Larry Cohen is that rare breed of filmmaker, a writer, producer and director whose mantra was to make it on the cheap, on the sly, and on the steal, while always staying true to the vision and the story.
This hugely enjoyable documentary from writer/director Steve Mitchell picks through the American auteur’s 50 year output, which includes such cult fare as Black Caesar, God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, to highlight Cohen’s maverick approach to film-making – which was mostly borne out of necessity as he detested the interference of major studios (having been stung quite a few times).
Now, I’m a fan of Cohen’s more quirky offerings like It’s Alive and The Stuff, two leftfield projects laced with his unique brand of satire and weirdness, and featuring the mad delights of Michael Moriarty, and I had seen his name attached to thing like the cult 1960s Cold War with aliens drama The Invaders, but I never realised just how truly prolific a screenwriter the native New Yorker has been ever since he started out doing live TV dramas in the 1960s. Even now, in his mid-70s, he writes daily and was responsible for big screen hits like Phone Booth (2002) and Cellular (2004).
After seeing the European Premiere of Mitchell’s documentary at FrightFest, I really ‘need’ to track down Cohen’s more obscure earlier features, like his 1972 directorial debut Bone (also known as Dial RAT for Terror to cash in on the Blaxploitation craze) with Yaphet (Alien) Kotto, and 1977’s The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, his fast and loose biopic with an ageing Broderick Crawford – one of the many Hollywood veterans that Cohen respected and admired and gave work to when no one else did. The others he helped in their dotage included director Sam Fuller, actor Red Buttons (whom he befriended until the day he died) and stroke survivor Bette Davis (who quit Wicked Stepmother, the project he had especially created for her).
A born entertainer (and frustrated stand-up), Cohen is brilliant at self-promotion and self-parody, and this comes through Mitchell’s candid interviews at his LA home (which featured in all of his movies) and on the convention circuit; and also through the anecdotes told by the likes of Martin Scorsese (who reflects on the how Cohen got Robert De Niro and Brian DePalma to pretend to be Jewish for Bernard Herrmann’s funeral), Robert Forster, Eric Roberts, Joe Dante, John Landis and Mick Garris (who gave Cohen his last directing gig on the 2006 Masters of Horror episode Pick Me Up); while a cigar-wielding Fred Williamson got the biggest laughs at the screening when he countered some of Cohen’s wilder claims.
But what really impressed me (that I did not know before) was Cohen’s sly approach to the filmmaking process which was all about the ‘steal’ (and ended up marking his style as a result). This mainly involved shooting without permits on the streets of cities like New York and Washington. One example was when he got to film inside the iconic Chrysler Building for Q: the Winged Serpent using real off-duty police officers and construction workers as extras, and ended up causing total mayhem when he rained fake bullet catridges down on the pedestrians below (impossible today, post 911).
Mitchell – who is best known for penning Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall back in 1988 – is currently screening his doco at festivals around the globe, and hopefully this will create enough buzz to attract a distributor for an eventual release. I, for one, will be looking forward to that – as well as the many hours of extra material (well, as the director remarked, Cohen does likes to talk).
For more on the film, and a look at Cohen’s unfilmed screenplays check out: http://www.larrycohenfilmmaker.com/.
Blood Bath (1966) | Roger Corman’s Operation: Vampire Psycho Killer Thriller Murder Mystery gets the Arrow treatment
If you have ever wondered why the 1966 American International Pictures’ drive-in horror Blood Bath looks like it was shot by Orson Welles in an exotic European locale, then this latest Arrow release was made just for you. Containing four separate films, Operation Titian (1963), Portrait in Terror (1965), Blood Bath (1966) and Track of the Vampire (1967) and an insightful visual essay, this limited edition box-set is must-have for fans of 1960s schlock and the cinema of the king of the B’s Roger Corman.
When it hit the drives in 1966, Blood Bath put a surreal psycho sexual vampiric spin on Roger Corman’s Bucket of Blood, and weaved into its oddball tale of a tortured Californian artist (William Campbell) haunted by an ancestor’s sorceress mistress, were four-minutes of moody shots lifted from a Yugoslavian murder mystery called Operation Titian.
Directed by Rados Novakovic, this 1963 Edgar Wallace-styled whodunit followed two homicide detectives in Dubrovnik investigating a murder linked to a long-lost Titian painting that is also being sought by an Italian criminal (Patrick Magee) and being obsessed over by fantasist artist (Campbell).
Making great use of the baroque splendour of the ancient renaissance port city, and shot with an eye to Orson Welles, the atmospheric thriller was re-edited for the US market with a 24-year-old Francis Ford Coppola as its new story editor. But Corman was unhappy with the results and put another assistant, Stephanie Rothman, in charge of adding in some new scenes. Portrait in Terror, which it was then retitled, was later released direct to TV as part of AIP’s 1967 Amazing Adventures collection.
Still wanting to make use of Operation Titan, Corman hired Jack Hill to turn it into a horror film. Adding surreal elements, some Charles Addams visuals and neatly incorporating Wellesian imagery shot around Venice Beach, Hill fashioned his first cut as psycho thriller before he had to move onto a project that would become one of his best known works: Spider Baby. Rothman was then drafted to complete the picture, and decided on turning it into a vampire movie.
But with William Campbell no longer available, a double was used for the new scenes. The 69-minute Blood Bath was the result. And adding to the hodgepodge was a soundtrack of Ronald Stein scores lifted from The Undead and The Haunted Palace. Too short for a TV release, Rothman was back on board to pad the film out with 8-minutes of running about and a 4-minute spontaneous dance scene. This new edit would be re-titled Track of the Vampire.
For many, this is the first time that Operation Titian has been made available, and it’s a revelation (I’ve now started seeking out the other films of its Serbian director). And despite its flaws, seeing a restored version of Blood Bath, is also a real treat. As for Portrait in Terror and Track of the Vampire, well it will certainly please the completists, but they are missable in my book.
What’s not missable, however, is Tim Lucas’ visual essay. Engrossing and illuminating, his feature-length analysis of Blood Bath’s convoluted history makes revisiting the film and its various versions all the more rewarding. It also ends a chapter in the film historian’s life-long quest in connecting the dots to Roger Corman’s horror, which also serves to highlight the maverick producer’s ‘rich engendering of films and film-makers’.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire
• Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire from original film materials
• Brand new reconstruction of Operation Titian using original film materials and standard definition inserts
• Optional English subtitles on all four versions
• The Trouble with Titian Revisited – Tim Lucas examines the convoluted production history of Blood Bath and its multiple versions
• Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig – New interview with the actor
• Archive interview with producer-director Jack Hill
• Stills gallery
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
• Limited edition booklet
The Vampire Lovers (1970) | Hammer’s blood, breasts and blades Gothic horror is a buxom beauty indeed
By the late 1960s, those ghoulish purveyor’s of British Gothic horror, Hammer Films, needed more than Christopher Lee’s blood-shot-eyed Count Dracula to get bums back on the seats at local picture houses. What they needed was a good dose of sex and sadism. And so lesbianism reared its fangs in darkest Styria (just a couple of counties away from Karlsbad and Ingolstadt), where Ingrid Pitt put the vamp in vampire and the bite on some busty beauties, including Madeline Smith, Pippa Steele and Kate O’Hara, in 1970’s The Vampire Lovers.
In the first of two films for Hammer, Polish actress Pitt plays Mircalla Karnstein, the last remaining descendant of a family of vampires who conducted a reign of terror until Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) took his blade to the heads of her undead loved ones. Now she’s back corrupting the daughters of a General (Peter Cushing) and a wealthy family headed up by Minder’s George Cole. But she’d better watch her head because Hartog and the General are hot on her tail…
A somewhat faithful adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Gothic novella Carmilla (that had been tackled by Carl Dreyer in 1932’s Vampyr and Roger Vadim in 1960s Et Mourir de Plaisir/Blood and Roses), The Vampire Lovers was Hammer’s first sex vampire film and their only co-production with American International Pictures (who were in Europe at the time making a new slate of Poe/Price films).
It was also a watershed moment for the studio as by taking advantage of the change in the age restriction for X-certificate films, from 16 to 18, they could now include more sex and nudity, something that would dominate their horror output for the remainder of the decade.
Thanks to Ingrid Pitt’s totally uninhibited portrayal of the nipple-sucking vampire, the UK censors got their knickers in a twist over the film’s overt lesbianism, but it earned Pitt cult status, and with English Rose Madeline Smith under spell, Pitt sent the pulses racing of young males everywhere. Meanwhile, the censors also got nervous over decapitation scene, something that the US censors cut out altogether.
Shot at Elstree under the helm of Roy Ward Baker (who was slightly embarrassed by the sex content), but making excellent use of Moor Park Mansion in Hertfordshire, the film also introduced something new to Hammer’s vampire lore: the sexual possession/addiction aspect of vampirism, which Kate O’Mara brings to the fore in her masochist governess, Madame Perrodot.
When it was originally released in the UK in October 1970, The Vampire Lovers was one of the country’s biggest money spinners, which resulted in Hammer continuing the Karnstein legacy in Lust for a Vampire (where Yutte Stensgaard’s Mircalla invades a girl’s finishing school) and Twins of Evil (where Damien Thomas’ Count faces off Peter Cushing’s puritan witch hunter).
THE FINAL CUT ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
According to Hammer fans, including expert Jonathan Rigby (who co-hosts the audio commentary), Final Cut’s Region B digitally re-restored release (which came out on Blu-ray in November 2014 and gets its DVD debut on 14 March 2016) is regarded as the best home entertainment version available to date (an earlier Australian release had questionable audio, while the Scream Factory release contained an inferior transfer print). It’s also the most complete version as it includes a decapitation sequence that was cut from previous (US) versions. The extras include audio commentary with Rigby and Marcus Hearn (who really know their Hammer), a 25-minute documentary New Blood: Hammer Enters the 70s (which includes a look at the Hammer archives at De Montfort University in Leicester), stills gallery, original trailer, restoration comparisons; and subtitles for the hard of hearing. While Scream’s release may lose points on print quality, it does have, amongst its extras, an archive audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt and producer Tudor Gates, who – alas – are all no longer with us.
One of my Top Five re-releases of 2015 has to be Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Jack Hill’s 1973 thriller Coffy, one the best Blaxploitation films of the era, and the one that turned Pam Grier into a cinematic icon.
‘This is the end of your life you motherfucking dope pusher’
LA nurse Flower Child Coffin (Pam Grier), aka Coffy, goes on a one-woman mission to take down those responsible for turn her little sister onto heroine and putting her honest cop friend Carter (William Elliott) in hospital. Posing as a junkie hooker and a high-class Jamaican escort, Coffy works her way into the inner circle of drug-dealing pimp King George (Robert DoQui), where she finds the level of corruption is much closer to home than she expected…
Coffy was a godsend part for exploitation actress Pam Grier. Her baddass vigilante was a landmark in 1970s cinema and redefined what it meant to be a powerful black woman on screen. As the street wise and fiercely independent hard-working nurse who isn’t unafraid to put her body and her life on the line to exact her own form of justice, she was the perfect modern, revolutionary heroine. And Grier brilliantly brought her to life.
The American International Pictures actioner was also a career boast for B-movie auteur and director for hire, Jack Hill, who had previously lensed two ‘chicks in chains’ grindhouse movies (both with Grier), as well as the Lon Chaney Jr cult curio, Spider Baby, and also shot the US scenes for Boris Karloff’s infamous Mexican horror quartet.
When Cleopatra Jones, AIP’s female Shaft project, ended up being picked up Warner Bros, AIP put Coffy together in just 18 days in a bid to beat them to the punch. Director Hill certainly delivered the goods, as audiences really dug the film. A follow-up, Foxy Brown, quickly followed, again with Grier in the lead, and Hill directing – and it was just as good.
Despite it’s grindhouse veneer, Coffy‘s sex and violence isn’t done solely for cheap thrills. There’s a strong morale code running under the surface, while the racial issues it touches on reflected what was going on in 1970s America – and still does today, particularly in the light of those events in St Louis and Baltimore. But its Hill’s street smart script and tight direction that sets this Blaxploitation feature apart.
But Coffy is also pure entertainment, with some great ‘guilty pleasure’ moments that stay with you forever, like the call-girl cat fight scene and Coffy hiding razor blades in her Afro. There’s also King George’s wicked fashions (he also gets his own theme tune) and the funky R&B Roy Ayers soundtrack (which peaked at No31 in the US charts in 1973). Oh, and let’s not forget THAT poster, which Tarantino called ‘the epitome of a great exploitation poster’. Grier followed this film with AIP’s Scream Blacula Scream, which also available on Blu-ray (click on the link for my review).
THE BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow’s director-approved presentation features a restored HD transfer (which looks fantastic btw) alongside an audio commentary with Jack Hill. Among the new interviews on this release is A Taste of Coffy, featuring Hill on making the film (19min), and The Baddest Chick in Town!, in which Pam Grier discusses the films and her inspiration behind the character (17min). Also included is an academic video essay on the Blaxploitation genre, image gallery, and a collector’s booklet, with new artwork packaging by Gilles Vranckx.
• Foxy Brown, director Jack Hill’s follow up to Coffy, is also out on Blu-ray from Arrow, along with the director’s Spider Baby and Pit Stop, which are also on Dual Format (DVD and Blu-ray). Click on the links for my reviews.
Blood of Dracula screens today on The Horror Channel (Sky 319/320, Virgin 149/202, Freeview 70, Freesat 138/139) at 3.50pm
Sherwood School for Girls should have the inspectors called in, what with its batty chemistry teacher Ms Branding (Louise Lewis) hypnotising one of the pupils, Nancy (Sandra Harrison), with a Carpathian vampire amulet as part of some bizarre scientific experiment…
This low-budget black and white AIP offering, released on a double bill with I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, is worth checking out just for Harrison’s hilarious Nosferatu-styled make-up of fangs, bushy eyebrows and peaked hairstyle. There’s also singer Jerry Blaine (Tab) wooing the girls with the dire musical number Puppy Love and Lewis’ idiotic explanation, ‘No one can calculate the hazards of radiation…’, on just why she’s experimenting on her pupils.
The film, which has nothing to do with Dracula by the way, was retitled Blood is My Heritage in the UK (presumably so not to clash with the superior Blood of the Vampire, released the same year). Director Herbert L Strock followed this with How to Make a Monster, while producer Herman Cohen went on to make a handful of British Bs, including my favourite, Konga.
JERRY BLAINE SINGS PUPPY LOVE
To mark the 16 February UK Blu-ray/DVD release of The Comedy of Terrors from Arrow Video (reviewed at the bottom of the post), here’s a look back at the vintage horror farce.
‘You’re invited to a funeral’
Welcome to the Hinchley & Trumbull funeral parlour, the only establishment of its kind that has found the secret of increasing business – by furnishing its own corpses! From Jacques Tourneur, director of the horror classics, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and Night of the Demon, comes the 1963 horror spoof, The Comedy of Terrors, starring four masters of the macabre – Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff.
‘What place is this?’
Inebriate undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Price) is running a New England funeral home business owned by his ageing father-in-law (Karloff)… straight into the ground. Hounded by his penny-pinching landlord Mr Black (Rathbone) for non-payment of rent, Trumbull and his put upon assistant Felix Gillie (Lorre) hatch a plan to boost business. But murder is not their forté, especially when their latest ‘client’ refuses to stay dead…
‘Every shroud has a silver lining when old friends get together for a real swinging blast of grave robbery… poisoning, and multiple mayhem!’
So declared the promo poster for American International Pictures‘ The Comedy of Terrors, which famously brought together four great names from the horror hall of fame. In the early-1960s, AIP were riding high with their winning formula of director Roger Corman, star Vincent Price, screenwriter Richard Matheson, composer Les Baxter, et all. Following their full-on Colorscope Gothic horrors, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum, AIP added some comic relief in 1962’s Tales of Terror, in a segment called The Black Cat, whose highlight was an improvised wine tasting scene between Price and Lorre.
Because the two spooks gelled so well, director Corman gave Price and Lorre the chance to do it all over again in his 1963 fantasy spoof, The Raven. Out of that was born a gruesome twosome comedy duo that were like an Abbott & Costello for the drive-in generation. Wanting to tap those funny bones again, AIP gave Matheson free reign to conjure up another vehicle for them. The result was The Comedy of Terrors (originally called Graveside Story), which was shot over 15 days, starting 4 September 1963, and released in US cinemas on 22 January 1964.
‘Comedy and terror are closely allied. My job as an actor is to try and make the unbelievable believable and the despicable delectable’ Vincent Price
As the roguish Waldo Trumbull, Price is at his ‘delicious boozy hammiest’ – according to the New York Herald Tribune – and has a whale of a time making the most of Matheson’s venomous dialogue – in particular his sardonic put-downs on Lorre’s wanted fugitive Felix (who is a terrible coffin-maker, I might add), while their slapstick misadventures evoke Laurel and Hardy – Price even gets to reappropriate their famous catchphrase: ‘A fine mess you’ve made of things again!’
Sadly, this would be the last time that the two pals got to act together, as the 59-year-old Lorre was in poor health during the shoot (his regular stunt double Harvey Parry did all of his action scenes wearing a mask), and died just two months after the film’s release. Fittingly, it was Price who delivered the eulogy.
Interestingly in this film, Price and Lorre reverse the roles they played in Tales of Terror, and again there’s Joyce Jameson playing a buxom mistreated wife with a drunk for a hubby. As Amaryllis, an unfulfilled opera star with the ‘vocal emissions of a laryngitic cow’, Jameson hits a real high with her ‘off-key’ singing during a funeral service, while her verbal sparring with Price is eminently quotable. David Del Valle’s audio commentary in the Arrow release is dedicated to Jameson, a great friend to the film historian who tragically took her life in 1987, aged 59.
Veterans Rathbone and Karloff are also game for a laugh in this Arsenic and Old Lace-styled affair (and shares a similar structure as that classic 1941 play which famously sent up Karloff’s horror screen persona). Rathbone is exceptional as the Shakespearean-spouting cataleptic who refuses to ‘shuffle off his mortal coil’, while he also gets to play up his thespian image and swashbuckling days (the sword play being an homage to 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood.)
At 76, and suffering from arthritis, Karloff was not up to playing Mr Black, a role which was originally offered to him. But as the endearingly senile Amos, who somehow manages to avoid the poison that Waldo offers him at every turn, Karloff is only one who keeps the farce from taking full flight.
The downside to Tourneur’s film, however (it was the director’s second-to-last feature before some TV work and then retiring), is that it’s rather stagey and old-fashioned (especially for the 1960s teen crowd that it was aimed at). It remains, however, a firm favourite of mine – a gleefully ghoulish slapstick affair with a classy never-to-be-repeated cast of old Hollywood greats.
DID YOU KNOW?
Richard Matheson scripted a follow-up called Sweethearts and Horrors, that was to feature the fearsome four once again, but it was shelved due to Lorre’s death and the film’s poor box-office takings. The unfilmed screenplay ended up being released in 2009 as part of Matheson’s collected works, entitled Visions Deferred.
The music is by celebrated composer Les Baxter (who also did the US scores for Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath and The Evil Eye in 1963, as well as Corman’s The Raven). The complete mono session which was recorded in November 1963 at Goldwyn Studios was uncovered from the MGM vaults last year and released on a now sold out CD.
RHUBARB | THE CAT IN THE HOUSE OF UNHOLY HORROR
Cleopatra is played by one of Hollywood’s most celebrated animal stars, Rhubarb (aka Orangey) – a 12-pound marmalade tabby who won two American Humane Association’s PATSY awards for 1951’s Rhubarb and 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (in which he has almost seven minutes of screen time), and who also appeared in The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). In The Comedy of Terrors, Rhubarb gets an inspired scene in the closing credits.
THE ARROW UK BLU-RAY/DVD RELEASE
The Comedy of Terrors is presented its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with mono 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on Blu-ray). The HD master was made available by MGM via Hollywood Classics, and includes optional English subtitles. The extras include:
• Audio commentary with David Del Valle and Rapid Heart TV’s David DeCocteau
• Vincent Price: My Life and Crimes: This is the unseen alternate cut of the 1987 David Del Valle interview that was previously released on DVD in 2002 as The Sinister Image
• Whispering in Distant Chambers: informative 17-min video essay by David Cairns, exploring Tourneur’s work.
• Richard Matheson Storyteller – Comedy of Terrors; this featurette on late screenwriter also appears on the Shout! Blu-ray and on the older MGM Midnite Movies DVD.
• Unrestored original US theatrical trailer (this makes the film look more racy and scary than it actually was).
• Collector’s booklet featuring a critical analysis of the film by Chris Fujiwara, author of Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, plus archive stills and posters.
• Artwork by Paul Shipper.
OTHER BLU-RAY RELEASES
Also available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory (from October 2014), an imprint of Shout! Factory, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track, as part of their Vincent Price Collection II bundle, and includes a Iowa Public Television introduction with Price, but no audio commentary. Blu-ray reviewers have also praised Arrow’s transfer over this one, both for its excellent print and audio transfer. A German Blu-ray was also released in May 2013.
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | Everything you want to know about Arrow’s Special Edition Contents
Arrow’s limited edition box-set, Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales, not only contains HD Blu-ray presentations of all six features directed by King of the B’s Roger Corman, but also a wealth of new and archives commentaries, interviews and featurettes for each film. Plus, some of the best newly commissioned illustrations I have ever seen. Here’s a break down of what’s inside the box-set, with my comments attached.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
(these supplements are a re-issue, click here for my original review)
• Audio commentary with Roger Corman. This is the same one that you get on the 2001 MGM Midnight Movies DVD release and was also included on Scream Factory’s Vincent Price Collection I Blu-ray.
• Legend to Legend (27min): Joe Dante talks low-budget movie making and provides some neat anecdotes.
• The House is the Monster (30min): Gothic Horror author Jonathan Rigby re-examines the film. This featurette comes with a spoiler warning.
• Vincent Price – Malibu – Julliet 86 (12min): Interview subtitled in French by Claude Ventura, which was broadcast on French TV on 18 November 1986. This is well known amongst Price fans and was done while Price was doing Basil, The Great Mouse Detective.
• Fragments of the House of Usher (11min): Critic and filmmaker David Cairns examines Corman’s film in relation to Poe’s story.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Graham Humphreys
KK: The Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray have the added bonus of Price’s intros, but this is a must-have. It also boasts a superior transfer.
THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
(This is also a re-issue, click here for my original release)
• Audio commentary with the always charismatic Roger Corman. This was first included on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and is also on the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Audio commentary courtesy of the always informative Tim Lucas.
• The Story Behind the Swinging Blade (43min): Documentary on the making of the film.
• An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe (1970, 52min): Four classic Poe tales dramatised by Vincent Price unplugged, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum. (Unfortunately the 1080p transfer doesn’t improve on the original video source).
• Added TV Sequence (5min): Shot in 1968 to pad out the film for the longer TV time slot, this scene features star Luana Anders.
• US trailer (unrestored and pan and scan)
• Artwork by Gilles Vranckx
KK: This is also a must-have, with Tim Lucas’ audio commentary and the inclusion of the Poe TV dramatisation being the highlights.
TALES OF TERROR
• The Directors – Roger Corman (90min): This 1990 documentary explores Corman’s career.
• NEW Kim Newman on Edgar Allan Poe (30min): the novelist and critic, who’d make a darn fine lecturer in film studies, looks back at Poe’s influence on the big screen.
• NEW Cats in Horror Films (10min): Anne Billson, a novelist, critic, photographer and blogger (catsonfilm.net), discusses the contributions of our feline friends to genre cinema.
• NEW The Black Cat (1993, 18min): Short film directed by Rob Green. Though it abridges Poe’s original verse, the visuals are very Cormanesque.
• US theatrical Trailer (unrestored, but in the correct ratio)
• Artwork by Dan Mumford
KK: This is a coup for Arrow as it is not on either of Scream Factory’s Blu-ray box sets.
• NEW Peter Lorre: The Double Face (1984, 60min): Documentary about the German actor, from his early days in the theatre with Bertolt Brecht to his death in 1964. Subtitled. (unrestored).
• Richard Matheson: Storyteller (1993, 62min): This interview with the novelist and screenwriter also appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release and on the Scream Factory Vincent Price Collection II Blu-ray.
• Corman’s Comedy of Poe (2003, 8min): Roger Corman (in cool, calm and collected mode) on the making of the spoof comedy. This is also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• NEW The Trick (1997, 12min): Director Rob Green’s short film about rival magicians. This has shades of The League of Gentlemen meets Buston Keaton.
• Gallery: Fantastic stuff. Can we have a pdf please Arrow? BTW: Check out Lorre smoking what looks like joint.
• NEW Promotional Record (6min): OMG! Paul Frees introduces Peter Lorre reciting Poe’s poem with Boris Karloff telling us its ‘the most blood curling thing you’ll ever see’! Also included on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray.
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
KK: The promo record is a real bonus here.
THE HAUNTED PALACE
• NEW Audio commentary by David Del Valle and Derek Botelho (author of The Argento Syndrome). Dedicated to the late Cathie Merchant, who appears as Hester Tillinghast in the horror, this commentary is fascinating stuff from David Del Valle, who shares my love for this underrated film. He has some great anecdotes (like Price becoming a millionaire after taking a profit percentage instead of a salary for House on Haunted Hill), while Derek makes a great sidekick – when he finally gets a word in. Best bit of trivia: the Aztec symbol painted on the dungeon wall also appears in Die, Monster, Die and The Dunwich Horror (which were also designed by Daniel Haller).
• NEW Kim Newman on HP Lovecraft (30min): The novelist looks at the challenges of adapting Lovecraft’s stories to the screen. You can tell this was filmed on the same day as his Tales of Terror segment by the bits of dust (or are they crumbs of food) on his jacket.
• A Change of Poe (2003, 10min): Roger Corman looks at the making of the film. This was also on the 2001 MGM DVD release and is included in the Scream Factory Vol 1 Blu-ray.
• Gallery (silent, with a couple of newbies)
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by Matthew Griffin
KK: The audio commentary is the highlight here.
THE TOMB OF LIGEIA
• Audio commentaries by Roger Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd. These originally appeared on the 2001 MGM DVD release, and are also on the Scream Factory Vol 2 Blu-ray. (The Shepherd one also has poor sound).
• NEW Interview with Paul Mayersberg, who worked as Corman’s everyman assistant, doing everything from finding the location and hiring the cats (they kept running away), script rewrites and filming the holiday sequence at Stonehenge. Recorded 30 September 2014. (25min).
• NEW Interview with 1st AD David Tringham, who talks about working with the fast-working Corman and his fears of the studio set catching fire. Recorded 26 September 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with clapper loader Bob Jordan about shooting in widescreen on a low budget and of filming on location. Recorded 7 October 2014 (8min).
• NEW Interview with composer Kenneth V Jones, who talks about the challenges of creating a score without Corman’s input. Recorded 11 March 2014. (6min). Now this is one soundtrack that so needs an official release. Anyone?
• US trailer (unrestored)
• Artwork by the Twins of Evil (aka Luke Insect and Kenn Goodall)
KK: Those interviews are priceless. Thank you Arrow.
Each feature is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and offer uncompressed linear PCM 2.0 mono tracks. I found them all to be a richly colourful, pristine-looking upgrade on my MGM DVD releases. And while I already have the Usher and Pit SteelBooks, this Blu-ray box-set makes for a great companion piece. Now, what do I do with those DVDs?
Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales is available on Blu-ray from Arrow from Monday 8 December 2014
Christmas has come early for Vincent Price fans (like myself) and aficionados of Roger Corman’s 1960s-lensed films inspired by the feverish imaginings of Edgar Allan Poe, as Arrow Films unwrap their Six Gothic Tales Blu-ray box-set (due out on 8 December).
Included in the box-set is 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher and 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum (both released separately earlier this year); 1962’s Tales of Terror (which adapts Poe’s Morella, The Black Cat and The Facts in the Case of Mr Valdemar); 1963’s The Raven (a comic take on Poe’s poem co-starring Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre); 1964’s The Haunted Palace (the first screen adaptation of a HP Lovecraft story); and the necromantic masterpiece The Tomb of Ligeia, which ended the Poe/Price/Corman cycle in 1965.
This limited edition run of just 2000 copies features all six features in high definition Blu-ray (based on the MGM HD masters, with additional restoration overseen by Arrow), with original uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles. The special features are pretty impressive (click here for the full list) and there’s a hardback collector’s book which features full repros of three comic tie-ins as well as some insightful essays on the films.
While there are no plans for any Steelbook releases for these titles, unlike The House of Usher and The Pit & the Pendulum, Arrow will be releasing The Haunted Palace and The Tomb of Ligeia as standalone Blu-ray releases on 23 February 2015, featuring some wicked cover designs; while Jacques Tourneur’s 1963 spoof The Comedy of Terrors (one of my favourites) will be out on 16 February. The Raven will also be released in 2015, but no date has been set, and the same goes for Tales of the Terror.
And if you are wondering why Masque of the Red Death isn’t included in this box-set – ask StudioCanal. They own the print and denied Arrow’s request to sublicence it for this release. Silly them! Don’t they know there are some serious completists out there (me included).
I’ll be posting reviews of the box-set and its contents shortly, so watch this space!
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) | Mario Bava’s Hitchcockian ABC of terror gets a re-mastered HD release
What Does It Want? What Will Satisfy Its Cravings?
Young American secretary Nora Davis (Letícia Román) loves reading murder mystery novels, but never dreamed she’d end up in a real life case. Whilst visiting an elderly aunt in Rome, she witnesses a murder on the steps of Piazza di Spagna. But with no body, the police and a young doctor, Marcello Bassi (John Saxon), refuse to believe her story. Nora then starts researching a 10-year-old case involving the Alphabet Killer, only to end up his next intended victim. Can she convince Marcello that she isn’t imagining things before the bodies start piling up?
The first true Giallo?
Mario Bava is credited with inventing two of cinemas most iconic genres: the giallo (in La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo aka The Girl Who Knew Too Much) and the slasher (A Bay of Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve). This inventive 1963 thriller was a new direction for the director, who had previously helmed the gothic shocker Black Sunday (1960) and peplum adventures like Hercules in the Haunted World (1961). Intended as an homage to Hitchcock and a macabre twist on fluffy European vacation romcoms like 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain, La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo ended up laying the blueprint for all those gory Italian thrillers that followed in its wake. Now it was the killings that took star billing rather than the mystery, and Bava would continue to hone this stylistic device from his 1964 shocker Blood and Black Lace to 1971’s A Bay of Blood (the ultimate slasher template for Friday the 13th and its ilk). Indeed, if it weren’t for this for The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Dario Argento may never have had the career he’s had.
Bava’s striking chiaroscuro lighting and masterful camerawork certainly comes to the fore in this, his last black and white feature, while his innate style makes this thriller something special indeed. The original Italian film was re-edited, re-scored and re-titled as Evil Eye in the US by American International Pictures, and is much darker in tone as it dispenses with much of the comedy that Bava envisaged. Which begs the question: which version is the better? Well, I prefer the moody original, although I love how Les Baxter’s score on Evil Eye makes the comedic elements shine through. Bava’s next effort, Black Sabbath, was also re-edited for the US market (read my review of the Arrow release here).
Star Letícia Román ditched acting five years after making this film and went on to make her fortune in the property market. BTW: The catchy theme tune, Furore, is sung by Italy’s best-selling male singer Adriano Celentano.
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Digitally re-mastered from the original pre-print film elements, Arrow presents the film in both its original Italian version (La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo) and the longer US cut, entitled Evil Eye. Both versions contain new English subtitle track, and a High Rising featurette in which filmmakers Luigi Cozzi and Richard Stanley and authors Alan Jones and Mikel Koven reflect on Mario Bava’s first true giallo.
• High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Evil Eye
• Uncompressed 2.0 mono PCM audio for both versions
• Optional English subtitles on both titles
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas (this was originally included in the Anchor Bay/Starz DVD box-set release in 2007)
• Introduction by Alan Jones (also on the Anchor Bay/Starz release)
• Remembering the Girl: Interview with John Saxon (also on the Anchor Bay/Starz release)
• International and US trailers
• Reversible Sleeve featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse
Behold Blacula! America’s first African American vampire! In 1972’s Blacula, Prince Mamuwalda (William Marshall) is turned by Dracula into a ‘living fiend’ and entombed for nearly two centuries until he is unwittingly released in modern-day Los Angeles, where he goes all Fatal Attraction on Vonetta McGee’s Tina, who could be the reincarnation of his long-dead wife. Resurrected a year later, in 1973’s Scream Blacula Scream, Blacula encounters Pam Grier’s voodoo priestess who could be the answer to bringing peace to his soul…
Warm, young bodies will feed his hunger, and hot, fresh blood his awful thirst!
In the wave of Blaxploitation films made in the US in the 1970s, came the unlikely horror Blacula (1972) – the first and best of the 15 black horror titles to emerge out of the era. Though largely ignored by critics, Blacula went on to become Variety’s Top 50 Movies of 1972 and is now regarded as a cult Soul Cinema classic, alongside the likes of Shaft (1971), Trouble Man (1972) and Coffy (1973). Despite the few genuine chills on offer and a romantic reincarnation subplot that’s indebted to Universal’s 1932 horror The Mummy, Blacula is a hip and happening horror that’s not strictly played for cheesy laughs, despite its tongue-in-cheek title. There’s a police crime thriller vibe going on (director William Craine had previously done an episode of TV’s Mod Squad), while the script relishes in taking bites out of racial prejudice and homophobia (a gay interracial couple must be a cinema first).
Suave basso profondo thespian William Marshall (he was King of Cartoons on Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the 1980s) brings grandeur, menace and sympathy to the role of the vampirised African prince terrorising south LA’s notorious Watts neighbourhood in a Bela Lugosi-styled tux and cape, while putting the bite on jive-talking pimps and drug dealers like some John Shaft with fangs. The funkadelic R&B score is by the legendary Gene Page, which was later released as a soundtrack album (which is quite the collector’s item these days). Director Craine’s next black horror was 1976’s Dr Black, Mr Hyde. Love Letters singer Ketty Lester makes a cameo, while AIP regular Elisha Cook makes nifty use of a metal hook hand.
The Black Prince of Shadows Stalks the Earth Again!
Having turned to dust and bones at the end of the first film, Blacula rose again in the rushed-in 1973 sequel Scream Blacula Scream by a voodoo priest (Richard Lawson), seeking revenge on his rival (played by Soul Cinema queen Pam Grier). Believing Grier’s priestess Lisa can end his curse, Blacula becomes fixated on her with fatal results – she ends up ends up driving a stake into a voodoo doll replica of him. Though not as successful as the original, Scream Blacula Scream looks great (check out the 1970s threads on the cool vamps!) with more blood and shocks, particularly when the undead take on the police in the film’s climactic scene. These creepy moments are courtesy of Robert Kelljan, who also directed AIP’s surprisingly scary Count Yorga films, starring Robert Quarry as another vampire out of sorts in modern LA. Both Blacula and Yorga are two my favourite 1970s movie monsters, and I’ve always imagined how great a sequel would have been in which the urbane bloodsucking duo got to do a Freddy vs Jason styled face off. Sadly, that’s just a pipe-dream. However they have been immortalised as collectible action figures, so maybe someone could do a stop-motion short one day soon (anyone?) Next up for a HD resurrection – the two Yorga films, please!
THE UK DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
The Eureka! Classics release includes brand new 1080p high-definition transfers and progressive DVD encodes; plus optional English subtitles. The picture is a little grainy on my system (especially in the night scenes), but the sound is wicked. The only extras are trailers for both films and introductions from Kim Newman; however there is a very informative booklet with neat articles by Josiah Howard, author of Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide; and includes some reprints of original lobby cards and posters. This release is a real must-have for fans of schlocky 70s horror.