If you’re familiar with the cult 1970 Brit thrillers And Soon the Darkness and Crescendo, then you’ll see echoes of those classics in debut director Abner Pastoll’s murder mystery Road Games.
The gorgeous French countryside (actually Maidstone, Kent) is the setting for this unsettling thriller where suspicion and road kill is the order of the day. British drifter Jack (Rebellion’s Andrew Simpson) is trying to get to Calais when he encounters another hitchhiker, the enigmatic Veronique (Josephine de la Baume), along a stretch of road where they learn a serial killer is on the loose.
Taken in for their own safety by the overly-friendly Grizard (The Returned’s Frederic Pierrot) and his somewhat nervous wife Mary (Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame), who live in a half-lived-in mansion, Veronique soon begins to suspects something amiss… And she’s right! For what follows is some splendid old dark house scares, some shocking twists – as every character become suspect – and some nail-biting The Hitcher-styled chills.
With a cracking cast – especially former screen queen Barbara Crampton, who is firmly re-establishing herself in the horror genre of late – and direction that would make Hitchcock proud, Road Games is a winner all the way. Oh, and the house used in the film was last seen on the big-screen in 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d with Elizabeth Taylor. Check it out here: http://stclere.co.uk/
• Out on DVD from Monday 29 August 2016 and on VOD and for download from Friday 26 August 2016 from Frightfest Presents
• Road Games will also be screening at Horror Channel FrightFest on Friday 26th August. Check it out here
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
…and see if you can guess ‘whodunit?’
During the 1930s and 1940s, the detective-hero Ellery Queen was one of the best-known American fictional detectives. Brooklyn cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee created the character in 1928 as part of a writing contest sponsored by McClure’s Magazine.
As well as naming their lead character Ellery Queen it was also their pseudonym. Their entry won the contest, but the magazine closed before it could be published. But a year later, the cousins’ novel The Roman Hat Mystery hit the stands.
Over 30 novels followed, plus a radio series and four TV shows, including this 1975 series starring Jim Hutton as the mystery writer turned amateur sleuth who helped his New York police inspector dad, Richard Queen (David Wayne), solve baffling crimes.
Set in 1947 in New York City, NBC TV’s series took the novel approach of breaking the fourth wall, in which Hutton’s Queen asked the audience to identify the murderer by reviewing the clues of the case before he gathers the suspects together.
Aside from the sleuth and his grumpy dad (whom he still lives with), the show had two recurring characters that were created to provide the show’s comic relief. They were hammy radio sleuth Simon Brimmer, played by John Hillerman, who’s best known as Higgins in Magnum PI, and news hack Frank Flanagan, played by Ken Swofford. He would later appear in Murder, She Wrote, another mystery show conceived by producers Richard Levinson and William Link.
The big draw, however, were the Who’s Who of veteran Hollywood talent that guest-starred, with many of them playing the murder victims, including Kim Hunter, Tom Bosley, Dr Joyce Brothers, Troy Donahue and Eve Arden. The suspects, meanwhile, included Vincent Price, Betty White, Ray Milland, Joan Collins and that stalwart of US 1970s TV Roddy McDowall.
The show was certainly a great opportunity for these stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to strut their stuff in their twilight years, and it’s great fun watching the show again on DVD to catch some of my favourite stars from popular old TV shows appearing in the same episode. One example is The Adventure of the Wary Witness, which featured Dick Sergent from Bewitched, Caesar Romero from Batman and Dwayne Hickman from Dobie Gillis. Sadly, it was one of Sal Mineo’s last performances before his tragic murder in 1976. This is pure light-hearted nostalgia with real class and a catchy evocative Elmer Bernstein theme tune that’s so worth a revisit.
The Fabulous Films six-disc DVD collection contains all 22 episodes (uncut, unedited and remastered), plus the series pilot, Too Many Suspects, and an interview with veteran writer and producer William Link.
Douglas Wilmer gave a career-defining performance as the Baker Street sleuth in the classic 1964-1965 BBC TV series, Sherlock Holmes, which is now getting its first-ever UK DVD release from the BFI. The 4-disc set includes a number of special features, including two reconstructions of lost episodes, five audio commentaries, and an interview with Douglas Wilmer (who turned 95 in January).
Bearing a striking resemblance to the original Sidney Paget illustrations, Douglas Wilmer’s portrayal is possibly the closest to Conan Doyle’s original vision, and by playing him as ‘unsympathetic, vain and dangerous’, he’s widely regarded as ‘the only actor who ever got it right’ – although I do think Peter Cushing was also spot on when he took on the role for 16 stories in 1968. In 2012, Wilmer’s iconic status within the Holmes’ pantheon was cemented when he turned in a cameo appearance in the second series Sherlock story, The Reichenbach Fall, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Conan Doyle’s incumbent sleuth.
The first story in the 1960’s BBC series, The Speckled Band, was originally produced as part of the 1964 drama strand, Detective, but 12 cases followed, beginning in January 1965. Alongside Wilmer, Nigel Stock played Holmes’ loyal companion, Dr John Watson – a role he continued to play alongside Peter Cushing in 1968, while the supporting cast included Peter Madden as Inspector Lestrade and Derek Francis as Mycroft Holmes.
The roll call of guest stars included Peter Wyngarde and Jennie Linden in the dark and disturbing The Illustrious Client; Patrick Wymark and Sheila Keith in the Gothic melodrama The Copper Beeches; Trevor Martin (aka the first stage Dr Who) in the three pipe problem mystery, The Red-Headed League; Anton Rodgers in the opium-tinged The Man with the Twisted Lip; and Joss Ackland and Roger Delgado in the final story, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.
WHAT’S IN THE 4-DISC SET
• All surviving episodes from the 1965 series (in black and white, and in their original broadcast ratio, with Dolby Digital 10.0 mono audio).
• Original 1964 Detective pilot episode The Speckled Band.
• Alternative Spanish audio presentation of The Speckled Band.
• Alternative title sequence for The Illustrious Client.
• The Abbey Grange episode reconstruction, featuring a newly-filmed sequence of Douglas Wilmer reading the first half of the story, followed by all surviving original footage.
• The Bruce-Partington Plans episode reconstruction, using all surviving original footage and original shooting scripts.
• Douglas Wilmer … on Television (2012, 22 min): From his earliest days at RADA and the Old Vic to working at the BBC and his recent cameo in Sherlock, Wilmer looks back at his career and at the character that has won him a place in British TV history, recalling the highs and lows, and also pays homage to his old mate, Nigel Stock.
• Five audio commentaries, with director Peter Sasdy on The Illustrious Client, Douglas Wilmer on The Devil’s Foot and Charles Augustus Milverton, director Peter Cregeen on The Abbey Grange, and actors Trevor Martin and David Andrews on The Red-Headed League.
• Illustrated booklet with full episode guides, articles on Conan Doyle’s sleuth and Douglas Wilmer, and restoration notes.
Available everywhere and online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop
Black Limelight (1939) | An atmospheric thriller where a woman’s work is never done when there’s a killer to catch
A house in south west London stands full in the ugly glare of publicity, with a police cordon round it and angry crowds lurking outside. Inside, Mary Charrington (Joan Marion) waits in bewilderment for the next act in the tragedy. Her husband Peter (Raymond Massey) is wanted for the murder of Lily James (Coral Browne) at a seaside bungalow in Dorset, which the tabloids have dubbed the work of the ‘moon murderer’. When Peter sneaks back home after three weeks on the run, Mary takes in onto herself to unmask the real killer. But in doing so puts herself in terrible jeopardy…
This vintage British crime thriller, which was called Footsteps in the Sand in the US, and directed by former silent movie helmer Paul Stein, certainly doesn’t attempt to hide its stage roots, being based on a 1936 play by Gordon Sherry, which scored much success on Broadway and in the West End.
This being Britain of a bygone age, manners are prim and proper, everyone speaks the Queen’s English, children are seen but not heard, and women are regarded as hysterical creatures, not to be listened to. But not our heroine Mary… With her husband on the run, Mary juggles useless Scotland Yard detectives, a nosey American reporter (Dan Tobin), and unwanted neighbours, while also turning sleuth to prove Peter’s innocence. And she does so with jolly good bravado.
The drama very much wears its heart on its sleeve: men are portrayed as fools for straying from the marital home where wives provide all the love they need. Even the Monthly Film Bulletin drew attention to this in their review about Joan Marion’s performance, which it described as ‘so convincingly restrained that a film which begins as just another murder thriller almost ends up as a social document’.
Social comment aside, Black Limelight is an engaging and atmospheric affair, featuring some sprightly performances. Never one to stand for convention herself, Coral Browne was the perfect choice to play free-spirited Lily, whose tragic story gets told in flashback. Despite only having a few minutes on screen, the Australian actress’ scenes give the stage-bound proceedings a well-deserved lift, while also providing a neat counterpoint to Marion’s wholesome Mary. And as loyal maid Jemima, Elliott Mason provides some much needed light relief. Raymond Massey, however, does little more than look like a lost puppy throughout.
While the killer’s identity is rather obvious, this musty drawing room mystery will draw you in, and it’s great fun watching Marion’s Mary practically sacrificing herself to unmask the culprit courtesy of a single handkerchief. A woman’s work is never done when there’s a killer to catch…
THE UK DVD RELEASE
Part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection, Black Limelight is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It also includes an image gallery and the original shooting script (in pdf). While the mono sound is scratchy at times, the print is excellent, with Claude Friese-Greene’s monochrome cinematography at its shimmering best in the bungalow scenes.