Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan (2011) | The must-see documentary tribute screens on BBC2 and BBC iPlayer
Cinema’s most admired and influential special-effects innovator Ray Harryhausen is honoured in the comprehensive 2011 documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, which airs tomorrow morning (Saturday 3 December) on BBC2 at 7.30am, following a screening of the 1949 adventure Mighty Joe Young (at 6am).
A seminal influence on modern-day special effects, the American visual effects creator, who sadly left us aged 92 in May of 2013, was the undisputed king of stop motion animation, and his films – which include The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans – inspired many of today’s big-name film-makers – from Steven Spielberg to Terry Gilliam and Peter Jackson – to follow in his footsteps.
This is a must-see for all film fans, with a wealth of clips from Harryhausen’s classic films and, on the Blu-ray, some neat extras (my favourite being a featurette in which Harryhausen’s prized models are unpacked for the 2010 London restrospective). Click here for a gallery of images.
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan is also available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Arrow Films, can be streamed via the Arrow Films VOD service, or you can watch it for free shortly after its broadcast on BBC iPlayer
The Leech Woman (1960) | Staying young forever comes at a deadly price in the Universal B-movie classic
Old women always give me the creeps!
When US endocrinologist Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) encounters 152-year-old Malla (Estelle Hemsley), he discovers she may hold the key to eternal youth. Accompanied by his alcoholic wife June (Nightmare Alley‘s Coleen Gray), Talbot takes Malla back to her African tribe, the Nandos, where she transforms back into her youthful self (To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Kim Hamilton) with the help of a ring filled with a miraculous elixir. However, there’s a deadly price to be paid: as the ring’s secret ingredient is secretion of the male pineal gland that can only be obtained by killing its host.
On learning that she is to be the next test subject, June kills her husband, steals the ring and heads back to the US under the guise of her own niece Terry Hart. But settling into her double life, June/Terry discovers she must kill and kill again to retain her beauty. But one of her victims proves her undoing when tries to win the affections of her lawyer Neil (Grant Williams aka The Incredible Shrinking Man)…
‘She drained men of their loves and lives’
Produced as a second feature to the US release of Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula, 1960s The Leech Woman is curious entry in Universal’s classic horror cycle. Helmed by screenwriter Edward Dein (who worked on the 1940s Tom Conway Falcon movies) it’s a strange brew of jungle adventure (cue stock footage of African wildlife and tribal dances), marriage meltdown soap drama and sci-fi fantasy.
While not exactly a spoof, the film doesn’t play it entirely straight, and this is evident from the outset as Coleen Gray and Phillip Terry trade acidic insults as bitter couple June and Paul Talbot in the film’s first act, which contains all of the film’s best dialogue, including: ‘I can’t reach you without crawling into a bottle’ and ‘As I doctor I resent the word butchering as much as I resent looking at you!’ Of course, being the first husband of Joan Crawford, Terry probably had a lot of material to use for these hilarious scenes.
And as a pertinent reminder of Universal’s horror pedigree, there’s some in-joke references to 1941’s The Wolf Man and 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb that will tickle the fancy of classic horror fans, while 1950s scream queen Gloria Talbott is super fiery as Gray’s love rival, Sally.
‘I’ll show you! I’ll becoming beautiful again!’
With vanity, Gerascophobia (the fear of growing old), and modern society’s obsession with halting the aging process at the heart of the thriller, the most revealing line of the film: ‘There’s only one trouble with running away – you always meet yourself when you get there’. Which is what eventually happens to June when, cornered by the police after killing Sally, decides to leap to her death rather than face the horror of seeing herself age and shrivel up (courtesy of make-up legend Bud Westmore’s box of tricks). However, she does get to take her swan dive in a chic silver lamé culottes-styled evening dress creation by Bill Thomas (the same costume designer who also did all the fab gowns in Douglas Sirk’s big-budget soapy 1950s melodramas).
This is campy B-movie fun with an acid tongue and one important lesson: never try to steal Nandos’ secret recipe for their delicious chicken marinade.
The Screenbound Pictures DVD release features a pristine print of the black and white horror, with Dolby Digital mono sound.
Possession (1981) | A look back at Andrzej Zulawski’s notorious marital horror from beyond the Berlin Wall
In honour of the passing this week of the 75-year-old Polish director Andrzej Zulawski, here’s a look back his shock art masterpiece Possession.
If you like your cinema dark, twisted and served with visual flair, then the 1981 German/French horror drama Possession might be just the ticket. Set in the former West Berlin, this once controversial arthouse thriller stars Aussie actor Sam Neill as a government agent called Mark and Isabelle Adjani (who would win both a César and a Cannes award for her role) as his adulterous wife Anna. Theirs is a marriage in total meltdown…
When Anna’s affair with the charismatic Heinrich (Heinz Bennent) comes to light, Anna goes into hiding, leaving Mark to look after their young son, Bobby. Alone with her guilt and self-loathing, Anna miscarries – an event that tips her over the edge into madness, resulting in self-mutilation, violent outbursts of rage and murder.
Possession is not an easy film to watch, but Adjani and Neil’s performances are mesmerising. Rich in metaphors, surrealist poetics and excessive symbolism, it has a trippy, dream-like incoherence that breaks all the rules about narrative structure. And this is all down to Żuławski who channelled his own psychological journey (over his own marital breakdown) into celluloid – making this more a visionary nightmare than a horror movie per se.
Though it does have elements of horror – especially the monstrous creature lurking in the shadows of Anna’s mind (courtesy of sfx legend Carlo Rambaldi) – the surreal inclusion of doppelgangers (Mark starts dating a teacher who looks just like Anna, while Anna’s creature becomes a clone of Mark); Kafkaesque spy intrigue (Mark is being hounded to move up in the spy agency); and the occult (Heinrich is portrayed as a black magician) makes it reminiscent of the works of Luis Buñuel and Alejandro Jodorowsky. As such, Possession is film as art.
Bewildering, hysterical and highly esoteric, this is one film you will not forget, but also the perfect introduction into the cinema of its late director. Just don’t watch this with someone you are about to break up with, and please don’t ask me to explain the final apocalyptic scene.
THE SECOND SIGHT BLU-RAY
In 2013, Second Sight released a re-mastered Blu-ray of the cult horror with a host of extrass. These included the making-of featurette, The Other Side of the Wall, audio commentaries with director Zulawski and co-writer Frederic Tuten, an interview with the director, a look at the Video Nasty furore that surrounded the release of the film’s UK release in 1981, interviews with composer Andrzej Korzynski and producer Christian Ferry, a feaurette on the film’s poster artist Basha, and theatrical trailer.
Dario Argento’s 1975 giallo masterpiece, Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso/The Hatchet Murders) is getting amust-have release from Arrow Video. Limited to 5000 copies, this 3-disc box-set includes the new 4k transfer of both the international cut and the director’s cut, plus a mausoleum’s worth of bonus content, alongside the complete 28-track original soundtrack recording, an exclusive booklet, a postcard set, and artwork by Gilles Vranckx. Here are the full specs. My review will follow shortly…
3-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of two versions of the film
• Original Italian soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0 and lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, and original English soundtrack in DTS-HD MA mono 1.0
• English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the English soundtrack
• Limited Edition Soundtrack CD
• 6 x postcard-sized lobby card reproductions
• Reversible fold out poster featuring two original artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Italian Giallo Film writer Mikel J Koven and archive piece by Alan Jones (who did the definitive book on Argento)
DEEP RED: ORIGINAL VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 1)
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
• Isolated Score in Stereo 2.0
• Audio Commentary with Argento expert Thomas Rostock
• Introduction to the film by Claudio Simonetti
• Profondo Giallo: Visual essay by Michael Mackenzie
• Rosso Recollections: Dario Argento’s Deep Genius: A look at the giallo’s creation by the director himself
• The Lady in Red: Daria Nicolodi on Profondo Rosso
• Music to Murder For! Claudio Simonetti on Deep Red
• Profondo Rosso: From Celluloid to Shop – a tour of Luigi Cozzi’s Profondo Rosso shop in Rome
• Italian Trailer
DEEP RED: EXPORT VERSION (BLU-RAY DISC 2) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
• Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative
• US Theatrical Trailer
PROFONDO ROSSO: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING (CD DISC 3) [LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE]
• 28-track CD featuring Goblin’s entire Deep Red film score
Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park!
In 1976, acclaimed American dramatist Paddy Chayefsky and film director Sidney Lumet, delivered a scathing attack on the medium in which they made their names, in the black satire Network.
Peter Finch won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar (he died while promoting the film in January 1977) as well as a Golden Globe and a Bafta, playing veteran anchorman Howard Beale, who, facing the axe, flips his lid and announces he is going to blow his brains out live on air – which sends his show’s ratings through the roof, giving ruthless suits, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, the perfect opportunity to exploit their ‘mad prophet of the airwaves’.
Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning script may have been an all-out rant against the power of TV media and those pulling the strings, but watching it today – especially in light of the News International phone hacking scandal and the recent Occupy Murdoch demonstration – it seems just as relevant, especially in regards to the lengths that media’s puppet masters will go to protect their shareholders.
Faye Dunaway also scored an Oscar for her forceful performance as one of the TV chiefs, as did Beatrice Straight for her tour de force turn as William Holden’s neglected wife; while Holden puts in one of his last truly solid performances in his later career.
Although Lumet missed out on an Oscar nomination, he did score a Golden Globe for his incendiary direction; which includes an electrifying scene in which Beale’s evangelised viewers head to their windows during a thunderstorm to scream out loud: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’. So effective is this scene, you’ll find it hard to stop yourself from following in their wake…
AARON SORKIN ON NETWORK
‘If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week. The commoditisation of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write The Internet.’ (Aaron Sorkin, The Newsroom)
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Network is available on Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, with a raft of new special features.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film, with uncompressed mono PCM audio and optional English subtitles.
• The Directors: Sidney Lumet – a 1999 documentary featuring interviews with Jack Lemmon, Rod Steiger and Christopher Walken.
• Tune in Next Tuesday – a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, the author of Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies.
• Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve artwork by Chris Walker
• Collector’s booklet, featuring new and archive articles, original stills and artwork.
If you’ve seen the 2014 remake, well here’s your chance to see the original 1976 drive-in crime thriller which shocked audiences on it’s release, preceded the slasher phenomenon, and included a castaway from Gilligan’s Island amongst its victims, as Eureka! Entertainment has released a brand new HD transfer of the legendary film on Blu-ray and DVD.
Starring Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson, and directed by Charles B Pierce, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on one of America’s most baffling murder cases. In the spring of 1946, the small town of Texarkana is terrorised by a mysterious assailant targeting young lovers in parked cars. Baffled local deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) then calls in Texas Ranger JD Morales (Ben Johnson) to help him track down what the press call, The Phantom Killer, before he can strike again…
This American International Pictures (AIP) release has garnered quite a cult reputation over the years. Director Pierce was a former set decorator (he worked on AIP’s Coffy) before directing his first feature, the seminal faux Bigfoot documentary The Legend of Boggy Creek.
On the back of the success of Boggy Creek, Pierce again used documentary elements (and the same narrator) for his fictionalised thriller. He also added in some comic elements (including having himself play a bumbling cop), which ended up making the film’s violence all the more shocking: especially the now infamous death by trombone and the terrifying cornfield escape by Dawn Wells (aka Gilligan’s Island’s Mary Ann), who plays real-life victim Helen Reed.
The Eureka! Entertainment Dual Format UK release includes a brand new 1080p high-definition transfer and progressive DVD encode, presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and this is a huge improvement on the prints that crop up on The Horror Channel in the UK, and also serve to really highlight the colourful Panavision cinematography.
The special features include trailers for the original and the 2014 remake; interviews with Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and director of photography James Roberson; a fascinating featurette Small Town Lawman about Prine; and an audio commentary with historians Justin Beaham and Jim Presley. In the US, the film is released through Shout! Factory with the same extras, but also includes Pierce’s follow-up, The Evictors (1979).
French director George Franju’s 1959 Les yeux sans visage (aka Eyes Without a Face) reigns supreme as a masterpiece of cinéma fantastique, and is now available in a new high definition release in the UK for the first time from BFI.
Obsessed Parisian plastic surgeon Professor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his devoted assistant Louise (Alida Valli) abduct young woman to graft their skin onto the face of his disfigured daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). But with each surgery, the isolated Christiane begins losing her sanity and her will to live…
Les yeux sans visage caused outrage on its release in 1959 where its gruesome scalpel scenes exert a shocking fascination, while it’s poetic visual style (where noir meets Cocteau), shadowy monochrome cinematography (by Eugen Schüfftan) and disconcerting circus-style music (by Maurice Jarre) imbue the film with a heady atmosphere of menace, anxiety and unflinching horror.
Much has been written about Franju’s artistically-made shocker, and its influence has informed generations of genre filmmakers, including Jesús Franco, John Carpenter and Pedro Almodóvar. Every re-visit is not only a reminder of Franju’s artistic precision, but also offers up new insights and readings into this most-perfectly executed horror film. And nothing can match the hauntingly beautiful final scene in which Scob’s Christiane walks through a moonlit wood surrounding by fluttering doves.
The BFI Dual Format (Blu-ray/DVD) release features the film re-mastered in High Definition and presented in its original aspect ratio (1:66:1), made available by Gaumont. The release also includes the following special features:
• Audio commentary by Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas.
• Monsieur et Madame Curie (Georges Franju, 1953, 14min): a study of the life and work of the Curies, told through the words of Marie Curie.
• La Première nuit (Georges Franju, 1958, 20min): a young boy spends a night in the Métro.
• Les Fleurs maladives de Georges Franju (2009, 50min): an overview of Georges Franju’s career.
• For Her Eyes Only (2014, 17min): An interview with Edith Scob.
• Booklet featuring essays and full film credits.
1) Its teens vs monster scenario is Rebel Without a Cause with added goo
Small-town teenagers Steve (Steve McQueen) and Judy (Aneta Corseaut) raise the alarm when a meteorite falls to Earth containing an extraterrestrial organism that devours anything organic in its path – but the cops won’t believe them. However, when the ever-growing red jelly people eater invades a local cinema causing mass hysteria, the dim-witted local authories are forced to act. But can anything stop the red menace?
2) It was based on a true story
The film was inspired by a real-life incident in the 1950s when Philadelphia policemen stumbled upon a quivering, glowing purple lump in a farmer’s field, which left a sticky residue when touched, but quickly dissapeared. It was thought to be ‘star jelly,’ or the gooey remains found near fallen meteorites, but it was most probably industrial waste from a nearby gas plant.
3) Hollywood’s coolest star gets to play a dork
This was 27-year-old Steve McQueen’s third film, but his first one in a leading role (and one in which he displays some weird method-acting facial ticks). McQueen, however, was such a pain during the shoot that the producers reneged on a three-picture deal, so he missed out on getting a share of the profits (it took $4million at the box-office). He got a $3000 fee instead.
4) It’s Colonial Theatre scene is iconic
The schlock sci-fi’s most-memorable moment comes when crowds (sporting huge grins) flee from a now-monstrous sized Blob out of a movie theatre and fall over each other. The filmmakers shot the scenes outside the real-life Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, which according the marquee was ‘healthfully air conditioned.’
5) The theme tune is ever-so catchy
‘Beware the Blob! It creeps and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor, right through the door, and all around the wall, a splotch, a blotch, be careful of the Blob…‘
Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis wrote the foot-taping theme song that’s played over the Saul Bass-inspired opening credits, and was a US Top 40 hit for The Five Blobs. The single’s B-side was the instrumental track Saturday Night in Tijuana. The song also appeared on the Look of Love: The Burt Bacharach Collection album.
6) The special effects are a wibbly-wobbly treat
Barton Sloane’s SFX, which consisted of plywood constructions with forced-perspective painted scenery and cell-animation, have an innocent charm, with Sloane’s oozing gelatinous star (coloured silicone) being a real treat. Sloane’s only other screen credit was for 1959’s underrated 4D-Man, which was also directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. You can watch it in full, here.
7) It was originally intended as support feature
Originally called The Glob, Paramount bought the film to play as the bottom half of a double feature with I Married A Monster from Outer Space. But when the single charted and Johnny Carson made a joke on air about, it ended up as the main feature, with more money being spent on its promotion, and McQueen getting star billing.
8) Its unapologetic anti-Communist paranoia propaganda masquerading as popular entertainment
An oozing, soulless red menace, whose only function is to consume, convert and supersede – one US citizen at a time. Says it all, doesn’t it? Well, there was a Cold War going on.
9) It was a good year for sci-fi
1958 was the height of the sci-fi boom, with the release of such future cult classics as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Brain Eaters, Earth vs the Spider, It Terror from Beyond Space, Space Children, Queen of Outer Space, and The Trollenberg Terror.
10) It wasn’t the only Blob invading our cities and towns
On the other side the Atlantic, the UK had its own problems with amorphous masses intent on taking over humanity: there was Hammer’s X: The Unknown in 1956 and Quatermass 2 (aka Enemy from Space) in 1957.
11) It spawned a sequel and a remake
A comedy spoof sequel, released in 1972, called Son of Blob (aka Beware! The Blob), was directed by future Dallas star Larry Hagman (you watch it full here), and was the inspiration for 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. The 1988 remake was a VHS-era favourite and is now regarded as an unheralded classic in its own right, while a new remake is currently in the works.
12) The Blob has its own annual festival
Every July, fans flock to Phoenixville for Blobfest, a three-day horror film extravaganza where they re-enact the mass exodus of the Colonial Theatre, which is now community treasure. Tickets for 2015’s event go on sale on 1 June. (check it out here)
Fabulous Frights’ presentation of The Blob is available on DVD and Blu-ray with a new 4k digital restoration. The extras includes original set prop gallery, original trailer and three galleries.
Being terrified is just the beginning!
The modernist Starliner Towers apartment complex on Nuns’ Island in Montreal becomes the perfect incubator when a medical professor, engaged in organ transplant research, genetically engineers a parasite that turns its human hosts into sex fiends.
As the escaped parasite crawls through the high-rise’s air ducts infecting the inhabitants (who are, at first, excited and enthralled by their new-found hedonism before turning into flesh-hungry zombies), resident doctor Roger St Luc (Paul Hampton) and Nurse Forsythe (Lynn Lowry) attempt to find a way to stop the epidemic from spreading beyond the walls.
The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom…
Shivers (aka The Parasite Murders/They Came From Within) was Canadian writer/director David Cronenberg‘s debut full-length feature, his springboard to cult horror/sci-fi auteur status, and one of the controversial films to come out of Canada in the 1970s.
Drawing on his own fascinations, fixations and fears on the dangerous link between desire and disease, society as a colossal bureaucracy, and his country’s historical medical atrocities, Cronenberg created a ground-breaking sci-fi that remains both chilling and compelling, a fascinating, frightening new take on the old mad scientist character, and the film that set the blueprint for the director’s dark delving into body horror in his latter work, particularly Rabid, The Brood, and Scanners.
Critics of the day wanted Cronenberg’s blood, calling it ‘an atrocity’ and ‘repulsive’ and a waste of taxpayers money; mainly because they could not get past Joe Blasco’s cheap, but effective special effects in which the ugly slug-like critters burrow into people’s bodies, give victims a full on face-hug or burst through stomachs (scenes which actually predate similar ones in Alien by four years).
Yes, it is raw and naïve (even Cronenberg admits that), but the film’s subversive themes (attacking the bourgeois existence for one) still unnerves 40 years on – while its nightmare scenario of an epidemic wiping out humanity remains a popular fixture in contemporary culture, from TV’s The Walking Dead to reality shows like I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse.
Watch out for 1960s screen queen Barbara Steele as one of the unlucky residents who gets little visitor while relaxing with a glass of wine in a bath.
Cronenberg on Cronenberg
‘The true subject of horror films is death and anticipation of death, and that leads to the question of man as body as opposed to man as spirit’.
The Arrow Films Release
Shivers was digitally restored by the Toronto International Film Festival at Technicolor with supervision by director David Cronenberg, and was delivered to Arrow Films by Lionsgate for its 2014 dual format (Blu-ray and DVD) release in the UK. Also available in SteelBook format.
The extras features the new documentary, Parasite Memories, the archive Canadian TV episode, On Screen!, about the film’s release, and From Stereo to Video, a featurette charting Cronenberg’s career. The collector’s booklet features an essay by Paul Corupe on Medical Terror in Cronenberg’s Shivers, an extract from Cronenberg on Cronenberg (1992), a reprint of the 1975 Saturday Night magazine article by Robert Fulford (as Marshall Delaney) and a 1975 Cinema Canada article. The reversible sleeve features new cover art by Nat Marsh.
Shogun Assassin (1980) | Banned, bootlegged and bodged – this samurai cinema classic has never been equalled!
Shogun Assassin is the notorious medieval manga chanbara classic from 1980 which famously got banned in the UK on its original release owing to its extreme violence and gets a screening tonight on Film4 at 11.45pm.
Sword and sorcery …with a vengeance!
Known in Japan as Kozure Ōkami, Shogun Assassin was compiled from the first two films in the famed Lone Wolf and Cub manga series of the mid-1970s. After being framed for disloyalty to his clan lord, disgraced ronin Itto Ogami aka Lone Wolf (Tomisaburô Wakayama) travels the country as an expert assassin-for-hire, with his three-year-old son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) in tow. Littering the countryside with piles of bodies, Lone Wolf’s bloodlust knows no bounds until his thirst for vengeance is finally quenched…
This crazy nihilistic thrill-ride is even more blood-soakingly brilliant if you can lay your hands on the 2010 limited edition dual format steelcase or the 2011 Blu-ray release from Eureka! Entertainment, which presents Shogun Assassin uncut and restored to its original aspect ratio, and features Samuel L Jackson giving his appreciation of the film (amongst the other extras). Finally its goodbye to my dodgy old VIPCO VHS copy.