Author Archives: Peter Fuller
1932’s The Old Dark House is arguably director James Whale’s greatest cinematic feat, a macabre queer comedy disguised as a horror, delightfully acted (by lots of Brits abroad), and fused together with Whale’s stylistic, sardonic humour, well-knit scenario witty and insightful screenplay, and moody camerawork, lighting and production design. It is, quite possibly, the best British horror ever made – in Hollywood.
Taking its queues from JB Priestley’s 1927 novel, Benighted, and the ‘Old House’ chillers of stage and screen, Whale’s storm-driven adaptation finds five weary travellers becoming stranded at the ominous Welsh mansion of the reclusive and very strange Femm family, who are all quite possibly all insane. What follows is a wicked parody of the British class system, and one that features a performance from Ernest Thesiger that outshines even his iconic turn as Dr Pretorius in Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein a couple of years later.
Thesiger plays Horace Femm, a sniffy little man, who is probably wanted by the police (for crimes we can only imagine) and has seething contempt for everything and everyone. He owns the house along with his pious half-deaf sister Eva (beautifully played by Eva Moore), and their scenes together provide the film with its most memorable moments and best lines: like ‘Have a potato’ and ‘How reassuring’.
Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey play married socialite couple Margaret and Philip, while Melvyn Douglas is their playboy friend Roger. When a landslide forces them off the road, they seek shelter with the Femms; and are soon joined by Charles Laughton (making his screen debut and speaking his in native Yorkshire tongue) and Lilian Bond, who play the self-made businessman Sir William Porterhouse and chorus girl Gladys. But with no beds on offer, they are all forced to spend the evening huddle together around a fireplace after a frugal meal of roast, gravy and – yes- potatoes…
But it’s not long before the Femms skeletons starting coming out of the closet as the lights go out and the group are soon menaced by Boris Karloff’s mute butler Morgan, who hits the bottle and goes on a drunken rampage, which results in the release of Femm’s pyromaniac brother Saul (Brember Wills) from his locked attic room…
Whale’s shows off his perverse sense of humour through the stylistic, expressionistic camerawork (by Arthur Edeson, who also shot Frankenstein) in some very memorable scenes: like when Horace announces, ‘My sister was on the point of arranging these flowers’, then summarily throws them into the fireplace. Another is when Morgan makes his menacing entrance, and a particularly surreal funhouse mirror shot of Margaret and Rebecca, their features distorted in a vanity mirror. Then there’s the terrific trick shot of Morgan coming down the stairs only to reveal the hand on the banister is not his…
Packed to the rafters with morbid mirth and a sly wink at class and society, this is one of the most entertaining horror films of the 1930’s. The Masters of Cinema Series special dual format edition of James’s Whales’ queer comedy horror features a stunning 1080p presentation from the Cohen Media Group 4K restoration (with a progressive encode on the DVD), uncompressed LPCM audio (on the Blu-ray) and optional English subtitles; and includes a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Philip Kemp, archival material and previously unseen imagery and ephemera; and Limited Edition O-Card (first run only) featuring artwork by Graham Humphreys, created especially for the 2018 UK theatrical release. The special extras (below), however, are the icing on the cake, making this a must-have for any classic film collection…
• Meet the Femms This video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns is exceptionally executed, with loads of informative back stories on the production, cast and crew, super behind the scenes photos, incuding Whales’ own set designs, and I really enjoyed hearing actors Steven McNicoll and Angela Hardie voicing the various characters in Priestley’s novel, Benighted, as well as the author himself and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester.
• Daughter of Frankenstein Sara Karloff talks candidly about her father and his work on this production, and has a great story about how Boris and Charles Laughton did not see eye-to-eye.
• Curtis Harrington Saves The Old Dark House This archival interview has the late-director (who became a close friend of Whale’s) recalling his efforts in rescing the film from oblivion back in 1968. Please, someone, give this man a posthumous medal for doing this!
• Commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones This is a great listen, with some interesting bits of trivia like that fact that Karloff was dubbed, and Kim makes a very interesting link between the film’s structure (and its class-based ensemble) to disaster movies. This was made prior to Gloria Stuart’s death (aged 100) in 2010, as the duo talk about her in the present tense, and their comments are all based on viewing an inter-negative print.
• Commentary by Gloria Stuart This is absolutely riveting. Stuart is a joy to listen to and she provides huge amounts of personal insight (the film was a real high point in her acting career): admiring Whales’ sardonic humour, the uncomfortable shooting for the actors, her regrets at being a young 22 upstart making her second film who was unaware of Eva Moore’s pedigree (a suffragette, one of Edward VI’s favourites and the mother of Laurence Olivier’s first wife, Jill Esmond), and shedding light on some truths about why Karloff and Whale weren’t on friendly terms during the shoot.
• Commentary by James Whale biographer James Curtis This has lots of great insight into the film’s production, and I certainly learnt a few things. Did you know that Karloff’s mute butler Morgan became the model for the butler Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons? These were subsequently published as Drawn and Quartered, with a Foreward by Karloff and thus effectively the character became Lurch in The Addams Family. Curtis also examines the similarities and differences between Priestley’s novel and Whale’s screenplay – which makes for an interesting analysis.
With its enticing mix of black magic, bad science, vengeful ghost, murder, incest and voyeurism tied to a story inspired by Sheridan La Fanu’s Carmilla and the dark imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, 1973’s Death Smiles on a Murderer (aka La morte ha sorriso all’assassino) is a beguiling Italian Gothic horror that owes as much to its mesmerising musical score as it does to its surreal, dreamlike imagery. But its also a twisted supernatural puzzle that will leave most viewers (including myself) scratching their heads.
Set in early 1900s Austria, and told in flashback, it centres on the enigmatic Greta (played by Swedish startlet Ewa Aulin of Candy fame), who dies in childbirth by her lover, Dr von Ravensbrück (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) and is then reanimated by her hunchback brother Franz (Luciano Rossi). Killing Franz, who subjected her to years of sexual abuse, Greta inveigles her way into the home of Ravensbrück’s son Walter (Sergio Doria) and his wife Eva (Angelo Bo), where she uses her charisma and beauty to win their hearts before seeking her revenge…
Now that all sounds simple enough, but I haven’t mentioned all the other sub-plots taking place, including the very odd presence of Klaus Kinski, who plays a perverted physician experimenting on a secret formula to bring the dead back to life – who suddenly gets killed off mid-way through. Frankly, his scenes are a bit of an obstruction to the haunting tale which was co-written and lensed by its director, Aristide Massaccesi (aka Italy’s legendary horror and sleaze exponent, Joe D’Amato).
The surreal nature of the narrative might be disorientating, but Massaccesi uses that to effectively capture the dread and terror of his source material, and these all play out in scenes which reference Poe’s The Black Cat, The Cask of Amontillado, Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death, as well as La Fanu’s Carmilla.
Massaccesi also has great fun with the genre. Not only does he pay homage to Roger Corman’s Poe chillers (Walter’s attire is so Vincent Price), Hammer horror, and Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby Kill! (which also starred Giacamo Rossi Stuart); he adds in lots of softcore sex (more than Hammer were attempting at the time), hints of giallo and some pre-splatter OTT gore (just witness Franz’s very bloody, very long death scene where he gets his eyes gouged out by a cat). But what will haunt me forever is composer Bert Pisano’s hypnotic score, that’s mournful and playful in equal measures. I just can’t get it out of my head.
Arrow’s 2K restoration is simply gorgeous and contains an illuminating audio commentary from Tim Lucas, whose research and indepth knowledge really pays off, as he puts all the pieces of Massaccesi’s Gothic horror puzzle together with a shot-by-shot appreciation and analysis. The other must-sees are Kat Ellinger’s excellent video essay which covers the full breadth of the director’s work (and its truly mind-boggling how much he has done) and the 40minute-plus interview with Ewa Aulin. Thanks Arrow for another keeper…
• Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Italian and English soundtracks
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• D’Amato Smiles on Death: archival interview with the director
• All About Ewa: Newly-filmed interview with the Swedish star
• Smiling on the Taboo: Sex, Death and Transgression in the horror films of Joe D’Amato, new video essay by critic Kat Ellinger
• Original trailers
• Stills and collections gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by critic Stephen Thrower and film historian Roberto Curti
Time to reveal Graham Humphreys’ exclusive artwork for the Attack of the Adult Babies limited edition Blu-ray
Nucleus Films have released the stunning new artwork created exclusively by the legendary graphic artist Graham Humphreys for the slipcase 1-1000 numbered limited edition Blu-ray of Dominic Brunt’s Attack of the Adult Babies, which is being released nationwide on 11 June.
And, in further good news for genre fans, HMV will be racking the limited Edition Blu-ray in their “Special Edition range” in stores across the country.
Jake West, co-director of Nucleus Films, said today: “In a time where it’s increasingly difficult to release truly independent movies in physical formats, this is a real treat for film fans. As a movie collector myself, who enjoyed the thrills of the Video Nasty era, I loved the ritual of browsing through the racks and taking a chance on something because the cover art and title caught my eye.
We wanted to re-create the thrill of that era and what better artist could we ask to do that than Graham Humphreys – and what better film could there be than Dominic Brunt’s outrageous Attack of the Adult Babies!”
West’s partner at Nucleus Films, Marc Morris. added: “We’re very excited that HMV are really getting behind the release, giving fans of physical media a chance to pick up their copy in the real world!”
Graham Humphreys commentated: “I met Dominic Brunt at FrightFest some three or four years ago, where he mentioned the idea for the Adult Baby project, so it was a happy surprise to be asked to provide this slipcase cover for the Nucleus films release.
It’s always daunting working on an image with multiple elements, as a busy layout can be visually confusing. However, by focussing on key characters and using carefully considered colour palette, I hope I’ve managed some level of visual restraint. I’ve intentionally used ‘baby’ colours, pinks and pale blues, these contrast well with the dark red blood, capturing the creepy mix of the infantile and adult horrors.”
World premiered at FrightFest 2017, Attack of the Adult Babies has been described as disgusting, depraved, brave, bonkers, brilliant and quintessentially British in its humour and depravity…
The aftermath of a shocking home invasion forces three frightened family members to break into a remote country manor and steal Top Secret documents. Little do they know the stately pile is also the clandestine venue where a group of high-powered elderly men go to take refuge from the stresses and strains of daily life by dressing up in nappies and having a bevy of beautiful nurses indulging their every perverse nursery whim. Nor do they realise this grotesque assembly is compelled to refuel the world’s economy by very sinister, sick and monstrous means. As the bodily fluids hit the fan, the bloody carnage and freaky weirdness escalates.
Starring Sally Dexter, Charlie Chuck, Kate Coogan, Joanne Mitchell and Laurence Harvey, Attack of the Adult Babies is released on 11 June on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download and there is a special advance screening at Derby Quad, Friday 4 May, 7.45pm, with Dominic Brunt and Joanne Mitchell in attendance. A special London screening will be announced soon.
If you haven’t seen or heard of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 thriller The Passenger – then you are in for a treat thanks to the new Indicator Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films.
Alienation of man in the modern world and lost identities were key themes in the film canon of Michelangelo Antonioni, who was a master manipulator of the conventional narrative. Just witness his 1960s quartet, La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’avventura and il deserto rosso, and his hip cult hit Blow-Up.
After a dalliance with the American counterculture movement in 1970s Zabriskie Point, the Italian auteur returned to his favourite themes for The Passenger, his third film with producer Carlo Ponti. Unfortunately, it died a death at the box office and quickly went out of circulation for many decades, until a re-release back in 2005, which has resulted in a growing new appreciation for this hidden gem.
This is the first time that the film has been released on Blu-ray in the UK, and the re-master is a knockout! Now, I absolutely adore Antonioni’s eye for the visual. Every shot is framed with a painterly approach, and he really knows how to use landscape and architecture as character.
The Passenger is no exception. Just take a look at the above screen grab. This was taken from a scene shot in a specially-built hotel in the Almeria town of Vera (standing in for Osuna in the film). The way the light falls on the straight lines of the interior just makes me swoon. The art decoration is by Piero Poletto (who also worked on L’Eclisse and L’avventura), while the camerawork is courtesy of Lucian Tovoli, who’d famously go onto lens Dario Argento’s Suspiria two years later.
Tovoli makes great use of some stunning Spanish locations and especially some iconic modernist buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera and Parc Guell in Barcelona, and Patrick Hodgkinson’s modernist Brunswick Centre in London’s Bloomsbury (which had opened just a couple of years before the film was made).
But the stand-out scene is a seven-minute long tacking shot right at the end of the movie – and it is worth the wait as it was a major technical achievement at the time, that required the camera to move through a door barred with grates, then do a 180 degree turn and return back to the hotel interior. Of course, it could all be done with CGI today, but here Antonioni is at his most inventive and meticulous.
Typical of the director, the story is real head-spinner. Jack Nicholson plays world-weary journalist David Locke, who is making a documentary in Chad when he impulsively takes on the identity of a man called Robertson, whom he finds dead in his hotel room. He sees it as a chance to escape his old life and his wayward wife Rachel (The Final Programme‘s Jenny Runacre).
But he gets more than he bargained for when it turns out Robertson was a shady arms dealer and rashly takes a bundle of cash from gun-runners who want their merchandise. And Locke’s problems don’t stop there, as Rachel wants answers about his death and a cat and mouse situation ensues as Locke tries to flee the country aided by a young architecture student (Maria Schneider of Last Tango in Paris fame)…
This Blu-ray release of Antonioni’s arty road movie-cum-thriller is probably my favourite find of 2018 so far. It is also Jack Nicholson’s favourite film – so much so, he owns a personal print of the film.
Powerhouse Films’ Indicator UK Blu-ray release features a high definition remaster with the original mono audio and new and improved English subtitles, and the following special features…
• Alternative presentation: Italian Professione
• Audio commentary with actor Jack Nicholson (2006)
• Audio commentary with screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine (2006)
• Audio commentary with film historian Adrian Martin (2018)
• Jenny Runacre on The Passenger (2018, 15 mins)
• Steven Berkoff on The Passenger (2018, 11 mins)
• Profession Reporter (1975, 5 mins): archival interview with Michelangelo Antonioni at Cannes Film Festival
• Antonioni on Cinema (1975, 5 mins): the acclaimed filmmaker on his philosophy of cinema
• The Final Sequence (1985, 13 mins): Antonioni analyses the climactic sequence
• Original theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet with a new essay by Amy Simmons
Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 | Six of the best from the iconoclastic British artist collected and restored on Blu-ray
24 years have gone by since his death aged just 52, but the legacy of British filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) lives on, and his highly personal work has lost none of its relevance or impact. The BFI have now released the first of two deluxe limited edition box sets that bring together six of his feature films on Blu-ray for the first time.
In the Shadow of the Sun (1974), Jarman’s debut abstract short film is comprised of a series of Super 8 films and is provided with a soundtrack from music group Throbbing Gristle. Personally, it was thanks to this film that I started experimenting with my own short films, and turned me into a big fan of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil.
Sebastiane (1976), Jarman’s debut feature film, spoken entirely in Latin and featuring an ambient score from Brian Eno, is an homoerotic account of the life and martyrdom of Saint Sebastiane (Leonardo Treviglio), a Roman soldier who is exiled to a remote outpost where his commanding officer (Barney James) becomes obsessed by him.
Jubilee (1978) | Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre) is transported through time from 1578 to 1978 by her astrologer John Dee (Richard O’Brien), where she sees what has become of her once glorious kingdom where law and order has broken down. Adam Ant, Toyah Wilcox and Jordan co-star.
The Tempest (1979) | Jarman creates his own interpretation of Shakespeare’s final play. Abandoned on a remote island by his brother Antonio (Richard Warwick), Prospero (Heathcote Williams), the former Duke of Milan, engineers a shipwreck to bring Ferdinand (David Meyer) the Prince of Naples, and his daughter Miranda (Toyah Wilcox) together in a bid to restore peace between Milan and Naples.
The Angelic Conversation (1985), a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets are read by Judi Dench over atmospheric music by Coil and tableaux images of landscapes and people.
Caravaggio (1986) | A heavily stylised biopic of the Renaissance Italian painter Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) who falls in love with his muse, street thug, Ranuccio Thomasoni (Sean Bean).
Derek Jarman’s first six feature films have all been newly scanned at 2K from original film elements and are presented in this first box set alongside some incredible extras (listed below), all drawn from Jarman’s archive of workbooks and papers held in BFI Special Collections, plus a host of interviews with key cast, crew and friends, which have been exclusively produced for this release.
You can purchase Jarman – Volume One: 1972-1986 direct from the BFI bookshop or from Amazon and HMV (in the UK).
• Sebastiane: A Work in Progress (1975): newly remastered from 16mm film elements held by the BFI National Archive, this sadly incomplete early black and white work-print differs significantly from the finished film. This previously unseen alternate edit – assembled in a different order, featuring a different soundtrack – was never subtitled or released
• The Making of Sebastiane (Derek Jarman & Hugh Smith, 1975): previously unseen Super 8 footage shot on location in Sardinia
• Jazz Calendar (1968): a rarely screened documentary record of the 1968 ballet by Frederick Ashton, performed by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, for which Jarman designed sets and costumes
• Sloane Square: A Room of One’s Own (1974-76)
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers Sebastiane (2018)
• Message from the Temple (1981)
• TG: Psychic Rally in Heaven (1981)
• Pirate Tape (WS Burroughs Film) (1982)
• Toyah Willcox: Being Mad (2014)
• Jordan remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Lee Drysdale remembers Jubilee (2018)
• Stormy Weather: the Magic Behind The Tempest (2016): Toyah Willcox and Stuart Hopps share their memories of working on The Tempest
• John Scarlett-Davis remembers The Tempest (2018)
• Don Boyd remembers The Tempest (2018)
• A Meeting of Minds: Christopher Hobbs on collaborating with Derek Jarman (2018)
• Fragments of Memory: Christopher Hobbs on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• To the Cliffs: James Mackay on working with Derek Jarman (2007)
• Derek Jarman: The Films that Never Were (2018): A look back on unrealised Derek Jarman features, including Egyptian period drama Akhenaten and science fiction horror Neutron
• Akhenaten Image Gallery & Neutron storyboards
• Audio commentary for Caravaggio by cinematographer Gabriel Beristain
• Caravaggio in Docklands (1985)
• Kind Blasphemy: Nigel Terry on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Tilda Swinton on Derek Jarman and Caravaggio (2007)
• Italy of the Memory: Christopher Hobbs on Caravaggio (2007)
• Dexter Fletcher on Caravaggio (2014)
• Christopher Hobbs remembers Caravaggio (2018)
• Derek Jarman interviewed by Derek Malcolm (1986, audio only)
• In the Studio: Caravaggio soundtrack recording sessions (1986, audio only)
• Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio notebook (Gallery)
• Five galleries featuring storyboards, production designs and Jarman’s notes on Caravaggio
• Image galleries
• Original theatrical trailers for The Angelic Conversation and Caravaggio
• 80-page collector’s book
Here’s the specially commissioned poster artwork by Graham Humphreys, aka Britain’s Quadfather, to accompany the new 4k restoration release of James Whale’s chilling 1932 classic The Old Dark House, which will get a nationwide cinema release in the UK & Ireland.
This atmospheric thriller, which adapts novel Benighted into a nerve-jangling tale that became the template for all spooky-house chillers to come, features an unforgettable post-Frankenstein horror role for Boris Karloff, as the hulking, disfigured butler Morgan. Also starring in early-career roles are Melvin Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey and Gloria Stuart.
The Old Dark House lands in selected cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 27 April ahead of its dual format release on 21 May as part of Eureka!’s Masters of Cinema Series.
In the meantime, enjoy the brand-new trailer.
One of my favourite TV events growing up in the 1970s was Frankenstein: The True Story, the two-part tele-movie in which novelist Christopher Isherwood (and his artist partner Don Barchardy) put their own stamp on Mary Shelley’s Gothic creation. Lavishly shot in the UK, it featured a stunning cast, including James Mason, Jane Seymour, David McCallum and Leonard Whiting. Newcomer Michael Sarrazin played the Creature as we had never seen before – as a beautiful young man who is rejected by his creator when he starts to deteriorate before our very eyes…
When Second Sight brought out the original 176-minute cut on DVD in the UK back in 2014, I wrote a long post about this must-see modern classic – which got its biggest accolade recently when Guillermo del Toro revealed just how inspiring this take on the Frankenstein tale was for him personally.
Last year, however, an entire issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors (No38), guest edited by US producer/director Sam Irvin, covered every single aspect of the production – from conception to release. When I got hold of a copy a couple of months back, I poured over every page and read it about five or six times, taking it wherever I went… I’m now looking to get a second copy as I’ve worn the pages out on this one.
Entitled The Epic Untold Saga Behind Frankenstein: The True Story, this special issue of LSOH is a must-have as it is the last word on the production, as well as a revealing 50,000-word exposé on movie making in the 1970s – it also features a covetable cover from Mark Maddox.
Now, I had never heard of producer Hunt Stromberg Jr before (even though he worked on my favourite TV show, Lost in Space), but after reading Sam’s in-depth feature, I now have enormous respect for the guy who put his heart and soul, and blood, sweat and tears into bringing his creation to life.
Among the other tantalising chapters there’s interviews with many of the actors, including Leonard Whiting, Jane Seymour, David McCallum, Nicola Pagett and Julian Barnes, as well as David Boyce (aka the thug who ended up on the cutting room floor); and a great little piece by James Mason’s grandson, James Duke Mason.
There’s also informative features on Gil Mellé’s score and the various edits, and some interesting interviews with Ian Lewis (Associate Producer) and John Stoneman (First Assistant Director), and director Jack Smith’s son. Reading these recollections is like being put in a time machine and being sent back to the summer of 1971, when the film was being made, and Sam has certainly done his homework on the nitty gritty of the production – and then some.
Having read the Avon novelisation countless times myself, a huge plus was the inclusion of the missing pages (which I have now photocopied and inserted into my copy of the paperback tie-in), while Sam’s analysis of Isherwood and Bachardy’s screenplay sheds revealing light on just how they fused elements of their own selves into the major characters.
Sam’s must-read issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors is up for a Rondo (the Oscars of the Classic Horror community) and I do wish him luck, as well as all the other nominees who have been doing some amazing work within the genre over the past year.
If you’d like to cast your vote, please note it closes Sunday 8 April at 12midnight, so act fast: https://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/
UK fans can order a copy of Little Shoppe of Horrors (No38) through…
FAB Press: http://www.fabpress.com/little-shoppe-of-horrors-no-38.html
Hemlock Books: http://www.hemlockbooks.co.uk/Shop/category/4
If you are in the US, you can get it here: http://www.littleshoppeofhorrors.com/
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) | The Technicolor comic-strip adventure blasts off in HD
The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes.
In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William Buck Rogers,
are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life-support systems,
and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later…
Following the success of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, US TV producer Glen A Larson turned his attention to the iconic American comic-strip character Buck Rogers, which he developed into a big-budget TV series for Universal.
Actor Gil Gerard was handpicked by Larson to play Buck (now an astronaut instead of a World War One dirigible pilot), but Gerard only accepted the role after changes were made to make the character more human than hero, but with a witty sense of humour (which Gerard often improvised).
Assisting the hairy-chested Bond-esque hero in his ‘Dynasty meets The Love Boat in space’ adventures were Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gary), her boss Dr Elias Huer (Tim O’Connor), friendly robot Twiki (played by Felix Silla and voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc), and sentient computer, Dr Theopolis (voiced by Eric Server).
The show ran for two seasons from 1979-1981, earning itself a legion of fans and even caused the ratings for Doctor Who in the UK to plummet.
The first season saw Buck assisting Earth’s Defence Directorate with a range of external threats, which saw a host of guest stars (including a few from the 1960s Batman series) playing either that week’s villain or someone in need of Buck’s help (see them all below).
The second season found Buck, Wilma and Twiki joining an intergalactic mission to seek out the lost ‘tribes’ of humanity. Set aboard The Destroyer, they were joined by Admiral Efram Asimov (Jay Garner), scientist Dr Goodfellow (Wilfrid Hyde-White), alien Hawk (Thom Christopher) and prissy robot Crichton (voiced by Jeff David).
Following a stunning HD ‘Twiki’, the Technicolor disco-era sci-fi adventure is back and it looks and sounds better than ever. Boasting impressive sets and special effects (the spaceships, matt paintings and stargates all echoing the show’s comic book origins), and lots of big-hair, slinky outfits and sparkling lipgloss, as well as a great theme tune, this is one cult TV series that deserves a revisit. Let the adventures begin anew…
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films
DISC-BY-DISC EPISODE GUIDE
• Awakening: Awoken in the year 2491, Buck goes on trial, accused by being in league with Draconian Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her henchman Kane (Henry Silva). The feature-length opener was helmed by Daniel Haller, the former art director of the Corman-Price-Poe films.
• Planet of the Slave Girls: Jack Palance chews the scenery as a Messianic slave trader plotting to invade the Earth. This feature-length episode also has Buster Crabbe (aka the original Buck Rogers from the 1930s serials) making a cameo, as well as Roddy (Batman‘s Bookworm) McDowall and McDonald Carey (These Are The Damned).
• Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Theatrical version of the pilot episode in Standard Definition.
• Vegas in Space: A notorious smuggler (Cesar Romero, aka Batman‘s The Joker) seeks help in rescuing his ‘daughter’ from a crime boss (Richard Lynch).
• The Plot to Kill a City: Frank Gorshin (Batman‘s The Riddler) guests as the leader of a group of terrorists with unique abilities trying to sabotage New Chicago’s anti-matter power plant. Watch out for Anthony James (aka The Chauffeur in Burnt Offerings) as the deformed Varek.
• The Return of the Fighting 69th: A gang of oldies (led by Peter Graves) set out to stop the vengeful Corliss (Robert Quarry) from releasing a nerve gas.
• Unchained Woman: Buck springs a female inmate (Jamie Lee Curtis) from a penal colony, only to encounter a malfunctioning android prison guard.
• Planet of the Amazon Women: Jay Robinson (aka Dr Shrinker) guests a slave trader who auctions male prisoners off to the female population of the planet Xantia.
• Cosmic Wiz Kid: Gary ‘What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Willis?’ Coleman plays Hieronymous Fox, a child super-genius who gets kidnapped by Ray ‘Uncle Martin’ Walston.
• Escape from Wedded Bliss: Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her cronies, Tigerman (HB Haggerty) and Kane (now played by Michael Ansara) return with an alien weapon.
• Cruise Ship to the Stars: A beauty queen (Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten) is targeted by a transmute (Kimberly Beck and Trisha Boble) who is plotting to sell her genetics on the black market. Watch out for Return of the Fly‘s Brett Halsey as the Cruise Ship Captain. Tragically, Stratten was murdered eight months after this episode aired.
• Space Vampire: Buck and Wilma encounter a freighter crew infected by a mysterious virus. This week’s guest stars included Christopher Stone (aka Jaime Somers’ love interest in The Bionic Woman).
• Happy Birthday, Buck: Dr Huer finds an assassin is out to get him, while Buck turns bodyguard for a psychic (Dallas‘ Morgan Brittany). Blackploitation star Tamara ‘Cleopatra’ Dobson also guest stars.
• A Blast for Buck: Theo tries to solve a riddle in this clip show, which sees Gary Coleman back as Hieronymous Fox.
• Ardala Returns: The pesky princess and Kane create a clone of Buck.
• Twiki is Missing: John P Ryan (It’s Alive, Class of 1999) guests as a mining operator who sends out his psychic enforcers (including Dr Strange‘s Eddie Benton) to steal Twiki.
• Olympiad: US soap star Judith Chapman seeks Buck’s help to help her boyfriend defect from his repressive home world. This patriotic episode also guest starred Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ Paul Mantee.
• A Dream of Jennifer: A host of familiar names crop in this episode in which Buck is lured into a trap set by the warring Kovens, including Mary Woronov, Paul Koslo, Anne Lockhart and even Dennis Haysbert (who would go onto play an assortment of roles on the show).
• Space Rockers: Mind-altering music frequencies from popular band Andromeda are used to cause the galaxy’s youth to riot. Broadway star Jerry Orbach is the guest villain, and the funky song causing all the chaos was composed by Johnny Harris.
• Buck’s Duel to the Death: A ruthless warlord with a cybernetic implant (exploitation actor William Smith) challenges Buck.
• Flight of the War Witch: Princess Ardala is forced to help Buck go to the aid of the Pendarans, who are being ruled by an enemy race, the Zaads. Batman’s Julie Newmar is the War Witch, while other guest stars include Sam Jaffe, Vera Miles and Sid Haig. Available in two parts and as a feature-length episode.
• Time of the Hawk: Season Two sees Buck, Wilma and Twiki join the crew of The Searcher and provides a great introduction for new character, Hawk: a part-human/part-bird alien with links to Easter Island.
• Journey to the Oasis: This two-parter sees Star Trek‘s Mark Lenard guest starring as Wilma’s former love interest and an ambassador that The Searcher escorts to a peace conference.
• The Guardians: Buck must fulfill his promise to a dying man in taking a cursed box to its new keeper (Harry Townes). The Outer Limits‘ Control Voice Vic Perrin plays the original Guardian, Star Trek‘s BarBara Luna is Koori and Buck’s mum is The Partridge Family‘s Rosemary DeCamp.
• Mark of the Saurian: Reptilian beings in human form give Buck nightmares. The Leech Woman‘s Kim Hamilton and Coffy‘s Barry Cahill guest star.
• The Golden Man: An alien with molecular-altering powers is sought out in a bid to save the Searcher from being destroyed. Dukes of Hazzard‘s Bruce M Fischer, voice actor Roger Rose and Anthony James guest star.
• The Crystals: Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street) plays a young girl on the planet Philoctetes is discovered to have a genetic link with a marauding mummy.
• The Satyr: Buck starts turning into a mythological creature while searching for lost colonists on the planet Arcadis. This episode scored the show’s only Emmy (for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition) and was directed by Victor French (from Little House on the Prairie fame).
• Shgoratchx! Seven dwarves with telekinetic powers cause trouble and strife for the Searcher crew. Terror of Tiny Town‘s Billy Curtis and future Ewok Tony Cox guest star.
• The Hand of Goral: Buck, Hawk and Wilma find themselves on board a duplicate of the Searcher.
• Testimony of a Traitor: William Sylvester (Devil Doll, 2001: A Space Odyssey) guests as Buck goes on trial for high treason.
• The Dorian Secret: A Dorian warship threatens to destroy the Searcher unless a woman hiding a deadly secret be handed over to them. This was the final episode of the series.
• Journey to Oasis: This is the two-part syndicated version of another Daniel Haller-directed episode.
When a big black car roaming the desert highways of the American south-west terrorises the residents of Santa Ynez and knocks down and kills the local sheriff, it’s down to police captain Wade Parent (James Brolin) to stop the diabolic driverless car. But can Wade come up with a plan before it picks off more innocent lives, including those of his young family and schoolteacher girlfriend?
1982’s Christine is often seen as the cinema’s definitive demon-car movie, but I have real soft spot for 1977’s The Car – which I revisited last night after reading the review in Son of Unsung Horrors.
The cinema poster for this much-rided 1977 horror thriller asked patrons: ‘Is it a phantom, a demon, or the Devil Himself?’ Actually, it was just a big black car mowing down anyone in its path and kicking up lots of dust before turning into a fireball with a cartoon demon face appearing in the smoke.
With Jaws, Duel and The Exorcist all box-office hits in the 1970s, it must have looked like a great idea to fuse them altogether, with the Utah desert and a Lincoln Continental Mark III standing in for the ocean and a shark, plus some added spooky stuff and some rubber burning. Director Elliot Silverstein, who is better known for the 1965 comedy western Cat Ballou, keeps everyone straight-faced, despite the hokum concept, until the spectacular fireball finale.
Along the way, there’s some domestic drama to get lost in. Brolin (aka Mr Barbra Streisand) has to step up when his superior is mowed down. His girlfriend (Kathleen Lloyd – whatever happened to her?) is the local schoolteacher who succeeds in seeing off the car after it closes in on a party of schoolkids (including sisters Kim and Kyle Richards, who I remember from Nanny and the Professor and Disney’s Witch Mountain films, but who later found reality TV fame as the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Meanwhile, the always dependable Ronny ‘RoboCop‘ Cox is the alcoholic local deputy who falls off the wagon when the car rolls in.
John Landis calls the film ‘dumb but fun’, while Guillermo del Toro actually owns a replica of the car that was designed by the legendary George Barris, who also did the Batmobile for the 1966s TV series. With its stunning Panavision desert-scapes, a Planet of the Apes-inspired Leonard Rosenman score, featuring a reworked, orchestral version of the Dies irae Gregorian chant, and it even has a credit to Anton LeVey – how can you not love this Jaws on land offering? Well I certainly do, I even own the highly collectable paperback tie-in.
My copy of the The Car is the excellent 2013 Arrow Video Blu-ray release featuring a HD restoration, which comes with the following special features…
• Audio commentary with director Elliot Silverstein
• Making a Mechanical Monster featurette with special effects artist William Alridge
• Hitchhike to Hell featurette with actor/victim John Rubinstein
• Trailer commentary by John Landis
• Original Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Joe Wilson
• Collector’s booklet and an Easter Egg
Son of Unsung Horrors | Rediscovering the neglected genre films of yesterday has never been so much fun!
Just when you thought your bookshelf was safe comes Son of Unsung Horrors, a brand new exploration of some 200 neglected, overlooked, and seemingly under-appreciated genre films from the silents to the 1970s.
Gorgeously illustrated with vintage photos, lobby cards and posters and boasting a Foreward from John Landis and covetable cover art by Paul Garner, this 400-page tome joins Unsung Horrors and the über-collectable 70s Monster Memories as another must-have from We Belong Dead maestro Eric McNaughton.
Each film has been selected, appraised and held aloft by a host of film fans (from newbie writers to bloggers and published authors) and there are gems galore just waiting for your to rediscover.
Although listed in alphabetical order at the end of the book, Eric and co-editor extraordinaire Darrell Buxton have placed the titles at random. This ends up working to the book’s advantage – as you never know what fantastic find is lurking over the page.
Having seen quite a few of the titles myself, I immediately checked out all of the unfamiliar ones first – and there are some real doozies. There’s the suave Paul Naschy giallo Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll; the spellbinding Book of Stone (remade in 2009 as El Libro de Piedra); and the DH Lawrence-inspired Corruption of Chris Miller, which all hail from Spain.
Over in Italy, meanwhile, there’s the Copenhagen-set film noir Crimes of the Black Cat; the Franco Nero giallo The Fifth Cord, which teases a pulsating Morricone beat; and the Bergmanesque chiller The Long Night of the Veronique; plus there’s some other tasty Euro entries, including the oddball Death Laid an Egg and Jean Rollin’s Normandy-set love letter to expressionism Demoniacs.
Well-researched and written up with passion and style, these entries really got me very excited to seek them out. The same goes with the chapters about Jean Epstein’s 1928 classic La Chute de la Maison Usher and the Tower of the Seven Hunchbacks, a 1940’s comedy thriller with elements of Dali, Buñuel and Fritz Lang (now that I have to see).
Further afield, some Japanese flicks certainly piqued my interest, including the euro guro Horrors of Malformed Men (which I’ve known about – because of a single lurid photo in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, but never actually seen), the spectral spookfest Ghost Story of Kasane Swamp, and the freakish curiosity Blind Beast, based on a story by mystery writer Taro Hirai (aka Japan’s Edgar Allan Poe, Edogawa Rampo).
A little closer to home, 1928’s Maria Marten maybe impossible to see – but the history behind the true crime makes for fascinating reading. Then there’s the 1940s British suspensers The Ghost of Rashmon Hall and Crimes at the Dark House, the latter featuring Tod Slaughter at his madest, which I shall be checking out soon.
Of course, there are a few titles I won’t be in any rush to see (sorry, I’m not going to vent here), but there are some I’m now tracking down: namely the 1971 man versus insects docu-drama The Hellstrom Chronicle and the formerly-banned British public information film The Finishing Line, which puts a dystopian spin on a school sports day.
But the Unsung Horror that gets my vote as the book’s stand-out gem goes to the 1970 British thriller, I Start Counting, starring Jenny Agutter (in one of her first movie roles) as a 14-year-old girl who develops an unhealthy interest in a series of local sex killings. Boasting a terrific score from Basil Kirchin (I’ve since bought the Johnny Trunk album re-relase), I’ve got this one on the top of my list to seek out (see the link below).
Now, I’ve since gone back to the start of the book to read all those titles that I’m more familar with, and some have reignited my love for some genre classics, including Phase IV, The Power and – yes, Vincent Price’s Madhouse. Oh and talking of Vinnie, I’ve also contributed a chapter on the first cinematic adaptation of a HP Lovecraft story, 1964’s The Haunted Palace.
For your perusual, I have included a list of every film covered in the book below, plus links to the titles currently available to view on YouTube (although I do stress that to see them in all their glory to hunt down their officially licensed home entertainment release).
If you fancy reading my takes on some of these titles, then just click on the READ MORE links.
Island of Terror