Friday, September 16, 2005

I am out of here.

Time to surrender to the obligations of family and travel down to Kentucky for a week-long get-together. As I won't have Internet access, blogging will be...extremely light.

See you guys (all three of you) back here around Monday the 26th. Stay sweet, everybody.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A cinema giant passes on...

Robert Wise was a giant in the film world, and we’ll seldom, if ever, see his like again. In a long and brilliant career, Mr. Wise directed some of the most popular musicals ever (Sound of Music, West Side Story), some of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain) and arguably the finest horror movie ever (The Haunting). Needless to say, he had a few clunkers in his roster of 40 films as a helmer, but any of the above titles would represent the crown jewel in nearly any other filmmaker’s career.

Mr. Wise started as a sound engineer before becoming an editor, in the latter capacity working on such classics as the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame, My Favorite Wife, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Magnificent Ambersons and most famously Citizen Kane. The amazing thing is that Mr. Wise would prove as great a director was he was an editor. In the latter capacity, he early on directed Curse of the Cat People and The Body Snatcher, with Karloff and Lugosi, for producer Val Lewton. Mr. Lewton’s legendary style of favoring the power of the imagination over the crude showing of horror on the screen would serve Mr. Wise well when he directed The Haunting decades later.

Mr. Wise was 91 years-old.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


The director of Constantine (oh, joy) is the latest in a long line of filmmakers hoping to put a third version of Richard Matheson's seminal sci-fi vampire novel I Am Legend on the screen, following Vincent Price's Last Man on Earth and Chuck Heston's Omega Man. Constantine star Keanu Reeves would be an interesting choice for the lead part, because when I talk about him to people, I often use the phrase, "Yeah, if he were the last guy on earth!"

Speaking of, hearts nationwide were no doubt shattered when Reeves issued in a statement to Sci Fi Wire his refusal to star in any sequel of Constantine. (I’m sure that was on the sequel list, right after Chain Reaction 2. Actually, if there ever is such a thing, it will probably be a barely related DTV movie starring Casper Van Dien or somebody.)

Weekly Variety has a good cover story on the gruesome financial realities of the modern big budget movie, especially with the explosive growth of DVD sales finally stalling a bit (as had to happen at some point). Here’s the key part:

“Say a studio spends $200 million on a film and another $100 million on marketing. Assume the film grosses $400 million at the global box office, (with half of that returned to the studio), $100 million net for homevideo and $100 million for worldwide TV.

“Allowing $100 million for first dollar gross—virtually every $200 million dollar movies has at least one first-dollar player—the studio is at breakeven.

“The problem comes if the film doesn’t hit those figures. Last year, eight pics grossed more than $400 million worldwide. This year, only four so far have reached that benchmark.”

Of course, there are some huge movies still to come. King Kong, Chronicles of Narnia (if it’s done right), the next Harry Potter movie. Still, this sort of trend is ominous. Meanwhile, they report that director Bryan Singer has acknowledged that the budget of Superman Returns is “hovering near $250 million.” (!!!)

It would be nice to assume that the effect of this is that studios will be more careful about those projects they fund with those sorts of budgets, and that less mega-expensive stupid movies (Stealth, The Island). I doubt it though. (Indeed, page 9 features the lead story of the Film section: “MORE BUCKS FOR F/X BANGS—Studio’s continuing appetite for CGI shots leads to bigger-budgeted films.”)

In a quite interesting development, Sony (the new owners of MGM, and thus the James Bond series) are mulling doing a stripped down, more realistic—and hence cheaper—Bond centering on his early days, sort of like Batman Begins. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but you could make a pretty great movie in that direction.

Killer croc!

In exciting news, flavor of the month Oz horror director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) is working on Rogue, a big ass killer crocodile movie. On the one hand, at least a dozen similar films have already been made. On the other, all but one (Alligator) were lame or, more often, just suck. So it's not like there isn't room for improvement.

According to sources, including Variety, McLean wrote the script for this like 10 years ago, and has told interviewers that it's his "dream project." It certainly sounds like he will bring some passion to the project. Whether that proves good or bad, time will tell. More good news, though, is that the film is being funded by the Weinstein brothers, formally of Miramax, who a) generally know movies, and b) generally stay out of the way of filmmakers as long as they are not screwing the pooch. I also like the reported budget of $20m, which is big enough to get the job done but not big enough to get sloppy with. McLean has also noted that he made the critically acclaimed but more modest Wolf Creek to get the juice to make Rogue, and I like the sound of that. Man, I can't even say how cool a really good giant croc movie would be.

Good New for Romero fans!

I haven't had time to look inside the issue yet, but a quick glance at this cover photo indicates that a new zombie movie is in the works. And it looks like the creepiest one yet!

Details as they follow.

It Came from Netflix! Rottweiler

Rottweiler was a lot better than I had anticipated (although that's hardly a bold statement), especially given what seemed to be a premise of “You know how Wolverine has a metal skeleton? Let’s put that in a big killer dog!” Instead, it proved a pleasing throwback to the genre films of the ‘70s, when it was thought you actually had to attach an actual, you know, ‘movie’ to your horror movie.

I mean, the film isn’t Citizen Kane or anything, but stuff is actually character motivated, including the violence and even the obligatory sex scene. I especially liked the fact that not only isn’t the film’s protagonist much of a hero, but that the movie seems to know this. First, it’s entirely his stupidity that gets him in trouble in the first place. Then he continues to survive through basically a combination of (mostly) luck and (much more rarely) occasional cleverness. Hell, even the dog acts like a dog, rather than a movie character.

Set in the near future, in which Spain seems to have become a police state, Americano pretty boy Dante and his girlfriend Ula are part of a group trying to illegally enter the country. However, Dante and Ula are going so merely as a game of ‘Infiltration,’ apparently a rich kid’s extreme sport that involves getting yourselves into dangerous situations. That’s a nifty, and entirely believable, concept, especially since Dante has that rich kid attitude that nothing really bad will be allowed to happen to him. Sadly, he proves grossly mistaken.

The film is a bit arty—nearly, but not quite, a bit too much so—and much of this backstory is revealed along the way in flashback. In the present, Dante has spent the last year in prison and early on manages to escape, whereupon he is hunted by a sadistic guard and his steel-toothed, apparently cyborg Rottwieler. (As a gag, the guard’s name is Borg, but luckily they don’t make a big deal of it.) Dante is determined to find Ula, and just barely manages to stay a step ahead of the murderous pooch, although at the cost of several innocent lives that he never acknowledges any responsibility for.

Again, Dante is no action hero. At one point he and a woman are besieged in a house by the dog. The woman has a shotgun, and the smart play would be to remain barricaded inside, which would give her a clear shot at the dog should it attempt to batter its way in. Instead, in a classic Movie Lead moment, Dante reaches for the gun, saying “Trust me.” By this he means, ‘Trust me, even though I’m an escaped convict, I won’t hurt you.’ He means it, too. Sadly, the reason the woman shouldn’t have trusted him is that he’s incompetent. Within ten seconds he’s witlessly lost the gun and their best chance of survival.

The weirdest part of the film is the implication of supernatural influences, which are usually represented by a black scorpion. These touches come and go, but don't really seem to jibe with the rest of the movie.

Again, I don’t want to oversell the thing. My experience was no doubt enhanced by the fact that I underestimated the film, and thus anyone reading this shouldn’t go in looking for a masterpiece. Still, compared to the often incredibly lame DTV horror stuff the video market is flooded with today, this is a sadly rare solid entry.

It was especially nice seeing Jacinto Molina/Paul Naschy playing the head villain, and he gives a pretty decent performance. The film is decently directed by genre vet Brian Yuzna, who produced the marvelous Lovecraft film Dagon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It Came from Netflix! Poverty Row Theater

One of the invaluable facets of DVD is the resurfacing of films that otherwise would undoubtedly never see again see daylight. A prime example is the three movies included in Image’s recent Poverty Row Theater. Admittedly, there’s no doubt an extremely limited audience for the sort of cheapies represented by the selections here. However, the fact that they are available at all seems nearly a miracle. Hopefully the disc sold well enough to ensure that further such DVDs follow.

First up is Private Snuffy Smith (1942), adapted from a then-popular comic strips about hillbilly Snuffy, his wife Lowizie, who first appeared in the comic strip Barney Google. Soon Smith shared the strip’s title with Google, and eventually took it over.

As you may have surmised from the movie’s title, this is a fairly routine service comedy. It’s kind of weird how we don’t really notice a lot of profound social changes. This film, of course, was made after we entered World War II. Even after the war was over, though, a couple years of military service was mandatory for almost every male citizen, and because of this the service comedy thrived. It wasn’t until the death of the draft and a wave of markedly cynical such films, primarily M*A*S*H, that the breed really went down for the count. We still see them on occasion, as with Stripes or Up Periscope, but not often enough to any longer consider them a discrete genre.

This example is pretty routine. The early part of the film is mostly familiar hillbilly antics, with Snuffy and his neighbors attempting to shoo off some revenuers after their stills. Snuffy is played by former silent movie comic Bud Duncan, who is OK but generally victimized by the difficulty of representing a cartoon character. He’s given a huge Smith-esque putty nose, but it doesn’t help too much.

Ed Cooper, the chief revenuer, leaves the mountains to become an Army sergeant, just as Smith naturally decides he wants in on all those military perks. Free khaki pants being the primary attraction. Of course, he ends up in Cooper’s company, and wackiness ensues.

With the film running but an hour, you might think that’s enough plot, but in fact there are spies after a valuable experimental artillery range finder. Oddly, the spies never seem as interested in the liquid Lowizie accidentally manufactures that turns things invisible. (!!) Indeed, the script does nothing better with this than use it as a mechanism for Snuffy to sneak his beloved pooch Mr. Carson on base.

This proves an adequate programmer, although the only really great element is the performance of classic heavy Edgar Kennedy as Cooper. Except for Oliver Hardy himself, nobody ever mastered the slow burn like Kennedy did.

Club Paradise (1945) is a pretty decent albeit by-the-numbers cautionary ‘social menace’ type of movie. Julie is a pretty young girl hampered by her suffocating life with her family. She has a factory job and a boyfriend in trumpet player Roy, but remains unsatisfied. Then she falls for hood/gigalo Danny (played by Robert Lowery, who brings a certain Victor Mature vibe to the part).

When Roy takes her to a gambling club, the two are arrested. Roy goes in the jug for 30 days, while Julie’s stiffnecked Dad pays her fine. However, he also kicks her out. With nowhere else to go, Julie gets a job as a ‘dancer’ at Club Paradise, a juke joint that Danny and his various female admirers hang out at. Julie gets in deeper with Danny, and by the time Roy gets out of stir and obtains a good job, she’s enjoying her independence too much to go back to him. Soon, however, she instead begins to manifest a feeling of self-loathing at becoming a fallen woman, and tragedy naturally ensues.

Like most programmers from the PRC studio, this one runs a scant hour. Modern audiences will probably be bewildered by the social concepts advanced here, particularly Julie’s belief that she’s been tainted beyond all hope of redemption by her actions. I kind of liked the fact, though, that even ‘good’ guy Roy is such a self-absorbed putz that he never even acknowledges that it has his taking her to a gambling joint that destroyed her life. Meanwhile, Julie’s family is suitably and believably atrocious.

Opening with an offscreen shooting, the revelation of which closes the picture, Club Paraside is a surprisingly decent little flick.

The final film is Detective Kitty O’Day (1947), featuring a Lucille Ball-like chattering busy body who drives the police crazy when she gets involved with and decides to solve a murder mystery. After watching the film a bit I decided that Kitty was probably a series character, and so she was, although a failed one, as this was Kitty’s second and last movie. (Snuffy, too, was only a afforded a pair of movies.) Even so, actress Jean Parker made six other movies that year.

In all, the film’s pretty mild, but watchable. About the only notable fact about it is that it was directed by the prolific William “One Shot” Beaudine, who astoundingly helmed quite nearly 300 movies.

There’s nothing here I would feel compelled to add to my personal collection, but the disc provided an interesting three hours of entertainment. Let’s hope for a few more of these.

New on DVD (09/13/05)...

Not a huge week.

The major TV set is the final set, S4 (Season Four) of the long form SCTV Network 90. Some of the show’s big cast members, including Dave Thomas, had left the show by this point, although a very young Martin Short had signed on in their place. The set runs about $60 at various web venders.

Other news TV sets include Brady Bunch S3, Cheers S6, Everyone Loves Raymond S4, Frasier S6, Las Vegas S2, One Tree Hill S2, Pretender S2, Sigmund & the Sea Monster S1, Smallville S4, Taxi S3. The best prices for each can be found at

The DVD movie of the week is the boffo new 4-disc SE of the epic Ben-Hur. The film takes up two discs, the third showcases the entire 1925 silent version of the same story, and the fourth loaded with documentaries and suchlike. There’s also a commentary, and star Charlton Heston kicks in some comments on certain scenes. Running about $30, there’s a discrete version that also offers a Bible Study Guide for those so inclined.

The fun slasher flick Alone in the Dark, with a great cast including Dwight Schultz of the A-Team, Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau and Jack Palance, is out in a new special edition featuring a director’s commentary and interviews. It runs about $10.

Rather farther down on the Martin Landau filmography (and we were talking Alone in the Dark before, not Ed Wood) is The Being, a horrendous bargain basement ‘80s monster flick co-starring Ruth Buzzi (!) and the inevitable Jose Ferrer.

Bloodsuckers is a ‘70s horror flick about a Greek vampiric cult with the classy cast of Edward Woodward, Peter Cushing and Patrick Macnee. $15

Silent film buffs will rejoice at the release of the Charley Chase Collection, Volume 2, and the Harold Lloyd Collection, Volume 2, each about $20.

If you liked Ray and are looking forward to the new Johnny Cash biopic, check out the new special edition of Coal Miner’s Daughter , with a brilliant Sissy Spacek as country singer Loretta Lynn, and featuring Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a great movie, and runs about $15

The ghosts of the ‘80s arise to plague my benighted generation in the form of Dan Ackroyd’s Doctor Detroit, the Andy Kaufman robot comedy Heartbeeps, and the even funnier Rumble Fish, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring every up and coming young actor of the early ‘80s.

The 2004 TV movie Frankenstein, written by Dean Koontz (!) and meant as a series pilot, hits DVD for about $12.

Meanwhile, Anchor Bay is packaging old DVDs into money saving "Fright Pack" collections, jocularly packaged to resemble six packs of beer. “Man’s Worst Friends” brings together Rats: Night of Terror, Dracula’s Dog, Cat ‘o Nine Tails, Slugs and The Black Cat (Fulci). The “Walking Dead” set disinters Hell of the Living Dead, Dead Heat, Nightmare City, City of the Living Dead, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and House by the Cemetary. Many of the discs have extensive bonus features. Each set can be found for under $20.

Image collects two more Italian Sword & Sandal movies, The Hero of Rome and Invincible Gladiator for around $14.

Criterion brings out David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and Art Garfunkle’s Bad Timing.

The Monster of Venice is a ‘60s Italian black and white horror flick about a killer menacing that city’s famous canals. $10

The Shaw Martial Arts Legends set collects ten chop socky movies from the famous Shaw Brothers.

Monday, September 12, 2005

It Came from Netflix! The Diabolical Dr. Z

I’ve never gotten into (continental) Euro Horror, mostly because I’m generally adverse to gore and cruelty in my movies, and the Euro stuff tends to wear the Sleaze label rather proudly. In any case, I am thus by no means an aficionado of director Jess Franco, who has made something like 150 plus movies. The fact that the atrocious Oasis of the Zombies is fairly representative of his work (from what I can tell from an admittedly restricted experience pool) is pretty much all that I need to know.

Diabolical Dr. Z, which I watched with fellow schlock maven Joe Bannerman, did prove to be shockingly well directly by Franco standards. First, he actually composed shots, and even moved the camera around and shot from different angles. Later, Franco legendarily fell in love with the zoom lens, which I attribute to his preference not to waste time by relocating the camera during a scene. Instead, the camera generally stayed static but tended to constantly, and generally pointlessly, zoom in and out of whatever was in its field of vision.

So the movie is decently directed—if not more than that—but betrays other signs of being a Franco film. It mixes ‘sex’ and violence (albeit in an early ‘60s sort of way—compared to his later explicit sex and gore, the film is indeed nearly quaint), the inevitable Howard Vernon is in the cast, and the movie makes not an ounce of sense.

Dr. Zimmer is an old coot in a wheelchair who wants to experiment on convicted criminals for the good of Mankind. He is verbally attacked by, you know, THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY (including Vernon), and so cheesed off that he expires on the spot. Irma, his busty daughter, vows revenge. This involves using some sort of half-ass mind control regimen on the family maid; an exotic dancer known as “Miss Death” (who performs a hilarious ‘artistic’ dance number that climaxes with her donning a mask that we the movie audience can see, but which her ‘real’ audience in the movie would not be able to); and best of all, an overly convenient escaped murderer who while on the lam literally shows up on her doorstep.

Irma primarily employs the ‘ironically’ named Miss Death (get it?), who comes equipped with highly unergonomic sharpened Howard Hughes fingernails that Irma naturally coats with poison. Then elaborate death traps are set up, the sort of thing that Anton Phibes might have come up with in his movies had he remained as energetic but was also significantly dumber.

At one point Irma nearly burns her face off while faking her own death, but later merely cuts off the scar tissue and basically looks fine for the rest of the movie. So…whatever. A definite highlight is a Mad Scientist lab table that in place of the normal straps and shackles secures Irma’s victims with a pair of gut-busting, obviously unworkable mechanical arms. To the extent these things work at all, it's in severe slow-motion, and thus every time these things are called upon it’s Comedy Ahoy!

I hope I haven’t made this film sound all that exciting, because it's actually a bit of a slog. Sure, it’s no true boredom fest on the order that Oasis was, but that leaves a lot of room for sucking. Joe, meanwhile, who is as mystified as myself by the fact that Franco has this large pool of dedicated fans, noted that Diabolical Dr. Z was considered by many of them to be “Franco’s best film” (quite possible) and “a great movie” (way, waaay off).

The DVD is by Mondo Macabre, so for what it’s worth, the disc itself is a nice product.