Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Top Five Blu-rays of 2022


It's once again time for my annual top five Blu-rays of the year list. 

This list might have been much different if a couple of releases had not gotten delayed until 2023...but that's a story for another post. This year, the top two spots were very easy to pick, but the rest of the list was a bit of a tossup--it could have gone a number of different ways. 

I also need to point out the entries on this list are discs that I have actually purchased and watched. Nobody sends me any screeners (and I certainly don't expect any). 


Another fantastic set from Arrow, containing four somewhat obscure Italian chillers that had not been given an official Region A release. Stacked to the gills with extras. I wrote a full review of the set in November. 


Severin honors the great cinema legend again with this follow-up to their first Lee-Eurocrypt set from last year. The movies in this set are not as notable as what was in the first one, but the extras and the overall presentation more than make up for it. My blog post on this was written in June. 

3. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE from Warner Archive

Warner Archive continues to delve into 1930s Hollywood Gothic with this magnificent presentation of Rouben Mamoulian's 1931 version of the classic tale. The picture and sound quality has been brilliantly restored. My review of it was posted in October. 

4. THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS from The Film Detective 

A goofy movie, but, in my opinion, a fun one....and that's exactly how The Film Detective presents it on this disc, with all sorts of great extras. My post on this one was in July. 


I reviewed this documentary in August--but this Blu-ray release of it is notable for having two hours of alternate footage--you basically get two excellent full-length documentaries about Boris here. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

PANIC (1963)


In the new issue of MIDNIGHT MARQUEE magazine, there's an excellent article detailing the life and acting career of Milton Reid. The brawny, bald Reid made several memorable appearances in numerous cult films made in the 1960s and 1970s, and Christopher Gullo's article shines some much-needed light on the man. 

Most of Reid's screen roles didn't give him a lot of screen time, or much dialogue--his size and menacing personality were usually what filmmakers were after. Most of Reid's roles had no dialogue, and even if there was any, it was almost always spoken by the dubbed voice of another actor. 

In Christopher Gullo's article he mentions a British film called PANIC, originally released in 1963. Gullo details that in this movie, Reid isn't a threat...and he even gets to use his own voice! This caught my attention, so I wound up looking for the film on YouTube, and I was able to find it and view it. 

PANIC is a low-budget black & white suspense tale, with plenty of noir elements. Overall the movie reminded me of the type of productions made by Hammer Films in the early 1950s, before they found their niche with science-fiction and Gothic horror. The Hammer comparison also extends to the cast & crew. The director and screenwriter of PANIC was John Gilling, who made this picture in the middle of a run of work for Hammer. Among the cast are plenty of faces familiar to Hammer fans--the aforementioned Reid, Marne Maitland, Duncan Lamont, and Phillip Ray. 

The main character in the story is Jan (Janine Gray), a young Swiss woman living in London who works at a diamond exchange. Jan's no-good boyfriend Johnnie (Dyson Lovell) uses information from her to plan a robbery at the exchange after hours. Johnnie's two accomplices who actually commit the crime kill Jan's boss (Phillip Ray), and also knock Jan out. When she comes to, she's in shock, and she's suffering from a loss of memory. She wanders about London, trying to figure out who she is and what happened, while the police and Johnnie are also searching for her. 

Jan winds up meeting several eccentric and shady people during her experience. After she leaves the diamond exchange in a daze, she eventually checks into a seedy hotel. It's there that Milton Reid appears. At first, due to his appearance it seems that Reid wants to take advantage of Jan...but he winds up saving her from the lascivious attentions of the hotel manager (Marne Maitland). Reid speaks his lines softly, but his voice is clear and his words are easy to understand. Unfortunately after this sequence neither Reid or Maitland appear again in the film. 

Jan also shows up at a cafe, where she's accosted by a group of beatniks. A kindly, past-his-prime boxer named Mike (Glyn Houston) comes to her rescue, and decides to help Jan in her quest to find out what is going on (by this time she's now wanted for questioning in two different murders). At this point Mike almost becomes the main focus of the story--he agrees to a fight he can't possibly win, just to raise money so he can get Jan out of London. Mike is obviously attracted to Jan--he sadly explains to her at one point that his wife walked out on him--but he doesn't try anything on her. (One does have to wonder, though, whether Mike would go to all this trouble if Jan wasn't young and pretty.) All this leads to an ending that is rather abrupt--it's as if the movie reached the end of its budget. 

PANIC is an okay film, but it's a very mild thriller. The fact that it is only about 70 minutes long, and in full frame ratio, makes it seem like a TV episode instead of a full-fledged feature film. One problem is that the audience is one step ahead of Jan all the way--she's searching for info that we already know. The story should have focused more on her instead of Mike, and the machinations of Johnnie and his accomplices. It might have been better if the movie started with Jan waking up at the diamond exchange, with a dead body next to her, and the viewer not knowing any more than she does. 

John Gilling and cinematographer Gregory Faithfull try hard to give PANIC a noir-like feel. They do, however, use plenty of close-ups--maybe this was an attempt to make Jan's plight more intimate, or maybe it was due to the low budget. Gilling was used to dealing with unusual material, and he was quite proficient at getting the most out of very little to work with, but I have to say that PANIC isn't one of his better films (or scripts). 

PANIC is very much a "It's late at night, and I can't get to sleep" type of movie. There is enough here to interest Hammer fans. As for Milton Reid, he once again makes a large impression with a small role. In all honestly Reid should have played the part of Mike--PANIC would have been more notable if he had. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Book Review: OF MICE AND MEN--Mental Enfeeblement, Racism, and Mercy-Killing In 1939 Hollywood


This is Greg Mank's third book released this year--and it's just as great as the other two. OF MICE AND MEN--Mental Enfeeblement, Racism, and Mercy-Killing In 1939 Hollywood--thoroughly examines the classic film directed by Lewis Milestone and produced by the Hal Roach studios. It also covers the famed John Steinbeck novel upon which it was based. 

Steinbeck's tragic story was truly a trending topic in 1930s America, and the controversies surrounding the dark elements involved in the tale made it an enticing but difficult subject for Hollywood filmmakers. Mank goes into detail on how OF MICE AND MEN got to the screen, and the complicated steps that were involved. 

Particularly intriguing are the various actors that Mank reveals were considered for the lead roles, such as James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as George. The eventual stars of the 1939 OF MICE AND MEN--Burgess Meredith, Lon Chaney Jr., and Betty Field--seem perfect for their parts now, but there was much discussion and haggling before the final cast list was set. The author also gives a day-by-day report on the actual shooting and post-production of the film, with a look at scenes that didn't make the final cut. 

Mank's book will be of great interest to Lon Chaney Jr. fans. Lon Jr. is now best known for his classic horror film roles, but Mank shows that the making of OF MICE AND MEN was a pivotal and important moment in Chaney's life. As detailed by Mank, the positive critical and audience response to Chaney's striking performance as Lennie gave the actor, for a brief moment, mainstream respect and acceptability. 

The author also goes into how the year of 1939 affected OF MICE AND MEN's chances for awards and citations. 1939 is now known as classic Hollywood's greatest year, and the competition OF MICE AND MEN was up against was staggering. There's also a look at how another Steinbeck adaptation, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, wound up overshadowing OF MICE AND MEN. 

The book, published by Bear Manor Media, is a fast-paced read illustrated by several behind-the-scenes photos. In his usual style, Mank interweaves the real-life personal issues of the people involved in the making of the film with the dramatics shown on screen. Other stage, TV, and screen adaptations of the novel are briefly touched upon as well. 

I was assigned to read OF MICE AND MEN while in high school, and my English class was shown the 1981 TV version of the story (which I barely remember). Back then I just thought of it as another book to read. I have a much better appreciation of it now, and Greg Mank's fine book inspired me to watch the 1939 version again. I do believe it is the best adaptation of the story, mainly due to Lon Chaney Jr's performance and the fact that it is a 1930s story filmed in the 1930s, after all. Lewis Milestone, the main driving force behind the production, created a haunting, authentic, and hard-hitting story that was faithful to the source material and still within the confines of classic Hollywood--a feat many thought impossible. Greg Mank's work here is a tribute to the film and a fascinating report and analysis of it. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022



This film version of Emily Bronte's novel is covered in John Hamilton's book on the English productions of American International Pictures, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES. The book inspired me to seek out the film and watch it. 

I have to say that I've never read Emily Bronte's novel, and I've never even been all that impressed by the famed 1939 film adaptation that was produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler. WUTHERING HEIGHTS is the type of story I'm not all that interested in. The 1939 version is well done, but it also has too much of a "Hollywood English" type of feel to it. 

At first glance WUTHERING HEIGHTS seems a bizarre choice for a AIP project. The studio was much more familiar with Poe than the Bronte sisters, and the exploitative instincts of Samuel Arkoff & James Nicholson have little in common with classic English literature. AIP was hoping to appeal to the youth market by promoting WUTHERING HEIGHTS as a romance between two young rebels, and they were also hoping to expand into a more mainstream field. 

The choice of director for AIP's WUTHERING HEIGHTS, Robert Fuest, also now seems bizarre. Fuest is best known for the two DR. PHIBES films and for THE DEVIL'S RAIN. These movies had a decidedly off-kilter visual and storytelling style that matched Fuest's personality--he's now considered something like a 1970s Tim Burton. One must remember that Fuest made WUTHERING HEIGHTS before the Phibes films, and he handled a dark love story set in late 18th Century England very well. 

This version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS was filmed in Yorkshire, and Fuest and cinematographer John Coquillon take great advantage of the dreary, cloudy, windswept locations. The look of this production perfectly matches the grim characters--it feels more real, and more natural, than the 1939 version. 

AIP didn't cast big stars in the lead roles of Cathy and Heathcliffe (the company couldn't have afforded to cast big names anyway). Young (and at the time little-known) actors Anna Calder-Marshall and Timothy Dalton were cast. The two are certainly not Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier, but for this particular version perhaps that's a good thing. What hurts their performances as the complicated couple is that, at least from my perspective, they come off more as brother and sister than as passionate lovers. The script for this version even suggests that Cathy's father sired both of them (and I'm sure that influenced my outlook on the relationship between the characters). 

For me Anna Calder-Marshall's Cathy was just too low-key, and lacking in personality. You can understand why she's obsessed with Heathcliff, but you don't necessarily believe this Heathcliff would be obsessed with her. Dalton's Heathcliff is more sullen and jealous than lovelorn (he also spends almost the entire first half of the movie covered in dirt). Dalton makes a dashing figure, but he's also more of a rebellious bad boy. (Ironically Dalton would go on to portray a couple more legendary literary figures made famous by other actors: James Bond and Rhett Butler.) 

Hilary Dwyer, who played Cathy's upper-class sister-in-law Isabella, was already a AIP veteran, having already appeared in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE OBLONG BOX, and CRY OF THE BANSHEE. Dwyer, who looked absolutely exquisite in period costume, has far more screen presence than Calder-Marshall, and her scenes with Dalton's Heathcliff have far more passion. (Heathcliff marries Isabella mainly to spite Cathy.) I think Dwyer would have made a better Cathy than Calder-Marshall. 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS does have a very notable supporting cast, with Julian Glover, Hugh Griffith, Ian Ogilvy, Harry Andrews, and Peter Sallis. For my money, the most notable performance is given by Judy Cornwell as the loyal maid Nellie. Unfortunately most of the supporting players get very little screen time, and very little chance to make much out of their characters. 

One main reason for this is that, according to John Hamilton, Robert Fuest's original cut of the film ran over two hours, and AIP edited it down to 104 minutes. There are times in this film when the plot seems rushed, and various characters pop in and out briefly. Fuest's original cut might have given more depth to the story, and more understanding to the motivations of the people involved in it. 

AIP also came up with an ending that suggested Heathcliff and Cathy were reunited in the afterlife. I don't think this has much of an impact, simply because this Heathcliff and Cathy are not very appealing. AIP had high hopes for their WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and they were even considering a run of classic literary adaptations also starring Timothy Dalton. The movie's critical and box office reception was underwhelming, and AIP decided to stay away from any other similar tales. (Reading some of the critical responses to the film in John Hamilton's book, it seems as if the reviewers were more angry at the fact that it was made by AIP than how it actually came off.) 

Personally, I thought the 1970 WUTHERING HEIGHTS was better than I expected--once again it's not the type of story I would seek out on my own. The look and the settings of it impressed me the most, along with Michel Legrand's music score. I also gained a greater appreciation for the directorial talents of Robert Fuest. This WUTHERING HEIGHTS and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES are as different as two movies could be--yet Fuest helmed both of them quite effectively. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022



The 1975 caper film INSIDE OUT is a English/German production, filmed mostly in Berlin, dealing with an attempt to loot some hidden Nazi gold. 

30 years after the end of WWII, a swindler (Telly Savalas), an ex-con (Robert Culp), and a retired German military officer (James Mason) hatch a scheme to break out a notorious Nazi bigwig named Reinhard Holtz out of "Siegfried Prison" in Berlin. The motley group is convinced that Holtz knows where a large cache of Nazi gold is buried. As expected, various complications ensue, and the group has to improvise at the drop of a hat to carry off their fantastic plot. 

Telly Savalas already had some experience in going after Nazi gold in KELLY'S HEROES. Here Telly seems to be having a great time, reacting to every obstacle with a well-placed quip. The entire movie, in fact, has a lighthearted air to it. INSIDE OUT isn't a intense suspenseful thriller--it's rather tame for being an international production made in the 1970s. It's rated PG, and it has a very TV movie type of feel to it, especially since Savalas and Robert Culp were long-time American small-screen stars. 

INSIDE OUT was capably directed by Peter Duffell (THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), and the Berlin locations look fine due to John Coquillon's cinematography. But even for a caper film, the story line is rather far-fetched. Why are Telly and his gang so convinced that an old Nazi will remember an incident over thirty years ago, and why are they so convinced that the large amount of gold will still be where it is supposedly buried? They seem to be taking a major chance over a huge long shot, but this is, after all, what characters do in these types of movies. 

As part of their plan, one of the minor members of Telly's group pretends that he is Hitler in order to convince the drugged-up Holtz to give up the info on the gold's whereabouts. (Nazi gold and fake Hitlers have been elements and a surprisingly high number of features.) Rienhard Holtz, the old Nazi, is held in a prison all by himself, and he's constantly watched by the military of four different countries. Holtz is obviously meant to remind the viewer of Rudolf Hess--so much so that one wonders why the script just didn't go ahead and call the character Hess. (Were the filmmakers afraid of somehow getting sued?) Ten years after INSIDE OUT was made, WILD GEESE II used Rudolf Hess as an actual character in another story involving breaking the man out of his internment. 

INSIDE OUT is a decent, if not particularly memorable, heist tale. 

Monday, December 5, 2022



Euro Western time again. This one is JOHNNY YUMA, a 1966 German/Italian co-production that has nothing to do with the character of the same name that was played by Nick Adams in the TV series THE REBEL. 

This Johnny Yuma is played by Mark Damon (HOUSE OF USHER), who was already a spaghetti western veteran by this time. Johnny is on his way to his uncle Thomas Felton's sprawling ranch, where he's expected to take charge of the place. Before Johnny gets there his middle-aged uncle is murdered due to the machinations of the young, beautiful Mrs. Felton (Rosalba Neri) and her conniving brother. Johnny plans to avenge his uncle and take his rightful inheritance, while dealing with a mysterious gunslinger named Carradine (Lawrence Dobkin). 

JOHNNY YUMA has plenty of familiar elements, but it also has enough novel twists to make it an above average Euro Western. Mark Damon's Johnny isn't a scruffy loner--when not battling bad guys he's an amiable enough fellow, and he's also definitely a ladies man. A gigantic bar brawl gives Damon a chance to show off his fighting and shooting skills, and it appears the actor does most of his own stunts. 

Damon makes a decent hero, but the main highlight here is Rosalba Neri, Lady Frankenstein herself, as Samantha Felton. Neri's Samantha is a sexy, but cold-blooded femme fatale who is willing to do anything--and use anyone--to get what she wants. Samantha's treachery knows no bounds, and I'll even say that Neri makes her one of the most memorable female characters in spaghetti western history. 

American character actor Lawrence Dobkin's performance as the taciturn Carradine also deserves some mention. Dobkin brings a strong, silent presence, and the relationship between his Carradine and Johnny Yuma is somewhat reminiscent as that between Colonel Mortimer and The Man With No Name in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Carradine also is a former flame of Samantha's, giving the story some added depth. 

JOHNNY YUMA isn't as over-the-top as most entries in this genre, but in the second half of the film there is a very unexpected, very shocking, and very brutal killing of one of Johnny's companions. I personally didn't think this event was necessary, other than giving Johnny even more of a reason to get revenge (as if he needed any). 

Director and co-writer Romolo Guerrieri injects a few inventive camera angles and scene set-ups, and the lively music score was by Nora Orlandi (it was very rare for a woman to score a Euro Western). 

My expectations were not very high for JOHNNY YUMA, and I have to say the movie more than exceeded them. It's well-paced and entertaining, and it's worth watching for Rosalba Neri alone. The movie is available on a number of streaming channels, but I found the sharpest-looking print of it on YouTube. 

Rosalba Neri in JOHNNY YUMA

Sunday, December 4, 2022



One of the things John Hamilton's magnificent book WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES makes clear is that not all of American International Pictures' British co-productions were horror films. AIP was involved in a 1967 film which was titled THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS in the U.S. The movie was called JULES VERNE'S ROCKET TO THE MOON in the U.K., despite the fact it had really nothing to do with the famed author's work. I watched THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS on the EPIX streaming channel, and it was a sharp-looking, uncut widescreen print. 

THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS isn't a science fiction tale--it's more in the vein of such lighthearted family epics as THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, and THE GREAT RACE. Those movies were on TV constantly when I was a kid in the 1970s--and they would all invariably bore me. They were never as fun as they were made out to be, and they all went on too long. THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS follows the same pattern. It literally and figuratively never gets off the ground--it has almost no actual flying in it. 

The story, set in the late 19th Century, revolves around P. T. Barnum (Burl Ives) and a number of eccentrics attempting to build a rocket and send it to the moon. A caddish bounder (Terry-Thomas) and his unwilling accomplice (Lionel Jeffries) conspire to stop the project. 

John Hamilton's book details that Bing Crosby, of all people, was originally announced to play P. T. Barnum. I think this may have been wishful thinking on AIP's part--Crosby wasn't able to do it, and he would have been miscast as the brash Barnum anyway. Burl Ives is much more fitting in the role, and he's surrounded by such capable supporting players as Terry-Thomas, Gert Frobe, Lionel Jeffries, and Dennis Price. The main problem is that these performers are not given anything interesting to do--not matter how funny they try to act, they only wind up being mildly amusing. 

The uncut version of the film is about two hours long, and it moves like a slow-moving river. Troy Donahue, as the stalwart American involved in the rocket project, doesn't help things much, and even the sultry Daliah Lavi as Donahue's love interest isn't able to spice the plot up. 

This movie was produced by the infamous Harry Alan Towers, which is surprising, since it doesn't have any of the notorious aspects of the man's usual work. THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS was filmed in Ireland, and director Don Sharp and cinematographer Reg Wyer take great advantage of the outdoor locations. This is one of the best looking-films produced by Harry Alan Towers, and the production design and the costumes are fine as well. One wishes that AIP and Towers had used the cast & crew of this movie on a feature more worthy of their overall talents. 

THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS didn't make much of an impact critically or financially in either America or England. Sometime later AIP would cut the film down to 95 minutes and re-release it as BLAST-OFF in order to try and take advantage of the publicity over NASA's Apollo program. (For all I know, that version might play even better.) 

While watching THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS, I couldn't help but wonder why so many filmmakers in the 1960s made silly, overlong stories set in the 19th Century filled with numerous British character actors and outlandish contraptions, and why they felt that these productions would be prime examples of "family entertainment". (DOCTOR DOOLITTLE is another title in this strange mini-genre.) I would assume that any family that chose to sit in a movie theater and spend over two hours watching one of these things would have been bored stiff. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022



From LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS magazine comes a magnificent 365-page book called WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES, written by John Hamilton. 

The subtitle of the book--"The British Films of American International Pictures"--makes things perfectly clear. American International--more fondly remembered as AIP--was the company behind many of the most famous low-budget exploitation movies made in 20th Century. AIP had a long history with producers and distributors across the pond, and John Hamilton fully documents it in an extensive and entertaining manner. 

Among the movies thoroughly examined here are the famous (THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the only time AIP and Hammer Films directly worked with each other), the infamous (KONGA), and the surprising (a version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS with a very young Timothy Dalton). 

Each film covered gets a deluxe treatment, with plenty of info, rare stills and images, and a review of how each title was marketed and received by audiences and critics. Despite the volume of material, this book isn't just a dry recitation of facts--the author keeps things lively, especially with his sardonic comments upon the plot elements of each feature. 

Hamilton also discusses the lives of the filmmakers behind these titles--a group of renegades and mavericks who seem almost to be like movie characters themselves. James Nicholson, Samuel Arkoff, Herman Cohen, Harry Alan Towers, Deke Heyward, Tony Tenser, Milton Subotsky....the quirks and peculiarities of these men are more intriguing than anything shown in the movies they made. 

Of course the stars of these films are given plenty of attention as well--consider the book's front cover art by Paul Watts, which depicts genre legends Karloff, Price, Cushing, Lee, Steele, and Pitt. They're all here, along with all sorts of on and off set gossip and squabbles. 

The book is lavishly illustrated, with many of the stills and images in color. If you are familiar with LSOH magazine, the book's clean and concise overall design is somewhat similar. 

From my viewpoint, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES is an exemplary piece of work (it's almost as if it was written just for me). The effort and detail by John Hamilton is massive. The book also serves as a mini-history of not just American International Pictures, but of the entire English Gothic movie period of the late 1950s to the early 1970s. For me, WITCHES, BITCHES AND BANSHEES is the movie book of 2022. 

*The book can be ordered directly from the LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS website: