Category Archives: Cult classic

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T (1953) | Dr Seuss’ musical fantasy is a wild wonder indeed

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T

Over half a century after its original cinema release, this surreal 1953 musical fantasy – conceived and part-written by noted children’s author Dr Seuss – remains one of the most bizarre children’s films ever committed to celluloid.

5000 Fingers of Dr T

Little Bart Collins (future Lassie star Tommy Rettig) would rather play baseball than practice his piano scales. Falling asleep, he enters a nightmarish world in which a sinister piano teacher, Dr Terwilliker (Hans Conreid in splendid sinister form), has hypnotised Bart’s mum (Mary Healey) into becoming his assistant (and future bride); imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians in his dungeon; and constructed a gigantic piano to force 500 boys (including Bart) to play his latest composition for all eternity.

Bart’s only chance to free both his mother, himself and the other boys is to convince friendly plumber Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) of Terwilliker’s maniacal plans…

5000 Fingers of Dr T

Although a flop at the box office, director Roy Rowland and producer Stanley Kramer’s bonkers film brilliantly captures the spirit of Dr Suess’ anarchic vision, especially in the fantastic production design featuring sets and matte paintings that look like an colourful mash up of weird Frank Gehry angles, Jean Cocteau fantasia, Fritz Lang expressionism and The Jetsons cartoon futurism.

The music, however, isn’t so memorable. 24 musical numbers were filmed, but 11 ended up being scrapped from the final cut (they were later included on a 2007 CD release). But despite the not-so-great music (except maybe the screwy Hypnotic Duel), this fantasy certainly deserves revisiting – and maybe one day, in right hands, even a musical stage adaptation.

5000 Fingers of Dr T

This limited edition dual format Powerhouse Films release (part of the Indicator series) presents a HD remaster of the film – for the first time in the UK – with the following special features:

• Audio commentary with film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton
Crazy Music: a 2017 interview with musician, singer and archivist Michael Feinstein on his obsession with the filme
Father Figure: a 2017 new interview with Steve Rowland, son of director Roy Rowland
• Karen Kramer introduction (2007)
Dr T. on Screen (2007): Cathy Lind Hayes, George Chakiris and others talk about the film
A Little Nightmare Music (2007): an examination of the film’s music score
• Original theatrical trailer
• Joe Dante trailer commentary (2013) WATCH BELOW
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Booklet with a new essay by Peter Conheim, and extracts from the original press kit, advertising and promotion guide

5000 Fingers of Dr T

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Shock Treatment (1981) | You’ll be jumping like a real live wire after seeing Arrow’s fan-bloody-tastic HD release of the cult musical

Shock Treatment (1981)

From Richard O’Brien, the writer and director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show comes not a sequel, not a prequel… but an equal – Shock Treatment, out in a limited edition HD release from Arrow Video.

Shock Treatment (1981)

This riotous, toe-tapping 1981 musical sees Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise) and Cliff De Young taking on the iconic roles of Rocky’s Brad and Janet Majors alongside Barry Humphries, Ruby Wax and a very young Rik Mayall, plus Rocky alumini Patricia Quinn, Charles Gray and Richard O’Brien.

Shock Treatment (1981)

Now leading a quite life in Denton, USA: The Mecca of America, The Bethlehem of the West, The birthplace of the virtuous and the home of happiness, Brad and Janet find their marriage put to the test when they take part in a hugely-popular TV show, only for Brad to end up being institutionalised on the TV station’s medical show while Janet becomes an overnight reality star. But what are the real motivations behind the kooky DTV crew and their enigmatic head-honcho, Farley Flavors?

Shock Treatment (1981)

Mental illness and mass consumerism are fair game in the hands of O’Brien director Jim Sharman, who use some eye-watering day-glo visuals and some witty songs (that certainly rival Rocky) to serve up their blackly comic attack on reality TV (and pre-dating The Truman Show by some 17 years to boot). Time to slip into a little black dress or some green hospital scrubs, grab some friends over and tune into all the crazy madness. Altogether now: ‘You need a bit of ooooh, Shock Treatment!’

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Arrow’s release comes in two designs – Cosmo and Nation (named after O’Brien and Quinn’s characters in the musical), and feature the following contents in each brightly coloured digipak, featuring artwork from Graham Humphreys. You’d better hurry and snap them up on Amazon because they’ve now sold out on Arrow’s own store.

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
• Isolated music and effects track
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Archive audio introduction by Richard O’Brien
• New audio commentary with actresses Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell
• Archive audio commentary by “Mad Man” Mike and Bill Brennan
• DTV Presents: A Shockumentary – retrospective making-of featurette
• Let’s Rock ‘n Roll: Shock Treatment’s Super Score – archive featurette on the music of Shocky
• The Rocky Horror Treatment – vintage behind-the-scenes documentary
• Patricia Quinn in Conversation with Mark Kermode
• Fan featurettes & cover songs
• Promo gallery featuring trailers, radio spot and stills
• Collector’s booklet
• Set of exclusive Shock Treatment Mix ‘n’ Match Cards
• Exclusive double-sided “D-E-N-T-O-N” poster
• Complete Soundtrack CD

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Ray Harryhausen’s legendary Sinbad adventures restored and on Blu-ray in the UK for the very first time!

The Sinbad Trilogy on Blu-ray

 

The 7th Voyage of SinbadTHE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Nathan Juran, 1958)
The film for which director Nathan Juran (who also did TV’s Lost in Space and Land of the Giants amongst others) will be remembered and a huge box office smash at the time of its cinema release. Kerwin Matthews takes the title role as the fearless Sinbad who sails into troubled waters to save a princess (Kathryn Grant) cursed by an evil magician (played with gleeful menace by Torin Thatcher) who wants to get his hands on a magic lamp and its genie. But the real stars of this rousing Arabian Nights adventure are, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop motion animated monsters, most notably his glowering Cyclops and chained dragon. Believe it or not, the scene involving the sword-fighting skeleton warrior was originally cut by the British censors as being too frightening! How times have changed.

The Golden Voyage of SinbadTHE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (Gordon Hessler, 1973)
Ray Harryhausen pulls out more Dynamation magic for this second Sinbad adventure which sees John Phillip Law’s seafarer battle a one-eyed centaur, a six-armed sword-wielding Kali idol, a gryphon, and a homunculus as he seeks out the fabled Fountain of Destiny to restore the disfigured face of the Grand Vizier of Marabia (Douglas Wilmer). Phillip Law might look the part, but he makes for a rather dull hero, while an eye-catching Caroline Munro is in desperate need of more dialogue (and where does a runaway slave get so many snazzy outfits from?). Tom Baker, however, chews the scenery in true pantomime villain style, and it was on the back of his performance that he landed the Doctor Who gig – and changed his life forever.

Sinbad and the Eye of the TigerSINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (Sam Wanamaker, 1977)
Sinbad’s escapades get a colourful (well it is the 1970s) injection in this final Arabian Nights adventure starring Patrick Wayne (son of John) who along with Jane Seymour’s Princess Farah take on an army of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects creatures in their attempt to undo the spell on the princess’ brother (Damien Thomas), who has been turned into a baboon by Margaret Whiting’s sorceress, Zenobia. Harryhausen is at the top of his game here – his three ghouls, troglodyte and robotic bronze Minoton (played by an uncredited Peter Mayhew in the close-ups) being the stand-out. And while the saber-toothed tiger might look more cuddly than fierce, its the back-projection work employed in the location scenes at Petra in Jordan and the Hyperborea-set climax that really let the team down.

These classic adventures are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK  and they look terrific (check out my comments below). Plus, you’ve got some exclusive interviews with Tom Baker, Caroline Munro and Jane Seymour, as well as some super archival interviews with Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer and loads more.

Order now: http://www.powerhousefilms.co.uk/product/the-sinbad-trilogy-dfe

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• New 4K restoration of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad from the original camera negative (absolutely loved this restoration, especially the sound which brings Bernard Herrmann’s score to the fore).
• 2K restorations of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (this one has grain problems in the low-light shots and night-time scenes) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger from the original camera negatives (also a little grain in the night-time shots, but otherwise an excellent transfer – despite the inherent production flaws).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen
• Previously unreleased audio interviews with Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles H Schneer
• New interviews with actors Tom Baker (his Catholic indoctrination story had been me in stitches), Caroline Munro (who thought John Phillip Law was a dreamboat) and Jane Seymour (who never got to any of the exotic locations used in the film hence the terrible back projection)
• New interview with SFX maestro Phil Tippett
• Original Super 8 cut-down versions (these are a real treat, despite having no sound)
• Archival documentaries (all of them fascinating), interviews and featurettes (loved the Trailers from Hell one with Brian Trenchard-Smith on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and one on Bernard Herrmann)
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated scores by Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and Roy Budd
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Box set exclusive 80-page book with new essays, and film credits

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The Amityville Horror (1979) | For God’s Sake, Get It On Blu-ray!

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Based on an allegedly real-life paranormal encounter experienced by George and Kathleen Lutz in the mid-1970s, AIP’s The Amityville Horror scared the willies out of me when I saw it on the big screen back in 1979. And after all these years, the seminal shocker remains a thrilling exercise in suspense thanks to Stuart Rosenberg’s masterful direction, the top production values, a chilling Lalo Schifrin score, and some great performances.

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James Brolin and Margot Kidder play the fraught couple who, along with Kathy’s three kids, buy a beautiful Long Island home, but they know nothing about the murders that took place there several years earlier.

And it’s not long before some inexplicable events start happening: Rod Steiger’s visiting priest turns into a sweaty nervous wreck when he’s bugged by a swarm of flies; the babysitter gets locked in a cupboard; and the Lutz’s little daughter gets herself an imaginary friend who turns malevolent.

Plus, there’s those spooky windows glowering like devil eyes, a vomiting nun, and James Brolin getting more mad-eyed, weird and sweaty while out chopping wood… Oh! and then there’s bubbling goo… Add some lightning and thunder and the family fleeing for their lives and you’ve got yourself the perfect scarefest.

The Amityville Horror (1979 film)

Along with Burnt Offerings, Poltergeist and The Shining, The Amityville Horror is haunted house horror at its chilling best. So this new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is welcome addition to my cult film collection; while the bonus features are just the icing on the cake.

Check them out here:
• Brolin Thunder: Interview with actor James Brolin (his comments on The Car made me roar with laughter)
• Child’s Play: Interview with actor Meeno Peluce
• Amityville Scribe: Interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern
• The Devil’s Music: Interview with composer Lalo Schifrin
• My Amityville Horror: Feature-length documentary with Daniel Lutz
• For God’s Sake, Get Out: Featuring James Brolin and Margot Kidder
• Intro by Dr. Hans Holzer, PhD. in parapsychology (author of ‘Murder in Amityville’)
• Audio commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer
• Original trailer, TV spot, radio spots
• Four reproduction lobby card postcards (SteelBook Exclusive)
• New optional English subtitles

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Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) | Rediscover Ulli Lommel’s disturbing German serial killer satire

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

From Arrow Video comes the rarely seen early-1970s German serial killer drama, loosely based on the true story of Fritz Haarmann, aka the Butcher of Hanover. Produced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by Ulli Lommel, Tenderness of the Wolves was originally released on 29 June 1973, and became available on Blu-ray and DVD following a restoration by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation in November 2015.

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

Haarmann was responsible for the murders of 24 boys and young men during the so-called ‘years of crisis’ between the two world wars in the Lower Saxony capital before being executed by the guillotine in 1925. His grisly case partly inspired Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M (starring Peter Lorre) as well as this near-forgotten gem from 1973, which I have been searching for ever since I read about it an issue of Stephen Thrower’s Eyeball magazine back in 1998.

In a supremely understated performance, a shaven-headed Kurt Raab makes his perverted boy killer a repellent, yet fascinating and (at times) sympathetic figure. He’s also one of cinemas most human monsters. Using his status as a police informant to procure his young victims – mostly runaways and street vagrants, the former petty thief dismembers their bodies, then sells their flesh on the black market to his friends and neighbours.

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While uneasy to watch, Ulli Lommel’s film expertly utilises the true crime thriller genre to let a disturbing socio-political commentary on how poverty creates a climate of indifference to rear its satirical head.

The film’s real horror, meanwhile, is not in the killings (although they are made all the more frightening because they are alluded to rather than shown), but in the in-actions of those who support and nurture a vile creature like Haarman: including the police, his neighbours and lowlife friends (who dare not cast the first stone in case their own darkness comes to light).

And this horror is presented in two chilling scenes: when a store-owner laughs off Haarman eyeing up her young son (knowing full well what he does to them); while another, barely 10, accosts him for sexual favours, but is never seen again after knocking on his door…

Tenderness of the Wolves (1973)

THE 2015 ARROW VIDEO RELEASE
• New high definition digital transfer on Blu-ray DVD, with original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 sound, and newly translated optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary, interview and introduction by director Ulli Lommel
Photographing Fritz: interview with director of photography Jürgen Jürges
Haarmann’s Victim Talks: interview with actor Rainer Will
• An appreciation by Stephen Thrower
• Gallery
• Trailer (in HD)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by the Twins of Evil
• Collector’s booklet

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Diabolique (1955) | The Criterion Collection releases the mother of all shockers in HD

Diabolique (1955)

Director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 French thriller Les Diaboliques (shortened to Diabolique in this Criterion Collection release) without doubt one of the finest whodunits ever made in the history of cinema and regarded by critics and fans alike as Europe’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (released five years later). It is, in my books, the mother of all shockers!

Véra Clouzot (the director’s wife) plays Cristiana (aka Cri Cri), the much put-upon wife of a sadistic boarding school head Michel (Paul Meurisse), who is coerced by his mistress Nicole (a tough, forbidding Simone Signoret in one of her best ever roles) into killing him and dumping his body in the school’s swimming pool. But when the pool is later drained, there’s no body and so the mystery begins.

Armed with a hotel key, found on the suit Michel was wearing the night he was killed, Christina begins her own investigation. But she, and Nicole, haven’t countered on the tenacity of a retired detective (Charles Vane) who is determined to prove he’s still got what it takes to solve the crime.

Diabolique (1955)

Even 60+ years after its initial release, this haunting thriller has never lost its potency, nor its ability to shock, thanks to a suspenseful script, carefully constructed pacing and the well-developed lead characters. Christina is so religious that she feels damned by her actions, yet Nicole is her polar opposite. Does she feel some affinity with Christina’s plight or is she preying on Christina’s weaknesses? Watching these two characters play off each other is what makes this film so unforgettable.

Diabolique (1955)

My favourite scenes are when Nicole and Christina put their murderous plan into action. I found myself watching their every move, hoping and praying nothing goes wrong. But of course it does, and – thanks to Clouzot’s eye – we, the audience, become complicit in the women’s actions.

Watch carefully and you will find that water features heavily throughout. The dripping tap, the highly decorative bath and the swimming pool are all symbols of death, best illustrated by a close-up of the bath drain (which Hitchcock would make his own in Psycho) and the emptying of the pool. So potent an image is the pool that it makes me wonder how many other films turn a swimming pool into a character itself.

Diabolique (1955)

Diabolique is a heart-grabbing benchmark in horror film-making and is a must-have for all world cinema fans. Back in 2011, a dual format UK release from Arrow Academy featured a HD transfer of the film from a new restoration of the original negative. Now, The Criterion Collection has released a UK Blu-ray version featuring the same digital restoration and the following special features…

• Uncompressed monaural soundtrack
• Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
• New video introduction by Serge Bromberg, codirector of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Inferno
• New video interview with novelist and film critic Kim Newman
• Original theatrical trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty

 

 

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Phenomena (1985) | The definitive release of Dario Argento’s cult horror with a new 4k restoration

Phenomena (1985)

Before gaining fame battling David Bowie’s bewigged King Jareth in 1986’s Labyrinth, a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly starred in Dario Argento’s bizarre and eccentric horror Phenomena.

Sent to a posh Swiss boarding school by her absent film star dad, Jennifer Corvino (Connelly) learns of a serial killer targeting young girls in the area. With the help of Donald Pleasence’s wheelchair-bound entomologist, Jennifer discovers she has special psychic powers and a natural affinity with insects. She then uses these skills to track down the killer.

This being an Argento film, much mayhem ensues with lashings of grisly decapitations and stabbings, swarms of insects, a razor-wielding chimp and that classic horror staple – a monster in the basement.

Phenomena (1985)

Argento’s cameras really soar to great heights here. Taking his cameras out of Rome’s studios for a change, he really goes to town on the beautiful Swiss landscapes (the film was shot around Appenzell and Canton St Gallen). Watching Arrow’s new 4k restoration on blu-ray is a real treat watching on a big screen as you find yourself yourself flying high above the alpines, like one of the winged beasties buzzing about.

As with all Argento films, music plays a huge role, from the incongruous (Iron Maiden’s Flash of the Blade bellowing out during one death scene really spoils the atmosphere) to the sublime, courtesy of Goblin of course (the scene in which Jennifer is led to the killer’s glove by a firefly is truly haunting). After Profundo Rosso and Suspiria, this is one of band’s best-ever Argento scores.

Phenomena (1985)

To be honest, I was never a big fan of Phenomena when I first saw it on VHS back in the late-1980s, as it was such a big departure from Argento’s previous supernatural shockers. But it is actually much better than I remembered.  In fact, I now ‘get’ what Argento was aiming for – a modern-day Grimm’s fairytale, with just a dash of surreal slash and gore. It’s not perfect, but it’s brutally beautiful work of cinematic art just the same – and probably Argento’s last truly great film.

Back in 2011 Arrow released a box-set containing a superb HD transfer of the Italian cut featuring some missing English audio sections, along with a ‘making of’ documentary, an interview with composer with Claudio Simonetti, and a Q&A with special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti. Now they have set their sights on creating the definitive home entertainment release – and if you look at what’s in the box, it just well maybe so.

Phenomena (1985)LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:

DISC 1
• Brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative (Arrow Video exclusive) of the 116-minute Italian version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
• New hybrid English/Italian soundtrack 5.1 Surround/or Stereo with English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
• Jennifer music video, directed by Dario Argento
• Rare Japanese vintage pressbook

DISC 2
• 110-minute international version in High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
The Three Sarcophagi: a new visual essay by Michael Mackenzie comparing the different cuts of Phenomena

DISC 3
• 83-minute Creepers cut on High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
Of Flies and Maggots: feature-length documentary (March 2017) including interviews with Dario Argento, actors Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta, Daria Nicolodi and Fiorenza Tessari, co-writer Franco Ferrini, cinematographer Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, assistant director Michele Soavi, special optical effects artist Luigi Cozzi, special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti

PLUS:
• Remastered soundtrack CD featuring the complete Goblin instrumental soundtrack, plus four bonus tracks by Simon Boswell and Andi Sex Gang
• Limited edition 60-page booklet

 

 

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Fright Night (1985) | This 4k HD release of the cult horror comedy is ‘So cool!’

Fright Night (1985)

The iconic 1980s horror Fright Night is out in a dual-format special edition from Eureka Classics in the UK featuring a 4k digital restoration of the film and a coffin load of bonus material (check them out below). And the best news? It’s currently available on Amazon for just 8 quid (while the Limited Edition Steelbook is fetching £69.99).

Fright Night (1985)

This 1985 vampire movie certainly has plenty of bite – but also strikes the perfect balance of blood and guts horror and darkly comic humour. And alongside the same year’s, The Return of the Living Dead, it remains one of my personal favourites that I return to time and again.

If you love being scared, it’ll be the night of your life…
No-one will believe teenager Charley (William Ragsdale) when he tells them that a vampire called Jerry (Chris Sarandon) has moved into the house next door and is seducing and murdering young maidens there. He then turns to TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help. Lured by a $500 incentive by Charley’s girlfriend (Amanda Bearse), who happens to look like Jerry’s long-lost love, the one-time Great Vampire Killer discovers that Jerry is indeed a vampire as he casts no reflection in a glass – and so the deadly games begin…

Sarandon is every inch the smoothie-savage bloodsucker, while Stephen Geoffreys steals every scene he’s in as Charley’s bestie turned beastie ‘Evil Ed’. But the real star of this late night horror show is Roddy McDowall, whose character name is made up of two iconic horror actors – Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Alongside his turns in the Planet of the Apes films, this must rank as one of his career-best turns.

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Fright Night SteelbookSPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K digital restoration, with original stereo PCM soundtrack and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options, plus English subtitles
You’re So Cool, Brewster! Exclusive to this release, a two-hour version of the 2016 documentary on the making of Fright Night.
What is Fright Night? 2016 video piece featuring cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
Tom Holland: Writing Horror, a 2016 video piece featuring interviews with Holland and his collaborators (BLU-RAY ONLY)
Rowdy McDowall: From Apes to Bats, a 2016 video piece featuring archival footage of McDowall and cast and crew interviews (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Fear Fest 2 2008 reunion panel featuring Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark and moderated by Rob Galluzzo (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Shock Till You Drop Present Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek, a three-part video interview on the film (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• The full electronic press kit, featuring extensive on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Stills and memorabilia from Tom Holland’s personal collection (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailers (BLU-RAY ONLY)
• Collector’s booklet (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE)

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Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (1959) | A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)REVIEWED BY ALAN HOARE
The week’s big screen movie was a premier of Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (original Italian title: Caltiki, il Mostro Immortale, British title: The Immortal Monster) a 1959 Italian science fiction-horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava, which neither Chris or I had seen before.

A team of archaeologists investigating Mayan ruins who come across a creature that is a shapeless, amorphous blob. Meanwhile, a comet is due to pass close to the Earth, the very same comet that passed near the Earth at the time the Mayan civilization collapsed, raising the question: “Is there a connection between the creature and the comet”?

* John Merivale as Dr. John Fielding
* Didi Perego as Ellen Fielding
* Gérard Herter as Max Gunther
* Daniela Rocca as Linda
* Giacomo Rossi-Stuart as Prof. Rodriguez’s assistant
* Daniele Vargas as Bob (expedition member)
* Vittorio André as Prof. Rodriguez
* Nerio Bernardi as Police inspector
* Arturo Dominici as Nieto (expedition member)

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

[WARNING: The following contains spoilers]

The opening narration tells us about the achievements of the Mayan civilisation and their unknown demise leaving their city empty and abandoned. We then see a delirious, worse for wear, man stumble from the ruins of the Mayan city and into his group’s camp (without his partner, both of whom have been exploring a nearby cave). He quickly babbles away madly, repeatedly muttering the word Caltiki. The group sets out for the cave to investigate what happened.

Upon entering the cave they find a huge chamber containing a deep pool of water, behind which on a stone pedestal is a large statue of Caltiki, the vengeful Mayan goddess who was ceremonially presented with human sacrifices.

Puzzled by the pool, they quickly decide to send a man with “full immersion gear” (in other words a diver) to investigate. Descending to the bottom, he finds the sandy bed scattered with Mayan skeletons clad in gold jewelry. Excitedly he surfaces clutching as much gold as he can carry. Although the group advises that he not go down again, he insists that he has plenty of air and suggests that they could all become millionaires from the wealth below. Relenting, they let him descend once more.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

As he greedily collects more and more treasure he inadvertently disturbs something and his cable to the surface suddenly begins to move erratically. Fearing for his safety, the group pull him back to the surface, only to find, upon removing his face mask, that his face has been reduced to a decayed mass over his skeleton.

Moments later, a shapeless pulsating creature rears up from the pool, attempting to envelop anyone within reach. Max is caught by the arm but is rescued by John who chops off part of the creature with an axe, freeing Max’s arm.

As the team escapes, the shapeless mass begins to crawl out of the cave. Nearby, there is a tanker truck full of gasoline. John drives the truck directly into the creature , causing a violent explosion which sets fire to the blob, destroying it.

The team returns to Mexico City to take Max to a hospital to treat the small piece of the creature on his arm, which is slowly digesting him. The surgeons carefully remove the creature, wrapping it up. They find that Max’s arm is nothing more than a few moist scraps of flesh connected to the underlying bones and that Max’s face is also begging to deteriorate.

Through experimentation the scientists discover that sample of the creature is a unicellular bacterium that appears to be dead, only to revive and quickly grow when bombarded with radiation. Overnight the janitor inadvertently irradiates the creature which quickly grows, but is destroyed when the laboratory accidentally catches fire.

Investigating the origins of the creature they learn of a comet emitting radiation, which crosses Earth’s path only once in every 850 years, was in the earths orbit at the demise of the Mayan civilisation and now is approaching earth again. Unfortunately, the remaining samples of the creature are stored in the home of Dr. John Fielding. At the comet’s closest approach to Earth, the remaining piece of the blob begins expanding to an enormous size and reproducing. At the same time the deranged Max has escaped hospital and is terrorising Ellen Fielding.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

While attempting to convince the Mexican government to send its army to destroy the reproducing blobs, Fielding is arrested for speeding but manages to escape. A colleague finally convinces the authorities to sound an alarm because if the creature multiples it will be beyond even their ability to control.

The government sends a regiment of soldiers equipped with high powered flamethrowers to Dr. Fielding’s home. Upon their arrival, they find that the creatures have multiplied and have overrun the house and grounds. Dr. Fielding’s wife and child have been forced to hide on a second-floor window ledge to escape being devoured. Fielding arrives just in time to save them, just as the soldiers lay waste to the creatures with torrents of fire.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

ALAN’S VERDICT
A very enjoyable Italian take on the monster movie, that takes The Quatermass Xperiment as it’s basis, but goes well beyond this with graphic realistically detailed gore and a simply, but marvellously realised creature deigned by Mario Bava, which looks like old towels were utilised to incredible effect. Indeed there are elements of found footage genre and possibly the genesis of David Cronenberg’s body horror sub genre

Special mention must be made of Mario Bava’s excellent use of glass matte painting for the Mayan village were live action is skilfully mixed to strengthen the illusion of the painting, when the mystery man stumbles from the city and then walks directly in front of the painting. The use of sets combined with models is well handled and as realism to the film.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959)

Allegedly, director Riccardo Freda was angered by the way the producers had treated his cinematographer, Mario Bava, on their previous film, I Vampiri. So Freda concocted a way to push Bava into the director’s chair of his next film, Caltiki, The Immortal Monster; he left the project early once Bava had been hired again as the film’s cinematographer. Freda felt that this would lead producer Lionello Santi into recognizing Bava’s talents as a film director. Bava described Caltiki, The Immortal Monster as “my very first film” while noting that Freda had fled the set “because everything was falling to pieces. I managed to carry it out, patching it up here and there”.

Arrow’s Blu-ray release of this long unavailable masterpiece is a wonder to behold. The black and white photography is crisp and detailed whilst still retaining a suitable filmic look. There is the option of English or Italian language, two audio commentaries and several documentaries.

A true five-star release of an important film in Italian horror cinema.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
• Audio commentary by Italian Giallo cinema author Troy Howarth
• From Quatermass to Caltiki: a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master: an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki: archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti

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Cul-de-sac (1966) | When Roman Polanski went rogue on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – and won!

cul-de-sac

Plagued with production problems, director Roman Polanski’s 1966 black comedy Cul-de-sac should never have worked – but it did and remains a critical high-point of his early career. Having won plaudits and good box-office receipts for his first British-backed film, the psychological horror Repulsion (starring France’s new star Catherine Deneuve), Polanski was given free reign for his follow-up which is now available in a restored HD transfer edition as part of The Criterion Collection.

Cul de sac

Set on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coastline, Polanski fashioned a morbidly absurdist bourgeois-baiting tale with his long-time collaborator Gérard Brach.

Happening upon an castle on the coastline, wounded American gangster Richard (Lionel Stander) and his gravely ill accomplice Albert (Jack MacGowran) decide it an ideal hide and so take hostage its owners – retired businessman George (Donald Pleasence) and his restless French wife Teresa (Françoise Dorleac).

But the claustrophobic setting and long wait for help to arrive sets in motion increasingly disturbing games involving sexual and emotional humiliation between captor and couple that escalates into terrible violence…

Cul de sac

When Cul-de-sac was released in the UK in 1966 (check out the premiere clip below), audiences really didn’t take to the film (probably on account it was too bleak and not the psychological horror that they had hoped). But when it then won the Golden Bear at the 16th Berlin International Film Festival, it quickly gained a new appreciation – and so it should.

Cul de sac

From its outset, Polanski had faith in bringing his bleak comedy of manners to the big-screen and against the odds and by going rogue he achieved it.

A typically British summer (rain, snow and storms) and the wrong tides held up shooting, while method actors Stander and Pleasence caused ructions on set, and Polanski was accused of driving his cast and crew to exhaustion, hypothermia (MacGowran) and near death (Dorleac almost drowned) in order to finish the film to his exacting standards. Even the locals began to resent Polanski and co’s presence (especially in the local pubs).

Meanwhile, the film’s fed-up backers (Compton Films’ Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger) eventually shut down production after it overrun its budget– but not before Polanski had the film’s powerful 8-minute one-shot climax involving a Tiger Moth plane in the can.

Cul de sac

Donald Pleasence is in his element as the dotty fed-up George, and his performance ranks as one of his best (alongside his alcoholic doctor in 1971’s Wake in Fright). Françoise Dorleac is also perfectly cast (also at the last minute) as the hippy-like Teresa – and her character is the total anti-thesis of her sister Catherine Deneuve’s sexually repressive character in Repulsion. Then there’s the gravel-voiced Lionel Stander (who’d go onto play Max in TV’s Hart to Hart), who is outstandingly repellent as the chief thug. Tragically, Dorleac died in a car accident a year after appearing in the film.

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The other star of the film is Holy Island and the surrounding landscape, made luminous by Gilbert Taylor’s stark black-and-white photography – and the inclement weather (those skies are divine, especially when shot day for night).

And alongside the rich visuals is Krzysztof Komeda’s jaunty score that lends the film a sense of carnival and menace, two elements that are that the heart of this caustic satire (which would look terrific if it were adapted for the stage like Polanski’s follow-up film, Dance of the Vampires). Watch for Jacqueline (billed as Jackie) Bisset, briefly on screen in one of her earliest roles.

THE CRITERION COLLECTION RELEASE
• Restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Roman Polanski, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Two Gangsters and an Island: the 23-minute 2003 Blue Underground documentary (23min) about the making of the film, featuring interviews with Polanski, producers Gene Gutowski and Tony Tenser, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. Also participating are production designer Voyek, continuity Dee Vaughn and actor William Franklyn
• Archive TV interview with Polanski from 1967 (this is a fascinating insight into the young director’s cinematic vision about alienation, sex and his genuine dislike for the bourgeoisie)
• Theatrical trailers
• Plus, booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thompson

 

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