what I would call "John McClain syndrome". It's always fun to watch Darren McGavin as Kolchak...but how long can a viewer keep buying into the idea of incredible events happening to the same person over and over again? If Kolchak really was a Van Helsing type, who was waging some kind of crusade against supernatural threats, maybe it would work better...but the guy is just an itinerant reporter. Maybe this is why the Kolchak TV series didn't last very long.

Kino's Blu-ray of THE NIGHT STRANGLER has the same high sound & picture quality of their THE NIGHT STALKER disc, and it has similar extras, such as another booklet with text by Simon Abrams and cover art by Sean Phillips. There's an interview with composer Bob Cobert which is exactly the same as the one on THE NIGHT STALKER disc, and a short vintage interview with Dan Curtis.

During his exemplary audio commentary, Tim Lucas explains that the version of THE NIGHT STRANGLER found on this Blu-ray is actually a longer cut of the movie prepared for theatrical release overseas. It's a good thing he does this, since this fact is not mentioned anywhere on the Blu-ray packaging. Lucas points out the similarities between the two Kolchak TV movies, and as might be expected, he makes some comparisons to the works of Mario Bava--but he does provide a legitimate explanation to do so. (He also throws in a couple Jess Franco references.)

Both Kolchak TV movies are fun, entertaining stories, and Kino has given each of them an impressive presentation on home video. I recommend the pair...although you may not want to watch them so closely together.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

THE NIGHT STALKER On Blu-ray From Kino

Kino Lorber gives the special edition treatment to one of the greatest television movies of all time with their Blu-ray release of THE NIGHT STALKER.

True examples of the major network made for TV film are all but extinct now (about the only places you'll find anything that comes near to that definition today are the Lifetime and Hallmark cable channels). Back in the 1970s, the TV movie had a large place in pop culture, and a few of them became nationwide hits. One of the most famous (and most watched) was THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), a tale about modern-day vampirism in Las Vegas. The telefilm spawned a sequel (THE NIGHT STRANGLER) and a short-lived series featuring the lead character of reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin. Kolchak still remains a geek culture icon to this day.

THE NIGHT STALKER had considerable talents behind it--the producer was Dan Curtis, creator of the cult soap opera DARK SHADOWS; the director was John Llewellyn Moxey, who had helmed one of the best English Gothic feature films of all time (CITY OF THE DEAD); and the screenplay was written by one of the great postwar American writers, Richard Matheson.

In Las Vegas, a number of women are being killed and drained of their blood. Iconoclastic newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) starts to believe that the perpetrator of these deeds must think he's a vampire. But as he plunges further into the crimes, Kolchak comes to the realization that the killer is a real vampire. The local authorities are more of a hindrance to Kolchak than a help--and even the reporter's own boss at the paper (Simon Oakland) tries to curtail his theories. Kolchak decides to confront the vampire himself--he's convinced the resulting story will make him a big-time journalist--but the scariest thing in the tale is what the Las Vegas bureaucracy does to the reporter after he faces off against the supernatural threat.

There are a number of factors that make THE NIGHT STALKER the outstanding film that it is. The prime one is Darren McGavin, who is (and always will be, no matter how many reboots) Carl Kolchak. As soon as Kolchak strides into the newspaper office, with an insouciant look on his face, we know exactly what type of person he is. His dress and manner seem something out of the 1930s and 1940s, and he's probably more clever and craftier than any criminal he's ever covered. Because Kolchak has such a independent, non-elitist persona, the viewer is apt to believe him when he figures out there's an undead fiend stalking the women of Las Vegas. McGavin brings a bit of humor to the role, but it never seems forced, and his film-noir style narration of events is just right.

Kolchak is definitely hoping to use the vampire murders to help his own career, but there's also a few other things at play. One is that Kolchak wants to stick it to the authorities and his own boss, who consider him to be almost a clown. Another is that Kolchak really does want prevent other people from being hurt. McGavin makes Kolchak's attitudes and actions totally believable--the reporter isn't perfect, and he can be annoying, but he's someone you want on your side.

One other main factor in the success of THE NIGHT STALKER is that it is filmed and written in a realistic, down-to-earth manner. (Screenwriter Richard Matheson in particular was a master at bringing fantastic elements into ordinary American settings.) The vampire's victims are everyday, working class women, and the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas is de-emphasized.  The story takes great pains to show the medical and police procedures that would be the result of such a scenario. Director John Moxey does stage some exciting battles between the vampire and the police, but there's nothing overtly outlandish about them. Moxey also gives the vampire's hideout a creepy ambiance without the use of gore or shock effects.

The final element that makes THE NIGHT STALKER work is the cast. McGavin alone might have been enough, but he's surrounded by a plethora of great character actors: Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Elisha Cook Jr., and Stanley Adams. (Dan Curtis was something of a film buff, and he would always take the opportunity to cast classic Hollywood notables when he could.) Carol Lynley does well as Kolchak's girlfriend (surprisingly, she does not become a candidate for the vampire's clutches). The undead fiend is played impressively by Barry Atwater. His vampire reminds me a bit of Christopher Lee's Dracula, in that Atwater has very little screen time, no dialogue, and immense strength.

Kino has fitted out this Blu-ray with a wealth of extras. There are new (but short) interviews with director John Moxey and composer Bob Cobert, who wrote the music for the film. There's a vintage interview with producer Dan Curtis, and the Blu-ray package contains a nice booklet with text on the movie by Simon Abrams. The fine cover sleeve art (see above) is by Sean Phillips. Tim Lucas contributes a brand new audio commentary, and he does his usual superlative job (he does spend a fair amount of time discussing what he feels are the political aspects of THE NIGHT STALKER).

The Blu-ray packaging touts this release as being a brand new restoration in 4K. Some on the internet have complained about the visual quality, but as far as I'm concerned, it looks and sounds pretty darn good for a telefilm made in 1971. 

Even though it was "just" a TV movie, THE NIGHT STALKER remains more impressive than many feature length movies made around the same time. It's a great modern American vampire story, and important for introducing to the world the character of Carl Kolchak.