31 December, 2008
Although technically a 2007 release GEORGE A. ROMERO'S DIARY OF THE DEAD was the best film I saw theatrically this past year. Actually, one of the very few films I saw theatrically in 2008. But what's important is that it's probably the most underrated of Romero's forty-year-and-still-going zombie cycle and maybe the most chilling since the first, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). The gore is there as always with Romero's zombie films but he has something significant to say about our current internet era where how many hits one gets on one's website can be as consuming an obsession as surviving a onslaught of the living dead. And Romero doesn't see humanity's chances for survival as a workable proposition unless we really make some drastic changes. This didn't get much play theatrically. If you don't have the DVD, get it. This really rewards repeat viewings.
A belated goodbye to Malvin Wald, screenwriter of the police procedural classic THE NAKED CITY (1948), a member of the Hollywood 10, writer of numerous TV scripts and credited co-screenwriter on Jess Franco's VENUS IN FURS (1969). Wald died earlier this year at the age of 90 after a busy writing career and later teaching screenwriting as USC.
A fond farewell to BCI Eclipse which is being closed down by its parent company. Over the last few years they released a number of excellent presentations of vintage Paul Naschy/Spanish horror including THE LORELEY'S GRASP, BLUE EYES OF BROKEN DOLLS and HUMAN BEASTS in their OAR, with Spanish language options available, Carlos Aured/Paul Naschy commentaries on HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB and BLUE EYES... and numerous extras. Cliff MacMillan is some kind of hero in my book.
Finally, a 2.35:1 transfer from excellent elements of this 1965 Amicus production which illustrates how skillful Robert Bloch was as a screenwriter and how underrated Freddie Francis was as a director.
See you next year.
30 December, 2008
Thanks to Eric Cotenas for alerting me that this French PAL tape recently sold on Ebay. With a listed 90m runtime this is actually the French titled LES EXPERIENCES EROTIQUES DE FRANKENSTEIN (1972). This would be longer than the Spanish version [85m], released by IMAGE DVD in 2005 as THE RITES OF FRANKSENSTEIN (onscreen title LA MALCICION DE FRANKENSTEIN), or the uncovered 72m THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN.
I wondered if this was actually the Spanish version dubbed into French or a version which has never surfaced before containing both the nude footage and the Lina Romay scenes.
Although the Spanish title LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN appears on the above box the actual videocassette has the French title stamped on it. Both the tape and an alternate French version would be rarities.
I'm still hoping for an eventual US R1 presentation of the uncovered version which Jess Franco told me several years ago was his preferred cut. The Spanish version was prepared specifically for the Spanish censors of the time.
29 December, 2008
Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 war movie explodes across 3 discs from SEVERIN
Alice Arno becomes a victim of Soledad Miranda in EUGENIE DE SADE...
In my opinion, the best Jess Franco DVD of 2008 was Blue Underground's EUGENIE DE SADE, the essential 1970 Sade adaptation featuring the late Soledad Miranda's most memorable performance. Beside the much-appreciated French language option, it was also the longest version yet released on R1 DVD and was a superior transfer with excellent video/audio quality.
The best all around presentation of an obscure European genre film was Severin's 3 disc SE, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. Not that the 1978 Enzo G. Castellari war movie was a lost masterwork but it's good fun and the fully loaded discs tell everything you ever wanted to know about low budget European genre filmmaking as it was experienced by the participants during that era.
25 December, 2008
22 December, 2008
Best 怪獣映画 double bill of 2008
Rodan does the Tokyo Stomp...
I'll be counting down my favorite DVD presentations of 2008 over the next few weeks including what I considered the best Jess Franco disc and the overall best DVD of the year. A lot of titles you may have seen on other Best lists, like the CRITERION presentation of VAMPYR or the HAMMER box set, won't be here simply because I haven't yet caught up with them. This has been a rather downmarket year for me personally, in terms of DVD purchases. I haven't yet made the leap into Blu-ray and won't anytime soon. I also find the news that the BCI Eclipse label is being shut down by Navarre due to both the current recession and lack of sales performance has left a somewhat bitter taste at the end of the year. I was particularly pleased with some of their Paul Naschy/Spanish horror presentations, more about them in the future. Some of the my favorite DVD companies, including NOSHAME, CASA NEGRA among others already wound down before that for various reasons. I don't know where this is all headed and I'll have much more to say about this state of affairs in future blogs. Look for mention of at least one BCI presentation as one my 2008 favorites.
In terms of anticipation and personal pleasure one of the best DVDs of 2008 was the rousing Media Classics 2-disc set of RODAN (Sora no daikaiju Radon, 1956) and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (Furankenshutain no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira, 1966), two favorite non-Godzilla Daikaiju Eiga. I have been a TOHO science fiction fan since seeing my first one theatrically in 1960. A long, long time ago...
RODAN and WAR... are presented in both their original Japanese versions with English subtitles available and their English dubbed cuts. RODAN looks and plays best in its Japanese version, sans the rather patronizing and nonstop narration and with a reel of footage not seen in the US version. Seen it its original version is has a severity of tone and tragic resonance not unlike the original GOJIRA (1954), the Ishiro Honda classic which kicked Japanese giant monster craze off. RODAN is presented in 1.33:1 format.
Furankenshutain no Kaiju: Sanda tai Gaira is just dumb fun, but delirious and memorable fun with a bewildered Russ Tamblyn and the mesmerizing Kumi Mizuno trying to explain the unjolly green and brown giants to a world which just doesn't get it. And you won't forget Kipp Hamiton singing (if you can call it that) "The Words Get Stuck In My Throat"! This was planned as a sequel to Honda's FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), but, shall we say, took on a life of its own. WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is presented in its 2.35:1 Tohoscope OAR. Both the US and Japanese versions are transferred from the most colorful and clean available Toho original elements. especially considering that they were made in the middle of the last century. Some reviews have noted that the US print is brighter than the Japanese. That may be but they both look fine to me (especially considering that they were made in the middle of the last century) and I'm glad to have them both for comparative Kaiju Eiga contemplation. A must have for Japanese science fiction collectors, especially since it costs under $15.00!
An original documentary BRINGING GODZILLA DOWN TO SIZE is also included in this package. Recommended to even non Kaiju Eiga fans. You just may find yourself addicted. Even in the midst of a recession you can't go wrong with this one.
20 December, 2008
WIP transgression from FEMALE PRISONER: CAGED, coming in January 2009 from MONDO MACABRO
We'll be adding a permanent link on the sidebar to the new MONDO MACABRO DVD blog, which includes videos, images and updated information on current and upcoming MM DVD releases.
MONDO MACABRO has been one of our favorite DVD companies since its launch, releasing deluxe, loaded-with-extras DVD editions of rarely seen, sometimes outrageous cinema from all over world. Some personal favorite MM releases include THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, SEVEN WOMEN FOR SATAN and THE FRENCH SEX MURDERS. They have also specialized in locating, restoring and presenting hard to find and sought after Asian cult/exploitation/sexploitation/genre films such as Masaru Konuma's 1983 WIP FEMALE CONVICT AKA: Josho Ori/ Female Prisoner: Caged/ The Prison Heat, which will be released in Jan. 2009.
Considering the topic of this blog, here's hoping that MONDO MACABRO can work their magic on some more Jess Franco titles in the future.
15 December, 2008
Oberinspektor Derrick methodically works a case
Horst Tappert in 1998
Horst Tappert gets the drop on Dan Van Husen in DER TODESRACHER VON SOHO
Horst Tappert died in a Munich clinic at the age of 85 on December 13. Tappert was best known for his performances as Inspector Stephan Derrick in 281 episodes of the popular German crime series DERRICK which ran from 1974 to 1998. Tappert also directed some episodes.
Fans of Jess Franco will remember him in three of the director's early 1970's titles, THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY (both 1970) and DIE TODESRACHER VON SOHO (1972). He played a police inspector in SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY... but was a villain in AKASAVA and DIE TODESRACHER... .
Thanks to blog reader Asle H. Kiran for informing me of his passing.
11 December, 2008
I would like to hear from DVD collectors/fans/blog readers which 2008 DVD release they consider to be the best presentation of a Jess Franco film and what JF films would top want-lists for HD DVD release in 2009.
Disc releases in all regions can be considered for the 2008 choices.
Thanks for your interest and participation during 2008.
08 December, 2008
Beverly Garland holds off Zontar the Venusian, a memorable Paul Blaisdell creation, in Roger Corman's 1956 Sci-Fi quickie IT CONQUERED THE WORLD.
One of my favorite cult movie actresses, Beverly Garland, died on December 5th at the age of 82. On Saturday morning I had heard about the December 4th death of legendary writer/actor/collector/FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND founder-editor Forrest J. Ackerman but I wasn't aware of her passing until reading about it in the local paper this morning on the way to work. In an interesting coincidence I just happened to get a compulsion to watch Roger Corman's 1957 NOT OF THIS EARTH after my usual weekend mountain biking excursion. A delightful B- science fiction concotion, I was really struck while watching it just how much Garland's self assured, humorous, sexy, intelligent, down-to-earth presence adds to the film. Her spunk, warmth and wit are what ground the outlandish affair. As the imposing alien of the title (Paul Birch) walks around LA in a business suit and shades, toting a portable bloodsucking machine in a metal briefcase, Beverly cracks jokes and effortlessly gives the scenario credibility as Nurse Nadine. Verbally sparring with hood Jonathan Haze (the future protagonist of Corman's original THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS), keeping on sharp eye on Birch's more than questionable activities, risking her neck to save the planet, she keeps her cool as an actress and pretty much holds it all together.
As I mulled over her obit I also recalled with some nostalgia her role (as mad scientist Lee Van Cleef's wife) in my first Roger Corman film, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), which I have distant memories of watching on television around 1960. She's also terrific in Corman's 1955 SWAMP WOMEN, where she plays a female convict who holds her own against film noir vamp Marie Windsor (THE KILLING).
Beside appearing in five Roger Corman B movies Beverly Garland was a versatile actress who had roles in some 180 films and television shows according to the IMDB. She also owned and operated the BEVERLY GARLAND HOLIDAY INN in North Hollywood. She wasn't your typical 1950's blonde bimbo scream queen.
And how about proper DVD presentations of NOT OF THIS EARTH and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD?!
(c) Robert Monell, 2008
05 December, 2008
Another tricky two part Quiz:
Name the actress in the image above and identify the Jess Franco related project in which she appeared.
Note that the screengrab is not from the film in question. But extra points to whomever can ID the film it's from. Hint: It's definitely European Trash Cinema and also featured a well known US television star.
01 December, 2008
Alain Robbe-Grillet directs Anicee Alvina on the set of GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR
Anicee Alvina (1953-2006) as "Subject A" in GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR
Mannequin in bondage...
Given that I first saw this film in 1975 at a famous New York City Arthouse cinema with Alain Robbe Grillet in attendance [he was a visiting professor at NYU at the time] to answer questions after the showing, seeing it again reminds me just how much of a cultural object of that era it remains. The film was new but obscure in the US and would have legal problems in Europe as well as being condemned by the Vatican [I guess Robbe-Grillet would join Jess Franco and Bunuel on the Vatican's list as one of the filmmakers most dangerous to Catholics] and ended up in the Italian courts. According to the Robbe-Grillet chapter in IMMORAL TALES: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984, it would, like its transgressive heroine, be subject to burning. I don't know if it was actually burned but there are repeated images of the figure of Subject A [the late Anicee Alvina] burning. SLOW SLIDINGS INTO PLEASURE, an English language translation of the title, certainly suggests a mid 1970's porno item.
Robbe Grillet was inspired by Jules Michelet's LA SORCIERE, as he emphasizes in a filmed interview with Francois Jost which follows the feature on my video copy.* As he discusses the Michelet book and his film we see images from GLISSEMENTS... of the nude protagonist on a beach with flames superimposed over her. If one looks closely it's not meant to be a real burning, but a figurative one. But nothing is meant to be "real" in Robbe-Grillet's serial construct, everything is false, every element is isolated at an absolute zero. It's a feminist film which is also politically incorrect. And the fact that the focus in on a young woman who is accused of transgression by religious and secular authorities, and that most of the dialogue drifts into the realm of interrogation, strongly evokes Sade as a structuring absence. The film continuously uses women's bodies as signs and erotic objects while coolly examining just how popular culture defines women's sexuality by conventional norms and demands.
I haven't read the Michelet book but the film is in the experimental-erotic modality of a number of Jess Franco films, especially NECORNOMICON, VENUS IN FURS, VAMPYROS LESBOS, in its iconography and presentation of the fantasy-woman as a generator of transgression. The character has no name so I call her subject A. In the film's opening shot the camera approaches her indirectly, cautiously, inexorably, as if she were a subject for objective examination. But she also has something of the stillness and plasticity of a mannequin. Mannequins play a key role in this film, often interchanging roles with actual characters, as they do in Franco's NECRONOMICON and VAMPYROS LESBOS.
Subject A is interrogated in a seaside dungeon run by nuns after her roommate Nora (Olga Georges Picot) is found stabbed to death with scissors after A has played erotic body painting games with her. The "murder" may or may not be "real" but is obsessively investigated by a police detective who arrives on the scene almost immediately, a magistrate, a priest and a lawyer, respectively played by Jean Louis Trintignant, Michel Lonsdale, Jean Martin and Olga Georges Picot (in a double [?] role). A's burning image, a metal bed-frame with a mannequin tied to it on the seashore, a woman's blue shoe, a bottle shattering, eggs mixing with red fluids, A standing nude under severed bars [an image which evokes a Surrealist canvas], faces peering through bars, prison body painting with bright red pigment, a red kneeler flanked by candles, are the key images. Dogs barking, moans, whips striking, breaking glass, sirens, an atonal use of music and sound. Sound often in opposition to the images. The montages of images and sound by Bob Wade and Michel Fano are as complex and abstract as anything in the 70's films of Godard, who was dealing with the political rather than erotic transgression.
Unlike Jess Franco who always begins with wanting to make a work of popular entertainment, Robbe Grillet operates more like a novelist or painter in his filmmaking process, wanting to make certain aesthetic and conceptual explorations which are rigorously controlled and executed. The irony was that glissements... became a financial success as much as it was critically misunderstood or condemned. In a way, it can be read as a Women In Prison film or a nunsploitation item as well. A cine-roman exists, which I have not read.
Seduction, transgression, surrealism, repetition. Is it Art, Pornography, or both?
*I feel grateful to have had the chance to see it in a pristine 35mm print with the auteur present. Now, if only there could be a HD R1 DVD presentation with English subtitles.
These are some thoughts which came to mind after a recent viewing of GLISSEMENTS PROGESSIFS DU PLAISIR.
(C) Robert Monell, 2008