Friday, September 30, 2005

It Came from Netflix! The Monster of Venice

I actually saw this as a wee kid at a triple bill of The Embalmer (the American release title of Monster of Venice; that’s actually the title as featured on the DVD’s print), Horror of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, which we left halfway through. This was at the Oasis Drive-in in Des Plaines, IL, which is now a trailer park.

Those were the glory days, my friends.

As I said, I was probably eight or ten when I attended this show with my folks, and didn’t remember much about the movie. Near to nothing, actually, other than a skull-faced guy in a monk’s habit skulking around some dank tunnels.

The Embalmer is basically an Italian analogue to a West German ‘krimi,’ a goofy, gothic film in which shocks matter (happily) more than logic. In this one, a series of young women are disappearing in Venice. Only intrepid reporter Andre (played, according to the credits, by one “Gin Mart” [!!]), believes this to be the work of a maniac. The police, it should be noted, are investigating but don’t seem overly concerned.

Sure enough, a mysterious person in a wet suit is popping out of the canals and dragging the young women to a watery doom. Then he returns to his subterranean lair with the bodies, which he preserves with a slightly sci-fi super embalming fluid, one that keeps the corpses so pristine that you might almost *ahem* think you can still see the girl’s displayed bodies breathing. The guy’s your typical maniac, who like many insane proprietors of wax museums is motivated by a wish to forever preserve the women’s beauty.

The stakes are raised when a group of eighteen year-old schoolgirls comes to Venice to tour the city, exactly the demographic favored by the killer. (The film fingers his potential victims by freeze framing on them when we first see them.) The girls are escorted by their teacher, Maureen, who quickly becomes romantically entangled with the heroic Andre.

Watching this, it was pretty apparent that it was the inspiration for Dick Maas’ 1988 slasher film Amsterdamned (!), which also featured a wet suit wearing murderer who traveled through canals to seek his prey. In that, the films would make a pretty good double bill.

The Embalmer is basically for those who like this sort of thing, and I’m in that group. It’s lurid rather than sleazy, and utterly outrageous. Certainly it’s dumb and at times stodgy, and the killer could have been any of a dozen red herring characters rather than the one he proves to be (his identity was probably chosen with a dart toss), but its unassuming nature, goofy plotting, laughable histrionics, bad dubbing (no original language track is available on the DVD), an intrusive jazz score and so on, made this a fun 80 minutes for your’s truly.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Horror show trend to continue...

I need hardly point out that the Network tube is currently stuffed with new horror and sci-fi entries (Threshold, Ghost Whisperer, Night Stalker, Invasion, Supernatural, Surface, etc.). Amazingly, each of the ones I've seen so far--Invasion, Threshold, Supernatural--are at least decent, although Night Stalker hasn't premiered yet. Only time will tell, however, whether this glut provides some actually hit shows, or more occupents for this season's mass grave of failed series. (Starting with that already cancelled Chris O'Donnell lawyer show.)

If two or three--or even one--of these shows really hit, however, we can expect more such fare. According to the invaluable Dread Central website, for instance, UPN is looking at "Evil," a show with a pretty cool premise, kind of 24 meets Friday the 13th. Basically, it would be a slasher movie--the setting is even a "camp reunion" (is that ever a good idea?)--where murders would start occurring, and the season would cover the events of one week. Assuming a full season, you'd get about a three episode per day ratio.

Needless to say, execution is nearly everything, but that could really be a fantastic series if they pulled it off.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Race Relations (I'll bet a hundred newspapers used that)

Except for Arrested Development (which now has Ally McGraw Disease--it's dying before our eyes, and becoming more beautiful and precious the closer to death it gets), my favorite TV show for years has been The Amazing Race. Earlier today, Season One came out on DVD; tonight, a new edition kicks off with a two hour episode on CBS.

I'm a little worried, but for the first time the format is being really shaken up. The previous seven races have all featured teams of two. The new show, however, has various family-related teams of four. There are less teams, but a lot more people, ten teams for a unit of forty participants. I trust them not to muck the show up, but still, it'll be interesting to see how this works out.

The oddest thing is that some teams are all adults, and others have small kids, including a girl of nine. How the contests will work with such disparate teams is a big question. I guess I'll find out later tonight.

Weirdly, when I visited the show's CBS site, I learned one family (a middle-aged dad and three foxy daughters) are from Park Ridge IL, where I lived as a kid and have been working for the last ten years. Then, the next family was from next door in Des Plaines (not Des 'Plains', as on the site)!! I moved to Des Plaines before Jr. High, and lived there for about twenty years plus, so I'm in a quandary as to which team to root for. I guess both until one is knocked out.

Don't miss this show. It's great.

Don Adams R.I.P.

Don Adams died on Sep 25, 2005 at the age of 82. (Don Adams, 82? How the hell is that possible?) Mr. Adams gained pop culture immortality as Maxwell Smart on the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry TV show Get Smart. Television was crawling with spies in those days, burning along with the country with James Bond fever, but few of the legitimate (if oft campy) spy shows—The Avengers, Danger Man, Wild Wild West, I Spy—equaled Get Smart. The writers provided us with some of TV’s most enduring punch lines:

Sorry about that, Chief.

Would you believe…?

I hope I wasn't out of line with that [insert previously hurled insult here] crack.

That’s the second biggest [whatever] I’ve ever seen!

It’s the old [various] trick! That’s the second time I’ve fallen for that this month!

And loving it!

Missed it by that much!

I asked you not to tell me that!

Smart was TV and America’s Clouseau, prevailing against the forces of evil spy network KAOS despite his bumbling. In this task he was aided by the gorgeous Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), his slow-burning boss The Chief (Ed Platt), canine agent Fang, robot agent Hymie, and Agents 44 and 13, who were invariably stuffed in some small space like a mail box (13 was played by a young Victor French).

Smart had an archenemy, ex-Nazi Seigfried, played by Bernie Koppell. My friend Andrew, a history buff, still laughs about the line where we learn that Siegfried was “The first man out of El Alamein!” And let’s not forget the Chinese villain The Claw (He had a metal claw in place of a hand):

Smart: “Who are you?”
The Claw (transposing his ‘l’s): “I am The Craw!”
Smart, confused: “The ‘Craw’?!”
Claw, irately: “Not ‘Craw’! Craw!!!”

Max and 99 eventually fell in love, got married and had twins, and the show declined as a result. Still, for a few years there the program was a classic. Amazingly, Get Smart is not out on DVD yet. Dammit. Adams did win 3 Emmys for the role.

Back in World War II, Adams joined the Marines at the age of 16 (!), and nearly died of the nearly always fatal blackwater fever on Guadalcanal. The story can be found here. He went on to become a drill instructor, where he perhaps developed his famous clipped delivery.

Smart was revived a number of times, never successfully. The theatrical film The Nude Bomb came out in 1980, but for some reason Barbara Feldon was replaced by Sylvia Kristol (!!). Ed Platt was deceased by then.

1989 saw the telemovie Get Smart Again, in which Feldon’s 99 did return, as did Hymie and Seigfried. The telemovie was better than The Nude Bomb, anyway.

1996 was a disastrous attempt by the fledgling Fox network to revive Get Smart with Smart now the Chief of Control and Andy Dick as one of Smart’s twins, who spastically follows in his father’s shoe phones. Dick was a loose cannon, and apparently wanted to torpedo the show so he could be cast on News Radio (good call). He dissed the revival in public and earned the enmity of Adams. The show only lasted seven episodes.

Although it’s Smart for which he’ll always be most closely aligned, Adams had several other shows close to baby boomers’ heart. Don Adams’ Screen Test was a syndicated show where host Adams guided would-be actors through recreations of famous movie scenes. There were two contestants per show, and the winner got a TV show appearance or something. The highlight was always the outtakes, flubbed lines and jokes the actors did as they filmed their scenes.

Adams also starred in Check it Out, a very lame sitcom set in a grocery store. He was also a successful director of commercials, and won a Clio in 1971.

It was in kid’s shows that he had his second greatest success, however. In the ’60 Adams voiced Tennessee Tudexo, a penguin who with his dimwitted (but big hearted) pal Chumley always got into wacky adventures. The cartoon ran on the Underdog show.

I loved that cartoon growing up.

More recently, Adams was the voice of Inspector Gadget, and proved that vocally, at least, he hadn’t missed a step.

Thanks, Don, for all the laughs.

DVD news...

More films are being sucked onto DVD by the gravitional wake of Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. Aside from the previously announced original, The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young (the real one), Universal will market a double feature of Toho’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes on 11/29 (SRP $19.98). Both titles will be in anamorphic widescreen, which is a boon. KKvG was previously available on a dreadful pan ‘n’ scan DVD, and I don’t think KKE has ever been on home video in this country. Of course, in a perfect world we’d get the Japanese cuts too (especially for KKvG, which was extensively reedited for release here), ala Sony’s recent Godzilla DVDs, but hey, two films, widescreen, for probably under $15 street price. Sweet.

And damn, Konga’s coming out too! Awesome! It’s due on 12/6.

Meanwhile, another auxiliary title is The Frightners: Peter Jackson's Director's Cut (also 11/29), which will include over four hours of bonus material produced by the director himself.

Sadly, though, Warner’s has apparently cancelled the release of The Last Days of Pompeii, a film by the makers of the 1931 King Kong and originally due to come out the same day as that movie’s upcoming DVD. One can only assume that sales looked very weak, or else that rights issues arose. Hopefully this will reemerge at some point.

TV fans will be glad to learn that the first season of The Rockford Files is due on 12/6. Now where’s Maverick?

Get this: Fox will release a FORTY DISC set covering all seven seasons called Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen One, which will street sell for only about $140. Damn! A bonus disc includes seven new featurettes. It’s due out on Nov 15th. Time to curse if you’ve been buying the sets as they come out.

New on DVD (09/27/05)...

The TV set of the week is definitely the first season of The Amazing Race, perfectly timed to hit shelves the very day the latest ‘season’ of reality TV’s class act premieres. (More on this later today.) Supposedly includes very neat extras, including participant commentaries and a documentary on what’s involved putting the around the world trip together.

Other TV sets today include Beverly Hillbillies Volume 1 (that’s what it’s called, so I’m not sure if it’s the first season or not; however, there are 26 episodes in it, so probably); Dark Shadows Set 20 (!!—it was a daily soap opera, so there are like a billion episodes); Gilmore Girls S4; Hogan’s Heroes S2; Law & Order SVU S2; Sigmund & the Sea Monsters S1 (!!); Star Trek: Enterprise S3.

The movie of the week is the nifty looking Blind Dead Collection that brings together all four of the movies (along with a fifth disc of extras) and packages them in a coffin shaped-box. (!!) It’s pricey, running about $60 or more on the Net, but in a way that just shows you how spoiled we’ve become. Paying $15 a movie now strikes us as excessive, even with phenomenal widescreen transfers and extras and such. Set review here.

Also be on the look out for the Ultimate Billy Jack Collection, which finally releases the films in the widescreen format, along with a new disc of extras and spiffy new transfers and remastered sound. Moreover, each film includes both the commentaries on the old DVD, and a second, newer one. That’s six hours of commentaries on Trial of Billy Jack alone!! I’ve already double dipped on these movies (including VHS tapes back in the day that cost me like $30 each), so you’re welcome to them. However, if you’re interested, Deepdiscountdvd is selling the set for under $30, including tax.

Big Alligator River is better known in this country as The Great Alligator, and is indeed a Jaws knock-off about a bigass alligator. (“We can’t close the resort hotel! It’s tourist season!”) Features a reportedly good looking widescreen transfer. Review of the DVD here.

Descent Finally! That DTV knock-off of The Core starring Michael Dorn and Luke Perry we’ve all been waiting for. Earthquakes threaten mankind, and a team goes underground to deal with it, only are the earthquakes in fact the result of an eeee-vil guv’ment secret experiment gone awry?! Three guesses.

Destination MarsA simply terrific parody of a ‘50s sci-fi movie, along the lines of the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, but in my mind even better. Well worth the $14 it’ll run you.

Devil Dog Yep, the old Omen-era TV movie classic in which Richard Crenna battles the family pooch, a literal Hound of Hell. $12

Driller Killer
Yucky ’70 slasher stuff, if that’s your bag. $14

Evil Dead 2 Limited Book of the Dead Edition The 407th Anchor Bay release of this film. This one comes in a case that looks like the film’s Necronomicon (complete with face), and it shrieks when you poke it’s eye. (!!!)

Freakmaker, aka The Mutations A sleazy ‘70s Brit horror film featuring actually freaks, and a typical ‘70s horror movie ending. Stars Tom Baker and Donald Pleasance. A little too mean spirited for my tastes, but mileage will vary. Two audio commentaries. $15 DVD review here.

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer Again, ick. $18 DVD review here.

Long Weekend Cult ‘70s Ozzie eco-horror flick in which Nature serves up justice to some polluters. Audio Commentary $12 Hey, Liz, when do we get a review of this? DVD review here.

Silver Hawk Michelle Yeoh is a superhero! ‘Nuff said.

A Whisper in the Dark Another Euro gothic. $14 DVD review here.

Wild Geese Beloved mercenary flick that’s heavy on the ham, featuring the thespic efforts of Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore. $10