The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd

ice cream blondeThis authoritative biography was written by Michelle Morgan back in 2015. It traces the life of American actress and businesswoman Thelma Todd (29 July 1906 – 16 December 1935, from a vivacious little girl who tried to assuage her parents’ grief over her brother’s death to an aspiring teacher, turned reluctant beauty queen, to an outspoken movie starlet and restaurateur.

Increasingly disenchanted with Hollywood, in 1934 Todd opened Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, a hot spot that attracted fans, tourists, and celebrities. Despite success in film and business, privately the beautiful actress was having a difficult year – receiving disturbing threats from a stranger known as the Ace and having her home ransacked – when she was found dead in a garage near her café.

An inquest concluded that her death, at age just 29, was accidental. But in this book, which draws on interviews, photographs, documents, and extortion notes (some of which was not previously available to the public), Morgan offers compelling new evidence that Thelma was in fact murdered. But by whom? The suspects include Thelma’s movie-director lover, her would-be-gangster ex-husband, and the thugs who were pressuring her to install gaming tables in her popular café – including a never-before-named mobster.

Fans of Thelma Todd, Hollywood’s Golden Age and real-life murder mysteries should add this to their list of must-reads. Also, the story is worthy of a Netflix series.

Available from Gazelle Books in the UK: https://www.gazellebookservices.co.uk/GazelleBooks/sresult.pgm?search1=9781613730386&searchtype=advanced

Lake Mungo | Australia’s answer to Paranormal Activity gets a deluxe Blu-ray release from Second Sight

Lake Mungo is one of those films where the chills come gradually rather than in short sharp shocks, just like the similarly-themed Paranormal Activity. Released back in 2008, director Joel Anderson’s documentary-style thriller has become something of a must-see, and now its set to garnered new fans with Second Sight’s deluxe Blu-ray box-set featuring new interviews with cast and crew; filmmaker fans Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and director Rob Savage; a brand new commentary, video essays and archive material.

In the small rural town of Ararat, southwest Victoria, 16-year-old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns while swimming with her family at a local dam. After her body is recovered and she is laid to rest, her family start to experience strange happenings in their home and become convinced that Alice has returned as a ghost. They then seek out the help of a radio psychic (Steve Jodrell), who discovers Alice kept secrets about her personal life from her family before she died. Alice’s brother Matthew (Martin Sharpe) then sets up a camera to capture his sister’s ghostly presence – and the results are quite unsettling…

Filmed in the vein of the Kiwi-made TV paranormal crime show Sensing Murder, Lake Mungo is made up of a series of interviews with Alice’s family and friends, interspersed with some arty location shots: mainly the starry night sky and a sunset-drenched countryside. The cast’s deadpan delivery of the dialogue is eerie to watch (particularly Alice’s dad David, who looks like he is going to break down and cry but never does), while the plot twists are surprising (particularly Matthew’s big admission).

But there are some rather odd moments (the mother’s obsession with breaking into her neighbour’s houses for instance feels absurd). With this in mind, I expected the film to turn on its head at one point and become a parody of the genre, in the same vein as the Australian mockumentary Angry Boys. But it doesn’t. Instead Lake Mungo takes itself deadly seriously and – despite some of the ideas being a little stretched-out – becomes one of those genuinely unsettling chillers that will have you watching the shadows in your own home long after the credits have ended. One shocking moment for me – personally – was seeing my old university tutor playing the psychic.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• Archive audio commentary by Producer David Rapsey and DoP John Brawley
• New audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood
Captured Spirits: an interview with DoP John Brawley
Ghost in the Machine: an interview with Producer David Rapsey
A Cop and a Friend: an interview with Actors Carole Patullo & James Lawson
Kindred Spirits: Filmmakers Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead on Lake Mungo
Hosting Spirits: Filmmaker Rob Savage on Lake Mungo
Simulacra and Spirits: a video essay by film writer Josh Nelson
Autopsy of a Family Home: a video essay by filmmaker Joseph Wallace
• Deleted scenes

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Rigid slipcase
• Perfect-bound booklet with new essays by Sarah Appleton, Simon Fitzjohn, Rich Johnson, Mary Beth McAndrews and Shellie McMurdo, interview with actor James Lawson by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas plus rare behind-the-scenes photos
• Three collectors’ art cards

The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.

When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.

Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).

Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.

With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.

There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.

Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas

Weird Wisconsin: Are you ready for The Bill Rebane Collection?

You may not immediately recognise the name Bill Rebane, but the Wisconsin-based indie film-maker was the person responsible for The Giant Spider Invasion. With its lame acting, cheap special effects and the use of VW Beetles to create the titular creatures, this 1975 sci-horror has gone on to become a cult classic of the highest order and I still have fond memories of seeing it at the cinema (aged 11). Now, when I heard that Arrow had collected six of Rebane’s features spanning his 30-year-career, I had to take a look. Now that I’ve seen them, all I can say is that they are all pale in comparison to Rebane’s career-best success.

Each film is presented in a brand-new restoration and the 4-disc box-set is loaded with new interviews and extras, including a 60-page tribute written by diehard fan Stephen Thrower. Now, there’s no doubt that Rebane put his heart and soul into each of his efforts, which were all produced at his farm-based studio, The Shooting Ranch, in Gleason, Wisconsin. But they’re all quite a chore to get through. The highlight of this box-set, however, is David Cairns’ feature-length documentary, Who is Bill Rebane? I suggest starting with that before dipping into the main attractions, as you’ll get a better appreciation of Rebane’s outsider approach to film-making. He may not be the best indie director but he sure did it his way.

DISC ONE
MONSTER A GO-GO! (1965) An American astronaut (played by 7 ft 6¾ Henry Hite) returns to Earth as a radioactive monster and bothers blissful sunbathers while some military types try to track him down. This monster’s a ‘no-go’ and so slow. It doesn’t even have an ending as it was bought by Hershell Gordon Lewis (as Terror at Halfday) and he just changed the title and added some narration. Great title though.

INVASION FROM INNER EARTH (1974) In the Canadian wilderness, two pilots and a young woman barricade themselves in a cabin when they hear a plague is wiping out humanity. Talky, with some snowmobiles racing about in the snow. The film’s lead, Paul Bentzen, gives a masterclass in improvised overacting here, and would go on to become Rebane’s No.1 leading man.

EXTRAS
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of Monster A Go-Go and Invasion from Inner Earth with director Bill Rebane
• Brand new interview with historian and critic Kim Newman about the films of Bill Rebane.
Twist Craze, and Dance Craze, two early short films by Bill Rebane
Kidnap Extortion (1973), a newly restored industrial short directed by Bill Rebane
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC TWO
THE ALPHA INCIDENT
(1978) When deadly alien spores are accidentally released while in transport, a train station is placed under quarantine. It’s then a waiting game for those trapped inside to try and keep awake while the government tries to find a cure. This could have been Assault on Precinct 13 meets The Thing, but it’s not. It’s a sci-fi snorefest.

THE DEMONS OF LUDLOW (1983) As the folks in a small rural town prepare to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of its founding, the ghosts of its past return to seek retribution via a haunted antique piano. This rural gothic horror is a bargain-basement take on John Carpenter’s The Fog. Slow going as usual, with only minimal frights on offer.

EXTRAS
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of The Alpha Incident and The Demons of Ludlow with Rebane
• Rebane’s Key Largo, a visual essay by historian and critic Richard Harland Smith
• Original trailers
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC THREE
THE GAME 
(1984) Three jaded millionaires gather nine people at an old mansion to play “The Game” … if they can meet and conquer their fears and they’ll receive a million dollars in cash. This comical body count movie is just plain silly, and the ending is a right cop out.

TWISTER’S REVENGE (1988) Three bumbling idiots try to steal the artificial intelligence control system of a monster truck called Mr Twister. This Knightrider meets Death Wish rip-off is the most bizarre offering here, and have to admit I rather enjoyed its infantile slapstick humour. It’s also one I’d like to see Rebane remake, but with those fur-covered VW spiders added into the mix.

EXTRAS
• Two presentations of The Game (aka The Cold) in 1.85 and 1.33 aspect ratio
Straight Shooter: newly filmed interviews about the making of The Game and Twister’s Revenge with Rebane
Discovering Bill Rebane, historian & critic Stephen R Bissette discusses his personal connections with the films of Bill Rebane and their importance to regional film making in America
• Original trailers
• Stills and Promotional Gallery

DISC FOUR
Who is Bill Rebane? An exclusive new feature-length documentary by historian and critic David Cairns
King of the Wild Frontier, historian and critic Stephen R. Bissette on the films of Bill Rebane
Invasion from Inner Earth, The Alpha Incident and The Demons of Ludlow outtakes from the shoot
The Giant Spider Invasion original trailer
• Gallery of Behind the Scenes stills
• Stills and Promotional Galleries for the rest of Rebane’s filmography

I Start Counting | BFI Flipside releases the British coming-of-age psychological thriller classic on Blu-ray

Psychological thriller meets coming-of-age drama in the long-unavailable 1969 British feature, I Start Counting, which is now out on Blu-ray, featuring a new 2k restoration print, from BFI Flipside in the UK.

Jenny Agutter stars as Wynne, a 14-year-old schoolgirl living in a new-town tower block with her adopted family. Her latest infatuation is her older stepbrother George (Bryan Marshall), but after finding a jumper she made for him dumped in a bin and covered in blood, she wonders if he might be the killer strangling teenage girls in the nearby woods. However, when Wynne starts investigating, she gets a stark introduction to adulthood. 

I Start Counting was director David Greene’s third film, and came hot on the heels of his equally offbeat features, Sebastian (with Dirk Bogarde) and The Strange Affair (with Michael York). It adapted for the screen by Richard Harris (who was then working on The Avengers at the time) based on Audrey Erksine Lindop’s 1966 thriller novel.

Together with Alex Thompson’s evocative camerawork, Brian Eatwell’s modern art direction and Basil Kirchin’s atmospheric melodic score, Green and Harris have crafted an engrossing, intelligent drama that’s well worth a revisit.

Part ‘kitchen sink’ reality – part dark fairytale, the film not only follows Wynne’s journey out of childhood but also offers much comment on Britain taking its first awkward steps towards a new, modern future.

Thanks to Green’s gentle direction, Agutter gives a compelling, genuinely touching performance as Wynne – and such was her joy at working on this film, that it convinced her to become a professional actor. There are also winning turns from the supporting players, including Clare Sutcliffe as Wynn’s flirty school friend Corinne, Madge Ryan as Wynne’s mum, and Simon Ward as the bus conductor hiding a terrible secret.

A bona-fide British classic, that would also make a great double-bill with another thriller bearing similiar themes, director Robert Fuest’s And Soon the Darkness (1970).

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Feature newly scanned and restored in 2K from the 35mm Interpositive.
  • A Kickstart: Jenny Agutter Remembers I Start Counting! (2020, 20 mins): a new interview with the actress (wonderful memories, but there are spoilers so watch this after seeing the film).
  • An Apprentice With a Master’s Ticket (2021, 40 mins): screenwriter Richard Harris looks back over an eclectic career in television and film, ranging from The Avengers to A Touch of Frost
  • Worlds Within Worlds (2021, 33 mins): Jonny Trunk on the life and art of ambient music pioneer Basil Kirchin (this was the extra I was most looking forward to as I’m a big Kirchin fan and have collected all the Trunk Records releases of his work (but damn it, Jonny shows some rarities that I now need to add to my collection). Interestingly, Jonny doesn’t touch on Kirchin’s The Abominable Dr Phibes score.
  • I Start Building (1942-59, 25 mins): Two archive films recalling the ‘New Town’ dream.
  • Danger on Dartmoor (1980, 57 mins): two children land in peril (in a Hound of the Baskervilles kind of way) in this Children’s Film Foundation feature, written by Audrey Erskine Lindop. It also features Hammer veteran, Michael Ripper, the wonderful Patricia Hayes and Barry Foster (Frenzy, Van de Valk).
  • Don’t Be Like Brenda (1973, 8 mins): A cautionary film designed for adolescent viewers back in the day about having sex before marriage. It’s rather sexist by today’s standards, as it puts the entire blame on women, rather than also being a lesson for young men.
  • Loss of Innocence: a video essay on I Start Counting! by filmmaker Chris O’Neill. This is a well-crafted analysis of the film that sums it up perfectly in a few minutes.
  • Audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan.
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Image gallery
  • Newly commissioned sleeve artwork by Matt Needle.
  • Illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr Josephine Botting, a curator at the BFI National Archive, and biographies of David Greene, Jenny Agutter and Clare Sutcliffe by Jon Dear.

Karloff at Columbia | Six classic chillers from the Master of Terror

From Eureka Entertainment comes KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA, six films comprising the entirety of the Master of Terror’s filmic output for Columbia Pictures, as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 3 May 2021.

All six are making their worldwide debut on Blu-ray, and it’s the first time they’ve become available on home video in the UK. There’s also a wealth of bonus content over the two discs, including four Inner Sanctum radio broadcasts, and a collector’s booklet featuring articles by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann. 

DISC ONE

The Black Room (1935, dir. Roy William Neill)
Released in the same year as Universal’s The Bride of Frankenstein and The Raven, this excellent Gothic chiller sees Karloff taking on a dual role as the twin sons of a Czechoslovakian baron in early 1800s Europe. The eldest Gregor is a brutal sadist, who abdicates in favour of his gentle brother Anton when confronted by an angry mob after several village girls disappear. He then secretly murders Anton and impersonates him.

Karloff is in fine form here and plays each twin with much light and shade (and the double exposure camera trick really works a treat). The sets, lighting and cinematography are all wonderfully atmospheric – with Universal’s expressionist influence much evident. My standout scene is when Allen Seiger’s camera tracks servant Maska (Cecil B DeMille’s daughter Katherine) as she moves quietly through a local graveyard as the castle set looms menacingly in the background (it all looks like something out of a dark fairy tale book).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939, dir. Nick Grinde)
Having been hidden under mountains of make-up in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein and a couple of Charlie Chan films, Karloff scored a role that proved so successful that Columbia went on the produce four more films with similar themes. These became known as Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle, and follow in this box-set. Here he plays Dr Savaard a dedicated scientist who is hanged after his experiments with an artificial heart resulted in the death of a volunteer. Brought back to life by a loyal assistant, he lures the six jurors that condemned him to his mansion which has been rigged with traps and kills them one by one.

Karloff pulls off a delicate balancing act here with aplomb, one that requires him to be kindly but also seething with vengeance, and to elicit sympathy even while he’s frying his victims with bolts of electricity or dosing them on poison. These set-pieces still hold up today, and I’m sure influenced films like 1973’s Theatre of Blood and the Saw franchise. Following this, Karloff was back in full-on horror mode with Universal’s Tower of London.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Man With Nine Lives (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
In his second good-scientist-turn-bad role, Karloff plays the rather frosty Dr Kravaal, whose experiments in cryogenics could be a cure for cancer. But while testing the formula, Kravaal’s underground laboratory is invaded, and everyone ends up unconscious after the formula is dropped. A decade later, Kravaal is revived by medical researcher Dr Mason and his nurse Judith, but when his formula is destroyed by another revived patient, Kravaal plans to keep everyone prisoner and use them as guinea pigs until he can recreate the drug. Reviews at the time called this a ‘first-class shocker’ and like They Man They Could Not Hang drew on some controversial science – mainly American biologist Robert Cornish (who was a real-life Herbert West) and his ‘Lazarus’ experiments.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
The Corridor of Doom (12 October 1945) & The Wailing Wall (6 Novemeber 1945)

DISC TWO

Before I Hang (1940, dir. Nick Grinde)
After creating an artificial heart and finding a cure for cancer, seeking an elixir to restore youth and prolong life came next in Karloff’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. Sentenced to hang after a mercy killing, brilliant scientist Dr Garth continues his experiments behind bars. Using the blood of a killer, he injects himself and becomes younger. When his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment, he kills the prison doctor (Edward Van Sloan), but another convict is blamed. Pardoned, he returns home to resume his practice, but with his mind and body contaminated – his lust for murder continues.

Originally titled Wizard of Death, this third entry is a much more ghoulish affair than The Man With Nine Lives, and its bolstered by Karloff’s winning turn (which he described as ‘a cross between a ghoul, a zombie and a vampire’. It also features Evelyn Keys (The Face Behind the Mask) and Bruce Bennett (The Alligator People).

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

The Devil Commands (1941, dir. Edward Dmytryk)
Karloff was somewhat tired of the crazed-scientist format by the time he filmed this last ‘serious’ entry. Here he plays Dr Julian Blair, who constructs a machine to communicate with his late wife, whom he believes has been trying to send out an electrical signal to him from beyond the grave. Working in secrecy in an old house in New England, he starts robbing graves for subjects in his experiments, which he carries out with the help of a medium (Anne Revere). After the death of a nosey housekeeper, however, the townsfolk rise up against him and just as he is about to achieve success (using his daughter as a conduit), his machine explodes.

While one reviewer called it ‘a hodge-podge of scientific claptrap’, The Devil Commands is one of the most inventive and thoroughly engrossing among Columbia’s ‘Mad Doctor’ cycle. While based on sci-fi/fantasy author William Sloane’s 1939 novel The Edge of Running Water, there’s a strong HP Lovecraft vibe in the offing. It greatly reminded me of Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. I particularly like the lab scenes with all its gadgetry and those weird robot-like suits, and the final scene with the column of energy being sucked into the atmosphere is really ahead of its time. Karloff followed this with a hugely successful return to the stage – in Arsenic and Old Lace.

• Audio commentary by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)


The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942, dir. Lew Landers)
Filmed on the back of Karloff’s success in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway, Columbia’s homicidal screwball comedy cast Hollywood’s foremost ‘boogie man’ as Professor Nathaniel Billings, a scientist intent on creating a race of superman for the war effort in the basement of a historic 18th-century inn. But things getting messy when he sells the place to the enterprising Winnie, while also continuing his experiments with the aid of Dr Lorentz (Peter Lorre), the local sheriff and doctor. Mix in a powder-puff salesman, a fascist planning to blow up a munitions factory, and Winnie’s concerned husband, and all manner of craziness ensues.

This was Karloff last film under his contract with Columbia, and it scored mixed reviews. It is great to see both Karloff and Lorre share quality screen time, but watching this only underlines the questions: just how good would they have been if Karloff had been given a chance to reprise his Arsenic and Old Lace stage role in Frank Capra’s 1944 film adaptation.

• Audio commentary by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby

• Stills Gallery (production stills, artwork and ephemera)

Karloff on the Radio
Birdsong for a Murderer (22 June 1952) & Death for Sale (13 July 1952)

He Dreams of Giants | Terry Gilliam’s crazy 30-year quest comes to an end

‘I want the fucker out of my life!’

For some 30 years, Terry Gilliam struggled to make his screen adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, including an abandoned attempt chronicled in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha.

Despite several aborted attempts, the visionary artist never gave up and neither did Fulton and Pepe (who also helmed Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys making of doco). He Dreams of Giants is the culmination of their endeavours and follows Gilliam’s journey as he finally completes his passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Fulton and Pepe’s follow-up covers the history of the making of the film (which has been hailed as the most cursed in cinema history), as well as what happened after the events shown in Lost in La Mancha. The result is a poignant, heartfelt character study of an artist (Gilliam) and his creative obsession. Along the way, we witness him bearing his soul (and much more) to achieve his seemingly insurmountable quest.

It’s a tough watch at times, especially seeing Gilliam (who is fast approaching 80) struggling not only with the myriad of problems that arise while shooting but also the aches and pains of mortality. But not even the handicap of having a catheter fitted (that fills up with blood and urine) slows him down – despite the self-doubts and cynicism that occupies his state of mind. His determination is admirable, worrying and also inspirational (something only artists will understand – it also reminded me of another unfinished project, Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (as detailed in Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision).

Gilliam finally completed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2017 (and it is dedicated to two of his original leads, John Hurt and Jean Rochefort). It went on to get a 15-minute standing ovation when it premiered at Cannes in 2018, but a lengthy legal dispute resulted in huge delays in its release. Running at 2hrs 12min, it got mixed reviews, with some critics calling it a ‘mess’ that ‘overstays its welcome’. The film itself centres on genius director Toby (Adam Driver), who is at a crossroads in his career. While filming a commercial in Spain, he finds himself reconnecting with the movie he made about Don Quixote 10 years previously that became his Hollywood calling card. However, the humble village cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) he convinces to play Quixote now believes he really is Cervantes’ knight-errant.

What follows is a surreal adventure that’s pure Gilliam. Filled to the brim with colourful, crazy characters and an even crazier plot-line, all set against stunning scenery (in Spain and Portugal – I’m so going to visit), The Man Who Killed Don Quixote may have its flaws, but it most certainly bears Gilliam’s individuality – both in its visuals and in its polemics. Critical essays on the film will no doubt unearth all this in due course, but at its heart – the film is essentially about the artistic struggle between commerce and freedom (with the characters of Toby and Quixote performing as elements of Gilliam’s psyche). If you are anything like me, then you’ll be chaffing at the bit to hunt the film down after seeing this essential documentary.

He Dreams of Giants from Blue Finch Film Releasing is available to rent on digital platforms in the UK/Ireland, including iTunes, Google Play, Sky Store, Virgin, Chili and BFI Player.

Clapboard Jungle | Do you have what it takes to survive the modern independent film business?

If you have ever thought about becoming an independent film-maker, then you must check this out first. Justin McConnell, who writes, directs and features, has worked as a film festival coordinator, as well as being a cinematographer and editor on heaps of featurettes you’ve probably seen as bonus content, and also directed a number of documentaries and helmed two features. But he has still yet to make his mark in this riskiest of businesses, where it has become harder and harder for independents to make a living due to media giant monopolisation and a market oversaturated with product.

Featuring interviews with a vast range of industry luminaries, Clapboard Jungle (which is available on ARROW from Monday 19 April) follows Justin’s personal journey over a five year period, exploring not only the nitty-gritty of the film business (from pitch to product) but also the physical and emotional strain that comes with it. It’s a fascinating insight and something of a survival guide for anyone brave enough to attempt themselves.

Once you have watched the documentary, I strongly urge you to check out the extended interviews which feature a roll call of some of our favourite cult heroes who all discuss their career highs and lows, and their place in the independent film world today. Poignantly, among them are Dick Miller, George Romeo and Larry Cohen, who are no longer with us – so these are very special indeed.

Clapboard Jungle is available from ARROW from Monday 19 April

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Audio commentary with Justin McConnell
• Crew commentary: Justin McConnell, co-producer Darryl Shaw, executive producer Avi Federgreen and editor/associate producer Kevin Burke)
• Guest commentary/panel discussion: Barbara Crampton, Richard Stanley, John McNaughton, Gigi Saul Guerrero and Adam Mason
• Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Justin McConnell
• Extended interviews: Anne-Marie Gélinas, Barbara Crampton, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Brian Yuzna, Charles Band, Corey Moosa, Dean Cundey, Dick Miller, Don Mancini, Frank Henenlotter, Gary Sherman, George Romero, George Mihalka, Guillermo Del Toro, John McNaughton, Jon Reiss, Larry Cohen, Larry Fessenden, Lloyd Kaufman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Mick Garris, Paul Schrader, Richard Stanley, Sam Firstenberg, Tom Holland, Tom Savini, Vincenzo Natali
• Documentaries: Working Class Rock Star (2008) and Skull World (2013)
• 13 short films with optional commentaries and intros
• Trailers, promos, photo gallery and Easter eggs
• Artwork by Ilan Sheady
• Collectors’ booklet featuring new writing by producer/director Brian Yuzna

Godzilla: The Showa-era (1954-1975) | I’m roaring with excitement over Criterion’s beast of a Blu-ray box set

67-years-ago, Japan’s monster movie genre, kaiju-eiga, rose out of the sea in the guise of Godzilla. Over the following decades, Toho’s terrifying symbol of nuclear annihilation has transformed into a superhero in a series of films ranging from serious sci-fi to bubblegum pop. I’ve grown up with Godzilla and his many allies and adversaries, and count Mothra, Ghidora, Hedorah and Mechagodzilla among my favourites of the Shōwa-era (1957-1975).

With Godzilla vs Kong now streaming, I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts about Criterion’s eight-disc box-set, which I have been watching whilst in lockdown. It features a bonanza of extra content as well as a monster-sized book featuring great artwork*** and new writing about each of the films. Let the roaring begin…

Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1954)
In June 1953, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms rampaged through New York where it unleashed a deadly prehistoric contagion before being burned alive in an inferno at Coney Island. Then, in October 1954, Japan faced another radioactive monster from the deep, Gojira.

This superior and deadly serious atomic age sci-fi is an all-time classic and looks better than ever in HD. The human story is a blunt yet purposeful metaphor for Japan’s post-war nuclear holocaust fears, and Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects and miniature sets are and still look fantastic. But what I love most about this Japanese original is Akira Ifukube’s powerful, yet melancholy score. The US version, featuring Raymond Burr, is also included. 

Godzilla Raids Again (dir. Motoyoshi Oda, 1955)
Released in the US as Gigantis, the Fire Monster, this black and white sequel sees Godzilla going up against his first foe – an ankylosaurus called Anguirus. This time, Osaka’s ancient port city ends up in ruins after the two monsters do battle outside the historical caste. The human story involves a group of convicts whose escape plans go awry when the city’s subway is flooded (in one of the film’s best sequences). Meanwhile, two pilots (Hiroshi Koizumi and Minoru Chiaki) working for a tuna cannery company who end up the film’s unlikely heroes. Anguirus is no match for Godzilla, but the returning titan ends up buried in an avalanche of ice and rock.

King Kong vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, Thomas Montgomery, 1963)
After seven years in hibernation, Godzilla rampages once more – and this time in glorious colour. This Toho-Universal co-production (based on an original idea by Willis O’Brien) opens with one of the best sequences in the entire franchise – a giant octopus attacking an island village. Kong defeats the creature, then falls fast asleep after eating some irresistible berry juice. While resting, he’s transported to Japan by a pharmaceutical company who plan to put Kong on show. But with Godzilla on the warpath, it’s not before they engage in some rock-throwing and fire-breathing; with Tokyo once more facing destruction. The wrestling titans end up in an underwater battle after destroying Atami Castle, where the final battle score is 1:1.

Mothra vs Godzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
In the second of 11 films and a 1990s trilogy featuring Toho’s second favourite kaiju character – another slimy entrepreneur plans to turn one of Mothra’s giant eggs into a sideshow attraction. At the same time, Godzilla emerges from his muddy to lay waste the city of Nagoya. A news reporter, a photographer and a professor then head to Infant Island to request the Shobijin (again played by The Peanuts, AKA twin sisters Emi and Yumi Itō) to send Mothra to defeat Godzilla. The duo clash, but Mothra is ultimately defeated. However, all is not lost when the egg hatches two larvae, which then spin a cocoon around Godzilla, and dump him in the sea.

I love this film, almost as much as 1961’s Mothra (check out the Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment). Yuji Koseki’s catchy Song of Mothra gets revamped by Akira Ifukube, whose The Sacred Springs, sung by The Peanuts, is the film’s standout track. In the US, American Internation Pictures released an edited version under the title Godzilla vs The Thing.

Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1964)
Released eight months after Mothra Vs. Godzilla, this monster mash-up sees the franchise getting a bit of an overhaul, with Godzilla now taking on the role of Earth’s protector. This time around, the menace is the titular lightning-emitting space monster who would go on to become Godzilla’s arch-enemy in the Showa series and beyond.

In a nod to Roman Holiday, which did big business in Japan, the story sees a princess of a remote nation (future Bond girl Akiko Wakabayashi) saved from being assassinated by an alien intelligence and used as a prophet of doom. Action star Yosuke Natsuki is the detective tasked with protecting her. While assassins try to kill her, Mothra brokers a deal with Godzilla and the irradiated PteranodonRodan (one of my least favourite kaiju) to join forces to take Gihidorah down. The film’s highlight is Ghidorah’s fiery birth (overseen by an expedition wearing some fab colour-coordinated outfits), and check out the panto-worthy costumes worn by the princess’ royal courtiers.

Invasion of Astro-Monster (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1965)
In the series’ first space adventure, two astronauts – Nick Adams (a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin) and Akira Takarada – investigate a mysterious new planet under attack from King Ghidorah (Monster Zero). The United Nations agrees to help, by lending them Godzilla and Rodan, but the evil controller of Planet X plans to invade the Earth using all three monsters under his control.

Esi Tsuburaya and his special effects team create some winning designs here (it’s all very Gerry Anderson), mostly the alien landscapes, futuristic weaponry and Planet’s X’s flying saucers (which I’d love to have as a model). And the aliens look cool in their body-hugging vinyl suits and wraparound sunglasses. The monster fight sequences are well-staged (although the wires are very noticeable on Rodan and Ghidorah). There are also some comic antics from Godzilla when he does his victory dance (inspired by Fujio Akatsuka’s manga Oso Matsu-kun, where the main character jumps up in a particular pose while shouting ‘Shie!’).

Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1966)
In this South Seas island-set James Bondian adventure, a new team took charge of the film’s direction, score and special effects and it’s quite the colourful confection all to the strains of some jazzy guitar riffs. The story follows young Ryota (Toru Watanabe) as he goes in search for his missing brother on a stolen yacht with two companions and a stowaway (Akira Takarada). After being attacked by the titular Ebirah (a giant lobster), during a storm, they get shipwrecked on an island where The Red Bamboo (a secret army) are building atomic weapons for a planned attack on Japan. Discovering this, the foursome and a young native girl try to help the island’s captive workforce (from Mothra’s Infant Island) to escape. At the same time, Godzilla gets a rude awakening beneath the island. The film’s standout scene is an aerial attack on Godzilla, while Mothra makes a welcome return.

Son of Godzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1967)
This second island adventure from Toho starts off a tad slow but pays off with some great monsters and comic turns from the lead players. A team of scientists are working on a weather control system on Sollgel Island when a mishap results in a radioactive storm, causing the island’s oversized mantises to grow to gigantic size. Godzilla then comes to the rescue when they unearth an egg that hatches a baby Godzilla. As Godzilla teaches his adopted charge, Minilla (AKA Minya), how to use its atomic ray (cue lots of humourous interplay), the scientists, reporters, and island native girls find themselves under attack by a giant spider. But guess who comes to the rescue? I loved the mantises’ design (Kamacuras – AKA Gimantis) and the spider (Kumonga AKA Spiga) here, and the jazzy music is a plus. The only downside for me was Minilla – but little kids loved him.

Destroy All Monsters (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1968)
Toho planned to end the Godzilla series with this monster mash-up and, wanting to out with a bang, reuniting the original 1954 creative team. It’s 1999, and the world’s monsters are now all housed on Monsterland island under the United Nations Science Committee’s watchful eye. But when an alien race called the Kilaaks (who wear a nice line in silver lamé) use mind control on the monsters, all hell breaks loose. Rodan attacks Moscow, Mothra Beijing, Manda London, Baragon Paris and Godzilla New York (beginning with the UN HQ). After the UNSC retaliate by destroying the Kilaaks lunar outpost, the aliens call in King Ghidorah to protect their secret base at Mount Fuji. Godzilla, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, and Kumonga join forces to take down the fire-breathing serpent. But the Kilaaks have a new surprise: a Fire Dragon.

This was the first Godzilla film I saw (aged seven), and it made me a life-long fan. The action set pieces are well-orchestrated, while the primary coloured sets, costumes and special effects (courtesy of a returning Tsuburaya) are terrific, especially the Moonlight SY-3 spaceship and the Kilaaks saucers. Best scenes are the attack on Tokyo, the battle at Mount Fuji, and the climactic showdown. A massive hit in both Japan and the US (where American International Pictures distributed it), its success meant Godzilla would live to fight another day.

All Monsters Attack (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1969)
OK! This one is a bit of a dud in my book, as it uses footage from the previous films wrapped around the story of a little boy who some kids in his Kawasaki neighbourhood are bullying. At the same time, Godzilla’s annoying son Minilla has similar issues with an ogre-like creature called Gabara. Director Honda, who retired after making this film, regarded it as one of his favourites, as it directly spoke to children (its target audience). It went out under the title, Godzilla’s Revenge, in the US, initially on the same bill as the ‘underrated’ British sci-fi Night of the Big Heat starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Godzilla vs Hedorah (dir. Yoshimitsu Banno, 1971)
Yeah! One of my all-time favourites. Released internationally as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster, this 11th film in the series re-establishes Godzilla as an ecological hero as he comes up against a glowing red-eyed alien spawned from pollution. ‘Hedoro’ (which means polluted mud) is one of my favourite creature designs of the series, and quite similar to the one-eyed tentacle monsters in The Green Slime (1968). Although aimed at younger audiences, and again featuring a little boy at the centre of the action, this latest kaiju features some genuinely scary moments (all the better to highlight the very real problem of out of control pollution in Japan at the time). My fave is when a transformed flying Hedora’s toxic sludge and gas turns people into skeletons.

Set against a trippy hippie backdrop (the club scenes are ‘wild man!’, and check out the crazy paisley clobber and sealife masks!), it also features a kitschy catchy theme tune, Kaese! Taiyô wo (Return! The Sun), which was sung by Keiko Mari in the Japanese version and redone as Save The Earth, written and sung by Adryan Russ, on the US AIP edit (which is the version I first saw). Russ went on to score the Broadway hit Inside Out, and her music also features on TV shows Young Sheldon and WandaVision. It’s such a cool song; here are both versions to enjoy. It’s just a shame that the US edit isn’t included in this box set.

Godzilla vs Gigan (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1972)
Cockroach-like aliens, the Nebulans, take on human form and construct a theme park, World Children’s Land, to serve as their secret base. With their planet dying, they see a polluted Earth as the ideal place to colonise. To aid them in their plan to wipe out humanity, they electronically control two space monsters: King Ghidorah and a reptilian cyborg called Gigan. But a Manga artist stumbles on their plans and, with the help of his karate-kicking girlfriend and hippie sidekick; they alert the Japan Self Defense Forces. Meanwhile, planet protectors Godzilla and Anguirus ally to take down the space monsters and the aliens.

This 12th Godzilla film was a huge success, with returning director Jun Fukuda putting the franchise back on track after the disappointing box-office returns of Godzilla vs Hedora. Designed primarily as a marketing ploy for children’s toys, Gigan (who sports scythe-like claws, abdominal buzz-saw and pincer-like mandibles) is one of Godzilla’s most brutal adversaries, and also the first kaiju in the Toho series to make him bleed. Featuring lashings action and goofiness, and more bloodshed than any previous Godzilla film, this one also introduced a new trope to the series: monster tag teams facing off each other. It also marked Haruo Nakajima’s final performance as Godzilla, which he had played for 24 years.

Godzilla vs Megalon (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1973)
This film sees Godzilla turned into a fully-fledged monster-hero for kids, and with no female characters to speak of, it’s an entirely Boys’ Own adventure. The scenario sees Seatopia’s Emperor Antonio (The Green Slime’s Robert Dunham) retaliating against the surface dwellers nuclear testing by letting loose the underwater kingdom’s protector Megalon, a giant beetle with drillbit arms that spits napalm bombs and shoots death rays. He also calls on space monster Gigan (who looks way less sinister this time around due to the new suit) to join forces to create mass destruction.

Again, a little boy, Rokuro (Hiroyuki Kawase), is at the centre of the action along with his scientist brother Goro (Katsuhiko Sasaki) and his friend Hiroshi (Yutaka Hayashi). Meanwhile, Godzilla is shoved to the sidelines as the film-makers show off their equivalent to the many Ultraman heroes – Jet Jaguar, a flying super robot who gets his own theme tune (you can sing along with it below). Relying mostly on stock footage, it’s pretty unexciting on the SFX side, while the climactic tag-team looks like something out of a 1970s TV wrestling match. Oh, and look carefully during the big pyrotechnic scene as you can see the Godzilla suit catching fire.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (dir. Jun Fukuda, 1974)
This penultimate Showa-era kaiju finds Godzilla taking on his space titanium doppelganger. Created by the ape-like Black Hole Planet 3 Aliens, Mechagodzilla (with its head-spinning space beams and finger missiles) is one of my top fave Godzilla adversaries. The robotic menace proved a big hit when it made its debut and has continued to appear in films, comics and video games and is sure to garner a new generation of fans when it rises again in Godzilla vs Kong. Disguised as Godzilla, the giant robot attacks Tokyo but is soon confronted by the real Godzilla and forced to retreat to the alien’s crater base inside Mount Fuji. Much intrigue ensues involving an archaeologist, Interpol agents, and a mystical statue that awakens King Caesar – the ancient guardian of Okinawa’s royal Azumi family. Of course, Mechagodzilla is no match when King Caesar and Godzilla joins forces. 

Terror of Mechagodzilla (dir. Ishiro Honda, 1975)
It’s the end of an era and what better way than to bring back the mighty Mechagodzilla. Again those simian aliens return to finish what they started – the conquest of the Earth. This time around, they rebuild their greatest weapon with living human brain cells and use a young woman, Katsura (Tomoko Ai) – who has been turned into a cyborg by her mad scientist dad – to control its circuitry. Again, Interpol is trying to stop the aliens while Godzilla battles with Mechagodzilla MK2 and one of the campest kaiju monsters of the Showa-era Titanosaurus, a pink-frilled aquatic dinosaur who uses its swishing tail to wreak destruction.

I have a soft spot for this final entry because the excellent production design (especially the alien’s base) reminded me of the early James Bond films and Thunderbirds. And as for Goro Mutsumi’s blue-shades wearing alien leader Akihiko Hirata’s crazed scientist – they are worthy of being in an Austin Powers movie. Great to see Honda back on board and Akira Ifukube composing another excellent score.

BONUS FEATURES
• HD digital transfers of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 US-release version of Godzilla; and the 1962 Japanese-release version of King Kong vs Godzilla (which is on disc 8)
• Audio commentaries from 2011 on Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters featuring film historian David Kalat
• International English-language dub tracks for Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs Megalon, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
• 1990 Directors Guild of Japan interview with director Ishiro Honda
• Featurettes on the creation of Godzilla’s special effects and unused effects sequences
• New interview with Alex Cox about his admiration for the Showa-era Godzilla films
• New and archival interviews with cast and crew members, including actors Bin Furuya, Tsugutoshi Komada, Haruo Nakajima, and Akira Takarada; composer Akira Ifukube; and effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with critic Tadao Sato from 2011
• Illustrated audio essay from 2011 about the real-life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
• New English subtitle translations
• Trailers

*** THE ILLUSTRATORS
Arthur Adams, Sophie Campbell, Becky Cloonan, Jorge Coelho, Geof Darrow, Simon Gane, Robert Goodin, Benjamin Marra, Monarobot, Takashi Okazaki, Angela Rizza, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, Katsuya Terada, Ronald Wimberly and Chris Wisnia

The Bloodhound | Creeping dread is at the dark heart of this stylish Poe-esque chiller

From Arrow Video in the UK comes first-time director Patrick Picard’s The Bloodhound – a stylishly atmospheric modern take on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.

Down on his luck, Francis (Liam Aiken) accepts an invitation to visit his childhood friend, Jean Paul (Joe Adler), a wealthy recluse living with his twin sister Vivian (Annalise Basso) in the family’s secluded modernist home. On his arrival, Francis discovers JP is suffering from a deep malaise, while Vivian refuses to come out of her room. JP is desperate to form an emotional connection with the homeless Francis, so he has his belongings sent to the house. He then tests Francis by exhibiting some very cruel behaviour. All the while, something strange is happening inside the house — but what has it to do with JP’s dream about the Bloodhound (a masked figure that has crawled its way inside a wardrobe)?

Creeping dread is the name of the game in this slow-burn chiller that not only draws on the spirit of Poe, but also touches on issues relevant in a Covid-pandemic world — like the effects of social isolation and loneliness on our mental health, and our quest for true and meaningful friendships. With Vivian locked away for most of the time, it’s essentially a two-hander that could easily be adapted for the stage.

While I loved the film’s mid-century modern colour palette and minimalist design, the big highlight was Joe Adler. Channelling Truman Capote (intentionally or not), he is mesmerising as the self-absorbed eccentric, bringing much depth and shade to the role. It’s worth checking this out just to watch him at work.

SPECIAL EXTRAS
• Audio commentary by director Patrick Picard and editor David Scorca
• Four experimental short films by director Patrick Picard
On the Trail of The Bloodhound (45min): Making-of featurette
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel

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