Monday, February 28, 2022

Veronica Carlson (1944-2022)


This is a post that I never wanted to write. 

The sudden passing of Veronica Carlson has affected cult movie fans worldwide. It has affected me more than most, because Veronica wasn't just a beautiful actress, and a talented artist--she was a dear friend of mine. The best way to put it is that I didn't just know Veronica Carlson, horror film heroine--I knew a wonderfully elegant lady named Veronica Glazer Love. 

I had the privilege of being a guest at Veronica's house in Bluffton, South Carolina. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that there was no Hammer or other movie memorabilia prominently displayed, and there wasn't any photos of her as a model or actress on the walls. Instead, her house was filled with pictures of her family and examples of her artwork. These were the two things that meant the most to Veronica, the things she loved above all--her family and her art. 

I first met Veronica at the 2013 Monster Bash Conference in Pennsylvania, but we really got to know each other while in Texas during the filming of Joshua Kennedy's HOUSE OF THE GORGON in March 2018. Veronica truly was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. She had the innate ability to make everyone around her feel special--and she didn't just do that for me, she did it for untold numbers of friends and fans all over the world. 

Despite all of her accomplishments, and her various talents, Veronica literally had no ego. She never thought that she was above any one else, and she never expected any sort of special treatment (this is a woman who shopped at Walmart). I'm just an ordinary guy who works for a living, and she treated me like I was special. She also did this for the many people who obtained her autograph at numerous movie conventions over the years (I saw this personally). 

Veronica was very proud to be considered a "Hammer Lady"--she once told me that it was an honor, and also a responsibility--but she didn't let that define her. She didn't sit around dwelling about what would have happened if she had stayed working in the entertainment industry....she was too busy enjoying life as a wife, mother, and grandmother. 

I didn't know Veronica for a very long time, but because of the way she treated me, it feels like I have known her my entire life. 

I know that Veronica is in a much better place than this world, because she was a much better person than this world deserves. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022



I first encountered THE DEVIL'S MEN in its U.S. version, titled LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, on a horrible looking VHS tape back in the 1980s. My immediate judgement was that it one of the worst films Peter Cushing had ever appeared in. The Indicator home video label has gifted us with a special edition Blu-ray of THE DEVIL'S MEN that vastly improves the film's video and audio quality, but the film itself still leaves a lot to be desired. 

Donald Pleasence plays Father Roche, an Irish Catholic priest based near a remote village in Greece. Roche is concerned when a number of young tourists start disappearing in the area, and he calls in a close friend, a New York detective named Milo (Costa Skouras). The pair discover a diabolical coven led by a Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing). The coven sacrifices young couples to their Minotaur god. 

THE DEVIL'S MEN was filmed in Greece, and while director Costas Carayiannis makes good use of the natural locations, the movie has some very strange editing and shot selection choices. The screenplay, by American TV writer Arthur Rowe, makes very little sense, even when taking into account the fact that this is a low-budget horror film. Any suspense that the story might have had is negated by the opening sequence, which gives away the entire plot. The creepiest thing about the movie by far is Brian Eno's music score. (By the way, Eno had nothing to do with the wacky "Devil's Men" end credit song which is only on the full cut of the film--once you hear it, you'll never forget it.)

Donald Pleasence does the best he can under the circumstances, but a viewer gets the feeling that Peter Cushing wasn't very comfortable during production. The supporting cast is very mediocre--the character of Milo is supposed to be a hot-shot NYC private eye, but he doesn't really do anything. And why are two totally different people like Milo and Father Roche best friends?

The film might have worked a little bit better if it had not been set in modern times, but then we wouldn't have been able to see most of the actresses, such as Luan Peters (TWINS OF EVIL) parade around in short-shorts. The cut of this film entitled THE DEVIL'S MEN contains a few scenes of nudity and minor gore (which add nothing to the story). The American cut of the film, titled LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, does not have these sequences--it was actually rated PG on its original theatrical release. 

Indicator has given THE DEVIL'S MEN the deluxe treatment most much better films never get on home video. The original cut of the film and the LAND OF THE MINOTAUR version of it are presented on this disc at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Both versions look very sharp and colorful, and the sound quality is excellent. 

Included as a bonus is a Super 8 version of THE DEVIL'S MEN. I only watched a couple minutes of this, and the quality of this print is terrible, especially during the nighttime sequences. The only reason I would think anyone would want to watch the Super 8 version would be to recreate what it must have been like to see the film on one of those lousy public domain VHS tapes. 

There's plenty of extras here, including a short interview with the film's producer, Frixos Constantine. There's an image gallery, an original trailer and TV commercial for the film, and a 92 minute interview from 1973 with Peter Cushing (this interview is also on the Severin Blu-ray of HORROR EXPRESS). A brand new audio commentary has David Flint and Adrian J. Smith discussing the film. They have more of an appreciation of it than I do, but they also address the movie's inadequacies, and they go into the career choices of Donald Pleasence and Peter Cushing. 

Indicator has also included a 36 page booklet with this Blu-ray, which is filled with stills from the movie. It also has essays concerning the film, the most notable one being a 1976 interview with Donald Pleasence. The actor, with dry humor, talks about his career to that date. The disc case cover sleeve is reversible. 

I purchased the American version of this Blu-ray, which is a limited edition of 2,000 copies. The Blu-ray is coded A,B, and C. 

Indicator's Blu-ray presentation of THE DEVIL'S MEN/LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is much more impressive than the film itself. If you are going to release an underwhelming movie on Blu-ray, you might as well make it look and sound as fine as possible, and give it plenty of worthy extras--and that is what Indicator has done. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022



The 2021 documentary DJANGO & DJANGO, which specifically focuses on the Westerns of Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci, is available for viewing on Netflix. Corbucci's work is not for all tastes, but his Euro Westerns--which are dark, ironic, quirky, and violent--certainly gets one's attention. This was directed and co-written by Luca Rea. 

DJANGO & DJANGO includes interviews with Quentin Tarantino, Ruggero Deodato (who worked as an assistant director several times with Corbucci), and Franco Nero, who of course was the original Django. 

It could be said that the real star of this film is Tarantino, since he's onscreen the majority of the time. The movie even starts out with Tarantino describing what could be called a "deleted scene" from his movie ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, in which the character of Rick Dalton meets Corbucci. Tarantino has plenty to say about Corbucci's Euro Westerns, and even if you don't agree with all of his analysis and theories of the director's work, it certainly gives any hardcore film geek food for thought. Tarantino's excitable enthusiasm is welcome (I don't doubt that his unedited interview session lasted hours and hours). 

Spaghetti Western fans will love all the vintage behind the scenes footage shown here, including a few moments where Corbucci himself is speaking. Despite this footage, though, there's very little personal info about Corbucci, and his non-Western films (such as the comedies he made with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer) are barely touched upon. 

There's plenty of footage from almost all of Corbucci's major Westerns, such as DJANGO, THE GREAT SILENCE, and NAVAJO JOE. (There's no footage at all from THE HELLBENDERS--I assume this must have been due to a rights issue.)

This is definitely a film geared toward major Euro Western fans. If you know very little about the genre, or Sergio Corbucci, you will feel lost--there's almost no technical or historical info here. Most of the film is made up of Tarantino's musings on Corbucci's intent and style. As someone who does appreciate the Spaghetti Western genre, and owns several of Corbucci's films on Blu-ray, I enjoyed this documentary. 

Most of Sergio Corbucci's Western films are now available uncut in excellent home video editions, which enables viewers to judge them on their own merits. DJANGO & DJANGO is a fine tribute to the director, and it may give some an impetus to seek out his films. I do have to say that this documentary will work best with those who are drawn to Euro Westerns and Corbucci in particular. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE On Blu-ray From Shout Factory


Shout Factory has released the 1958 British horror film BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE on Region A Blu-ray. (This disc is an exclusive limited product which can only be ordered direct from Shout Factory.)

Whenever anyone has written anything about BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, they discuss how it was influenced by the Hammer Gothic chillers. The thing is, according to Jonathan Rigby's essential book ENGLISH GOTHIC, this movie began production in October 1957--only a few months after the very first Hammer color Gothic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, had been released. That film's screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, also did the script for BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, and many of the elements he put into this film would crop up in various ways throughout English Gothic cinema in the next decade and a half. 

In 1874 Transylvania, a corpse is staked through the heart--but a hideous hunchback (Victor Maddern) and a drunken doctor bring the body back to life. Six years later, in Carlstadt, the revived fellow, now calling himself Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit), is head of a an asylum for criminals. The mad doctor uses the inmates for his deadly experiments, and he forces a Dr. Pierre who was unjustly sent to the facility (Vincent Ball) to help him. Pierre and his fiancee (Barbara Shelley) work to stop the nefarious Callistratus. 

Producers Robert Baker and Monty Berman (who would go on to make better black & white English Gothics such as THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS and JACK THE RIPPER) tried hard to copy the Eastmancolor saturated look of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The movie is colorful enough, with the typical English Gothic blood that looks more like red paint....but the story is made up of a bunch of horror story cliches that feel randomly thrown together. Here's one example: we are shown four busty women chained up in Callistratus' secret laboratory, and the hunchback ogles them for a bit--and we never hear about or see these women again. Along with a mad scientist and a hunchback, there's a staking, an unearthed coffin, vicious guard dogs, a body encased in ice, and a beautiful woman strapped to an operating table--but all of these things never coalesce into a strong narrative. (By the way, Callistratus may take blood from unwitting victims through transfusions, and he may have gotten staked through the heart in the past, but he is decidedly not a vampire.)

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE also is weak in the acting department. Vincent Ball isn't all that interesting as the hero, but it has to be said that Sangster's script doesn't help him any. Donald Wolfit has been accused of being hammy here, but I personally felt he could have done more to make Callistratus stranger and more diabolical. Barbara Shelley looks magnificent in period costume (ironically her first appearance in a color English Gothic film was not for Hammer), but this truly is a damsel in distress part, and it doesn't allow her to give a strong characterization. Victor Maddern's hunchback is showcased plenty, but the increased visual detail of this Blu-ray happens to show the weakness of the makeup applied to him. BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE doesn't have the effective supporting cast of the Hammer Gothics, although two men associated with that genre, Bernard Bresslaw and Milton Reid, have small roles. (Reid is the one doing the staking at the beginning of the film, and he's wielding a ridiculously large mallet that is much more suited for a Bugs Bunny cartoon.) 

The film's director, Henry Cass, was no Terence Fisher. As the story moves to its climax, the pace slows down considerably, when it should have been the other way around. BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE has plenty of things in it to attract fans of classic horror movies, but it isn't as memorable as it should be. 

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE had been released on a DVD with another Baker & Berman film, THE HELLFIRE CLUB. This Shout Factory Blu-ray is much better visually, although the look is inconsistent at times throughout the film. For the most part, the colors are quite vivid, and the image is very sharp, but there are a few scenes where things look pale and fuzzy. The film is presented in a 1.66:1 ratio, and it appears to be uncut. 

There are no extras whatsoever on this disc. The earlier DVD had an audio commentary with Jimmy Sangster, and that would have been welcome here, or at least a new commentary with an English Gothic expert. 

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE needed a more dynamic cast and a tighter script. One thought struck me while watching this again--what if it had been made by Hammer? How much better could it have been?

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The VCI Santo Blu-ray Box Set: Disc Two


This is my review of the second of the four discs included in VCI's Santo Blu-ray box set. It features two films starring the famed Mexican masked wrestler. 

SANTO VS. THE RIDERS OF TERROR (original title SANTO CONTRA LOS JINETES DEL TERROR) was made in 1970. The entire film is set sometime in the Old West of the 19th Century. Despite this, Santo still wears his mask the entire time, he still gets a chance to wrestle...and yes, he even gets to ride a horse (and he looks quite comfortable doing so). The "riders of terror" refers to a group of inmates who have broken out of a leper colony. The unfortunate fellows are being used by a bandit gang to inflict crimes against the locals. Good guy Santo sets out to capture those responsible, while at the same time, he tries to prevent the townsfolk from taking revenge against the lepers. 

THE RIDERS OF TERROR tries to have things both ways--the movies shows the lepers' disfigured faces in various shock close-ups, while also wanting the audience to feel sorry for them. (The makeup for the lepers here is rather mediocre--it looks as if someone stuck globs of pasta sauce on their faces.) The wild world of El Santo actually transfers very well to an Old West setting--and this time we know who that masked man is. 

SANTO IN THE VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY (original title SANTO EN LA VENGANZA DE LA MOMIA) was also made in 1970. Santo joins up on an expedition to the jungles of Central America to find the remains of what the English language dub track calls an "Apache prince". Of course there's a curse on the mummy, and of course members of the expedition are being killed--but has the ancient corpse really come to life? 

What is striking about VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY is the body count. It's not a gory film by any means, but nearly all the main cast gets knocked off. The title mummy here is much creepier looking than the usual Universal Egyptian ones, and apparently he's much more of a threat as well. Tagging along for the ride is Santo's real life son as the young boy who accompanies the expedition. 

Both of these films on this disc were directed by Rene Cardona Sr. These pictures are not superb, but they are entertaining in a goofy, pleasant way. Both films are hurt by the English language dubs provided them--the voice performers speak in an overly dramatic manner that sounds sarcastic. 

Both films are in color, and the framing appears to be 1.85:1. VENGEANCE OF THE MUMMY looks much better overall, while THE RIDERS OF TERROR lacks sharpness and clarity at times. 

This second disc is the one that has a featurette in which Dr. David Wilt gives a concise history of the Santo movie franchise. He also discusses the Cardona family, which played a large role not just in the Santo series, but in Mexican cinema overall. Wilt also gives introductions to both films. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022



The Disney+ series THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT is one of the strangest TV shows ever constructed. The proper title of it should have been THE BOOK OF VARIOUS SUPPORTING CHARACTERS FROM EVERY PLATFORM OF THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE. 

The first few episodes showed what happened to Fett after he clawed his way out of the Sarlaac pit, then the series took an abrupt turn and became THE MANDALORIAN SEASON 2.5. But even in the episodes that featured Fett, he wasn't the dangerous loner Star Wars fans knew and loved. Boba might have taken over Jabba the Hutt's crime empire, but he wound up becoming a noble community leader who now has more friends than a teenager on the internet. 

I assume the point of the series was to show that Fett became a changed man after his encounter with the Sarlaac. But even when taking that into account, the new Fett's actions, such as bonding with Tusken Raiders and a rancor, and being a crime boss that doesn't partake in any illegal activity, didn't seem right. 

When it was revealed that THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT was going to be made, I immediately wondered how dark the show would be. Original Star Wars fans like myself would loved to have seen a show where Fett and his no-nonsense attitude travels around the galaxy being a badass. That's not what we got--instead he's seemingly embraced a "We're all in this together" motto. 

What this series really proves is that Boba Fett works best as a supporting character. The more you show of Fett, the more you have to add to him, to the point where he isn't Boba Fett any more. Boba Fett is not the Mandalorian. The best climax to this series would have been if Fett and Mando faced off against each other. 

As for Mando and Grogu, I know everybody loves them, and everyone wants to see them together again....but I wonder how much more can be done with these characters in the future. The whole point of the first two seasons of THE MANDALORIAN was getting Grogu to a safe place. I assume we are going to see a bunch of future episodes where Mando fights off characters who want to use Grogu and his powers--which might get old after awhile. 

The next Disney+ Star Wars series, about Obi-Wan Kenobi, comes out in I'm sure that will give me and other fanboys plenty to whine and moan about. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

The VCI Santo Blu-ray Box Set: Disc One


VCI Entertainment's Santo Blu-ray box set collects 8 of the monster-mashing masked Mexican wrestler's big screen adventures. The set contains four discs, with two films on each. For the purposes of this blog I'll be discussing each disc separately. 

For those who know about the fantastic cinematic adventures of El Santo, no explanation is necessary. For those that don't know about the masked marvel, no explanation is possible. El Santo was a legendary Mexican professional wrestler who appeared in dozens and dozens of films. Contrary to popular belief, not all of them contained supernatural creatures....but enough of them did to enable Santo to be known to this day as one of the greatest monster fighters in cinema history. 

To truly appreciate the Santo films, one must have a vivid imagination--and a realization that these are meant to be far-fetched entertainments, not realistic slices of life. The average Santo movie is as goofy as all get out, but they're not boring--they usually run about 90 minutes. If you can accept the fact that Santo is not only a full-time masked wrestler, but also a master crime fighter who shows great deductive and technical genius, you're ready for anything. And, if you're trying to get someone interested in the world of El Santo, tell them he's kind of like the Mandalorian.....because Santo never takes his mask off. 

Disc starts off with SANTO IN THE WAX MUSEUM (original title SANTO EN EL MUSEO DE CERA). This was made in 1963, and it is the only black and white film in the set. This version of the film appears to be the one prepared by American producer K. Gordon Murray, who imported a ton of Mexican films in the 1960s. (It also appears that new main and end credits were created for this Blu-ray release.)

Strange happenings and mysterious disappearances are occurring near a wax museum run by the creepy Dr. Karol (Claudio Brook). Santo becomes involved in the investigation, and discovers that Karol is mentally imbalanced due to his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII (!!). The mad doctor is not only covering people in wax, he's created a number of man-animal hybrids. Santo saves the day, while the doctor is properly punished for his crimes. 

Due to its being in black and white, SANTO IN THE WAX MUSEUM has a bit more of a Gothic atmosphere, with good direction by Alfonso Corona Blake. Claudio Brook, a tall man who here reminded me of both John Carradine and Christopher Lee, is a very good suave villain, and his performance would have no doubt come off better without the dubbing. Obviously this movie references MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, but there's also reminders of THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. 

Santo not only keeps his mask on the whole time here, he also spends the entire movie dressed in his wrestling attire (in most of the other Santo films, his dress is much more civilian). Santo has his own crime lab here, complete with a two-way tele-screen communication device. He also drives around in his usual sports car. Despite his committed investigations, Santo still breaks away every so often to participate in one of his wresting matches--which are shown here in their entirety. 

SANTO IN THE WAX MUSEUM is one of the better offerings featuring the silver-masked man. A major reason why is the black & white atmosphere and the wax museum setting. 

The second film on this disc is SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA, from 1969 and in color. In this one Santo announces that he has built a time machine! (Do you think CM Punk could have pulled off something like that??) The time machine works by sending a subject to experience a past life. Santo's girlfriend volunteers to try it out, and she goes back to sometime in the 19th Century, where she becomes a victim of Count Dracula! Santo and his friends are able to watch all of his girlfriend's past adventures on a television screen, and they bring her back safely just before she is staked (but wouldn't she also be a vampire in the present day??) Through watching the past events, Santo learns that Dracula has left a vast treasure in a nearby cave, and he decides to search for it in order to give it to the needy. A group of crooks find out about the treasure by spying on Santo, and they wind up pulling the stake out of Dracula's chest, reviving him. The Count goes after Santo's girlfriend again, but the masked man winds up destroying him, with a little help from his friends. 

It's best not to think about the many plot inconsistencies of SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA--just sit back and enjoy the ride. The first part of the film, dealing with Santo's girfriend's past life with Dracula, is actually a mini-version of Bram Stoker's original story. Terence Fisher it ain't, but director Rene Cardona (a legendary figure in Mexican cinema) tries to inject some Hammer-like flavor into the proceedings, but he's hampered by the too-obvious low budget. 

Dracula is played by Aldo Monti (who I thought looked a bit like George Lazenby). Monti is an okay (if generic at times) Prince of Darkness. He has a coven of vampire brides (which don't get to do much here), and he goes by the false name Alucard. This leads to the obligatory scene where the Van Helsing substitute spells out ALUCARD on a piece of paper. Despite the presence of the King of Vampires, Santo still manages to go out and fight a I assume that this is the only Dracula film to feature a professional wrestling match??

There's another version of SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA which has nude scenes (which I have not seen). That version, and those scenes, are not on this Blu-ray set. This may explain why Dracula's coven have so little to do in the "clean" version of the film. 

Among Santo's associates in this film is a young, skinny bespectacled fellow, who reacts in a scared, nerdy manner to everything. For whatever reason, this fellow is always wearing a giant $ sign medallion--did he use Santo's time machine to go into the future and discover the fashions of various American rappers?? (Santo's time machine, by the way, resembles the one used in the TV series THE TIME TUNNEL.) 

One other fact that might explain the bizarre aspects of this film: Alfredo Salazar is credited as the writer...he was the brother of Abel Salazar, who among other things was responsible for the infamous THE BRANIAC. 

What hurts SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA--and the other films in this set--is the English dubbing, which sounds as if it was done recently. The dubbing is performed in a overly-dramatic, campy manner. The original Spanish voice tracks are sorely needed here (many folks have already pointed this out on the internet). 

Visually SANTO IN THE TREASURE OF DRACULA looks all right--it's colorful enough, but it lacks sharpness. But I expect that this is about as good as these movies are going to look. Both films on this disc appear to be in 1.85:1 widescreen. 

The main extra on this disc is an interview with Rene Cardona III, who passed away recently. He doesn't say much about the Santo films, but he does discuss his career in the Mexican film industry and his father and grandfather. Mexican cinema expert Dr. David Wilt gives informative onscreen introductions for each film in this box set. Wilt also wrote the eight-page booklet included in the box set. 

Despite the lack of Spanish voice tracks, VCI has put together a nice introduction to the wild cinematic world of El Santo. If you are looking for something unusual in fantastic cinema, you can't get much more different that this. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022



The 1970 historical epic film WATERLOO is still considered by many to be an expensive flop, but I've long maintained that it has one of the greatest cinematic battle sequences of all time. Bear Manor Media has recently published WATERLOO--MAKING AN EPIC, a massive tome written by Simon Lewis that more than gives this underrated film its due. 

This book is over 600 pages, matching the huge scale of the movie itself. Lewis delves into every area of the film's production, and even gives mini-bios of the major members of the cast & crew. He also examines why the film was not financially successful upon its original release, and there's even a chapter examining how the movie matches up to the historical facts of the battle. 

The author is a huge aficionado of WATERLOO (having been mesmerized by it after seeing it as a child), and the huge amount of info he provides is a testament to his knowledge and love of the subject. Despite the length of the book, it's never boring, as Lewis writes in a easy-to-read, fast-paced style. 

Much of the book is spent dealing with the filming of the battle, which was done in the Ukrainian countryside, with the use of thousands of soldiers from the Soviet Army. Through interviews with actors and crew members who were there on location, Lewis details the many challenges the filmmakers faced while shooting in a remote spot behind the Iron Curtain that was basically still decades behind the times. 

The book also includes hundreds of black & white photographs, most of them taken on location, which give an idea of the scope and size of the production. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Of course, this is a fan of WATERLOO saying this. But I also believe this is one of the best "making-of" movie books I have ever read. The sheer amount of detail and info is astounding. This is not an inexpensive book--I bought the softcover version, which was $38--but it is most definitely worth it. I've read and seen several movie books that were just as or even more expensive, but were nowhere near as extensive or informative. 

Simon Lewis deserves all the accolades he can get for writing WATERLOO-MAKING AN EPIC. One can even compare him to WATERLOO producer Dino De Laurentiis and director Sergei Bondarchuk--like them, he must have spent an incredible amount of time and effort on this project. The best thing Lewis has done is give WATERLOO the respect and appreciation it deserves as a classic cinematic epic that was made without the use of CGI or extensive off-set special effects. (For those that have not seen WATERLOO, you really need to. The best Blu-ray version of it is a Region-Free release from Imprint.) 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

PARANOIAC On Blu-ray From Shout Factory


Shout Factory's Blu-ray releases of Hammer Films titles goes on with 1963's PARANOIAC. It was originally released by Universal in U.S. and it was written by Jimmy Sangster and produced by Anthony Hinds. It was also the first Hammer film directed by Freddie Francis. 

PARANOIAC is one of a series of psychological thrillers made by Hammer. These films are usually referred to as "mini-Hitchcocks", since they came out after PSYCHO, and most of them had similar sounding titles, and they were in black & white. Jimmy Sangster, who wrote most of them, was actually more influenced by the movie LES DIABOLIQUES than Hitchcock. 

The Hammer psychological thrillers do not have the fame or the status of the company's Gothic tales. The "mini-Hitchcocks" are set in contemporary times, and most of them do not have the familiar acting faces Hammer would usually use. The movies still work well today, but the most important thing in them are the plot twists. They work much better on a first time viewing. 

PARANOIAC features the dysfunctional Ashby family, who is shocked when a man claiming to be Tony Ashby (Alexander Davion) shows up. The reason: Tony supposedly jumped off a cliff ten years ago, though his body was never found. Tony's dissolute brother Simon is convinced that the man is an impostor (and he has reason to know), while Tony's fragile sister Eleanor (Janette Scott) is fearful that she's falling in love with her newly-arrived "brother". The fact that Tony would have control of the considerable Ashby fortune complicates matters. The new Tony tries to get to the bottom of things, which leads to madness and murder. 

PARANOIAC is one of the better Hammer "mini-Hitchcocks", mainly due to the dangerous charisma of the young Oliver Reed. Jimmy Sangster's script was (very) loosely based on the Josephine Tey novel BRAT FARRAR. Freddie Francis makes the most out of the story, and there's a sequence involving a car hanging precariously on a cliff that is very well handled. The running time of about 80 minutes is perfect--if it was any longer the seams would most definitely show. 

This film was already released on Region A Blu-ray as part of a Universal Hammer collection a few years ago. Shout Factory's presentation of the film (in 2.35:1 widescreen) is very sharp, with excellent DTS mono sound. 

What makes the Shout Factory Hammer releases special are the extras. For PARANOIAC four top Hammer experts are involved. In two different featurettes Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby discuss and analyze the film. A "Making-of" program is hosted by Wayne Kinsey, who is shown at the present-day Bray Studios (it's sad to see how dilapidated it has become). I could listen to these three men talk about Hammer all day long. 

There's also a fine new audio commentary from Bruce Hallenbeck, who provides plenty of info and detail on PARANOIAC. Most of his discussion centers around Freddie Francis and Oliver Reed. The original trailer and a image gallery is also included. 

Once again, Shout Factory provides a 18 x 24 poster, featuring original artwork by Mark Maddox, for those that order the disc from the company's website (see picture above). 

All of the Shout Factory Hammer releases are welcome, even though they've cost me some money buying movies I've already owned. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022



The Turner Classic Movies Star of the Month for January 2022 was Kay Francis, the epitome of the modern, stylish American woman for the early 1930s. MARY STEVENS, M.D. has Francis as a hard-working doctor dealing with all sorts of personal and professional problems. 

Mary and her lifelong friend, Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot) run a joint doctor's practice in the inner city. Mary is smitten with Don, but he aspires to bigger things. Don marries the daughter (Thelma Todd) of a powerful city politician, and he gets a job on the town medical board. While Mary devotes herself to her profession, Don uses his city job to enrich himself. Mary takes a well-earned vacation, and meets up with Don at a resort (he's hiding out from the authorities who are on to his shenanigans). Don tells Mary he and his wife no longer have a relationship, and he's planning on getting a divorce. Mary is ecstatic, and believes Don when he says the divorce could take some time. Meanwhile, Mary is pregnant with Don's she goes off to Europe to have it, hoping to come home a few months later claiming she adopted it, while winding up in the arms of Don. This being a Pre-Code movie, and one about a modern woman at that, things don't go so easily for Dr. Stevens. 

MARY STEVENS, M.D. is one of those great early 30s Warner Bros. films that only last a little over an hour, but have more plot complications than all the episodes of an average TV series. In most of her films Kay Francis was best known for having a sophisticated demeanor and wardrobe. Here, her fashion sense is toned down, but Francis gets to show every emotion there is, while defining Mary as a smart, sensible professional who has more talent (and honor) than anyone else in the cast. 

Mary is such a worthy individual, that one wonders what the heck she sees in Don, who, quite frankly, is a clod. Lyle Talbot isn't exactly the most charismatic leading man in the world, but it wouldn't have mattered if it was George Brent, or Preston so many 1930s films that have a strong female leading character, MARY STEVENS has a very weak male character as a counterpart. The role of Don Andrews doesn't ruin the film, but while watching a viewer has to be asking, "A smart, attractive professional woman like Kay Francis can't find anybody better?" 

It's hard to believe that this movie was made almost 90 years ago when one watches the scene where Mary announces to her loyal nurse/best friend Glenda (Glenda Farrell) that she is pregnant with the married Don's baby. Mary isn't sad, or apprehensive, or ashamed...she's proud and excited, secure in the knowledge that this is what she wants. Unfortunately, the last third of the film takes a hard turn into heavy-handed melodrama--so much so that one has to wonder if the script is "punishing" Mary for her having an out-of-wedlock baby. 

What's also interesting about the script is how it shows the various reactions that people have when Mary tells them she's a doctor--they range from disbelief to utter revulsion. Kay Francis wasn't known for having the dramatic tantrums, that, say, a Barbara Stanwyck would display....but I wished she had socked more than a couple folks on the jaw in this film (especially Don, who needed it several times). 

Francis gets great support here from the wonderful Glenda Farrell as her wisecracking co-worker/best friend. After seeing them in this film you hope there's an alternate universe where they got to play their characters in several other features. I have to admit that a main reason I watched MARY STEVENS was due to the fact that Thelma Todd was in it. Thelma fans will be a bit disappointed, though. She only has two scenes, and she gets very little to do, other than be a glamorous opposite to the leading lady. (As a matter of fact, Todd and Kay Francis are never onscreen together here.) This is one of Thelma's way too many "other woman" roles, but at least here she doesn't seem vindictive or jealous (maybe her character also realized that Don was a dolt). We hear more about the role Thelma is playing than we actually see her. Una O'Connor has a small role (and no, she doesn't screech). 

MARY STEVENS, M.D. was directed by Warners veteran Lloyd Bacon, who was already an old hand at this sort of material. The pace never flags, and the cast is appealing and fun to watch (except for the lead male character). The only downside to this movie is the last third of it, which goes out of its way to pile all sorts of burdens on the leading lady in soap opera fashion. MARY STEVENS, M.D. is more proof of something I've said over and over again--American actresses had far better roles to play in the 1930s than they do in the 21st Century.