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Vampira (1974) | A dashing David Niven brings a touch of class to the bloodsucking British farce

Vampira (1974)

David Niven’s super smooth Count Dracula is strapped for cash and renting his Transylvania castle out as an upscale B&B and corporate event facility. But when he uses the blood from four finalists doing a Playboy photo-shoot to resurrect his beloved wife, Vampira (Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves), he gets the shock of his life when Vampira turns black.

Packing his coffin, old Drac, his jocular manservant Maltravers (Peter Bayliss) and Vampira leave the Carpathians behind for swinging London and a haunted Hampstead mansion to track down the right ‘donor’ to restore Vampira…

Vampira (1974)

Known as Old Dracula in the US (to cash in on Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), this 1974 vampire comedy was written by Jeremy Lloyd (of Are You Being Served? and ’Allo ’Allo fame) as a vehicle for David Niven, who brings a real touch of class to director Clive Donner’s Carry On meets Confessions of a Biteable Playmate farce.

Vampira (1974)

One-liner vampire jokes are the order of the day, with the best of them deservedly going to Bayliss, although Niven does get some nifty ones like: ‘That look of horror when they realise that it’s me is so exciting’. Drac’s castle dinner show, complete with creepy organ-playing and flying bats, effectively spoofs Hammer’s horrors, while his gimmicky haunted London pad with its screaming, laughing ghosts, satanic imagery and rat-infested well is a nod to William Castle and AIP’s 1970s shockers.

Vampira (1974)

Lloyd and Donner also pay homage to blaxpoitation and spy flicks by turning Vampira into jive-talking disco queen after watching Black Gunn, and giving Niven some nifty weapons, including a cane with a deadly blade, which he uses to rescue a damsel in distress; while Anthony Newley’s jaunty theme tune sung by UK soul band, The Majestics is played over Bond-esque silhouetted credits. Mind you, Niven blacking up for the film’s final shot may have been misguided.

Vampira (1974)

Psychomania‘s Nicky Henson plays horror writer Marc, who comes under the Count’s hypnotic control in order to put the bite on the likes of Jennie Linden and Veronica Carlson; while sex kitten Linda Hayden makes an early exit when her just-turned waitress Helga gets staked with a crossbow. Comedy actors Bernard Bresslaw and Frank Thornton make their hilarious cameos count, while the other ‘stars’ are the gritty Soho locations and David Whitaker’s funky music that has an air of Geoff Love’s fake 1970’s exotica group Mandingo about it. Fangs for the laughs, folks!

The Fabulous Films Blu-ray & DVD release features a lovely transfer, but no extras. Available from 14 August 2017

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Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) | Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s haunting anti-war satire – now on Blu-ray

Slaughterhouse-Five

Meet Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) – who may or may not have come unstuck in time. During the Second World War, the young soldier is captured and sent to a German POW camp. On route, he witnesses the bombing of Dresden, an event that unhinges his fixity in time and causes him to live his life simultaneously as a POW, an optician in 1970’s America, and as the elderly abducted resident of a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where his captors provide him with a mate in the form of a porn star.

This thought-provoking anti-war, sci-fi from directed George Roy Hill (best known for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) is based on American author Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s most influential and popular work, the 1969 satirical semi-autobiographical novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, which drew on the author’s own experiences as a prisoner of war when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.

Thought to be impossible to film given its intertwining storylines and timelines, it went on to win the Prix du Jury at Cannes, as well as the praise of Vonnegut who remarked: ‘I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book’.

The Bach compositions used in the movie were supplied by celebrated classical pianist Glenn Gould, while the film’s star Michael Sacks later retired from the entertainment industry in the mid-1980s to become a technology industry executive for Morgan Stanley. Amongst the cast is Ron Leibman (TV’s Archer), Valerine Perrine (Lenny) and Perry King (Class of 1984).

Slaughterhouse-Five is out on DVD from Fabulous Films and on Blu-ray from 26 June

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Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid | Steve Martin’s film noir spoof was released on this day in 1982

Paying homage to classic Forties film noirs, 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid starred Steve Martin (giving one of his best performances) as the Philip Marlowe-styled gumshoe Rigby Reardon, who is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the death of her father, a noted scientist, philanthropist and cheesemaker…

Originally released on 21 May 1982, the film is irresistibly silly and very funny (aside from the misogyny of course, which was typical of films of the era). But the best thing about the comedy is how it cleverly intercut 19 classic movies into its spoof adventure. Whilst writing the film, Carl Reiner and George Gipe spent countless hours looking for specific shots and ‘listening for a line that was ambiguous enough but had enough meat in it to contribute a line’, while 85 sets were constructed in order toe edit in and merge the old film footage.

Then, of course, there was that amazing cast of Hollywood greats who ended up being Martin’s co-star. Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Eva Gardner, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Laughton, Joan Crawford Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred McMurray, James Cagney and Vincent Price.

Check them all out here.

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Available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid really makes you want to revisit the classic films spliced into the light-hearted spoof. And here they all are.

Suspicion (1941)
Johnny Eager (1941)
Keeper of the Flame (1942) (uncredited)
This Gun for Hire (1942)
The Glass Key (1942)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Killers (1946)
Deception (1946)
Humoresque (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Notorious (1946)
I Walk Alone (1947)
Dark Passage (1947)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Bribe (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)

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The Magic Christian (1969) | Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a shipload of famous faces make this comic misfire worth a revisit

The Magic Christian (1969)

This wildly undisciplined 1969 British comedy sees a homeless man called Youngman (Ringo Starr) being adopted by the world’s richest man, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who sets out to prove that money can make people do anything through a series of practical jokes and bizarre stunts…

The Magic Christian (1969)

Shot with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality by one of the seven directors of the dire Casino Royal (The Goon Show’s Joseph McGrath), The Magic Christian is an absurd satire on capitalism, greed, and human vanities based on a novel by Terry Southern, whose warped imaginings also turned out screenplays for some of my favourite ‘out-there’ movies, Candy, Barbarella, The Loved One and Dr Strangelove.

Southern co-wrote the film with McGrath, but much was altered when the film’s star Peter Sellers – who loved Southern’s book so much he bought 100 copies to give to friends – got Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Graham Chapman to rewrite some scenes, some of which didn’t end up in the final cut. The biggest change was Ringo’s character, which was created especially for the movie.

Not that Starr brings much to the film, apart from hanging on Sellers’ every word (which the comedy legend utters in a vast array of vocal mimicry), as he carries out his ‘Grand’ schemes. These include getting Laurence Harvey’s Shakespearean actor to do a striptease during a performance of Hamlet, blowing the shit out of a squire’s sedate country shoot, fixing the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, and inviting a bunch of city types to bob for pound notes in a vat of animal blood, piss and manure.

The Magic Christian (1969)

Along for the wacky ride are Spike Milligan as a traffic warden who eats a parking ticket for £500, Hattie Jacques as a vain train passenger with a penchant for Nazi torture porn, Yul Brynner (voiced by The Rag Trade’s Miriam Karlin) as a transvestite singing Mad About the Boy to Roman Polanski, John Cleese as a surly Sothebys auctioneer, and Raquel Welch as a whip-wielding galley slave mistress, while Christopher Lee has fun sending up his Dracula persona. Shamefully, however, Leonard Frey (of Boys in the Band fame) is called Faggot.

The hit and miss satire ends in a shambolic riot aboard the eponymous Magic Christian, a luxury liner berthed in the Thames where London’s elite gather for the social event of the year (as reported by Michael Aspel and Alan Wicker).

The Magic Christian (1969)

While it certainly fails as an incisive satire (probably on account of it being lost in translation), The Magic Christian does have those fun cameos to tickle your funny bones, and the central London locations (with a Thames bursting its banks) are a real nostalgia trip. Watch out for the grotesque dining scene which could very well be the template for Monty Python’s Mr Creosote sketch in 1983’s The Meaning of Life (well Messrs Chapman and Cleese probably wrote that as well).

The Magic Christian (1969)

As for the Beatles-sounding theme tune ‘Come and Get It’, well that was written and produced by Paul McCartney for the Welsh rock band Badfinger, who released it as a single in December 1969 on the Beatles’ Apple label.

Fabulous Films presents the film on DVD in an unrestored version (some slight flecks appear here and there), with no extras.

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Wizards (1977) | Rediscover Ralph Bakshi’s trailblazing animated fantasy

Wizards (1977)

Praised by Quentin Tarantino and George Lucas, Wizards is an epic sci-fi fantasy adventure created by the legendary animator Ralph Bakshi in 1977, and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK featuring a new high definition print.

Wizards (1977)


Millions of years after a nuclear holocaust, the Earth is divided between the Badlands, where goblins and demons dwell, and the Goodlands, which is home to fairies and elves. During a violent storm, the queen of Montagar gives birth to two wizards– Avatar and Blackwolf, who are fated to enter into a deadly battle between magic and technology.


‘A cross between Tolkien’s Hobbit, Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and Marvel Comics’ Howard the Duck’ according to Tarantino, Wizards is without doubt a fantastical animated adventure from a master craftsman, but it also works as a none-to-subtle allegory on the creation of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust.

Featuring the vocal talents of Bob Holt (Hong Kong Phooey), Jesse Welles (The Return of Count Yorga), and a pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill, this was the subversive cartoonist’s boldest gamble following his adult-themed flicks Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. But it is also became a trailblazing calling card for his next foray into animated fantasy, 1978’s The Lord of the Rings.

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The 2016 Fabulous Films region 2 DVD and Blu-ray release includes a new high-definition transfer, audio commentary from Bakshi, isolated music and effect audio track, a featurette on Bakshi, trailers and a gallery including conceptual drawings.

Get the DVD here

Get the Blu-ray here

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Rude Boy (1980) | When The Clash and punk collided in an electric British classic

Rude Boy (1980)Filmed as a fictional documentary, 1980’s Rude Boy follows a Brixton punk (Ray Gange) as he quits his job in a West End sex shop to become a roadie for The Clash during their Clash on Patrol and Sort It Out UK tours of 1978.

Set against the backdrop of late 1970s Britain, this is an unparalleled film document of the iconic band (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon) as they tour the country and headline the legendary Rock Against Racism Carnival in Victoria Park, London (which happened on 30 April 1978), while also going into the rehearsal rooms and the recording studio to lay down tracks for their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope.

The Clash regretted their involvement with the film after watching the rough cuts and asked producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan to edit the film to just concert footage, when Mingay and Hazan refused the band had pin badges made with the statement ‘I don’t want Rude Boy Clash Film’. The film, however, was released in 1980 and won an Honorable Mention and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 30th Berlin International Film Festival.

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Rude Boy featuring The Clash is available on DVD and for the first time on Blu-ray – fully restored in high definition with all new 5.1 surround sound, from Fabulous Films, from Monday 6 April. It includes 19 songs, 28 performances and 72 mins of live Clash footage.

THOSE EXTRAS IN FULL
• Audio commentary from producer/directors David Mingay and Jack Hazan
• Interviews with Ray Gange and Clash road manager Johnny Green
• Interviews with Jack Hazan and David Mingay
• 2 bonus live tracks that never made the final cut
• 4 deleted scenes
• 1980 theatrical trailer
• 1980 30sec radio ad
• Just Play The Clash’ separate song menu
• Clash discography with original sleeve artwork
• Clash image gallery
• The Clash Live in Munich 3rd October
• 7 songs, plus backstage interview
• Original 1980 promotional fanzine
• Rude Boy photo book

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl9j49bvANs%5D

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969-1973) | You’re invited to a hanging in the museum of the macabre

Night GalleryHaving rattled us with his twisted monochrome terror tales in The Twilight Zone in the early-1960s, Rod Serling took one step beyond in the 1970s with his weird and colourful Night Gallery, an anthology series set in a ‘shadowy museum of the outré’, where he unveiled a collection of artworks which all told stories of horror, the supernatural and the fantastic.

Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way- not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.’

Following a knockout TV movie in 1969, which gave Hollywood grand dame Joan Crawford a fitting swansong to her acting career and marked the directorial debut of Steven Spielberg (check out the interview below), the series kicked off proper in December 1970, and ran for three seasons before closing its doors in May 1973, but not before earning itself an Emmy with the first season episode They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.

Night Gallery: They're Tearing Down Riley's Bar

While the majority of the teleplays were written by Serling and producer Jack Laird, many were adapted from the works of HP Lovecraft, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and George Langelaan (best known for The Fly), which gave the series a darker, scarier tone than that of The Twilight Zone.

But the show also had its whimsical side, with a number of comedic shorts running under 10 minutes. While these were a bit hit or miss, the some of the stories really do make your hair stand on end like Certain Shadows on the Wall with Agnes Moorhead (Betwitched) and Grayson Hall (Dark Shadows), The Return of the Sorcerer with Bill Bixby and Vincent Price, and The Doll, which caused a very very young Guillermo del Toro to wet himself as a child (you can hear about it from the man himself in the extras).

Night Gallery_The_Doll

But like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery also featured a fantastic roll call of big-name stars, who all got to show their dark side over the 43 episodes (and pilot), and these have now all been collected in one big DVD box-set, complete with a host of extras, including the once lost episode, Witches Feast, and the uncut original version of Little Girl Lost. Plus, there’s audio commentaries from Scott Skelton and Jim Benson, the authors of the must-have companion book.

Night Gallery: The Return of the Sorcerer

Amongst the familiar faces are a number who also played guest villains in Batman, including Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Victor Buono (King Tut), Roddy McDowall (Bookworm) and Vincent Price (Egghead), plus a host of TV stars including a pre-Dallas/post I Dream of Jeannie Larry Hagman, Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes), John Astin (The Addams Family) and Forest Tucker (F-Troop).

Night Gallery: The Cemetery

The macabre artworks were also the show’s other big feature, and these were conceived by Thomas J Wright (who went on to become a TV director on shows like Supernatural and NCIS), while Jaroslav ‘Jerry’ Gebr did the ones for the pilot. These now collectable pieces are also explored in the extras.

So, who is up for a hanging in the Night Gallery…?

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films

CLICK HERE to check out the fantastic website devoted to the series, who also were responsible for the fab montages you see on this page

The Deadly Mantis (1957) | We’re gonna need more bug spray!

1957-deadly-mantis-poster

Out of a million years ago … a thousand tons of horror!
This 1957 creature feature was one of a slew of giant bug movies that followed in the wake of Them!. The premise has a giant praying mantis released from its slumber in the frozen Arctic following a volcanic eruption, then making its way to Washington DC where it smashes into a jet and gets gased in an underground tunnel.

It’s all deadly dull with lots of stock footage (including Eskimos escaping in caneos in fast-motion) and talky scenes (mainly military types trying to woo the film’s solitary female, played by Alix Talton). But the mantis effects are effective and fun. It’s just a shame the creature is as wooden as the acting by the human cast.

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Director Nathan Juran won an Oscar in 1941 for How Green Was My Valley, then helmed such genre classics like Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. But I will always associate him with Irwin Allen’s sci-fi TV shows Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. Actor William Hopper, who plays a palaeontologist, was the real-life son of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (wonder what she felt of her nephew’s wooden performance).

The Deadly Mantis is out on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films

 

Thunderbirds Are GO! (1966) & Thunderbird 6 (1968) | Gerry Anderson’s big-screen adventures debut on Blu-ray

Thunderbirds Are GO! Blu-ray

When making his cult TV show, Thunderbirds back in the 1960s, Gerry Anderson approached each hour-long episode as a mini-movie so it was only natural that the Supermarionation series would end up making the jump to the big screen – with Thunderbirds Are GO! (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968). Now, those spin-off films are out on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time from Fabulous Films. With the CGI ITV reboot currently airing, these releases are a timely reminder of the creative genius of Anderson and his dedicated teams of puppeteers, special effects crew and voice artists.

Thunderbirds Are GO! is a bigger, bolder version of the TV show, and the better of the two big-screen spin-offs. When the Zero-X mission to Mars is sabotaged, International Rescue jet into outer space to oversee the second launch. While the film gets a little bogged down with the mechanics of the launch operations (but a great showcase for the excellent special effects), Alan’s Swinging Star dream sequence featuring Cliff Richard and The Shadows is truly FAB – as are the colourful retro clothes and furniture (there’s even a Barcelona chair inspired lounge on show), and the cool Hydra-like fire-breathing aliens.

Thunderbird 6 may not hit the colourful highs of the first movie, but it’s still superior to Jonathan Frakes’ 2004 live-action remake. This 1968 actioner sees the futuristic Skyship One, designed by Brains, fall into the hands of the dreaded Hood during its maiden flight, prompting Alan to dust off his battered Tiger Moth plane to save the day.

Voicing the imposter Captain Foster is John Carson (channelling James Mason), who is best known for his Hammer horror roles in Plague of the Zombies and Taste the Blood of Dracula. Unfortunately, it was due to this film’s mediocre box-office results that Gerry Anderson quit the franchise to move onto his next TV project, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

Both Blu-ray releases come with a bounty of extra features including Gerry Anderson’s Countdown to Thunderbirds, and all-new 2015 production interview and facts, plus behind-the-scenes featurettes, galleries and trailers.

Wonderwall (1968) | The psychedelic cult movie immortalised by Oasis is now restored for your viewing pleasure

wonderwall bluray cover

Immortalised by Oasis in an eponymous track on their album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, director Joe Massot’s far-out Swinging 60s’ arthouse classic, featuring a score by George Harrison, is now out on Blu-ray in the UK following an extensive HD restoration carried out by Pinewood Studios.

The release, from Fabulous Films, includes the original theatrical version of the film as well as the director’s cut that features music from the original Wonderwall Abbey Road session never included in the original release.

Wonderwall (1968)

ARE YOU IN A HOLE?
It’s December 1967 and London is really swinging. Inside his cramped Landsowne Road apartment in SW11, absent-minded professor Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) discovers a hole in a wall in which he can view, unseen, the wild antics of a hip photographer (Iain Quarrier) and his collection of beautiful, drugged-up models, including the alluring Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). As he strips away more bricks, mortar, and even his ceiling, to get a better view of the couple’s love-ins and hash-fuelled ‘happenings’, he discovers Penny is far from happy and is soon forced to enter his ‘wonderwall’ in order to save her life…

Wonderwall (1968)

LET YOUR MIND WONDER
Great film man. Where did you get those fucked up ideas?’ ‘It was the times’. Those words, spoken between Liam Gallagher and Joe Massot after an Oasis gig in Bournemouth back in 1996 perfectly sums up the director’s Wonderwall. Originally released in 1968, the film plays like an feature-length music video, with most the film’s trippy visuals – courtesy of legendary cinematographer Harry Waxman – comprising of inventive pop-art inspired fashion-shoots, arty dream sequences and surreal slapstick comedy from Jack MacGowran (best known for his classic turns in Roman Polanki’s Cul-de-sac and The Fearless Vampire Killers).

Jane Birkin, who appeared briefly in another Swinging London film, Blow-Up, in 1966, speaks not a word throughout, which is dominated by George Harrison’s exotic score, a heady fusion of Indian sitar, tambla and sarod, that helped introduced Indian music to the West. Viewing it today, Wonderwall certainly has dated (its party scenes were even spoofed in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous), but its a real treat to hear Harrison’s sensual sounds alongside Massot’s ‘fucked up ideas’, visualised in Waxman’s psychedelic photography. Which only makes this Blu-ray release a must-have in my cult movie collection.

Wonderwall (1968)

THE SOUNDTRACK
With a budget of £60,000, Wonderwall was a low budget film with only £600 allocated for music. George Harrison spent £15,000 of his own money on creating the soundtrack which came his debut solo album, Wonderwall Music, and was the first release for The Beatles’ newly formed company Apple Records. The recording sessions took place at the EMI Abbey Road Studios and at Ravi Shankar’s studio in Bombay, India, with The Remo Four‘s Colin Manly and Tony Ashton, as well as Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr all becoming involved.

Wonderwall (1968)

THE WONDERWALL SET
Joe Massot commissioned Dutch design collective The Fool to create the Wonderwall. They were best known for decorating the Apple Boutique building exterior, and painting John Lennon’s Rolls Royce and George Harrison’s Mini Cooper. Simone Postuma was the painter and Marijke Koger was the graphic artist, while Josje Leeger designed and made clothes, including several of Jane Birkin’s costumes.

Wonderwall (1968)

THE EXTRAS
Reflections on Love (1966, 14-min) by Joe Massot. This is a real time warp trip back to 1960’s London when marriage, even between hippies, was between ‘one man and one woman’ (how times have changed).
• Publicity Text
• Biographies
• The Comic Art of Jack MacGowran (made up of clips from the film)
• The Art of Marijke (graphics from the film)
• Eric Clapton – Skiing (a clip from the film)
• John Lennon Poem
• The Remo Four Music Video (featuring clips from the film and short)
• Theatrical Trailer
• Outtake (the opening sequence with music by George Harrison)
• Collector’s booklet

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReCKDmeAdXA%5D
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