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Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 | This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

This ‘sequel’ to Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s 1975 cult drive-in actioner Death Race 2000 is a hoot and a half – and finally consigns those dire Jason Statham/Luke Goss efforts to the wrecker’s yard.

Malcolm McDowall dials in another performance as the Trump-esque Chairman of the United Corporations of America who gets his bouffant comb-over in a twist when his four-time racing champion Frankenstein wants to retire from the ‘greatest pissing contest of mankind’ (aka the Death Race), which every citizen (now permanently unemployed) vicariously joins in via VR headsets.

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Playing the man of many a spare part (and stepping into John Carradine’s black leathers) is Manu Bennett (TV’s Spartacus), who seems to be channelling Mel Gibson’s Mad Max as he sets off with his proxy Annie Sullivan (Marci Miller, Days of Our Lives) – who is secretly working for a resistance group – from Old New York to Los Angeles. But as they mow down ‘willing’ fans along the way to collect vital points, will trying to avoid some high calibre hospitality, hot on their tailgate is the genetically-modified superstar Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), who’ll stop at nothing to beat them to the finish line…

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

This Wacky Races for the Trump era is a turbo-charged blast of popcorn fun that pays loving homage to the original (even down to the retro poster design), while also providing some thigh-slapping political satire by lampooning everything that is wrong with America today – from guns and religion to consumerism and social apathy.

Director GJ Echternkamp and co-writer Matt Yamashita inject loads of black humour into the film and its characters, who are great fun to cheer on or boo as they traverse America’s re-named cities and states like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), New Texxaco (Texas) and MeatPakistan (Kansas).

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Amongst the racers are hip-hop star Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), whose latest hit song is ‘Drive… drive… drive… kill… drive…’; Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey), a bible-bashing interfaith wack-job who is a ‘magnet for heathens’; and ABE, a KITT-like artificial intelligence who has an existential meltdown when he accidentally impales his sex-mad proxy to the hood of his bonnet.

Turning up the Roid Rage to warp factor 10 is Burt Grinstead as the sexually-ambiguous Perfectus, who reminded me of a closeted version of Gerrit Graham’s glam rocker Beef in 1974’s Phantom of the Paradise, while Yancy Butler (of Lake Placid and Witchblade fame) is the tough as nails Alexis, a former network programmer who now leads the resistance – a bunch of leather clad muscle boys. But for me, it’s Shanna Olsen who steals the show as the Hunger Games-styled news anchor Grace Tickle.

Roger Corman's Death Race 2050

Among the many funny lines are ‘It’s hard to turn global famine into click bait’ and ‘I’ll drink your tears Frankenstein and lick them off your handsome face’, but the most chilling must be, ‘The world is fucking crazy, a sane person doesn’t stand a chance’. Considering what America is going through now, it might just be true…

The late-great Ib Melchior gets a credit at the end for it was his short story The Racer that inspired Corman’s original Rollerball rip-off in the first place… now, does anyone remember sales people?

Death Race 2050 is out on Blu-ray and Digital Download from Monday 20 March 2017

DID YOU KNOW? You can watch the original cult action film here – in full!

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Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2012) | Tinseltown’s finest pay tribute to the King of the Bs

Film trivia buffs will certainly know what Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jack Nicholson, William Shatner and Peter Fonda all have in common – it’s working with Roger Corman.

This one-man show of producer, director, writer and actor has been in the film business for near-on 60 years. A leading visionary in American entertainment who mentored two generations of actors and film-makers, Corman received a richly-deserved Honorary Academy Award in 2009. This 2012 documentary is an affectionate tribute to the legendary man, tracing his career, up to that auspicious occasion.

Modern-day audiences will know Corman’s latest efforts for the Syfy channel, the fun CGI monster flicks Dinoshark and Sharktopus, but he’s also responsible for a host of other classic cinematic offerings going all the way back to 1955, when he started out doing teenage drive-in flicks. These have included cult comedies like Little Shop of Horrors, gothic Edgar Allan Poe chillers like The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price, plus gangster dramas (Bloody Mama), biker road movies (The Wild Angels) and the underrated racial drama The Intruder, starring William Shatner.

In the 1970s, his New World Pictures and New Horizons outfits made a host of exploitation flicks (Women in Cages, Death Race, and Piranha)  that have since became cult classic, and he also helped expose the films of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa to international audiences.

While the huge success of  Jaws and Star Wars knocked Corman for six in the mid-1970s and the straight-to-DVD market took over the exploitation market in the 1980s, Corman refused to retire. Today, he’s still ‘in the game’ and living by his mantra that  ‘It’s OK to have fun at the movies’.

The best thing about this documentary are the tributes paid to Corman by the likes of an emotional Jack Nicholson, an erudite Martin Scorsese and a thankful Ron Howard, to name just three. Nicholson’s first picture for Corman, Cry Baby Killer, was humiliating, while The Terror with Boris Karloff still belies logic, but they were great for his career, which really took off after The Wild Angels and The Trip led him to Easy Rider (a film which Corman nurtured, but missed out on making himself).

Martin Scorsese, whose favourite film of Corman’s remains The Tomb of Ligeia, got his first directorial duties on Boxcar Bertha in 1972. He would later use the techniques he’d learned on that film for his breakout feature, Mean Streets.

Former Happy Days star Ron Howard, remembers that it was the TV campaign for The Pit & The Pendulum that drew him into film-making in the first place. Thanks to Corman, Howard would earn his directorial stripes on Grand Theft Auto in 1977 and has never looked back.

Featuring a cool soundtrack from Air, this is an outstanding documentary about an outstanding man and we should all be thankful for all the ‘cool, weird and wonderful moments’ (to quote Nicholson) that he has given us film fans.

Available on  DVD and Blu-ray

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Blood Bath (1966) | Roger Corman’s Operation: Vampire Psycho Killer Thriller Murder Mystery gets the Arrow treatment

Blood Bath (1966)

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.

Operacija Ticijan (1963)

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).

Operacija Ticijan (1963)

Operacija Ticijan (1963)

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.

Blood Bath (1966)

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.

Blood Bath (1966)

Operacija Ticijan (1963)

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’.

Operacija Ticijan (1963)


Blood Bath: Arrow BoxsetSpecial Features
• 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

Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | Everything you want to know about Arrow’s Special Edition Contents

Vincent Price in Six Gothic TalesArrow’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.

House of Usher smallTHE 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.

Pit and the Pendulum smallTHE 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 smallTALES 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.

The Raven smallTHE RAVEN
• 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.

Haunted Palace smallTHE 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.

Tomb of Ligeia small
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

Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales | Arrow unwrap their Blu-ray box-set

Vincent Price in Six Gothic Tales

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).

Vincent Price in Six Gothic TalesIncluded 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!

Amazon Order Link Here £61.25
Arrow Video Order Link Here £69.99
Zavvi Order Link Here £59.99

Happy 50th birthday to Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death

masque

Happy 50th birthday to Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death which had its US premiere on 24 June 1964, before going on general release on 17 September.

 

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) | Roger Corman’s ghoulish Gothic horror starring Vincent Price swings again onto Blu-ray

pit_and_the_pendulum_steelbook

‘…the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair’

This has been a great week for Vincent Price fans. Hot on the heels of the Arrow Video Blu-ray release of Theatre of Blood and ahead of The Complete Dr Phibes release on 9 June comes the Blu-ray release of The Pit and the Pendulum, director Roger Corman’s 1961 follow-up to The Fall of the House of Usher.

The Greatest Terror Tale Ever Told!
16th-century Spanish nobleman Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is a haunted man: he fears his late wife Elizabeth (Barbara Steele) was prematurely interred and now stalks his gloomy seaside castle as a vengeful spirit. But he’s mistaken. Elizabeth is very much alive and is using a childhood trauma – Nicholas witnessed his mother being entombed alive by his inquisitor father as a child – to drive him insane. But her sick plan works only too well – Nicholas goes over the edge and becomes his own raving mad father, which puts the lives of Elizabeth’s brother Francis (John Kerr) and the rest Medina household in mortal peril…

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Bring me my pendulum, kiddies!
Roger Corman’s second stab at Edgar Allan Poe, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum, is a wilder, darker, more violent ride than the previous year’s The Fall of the House of Usher. Aiming to repeat that film’s success, Corman used the same team and stylistic design, even the same story. But he ended up crafting a Gothic masterpiece that’s definitely its own beast and another commercial success in his Poe/Price cycle of films.

Again Richard Matheson was called on to flesh out Poe’s original 1842 tale, which essentially was a monologue about the torments suffered by a prisoner at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. While not pure Poe (you have to watch the great extra on this release for that), the film certainly has a Poe-esque atmosphere about it: all dread and madness draped in mauve cobwebs and rococo furnishings.

Floyd Crosby captures this with some wildly fluid camerawork and rich colour cinematography, while Daniel Haller’s art direction comes to satanic fore in the scenes involving the titular rat-infested pit and blood stained pendulum (which was 18ft-long and weighed over a ton). Les Baxter’s minimal electronic score, meanwhile, lends the film a schizophrenic air – beginning with the film’s lurid liquid sky opening titles, which makes you think you are entering a terrifying acid trip.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

While Crosby’s camera has full reign of Haller’s superb castle interiors, Vincent Price really lets loose with a performance that’s become as iconic as the film’s nightmarish set-pieces. Watching him go from morbidly depressed to murderously deranged while spewing Matheson’s fruity dialogue is a hoot. It’s also what made audiences want to come back year after year. If 1960’s House of Usher officially launched Price’s Master of Menace persona, Pit and the Pendulum most certainly crowned him the new king of Horror. This was what seeing ‘a Vincent Price’ movie was all about.

Price, whose first appearance in the film is ‘like a ghost in an amusement park funhouse’ according to Tim Lucas in his audio commentary, certainly outshines the likes of the stiff John Kerr (who later ditched acting to become a doctor), Luana Anders (who looks lovely, but that’s all) and Antony Carbone (who looks too much like Kerr to bother with), while Barbara Steele shows her mettle as the new horror queen with her sleek feline-like performance as Price’s scheming ‘dead’ wife. While some critics felt Price overdid it, director Corman thought his star was on the mark: ‘He was able to convey the intensity and the madness of the character, bringing it to its fullest extent without going over the top’.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

[SPOILER’S AHEAD] The sequences which follow Price being lured down into the crypt to the grisly, heart-stopping finale (Steele gets locked up in an iron maiden, Kerr is almost cut in half by the razor-sharp pendulum, and Price tumbles into the pit) are the film’s visual highlights. And the final shots of Price glaring up out of the pit with his dead eyes open and Steele’s eyes peering helplessly from within the iron maiden have stayed with me for years. They also had a huge impact on other fans, including director John Landis, who said: ‘It scared the shit out of me! The ending is amazing… I’ve deliberately never seen that movie again. Not so much because it scared me, but because I know it couldn’t possibly be that good, you know?’

On its original release, the film, which was made in just 15 days on a budget of US$300,000, earned close to US$2million and became a hit with both critics and audiences alike, with the plaudits ranging from ‘a physically stylish, imaginatively photographed horror film’ (Variety) to ‘a thoroughly creepy sequence of horrors’ (New Yorker) and – my favourite – ‘Engagingly cornball insanity-in-the-castle hokum, with Vincent Price in fine eyeball-rolling, scenery-chomping form.’ (Joe Dante, Castle of Frankenstein). Even American International Pictures chief, Sam Arkoff praised it, saying: ‘I thought it was really good – the best of the Poes’.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

THE ARROW BLU-RAY RELEASE
Arrow Video‘s high definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation is transferred from original film elements by MGM, featuring original uncompressed PCM mono audio, optional isolated music and effects track and optional English SDH subtitles. According to the experts over at DVD Beaver, its a robust transfer with a much higher bitrate than the US Shout! Factory edition, smoother and superior, supporting an excellent 1080P image despite some frame-specific damage, while the replication of the original production audio has noticeable depth.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

THE EXTRAS
• In Roger Corman’s audio commentary (which is also on the Shout! Factory Blu-ray release), the maverick producer/director looks back at the making of the film, revealing the visual tricks he employed in his ‘Freudian-inspired’ horror. Who knew that doors represent the vagina and the dark corridors are an initiation into sexuality? You’ll certainly read the film differently after listening to this.
• The other audio commentary, by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas (*), is packed with juicy nuggets (I always wondered why those castle matt shots ended up in The Monkees). And when it comes to the film’s technical minutia, Lucas really knows his stuff. Film buffs will lap this up.
Behind the Swinging Blade – This new documentary on the making of The Pit and the Pendulum features interviews with Roger Corman, Barbara Steele and Victoria Price, while director Brian Yunza, who is a big fan of the film, also pops up. (43-min)
• Added TV Sequence – Shot in 1968 for the longer TV cut, this scene features star Luana Anders and is set in an asylum. Its a real curio, but for the life of me, I couldn’t work out where it would have been placed in the storyline. If you know, please enlighten me. (5-min)
An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe – This terrific 1970 TV special, shot on video, gave Vincent Price the chance to do Poe unplugged, reciting The Tell-Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The Cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum as he always wanted to do. The transfer quality here is on par the 2003 MGM DVD release. But did you know the period costumes were all designed by Price’s second wife, Mary? (53-min. With optional English SDH)
• Original Trailer
• Limited Edition SteelBook packaging featuring original artwork (SteelBook only)
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Gilles Vranckx (Amaray release only)
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by author Jonathan Rigby, illustrated with original archive stills

(*) Tim Lucas is also co-author of The Man With The Kaleidoscope Eyes: an original screenplay about Roger Corman and the filming of The Trip, which Joe Dante is in line to direct.
Additional sources:
The Films of Roger Corman: Shooting My Way Out of Trouble, Alan Frank, 1998

Big Ass Spider! (2013) | This giant bug B-movie kicks some seriously silly butt

Big Ass Spider DVD cover

Big Ass Spider! certainly lives up to its title as a fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek homage to the giant bug drive-in movies of the 1950s, spinning some seriously superior CGI effects, some LOL sight gags, and an endearing turn from former Heroes actor Greg Grunberg.

Big Ass Spider

HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Lovelorn bug exterminator Alex (Greg Grunberg) finds himself becoming an unlikely hero when he teams up with hospital security guard Jose (Lombardo Boyar) to take down a 50-ft alien spider rampaging the city of Los Angeles, all the while trying to win the affections of military lieutenant Karly (Clare Kramer).

Greg Wise in Big Ass Spider

ANGRY ARACHNID-ON-THE-LOOSE
If the dire Spiders 3D and the over-rated Sharknado left you deflated, then this angry-arachnid-on-the-loose schlock-fest is sure to win you over.

Grunberg’s cocky exterminator Alex – who can think like a spider – and Boyar’s wisecracking Jose make a great team, and their verbal sparring certainly helps to paper over the film’s shortcomings. Saying that, the effects are way better than those in Sharknado, with the highlights being a gruesome scene in which some guy’s face melts away after being sprayed by the spider’s acid venom and a scene in which the giant spider terrorises a park, targeting a team of big-breasted female volleyball players.

There are also hilarious nods to some iconic fims, like when the monstrous mutant destroys the Los Angeles City Hall Building (just as the martians did in 1953’s War of the Worlds) and climbs atop the US Bank Tower (just like King Kong) to make its nest. Oh, and watch out for a cameo from Troma’s head honcho, Lloyd Kaufman, as a jogger.

Big Ass Spider

Big Ass Spider! may not have the monster budget of Eight Legged Freaks or Arachnophobia or have the name Roger Corman (who remains the king of the B’s) attached to it, but it certainly holds its own against any of those monster mash up’s screening over on Syfy – and the dire Spiders 3D, of course. And if you stay for the credits, there’s a possibility of sequel… all together now, ‘La cucaracha!’

Big Ass Spider! is also available on DVD and Blu-ray from StudioCanal UK.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvEL10Ugd4I%5D
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