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She Freak (1967) | Roll up! The exploitation carny classic gets its UK 4K restoration release from 101 Films

PLEASE DO NOT FEED OR TEASE THE CREATURE’
Waitress Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen) sees her fortunes rise when she joins a travelling carnival and freakshow and marries its owner Steve St John (Bill McKinney). When he dies at the hands of her roughneck lover Blackie (Lee Raymond), she abuses her newfound position and earns the wrath of Shorty (Felix Silla) and his fellow freaks who turn her into one of their kind.

This sleazy 1967 reworking of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic Freaks is an absolute hoot from beginning to end (which re-stages Browning’s original climax). It’s also a love letter to the carnival lifestyle of the period by exploitation producer David F Friedman (himself a long-time carny) thanks to the real-life footage of the West Coast Shows carnival shot at the Kern County Fair in Bakersfield, California, which intersperses the ‘drama’.

I first learned of She Freak from Michael Weldon’s seminal 1989 tome The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film which had a picture of Claire Brennan as Jade and the hideous ‘Snake Girl’. Yes, the make-up (by Harry Thomas who worked on Frankenstein’s Daughter and Navy vs. the Night Monsters) is hokey, but it just so works in this trashy weirdo classic.

If you are a fan of either Nightmare Alley (1947) or Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), then you will get a real kick out of this as there are a couple of nods to those classics. There’s also a blink or you’ll miss it shot of the mummified body of real-life US train and bank robber Elmer J McCurdy, which was used as a prop. Plus, there’s the legend that is Felix Silla, who got the part when the original choice, Angelo Rossitto, had to bail as he had other commitments.

I originally saw She Freak on VHS as a Something Weird Video release I picked up in New York back in the 1990s, but this new 4K restoration by the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) is simply amazing! The colours are so vivid, just like the candy floss or slushies you used to get at carnival and circus shows of the past (where the E-numbers were dialled up to 100).

But I also so enjoyed the extras included in 101 Films release, especially Friedman’s archival commentary (he passed in 2011) – which is the last word on this production – and the feature-length trailers (which were included on my original VHS but are now all spruced up).

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative
• Archival commentary with producer David F. Friedman and Something Weird founder
Mike Vraney
Asylum of the Insane: She Freak inserts preserved in 2K
The Laughing, Leering, Lampooning Lures of David F. Friedman (97:20): a compilation of trailers from the Something Weird vaults, newly preserved in 2K
• Vintage shorts from the carnival midway
• Promotional photo gallery
• Booklet with essay by Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci
• Reversible cover artwork

ORDER DIRECT FROM 101 FILMS

Jeepers Creepers | BEATNGU – Relive the horror masterpiece on Blu-ray

On a desolate country highway, two homeward-bound teens Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) are nearly run off the road by a maniac in a beat-up truck… and later spot him shoving what appears to be a body down a sewer pipe.

But when they stop to investigate, they soon are marked by unstoppable evil known as the Creeper (Jonathan Breck), which awakens every 23rd spring for 23 days to renew itself by feasting on human body parts.

Director Victor Salva’s 2001 horror was a huge hit on its release (bringing in nearly $60m). Produced by Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope, it put Salva back on the road to success after his reputation nose-dived following his 1988 conviction for the sexual abuse of a minor.

It’s been a while since I revisited the film, so this new Blu-ray from 101 Films was the perfect excuse to do just that. I must say, Salva has crafted a modern horror masterpiece, that benefits from its black humour and dark sexuality. The excellent young leads bring a genuine sense of fear to their roles, and there’s a lovely cameo from the late Eileen Brennan (AKA Captain Lewis in Private Benjamin).

The action set-pieces are well-staged, especially the Duel-inspired chases, and Breck is terrific as the Creeper, who so deserves a place in the pantheon of modern horror characters. Oddly, he doesn’t get a mention in any polls that I could find.

What also sets this horror apart, is the homoerotic subtext bubbling under the surface. The Creeper seems to favour handsome teenage boys to feast on (just check out the cute guy Darry finds in the church basement) and the orgasmic look on his face when he gives a dead cop a tongue kiss is so transgressive. And it’s pretty obvious which side he plays when he rejects Trish when she offers her life in place of her brother’s.

Then there’s the 2003 sequel (it did even better business – over $63m) which really ramped up the homoerotica? In that one, the Creeper targeted a bus of shirtless high school jocks, who spend most of the time peeing together and accusing each other of being gay.

For his third film, which got a limited run in 2017 and mixed reviews, Salva downplayed the gay subtext (although there are some boys on bikes who come a cropper). I caught it on Netflix and while it’s not a patch on the first two, it has its moments. But the best is how the Creeper’s truck plays a significant and very deadly role this time round. I’d love a toy model, complete with working booby traps. How cool would that be?

There are hints of a fourth entry, so maybe Salva’s underwear-sniffing monster will return another day. But in the meantime, its time to relive the original horror on Blu-ray.

Special Features

  • Commentary with writer/director Victor Salva and stars Gina Philips and Justin Long
  • Commentary with director Victor Salva
  • Jeepers Creepers: Then and Now
  • From Critters to Creepers: Interview with producer Barry Opper
  • The Town Psychic: Interview with actress Patricia Belcher
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes
  • Photo Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Bonus DVD: Behind the Peepers – The Making of Jeepers Creepers

Phase IV | Saul Bass’ 1974 sci-fi eco horror is hauntingly hypnotic

From 101 Films comes the 1974 sci-fi eco horror Phase IV, released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK.

If you suffer from formication – the sensation that resembles that of small insects crawling on (or under) the skin – then you’re not likely to enjoy this intelligent sci-fi story from 1974 directed by the legendary graphic designer Saul Bass. But if you don’t then you are in for a visual treat…

Triumphant from a 15,000 year battle in space, a bolt of energy reached Earth and a new life force spawned seven grey towers in the Arizona desert. Now, from out of their dark mysteries, marches a new breed of killer ants to herald the dawn of Phase IV…

In a sealed lab in the Arizona desert, scientists James Lesko (Michael Murphy) and Dr Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) search for answers to an unexplained evolutionary shift in the ant population; the development of a collective intelligence and cross-species hive mentality.

With humanity under threat, the scientists are faced with the choice of either communicating with, or eradicating their antagonists. Hubbs believes that the insects are of high intelligence and capable of being reasoned with. But he is wrong… very wrong!

Most famous for his distinctive opening title sequences for films like The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest and Psycho, Bass’ only feature film as director has images and ideas of genuine power. The macro footage of the ants (shot by wildlife photographer Ken Middleham, who also worked on the similarly-themed 1971 faux documentary, The Hellstrom Chronicle) is cleverly incorporated into the action and the film builds up to a suspenseful, if ambiguous, finale.

Lynne Frederick (best known as being Mrs Peter Sellers at the time) is also under threat and the crises the two scientists face include their computer wiring being eaten away and some inevitable creepy crawling up Frederick’s leg. It might drag in places (particularly when the scientists are musing over their data on large bits of paper and on the TV monitors), but you just have to let Bass’ inventive visuals, Dick Bush’s blistering (East Africa) location cinematography and the eerie electronic music score take you on an 84-minute hallucinatory trip.

Included in the 101 Films release is Bass’ original ending, which (spoiler alert, unless you’ve read the novelisation) is a spectacularly surreal sequence blending live action and animation in which the surviving protagonists meld their minds with the ant Queen to witness the fate of humanity.

The 101 Films release features the following extras, plus a limited edition booklet.

DISC ONE
• HD restoration
• Feature commentary with film historians Allan Bryce and Richard Holliss
• The Original Saul Bass ending (plus optional commentary from Allan Bryce and Richard Hollis). Vetoed by the studio upon original release, the footage (around 4 minutes) was long thought lost until it resurfaced in 2012.
An Ant’s Life: Contextualising Phase IV: Film critic and The Creeping Garden co-director Jasper Sharp and film director and writer Sean Hogan look at the film’s influences and legacy.

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DISC TWO (Saul Bass: Short Films)
The Searching Eye (1964, 18min): Created for the Kodak Pavillion at the New York World’s Fair, with a score by Jeff Alexander and narrated by All About Eve‘s Gary Merrill, this short about visual awareness follows the action of a suntanned youth on a beach to provide visual metaphors for the normally unseen world. Great use of stock footage combined with different camera and editing techniques.

Why Man Creates (1968, 28min): Bass won his only Oscar for this short  in which he uses a series of live action and animated vignettes to illustrate the necessity for creation. And by creation, Bass means everything from art to mundane things, from words and numbers to unusual abstract works. The traffic lights sequence is a standout.

Bass on Titles (1977). Bass discusses his evolution as the master of the film title sequence from pure graphics to live action; breaking down the key themes of some of his most famous titles. This one could have done with a remaster to really appreciate the beauty of the images.

Notes on the Popular Arts (1978, 20min): Live action, animation and special effects are combined in a series of funny episodes illuminating the importance that American’s place on the popular arts.

The Solar Film (1980, 9min) After watching this and his other shorts, I realise that one key image crops up in all of Bass’ personal works: the sun. This informative Oscar-nominated short film, co-produced by Robert Redford, advocates the use of solar energy using a combination of live action and animation to tell the history of our connection with the sun.

Quest (1984, 30min) The descendants of a crashed spaceship living in a cave city on a distant planet have been subjected to mysterious forces that cause them to age and die in eight days. In order to be free from this ‘curse’, they send a young boy on an eight-day quest to open a gateway that will allow their lifespans to be lengthened. But can he achieve his goal before his own lifespan gives out? Directed by Bass and his wife Elaine, this rarely screened live-action short, written by Ray Bradbury (based on his 1946 tale, Frost and Fire), has some excellent visuals and effects (with imagery that echo Bass’ original ending in Phase IV), and is probably my favourite extra on 101’s release (it has also gets a HD restoration here). Watch out for The NeverEnding Story‘s Noah Hathaway as the boy and character actor Les Tremanye (War of the Worlds) as the old man.

 

 

Project X (1968) | William Castle’s cartoony espionage sci-fi heads to Blu-ray

It’s the year 2118, and the world is divided between the West (well the US of A) and Sino-Asia. While on a mission into enemy territory to make contact with fellow operative Gregory Gallea (Monte Markham), American spy Hagen Arnold (Christopher George) discovers that the West will be destroyed in 14 days.

Hagen successfully escapes his captor, Sen Chiu (Keye Luke), but has a complete loss of memory following a plane crash. With the countdown on, a team of scientists headed by Dr Crowther (Henry Jones) and Dr Verity (Lee Delano), use a holographic memory reading device and an elaborate historical re-enactment to try and retrieve vital information from Hagen’s mind. But can they uncover the truth before its too late?

Project X is an intriguing piece of late-1960s espionage-sci-fi from producer-director William Castle, and one of the last films from the great showman who gave us the classic gimmick chillers, House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler. Unfortunately, Castle just doesn’t chime with the times here – though he does give it his best shot.

The splendidly gaudy Technicolor photography (by Harold Stine who went on to lens The Poseidon Adventure), production design (by Hal Perriraa nd Walter H Tyler, who won Oscars for The Rose Tattoo and Samson and Delilah), costumes and sets all look like they came out of an Irwin Allen TV sci-fi (think The Time Tunnel meets Lost in Space); and the story itself (as intricate and twisty as it is) feels like a feature-length Outer Limits episode. Even the cast and production crew are all drawn from TV land.

The film’s big star is Christopher George (who I grew up watching as TV’s The Immortal, then in Grizzly and Day of the Animals, and then in some Italian exploitation movies before his early death aged 52 in 1983), but Henry Jones steals every scene. For me, he will always be Dr Smith’s nefarious long-lost cousin Jeremiah in Lost in Space, but he’s a right little rascal here.

He’s not the only TV character actor to crop up in this mixed-bag, there’s also Harold Gould and Lee Delano (who were constant fixtures on prime-time TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s), and the legendary Keye Luke  – but who the hell is Greta Baldwin, who plays Hagen’s love-interest? She only has three credits to her name and she’s rather bland here, plus the romantic story side-plot rather detracts from the ‘action’.

Then there’s the animated sequences created by Hanna-Barbera. They look fantastic, but they jar somewhat against the live action sequences (which includes a sequence lifted from a Jonny Quest episode). If Castle had done the whole thing as a cartoon (and a spoof), maybe it could have worked better (and become the Archer or The Venture Bros. of its day). But the end result is more Cyborg 2087 than Planet of the Apes, which came out one month before Project X.

While promoted as a sci-fi, it’s actually an old-fashioned espionage adventure dressed as sci-fi (with some social commentary shoehorned in). Van Cleave’s music score is also more spy film than sci-fi – but I loved it, especially the opening title theme and the ‘organ’.

Project X is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films and includes two extras: 
an audio commentary with The Dark Side editor Allan Bryce and film writer David Flint, and Money Back Guarantee: William Castle’s Ingenious Gimmicks, which also features Allan, David and BFI archivist Vic Pratt.

Now, I actually enjoyed the film more by listening to the audio commentary, in which Allan and David discuss the film’s cast, crew and production, but also pay homage to Castle’s final directorial effort, the poetic tragic comedy horror Shanks (starring mime legend Marcel Marceau) and his last production, the superior eco-horror Bug (now these are two Castle films that so deserve a proper restoration release). Allan, of course, gets to mention his favourite film  (can you guess what it is?) and David has a great story about getting drunk while watching House on Haunted Hill (with Emergo – which I believe is pronounced – ’emerge-o’ BTW).

 

 

Crack in the World | The 1965 doomsday disaster classic on Blu-ray

Dana Andrews, Janette Scott and Kieron Moore star in the 1965 science-fiction thriller, Crack in the World, which is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from 101 Films.

Scientist Stephen Sorenson (Dana Andrews) is determined to blast down to the earth’s core to harness the ‘limitless clean heat of the inner earth.’ Against the advice of his fellow scientist wife Maggie (Janette Scott) and his second-in-command Dr Ted Rampian (Kieron Moore), Sorenson orders the detonation of a powerful thermonuclear device.

Unfortunately, it triggers ‘earthquakes, tidal waves, and mass destruction on an apocalyptic scale’. When the scientists try to blow a hole in the path of the crack, it doubles back, and they can only wait and hope that their world can survive a big chunk being blown out of it…

Executive produced by Philip Yordan as a follow-up to 1962’s The Day of the Triffids (which so deserves a restored release), Crack in the World is a first-rate sci-fi action thriller. A dyed-blonde Janette Scott is the heroine who loses most of her clothes in the ensuing holocaust, while her Triffids co-star Kieron Moore plays the beefy hero, and Dana Andrews suffers heroically as the doomed scientist.

But its the fantastic special effects that’s the highlight here – courtesy of Eugene Lourie, whose production design and inventive special effects make it look bigger than Ben Hur. Meanwhile, director Andrew Marton, the recipient of a special Academy Award for directing the chariot race in that very epic, keeps the action moving swiftly and devises some spectacular set-pieces (like when Scott and Moore have to scramble up a lift-shaft) that’s worthy of the Master of Disaster himself, Irwin Allen (who was dominating the TV airwaves at the time with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space). Martin would later head to TV to direct a couple of childhood TV favourites, Flipper and Daktari.

The 101 Films UK Blu-ray includes a very informative audio commentary from film historian Richard Hollis and The Dark Side magazine editor Allan Bryce (I learned quite a bit — so thanks guys — now I’m hunting down a nice transfer of Krakatoa: East of Java).

 

The Colossus of New York | Beware his death ray – the cracking 1958 sci-fi lands on Blu-ray

From Eugene Lourie, the director of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Gorgo comes the 1958 sci-fi The Colossus of New York, which is now out on Blu-ray in the UK from 101 Films.

Colossus is a nine-foot robot with the brain of Dr Jerry Spensser (The Wild Wild West‘s Ross Martin), a brilliant scientist, killed in a car crash, whose father (Otto Kruger) is determined that his son’s mind shall go on working for humanity. But, of course, things don’t go as planned. Mourning for his wife (Mala Powers) and child (Charles Herbert), and unwilling to be the guinea pig in his father’s psychotic project, Colossus turns homicidal and goes on the rampage at the United Nations building…

Despite a storyline not too dissimilar to The Fly (which actually came out one month later), this monochrome 1958 Franken-science-fiction certainly stands on its own and deserves cult status. It moves a cracking pace and does a hell of lot on its tiny budget; even the special effects (like the robot’s death ray) are pretty cool; while the subplot in which Jerry’s son (Charles Herbert, who was also in The Fly) befriends Colossus is rather touching. Oh, and the curious silent movie-inspired musical score is by noted composer Van Cleave of Funny Face and White Christmas fame.

Playing Colossus is an uncredited 7ft 4in actor Ed Wolff, whose fantastic get-up makes him look like a cross between Batman and Herman Munster with a glowing brain. Wolf also appeared in genre favourites The Phantom Creeps (1939) and Invaders from Mars (1953), and would follow this playing a mutated Brett Halsey in Return of the Fly (1959), before his untimely death in 1966, aged 59. Now, I wonder is anyone did an action figure of Colossus, I’d certainly have one.

The 101 Films UK Blu-ray includes a terrific audio commentary with film historian Richard Hollis and The Dark Side magazine editor Allan Bryce.

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