APES ON FILM: A Little Sci-Fi, A Little Bourgeois: The Cool Lakes of Mars

Posted on: Sep 14th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

FLIGHT TO MARS – 1951
2 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Marguerite Chapman, Cameron Mitchell, Arthur Franz, Virginia Huston
Director: Lesley Selander
Rated: NR
Studio: The Film Detective
Region: A, B
BRD Release Date: July 20th, 2021
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-2
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 72 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

To have produced amazing films such as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE PINK PANTHER (1963), IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967) and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971), Walter Mirisch started at the bottom of the film industry, working for one of the lowest of low budget companies on Hollywood’s “Poverty Row” – Monogram. The company subsisted by cranking out sensationalistic crime melodramas, program westerns, and mostly yawn-inducing horror films, with the inherited-from-Fox Charlie Chan series remaining as their claim to fame.

FLIGHT TO MARS is clearly aimed at the grown-up crowd, but would have been better off treated as fodder for Saturday kids’ matinees by the studio. As an adult drama, it’s unbelievably silly and offensively misogynistic, casting women in a variety of stereotypical roles with little to do but look pretty or be bitchy – or both. As science fiction, it’s an insulting blend of self-righteous ignorance of science and an affront to fiction as the screenplay by Barry Conners and Philip Klein never misses a chance to land squarely on the nose of whatever trope they’re appropriating at the moment. The miniature and effects work is poorly rendered when compared to higher budget studio fare of the time, unsurprisingly. Honestly, there’s little to recommend about the movie itself.

The Film Detective’s presentation of the film is a different matter, however. Gleaned from a new 4K scan of the original source materials, the film looks and sounds very good. The color isn’t on par with three strip technicolor, but it’s bright and well-saturated, and the sound is unobtrusively well-mixed. Bonus features include a new audio commentary by author/film historian Justin Humphreys, “Walter Mirisch: From Bomba to Body Snatchers,” a new documentary short from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, “Interstellar Travelogues: Cinema’s First Space Race,” a new documentary short with celebrated science fiction artist/historian Vincent Di Fate also from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, and a full color insert booklet with an essay by Don Stradley.

I wish I could recommend this film, but I fear it’s for the completist only. If you decide to buy it, enjoy the featurettes, commentary, and booklet–they’re definitely more fun than the movie.

 

 

THE COOL LAKES OF DEATH – 1982
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Renée Soutendijk, Erik van ‘t Wout, Derek de Lint, Adriaan Olree
Directed By: Nouchka van Brakel
Studio: Cult Epics
BRD Release Date: May 11, 2021
Region: A, B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: TBA
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC from 4K Restoration
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
Run Time: 125 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

THE COOL LAKES OF DEATH contains a tour de force performance by Renée Soutendijk as a woman who goes from insufferably naive to outright insane, and finally arrives at an uneasy peace. Soutendijk is possibly mostly well-known to American filmgoers from her next film, Paul Verhoeven‘s THE 4TH MAN (1983) in which she co-starred with Jeroen Krabbé. Both men became fixtures in American films while Soutendijk continued to add to her impressive resume in Europe and her native Holland, which is shameful – she’s impossible not to watch when onscreen and at least as talented as either one of them.

She plays Hetty, a young lady who misunderstands all that happens to her, skewing her view of the world in ways that her suitor, husband, and lover simply can’t fathom; she’s a code with no key, to herself and to all around her including the viewer. Eventually her naivety gives way to sheer negligence that ends in tragedy, the aftermath of which is truly difficult to watch, a credit to both director and performer. The end credits roll over a shot of Soutendijk glancing sideways at the camera, with a slight smile. Whatever happens to Hetty in the end, this is the only clue director Nouchka van Brakel left for us. All of this takes place inside the lush visuals of cinematographer Theo van de Sande, who has clearly been influenced by John Alcott‘s work on Stanley Kubrick ’s BARRY LYNDON (1975).

Cult Epics’ presentation of the film is a revelation, as the disc is culled from a new restoration and 4K transfer from the original negative. I don’t recall it looking this good in the theater in 1982. Sound is good, and well balanced with no stentorian volume shifts between scenes.  Bonus features include a Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1982, HD), poster and photo gallery, theatrical trailers and Ltd. Edition Packaging featuring original and newly designed art. Audio is in original Dutch (with English interspersed) with English subtitles. Recommended.

 

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Viva Karloff!

Posted on: Aug 16th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

 

VIVA – 2007
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Anna Biller, Bridget Brno, Chad England, Jared Sanford
Director: Anna Biller
Rated: R
Studio: Kino Lorber
Region: A
BRD Release Date: August 24th, 2021
Audio Formats: TBA
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 121 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Anna Biller’s VIVA is a spot-on parody of early 1970’s porn films without the explicit sex – and you’ll never miss it. Biller the auteur has curated every visual, every performance and every sound to reflect the awkward, amateurish filmmaking of the San Fernando Valley of the decade to bring forth a polished, hilarious spoof of the rite of passage that was the sexual revolution. Biller the actress commits fully to her role of Barbie, a naive housewife on the verge of shedding her inhibitions in favor of awkward sex with a cadre of cringe-inducing men and a lovely female friend played by Robbin Ryan. Actually, what makes the film so watchable is that Biller and company aren’t playing the roles assigned to them in the script; they’re playing a bunch of bad actors attempting to play those roles and failing, which makes for a much more subtle performance. The howlingly amusing dialog (and confused smoldering looks) is delivered just as poorly as if it was lifted wholesale from a Gerard Damiano movie set.

Having enjoyed Biller’s second feature, THE LOVE WITCH (2016), I was eager to see her initial offering and wasn’t disappointed. The whole film is stylized and over the top, but Biller manages to evoke a sincere nostalgia for the 1970s, and the over-saturated cinematography of M. David Mullen  reinforces that. The director/actress not only wrote, directed, and starred in VIVA, she also edited it, created the costumes, sets, music, set decoration and designed the production. With the results she achieved on such a shoestring budget here, I’d love to see her sink her teeth into a larger budget production with some dramatic chops; she’d kill something like BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997).

Kino Lorber’s presentation of the film looks gorgeous and sounds great, naturally. Extras include a new audio commentary by writer/director/star Anna Biller, behind-the-scenes footage narrated by Biller, and the theatrical trailer. I’m surprised to find the film with an R rating instead of NC17 — it’s very, VERY naked throughout.

VIVA is the kind of film I like to see being made and released in this era of tentpole franchise mania among studios. Biller’s signature touches are unmistakably those of someone who loves and reveres the films she’s spoofing. Worth a watch for the fabulous costumes alone, including a Paco Rabanne dress that appeared in the original  CASINO ROYALE (1967).

 

 

KARLOFF AT COLUMBIA – The Black Room / The Man They Could Not Hang / The Man with Nine Lives / Before I Hang / The Devil Commands / The Boogie Man Will Get You
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Boris Karloff, Marian Marsh, Lorna Gray , Roger Pryor , Evelyn Keyes , Richard Fiske , Peter Lorre
Directed By: Roy William Neill, Nick Grinde, Edward Dmytryk, Lew Landers
Studio: Eureka! Classics – 2 Disc Limited Set (3000 copies)
BRD Release Date: May 03, 2021
Region: B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC 2K
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.34:1, 1.33:1
Run Time: 400 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Boris Karloff is most closely associated with the Universal Monsters films of the 1930s and 40s, having played Frankenstein’s monster several times as well as essaying memorable roles in films like THE BLACK CAT (1934), THE RAVEN (1935), TOWER OF LONDON (1939) and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), to name just a few. While he cranked out horror hits for Universal, Karloff was also a man about town working for other studios as well including Columbia, for which he created a cycle of “Mad Doctor” films and a single period gothic terror called THE BLACK ROOM (1935). His Columbia movies have now been collected into an excellent box set by Eureka! Classics in the UK.

THE BLACK ROOM finds Boris playing a set of twins cursed by fate to murder each other, and allows him to really stretch his acting muscles as he portrays the pair, one benevolent and caring, the other a despicable tyrant. In fact, watching all six films, I was struck by what a good actor he truly was, and what he was able to create in performances beyond the guttural murmurings he was limited to in portraying Frankenstein’s monster. He really is quite watchable in all six films, and elevates even the least of the films into an hour or two well spent.

The other five films comprise his mad doctor series for the studio, and sadly they all seem cut from the same cloth in terms of story, characterization, and performances by other cast members. Clearly, Karloff was a star that Columbia was afraid to take a chance on in a dramatic role unassociated with the genre that spawned him. Don’t think I didn’t enjoy these films, I did; but they are similar in many ways and by the end of the run I felt the concept had been strip-mined and was happy to move on. THE DEVIL COMMANDS (1941) ramped the crazy science factor up in an attempt to keep viewers interested, and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU (1942) is an outright comedy, most likely because Karloff had co-starred in the smash hit comedy play ARSENIC & OLD LACE on Broadway the same year.

Eureka! Entertainment’s box set is a wonderful presentation of these films. Though unrestored, all the prints are watchable though feature damage in some areas. Film grain is high throughout as well, and there are some audio artifacts present that are occasionally distracting. Truthfully, I’m certain this is still the best all of these films have looked in years. Extras include new audio commentaries on THE BLACK ROOM, BEFORE I HANG and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU with Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby as well as new audio commentaries on THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES and THE DEVIL COMMANDS with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman, plus a collector’s booklet featuring writing on all six films by Karloff expert Stephen Jacobs (author of Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster); film critic and author Jon Towlson; and film scholar Craig Ian Mann.

If your experience of Boris Karloff is limited to his Universal horrors or some of his later films like THE COMEDY OF TERRORS or THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, grab this set and enjoy him in a different light. You won’t regret it. Make sure you live in Ireland or the UK or have a region free player, though.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: DOCTOR X Builds a Creature while BABYDOLL Gets Scandalous!

Posted on: May 17th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny. Apes on Film also appears on Nerd Alert News. Check them out HERE!

 

 

DOCTOR X – 1932
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Lionel Atwill , Fay Wray, Lee Tracy , Preston Foster
Director: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: April 20, 2021
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC. New 4K HD Transfer Restoration by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation, in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 76 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Director Michael Curtiz is best known for making film classics like CASABLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and CAPTAIN BLOOD, but he also directed a trio of significant early horror films as well. DOCTOR X was the first of these, followed by MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933 – reviewed here), and THE WALKING DEAD (1936). The first two films were shot using two-strip Technicolor®, while the third was shot in black and white. Warner Archive Collection has just released a fully restored version of DOCTOR X and the results are breathtaking. Once again, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation have done an incredible job in reviving an important film from a dull, damaged carcass.

Featuring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray (just as Wax Museum did), DOCTOR X is another pre-code horror title of the type that would be defanged by the censors had it been released just a few years later. The film has much to recommend about it. For example, Ray Rennehan’s cinematography is lush and fluid, art direction by Anton Grot is well ahead of its time, and many of the performances are quite good. It deals in cannibalism and body horror, perhaps the first Hollywood film to do so. However, the film is unfortunately saddled with some far-fetched and frankly ridiculous characters and situations that became overused tropes almost by the time it was released.

Atwill and Wray acquit themselves well, but Lee Tracy is nearly unwatchable as a Leo Gorcey-like newspaper reporter that is the least funny comic relief ever. Full of 1930s mannerisms (ok, I get it – it was the 1930s) and catchphrases, he comes off as pandering to an audience who came fully prepared to see a horrifying thriller. He seems to have been inserted by the WB brass who were afraid that the horror film “craze” started at Universal Studios wouldn’t translate to their gangster and crime-themed format. Also stinking up the joint – a police commissioner who allows Atwill’s Dr. Xavier forty-eight hours to conduct his own investigation to determine which of the professors at his university is a serial killer at large before letting his detectives take over. That kind of malarkey would get you fired even in 1932, folks. This film definitely seems like a precursor to Wax Museum, with many similar (though better presented) themes recurring in that film.

Warner Archive’s disc is presented very well, with only a few jump cuts throughout where the team was unable to spread available imagery far enough to account for missing frames. Audio is also quite good. The disc comes with a black and white version of the film that was shot simultaneously, as well as a slew of special features such as new commentaries by Alan K. Rode and Scott MacQueen, documentary “Madness & Mystery: The Horror Films of Michael Curtiz” (HD, 27:39) by Constantine Nasr, “Doctor X: Before and After Restoration Reel” (HD, 7:40), and the theatrical trailer: black and white version (HD, 2:15).

This is the kind of amazing restoration and packaging that Warner Media chair Jason Kilar is trying to kill; he’s a digital streaming-only zealot. If he has his way WB would release no physical media at all, and the public will be deprived of this kind of release. If you love classic films and physical media, let Warner Brothers know. Buy this or their other discs. Write them letters. Show them that there will always be an audience for great movies from the past that can be owned outright.

 

 

 

BABYDOLL – 1956
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach
Directed By: Elia Kazan
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: February 16, 2021
Region: A
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC New 2K Master
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 115 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

With a director, cast and writer like this, it’s hard to go wrong – and BABYDOLL doesn’t. Steeped in the kind of sultry, southern-gothic atmosphere and seething sexual tension one expects of a Tennessee Williams script, the film is bursting at the seams with tawdry dialog, black comedy, backhanded insults, and character flaw reveals of the highest level.

Baker plays Babydoll, Malden’s virginal wife who is promised to him sexually when she turns twenty, a few days hence. Down on their luck financially, the couple’s furniture is repossessed. Malden blames his cotton ginning competitor Wallach (in his debut screen role) for their fate and burns down his plant. Wallach sets upon Babydoll to confirm his suspicions of arson, and the pair spend a day barely avoiding falling into each other’s arms. The trio burst into open hostility when Malden arrives, with Wallach and Baker using each other to taunt and belittle him into a rage of jealousy.

The film was denounced by the Catholic church’s National League of Decency on release, and pulled from distribution a few weeks later by Warner Brothers. It’s easy to see what it was so controversial; BABYDOLL and a handful of other films railed against the Hays Code, which had banned exactly this sort of film in 1934 and would continue to keep films at “G” to PG” equivalent rating until it was overturned in 1968. Though nothing explicit is shown onscreen, the overt sexual tones and themes are vividly on display. Despite its chilly reception, the film would garner several Academy Award nominations and was a hit with critics. Kazan won a Golden Globe and Wallach a BAFTA Award for BABYDOLL.

Warner’s presentation Blu-ray is once again a pleasure to view. The picture is flawless, and sound is good, though there’s quite a dichotomy of volume for some of the dialog, and a few of the lower volume examples might have been amplified a bit. Special features are sparse. There’s a featurette from 2006 – “See No Evil: Baby Doll” (SD, 13 minutes) which includes interviews with the three principles, and a HD theatrical trailer (3 minutes).

While not the milestone that LOLITA (with which this film has been compared) was, BABYDOLL is an important and entertaining movie with great performances and direction.  Recommended.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: PUMP UP THE EURO KINK!

Posted on: Apr 5th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

 

MADAME CLAUDE – 1977
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Françoise Fabian, Dayle Haddon , Murray Head , Klaus Kinski , Robert Webber, Ed Bishop
Director: Just Jaeckin
Rated: R/Unrated
Studio: Cult Epics
Region Free
BRD Release Date: February 9, 2021
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono/DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono/Dolby Digital 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC. New 4K HD Transfer (from original 35mm negative) supervised by cinematographer Robert Fraisse
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Run Time: 109 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Following up on his globally successful films EMMANUELLE and THE STORY OF O, French director Just Jaeckin offered up this ostensible “thriller” based on a true story about a very successful Paris Madame whose stable of women service ambassadors, world leaders, and other government higher-ups caught in a web of intrigue that could topple her empire. The problem is that the plot fails to intrigue and serves mainly to string together a series of sex scenes played out to Jane Birkin’s trilly singing and Klaus Kinski’s forehead menacing the ladies. Along the way, Murray Head (yep, that “One Night in Bangkok” guy) chews scenery, Francoise Fabian smokes too much, Dayle Haddon tries to remember her motivation, Robert Webber collects a paycheck, and Ed Bishop skulks about, looking lost. None of which serves the premise of the film, and Jaeckin’s missed opportunity– to tell the story of Madame Claude herself.

Fabian’s character is interesting enough to be the focus of the film, but it’s not. Instead, the barely credible story of Head trying to blackmail princes and prime ministers and getting caught in a CIA operation takes center stage. Much preferable would have been Jaeckin’s intimate tale of a women so divorced from society and the concept of romantic love that she builds walls between herself and the world, letting only one or two men into her private life (but calling all of her clients “friends”) – and even then she hasn’t the ability to make love to them herself, pawning them off on her new recruit, Haddon. Haddon’s Elizabeth is a doll for Claude to play with, acting out her fantasies of trust and sex and love – everything she has put behind her and can’t face…but clearly she craves contact and relief from the isolation to which she’s consigned herself. Can she learn to trust again? That’s the story I wanted to see, and what the director and writers missed.

Cult Epics’ Blu-ray presentation is the best it can be – sourced from a new 4K scan of the original negative – however, the picture is disturbed by infrequent digital density anomalies. The visuals are otherwise acceptable, but I was expecting more from a new transfer. Audio is pleasing, except for Birkin’s singing. Serge Gainsbourg’s score is memorable if a bit dated. Both the original French audio with English subtitles as well as the English dubbed versions are present. Supplemental features include an audio commentary from author Jeremy Richey, a new interview in HD with Jaeckin, a vintage French theatrical trailer, Cult Epics trailers, and a double-sided sleeve for the first printing only.

Madame Claude is a bunch of sexy people playing contrived spy games, but could have been so much more. A remake of the film has just been released and I’m curious to see what story that version will tell.

 

PUMP UP THE VOLUME – 1990
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Christian Slater , Samantha Mathis , Ellen Greene , Annie Ross
Directed By: Allan Moyle
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: February 15, 2021
Region: A, B
Rated: R
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 102 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

At the climax of Allan Moyle’s PUMP UP THE VOLUME, Christian Slater’s Happy Harry Hardon, teen pirate radio provocateur, urges his suburban high school audience to take the airwaves for themselves, to make their own voices heard, and to tell their own truths. He couldn’t possibly have predicted the utter wasteland of self-proclaimed media moguls, influencers, and voices-of-their-generations spawned by reality television, and later by the open mic night that is YouTube and the internet. Luckily, there are some lights shining in that darkness if you’re willing to look for them.

Honestly, it’s hard to hate a movie about teens speaking truth to power at great personal peril. Especially when the soundtrack is jammed with amazing songs; this film introduced Leonard Cohen to a much broader audience, and if for nothing other than that it gets a salute from me. Slater acquits himself well, but several other performances are shaky including Samantha Mathis as the object of his affection. The adult characters are more aptly called caricatures, drawn from extremely broad stereotypical cloth; the clueless parents, the young teacher who “gets it,” the evil school principle, and the snidely guidance counselor. Authority is much harder to topple when it’s relatable, apparently.

Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray presentation is a fine watch, though sadly void of supplemental features. Only the theatrical trailer is included. Picture is well saturated and appropriately grainy, with dense blacks. Audio is a joy, especially while Harry plays Cohen, the Beastie Boys, Peter Murphy, Sonic Youth, the Pixies and more greats.

The problem with PUMP UP THE VOLUME is that it never truly punches through the archetypes it portrays into the hearts of its characters the way THE BREAKFAST CLUB did, and it’s not as cleverly written or as paradigm-shifting as HEATHERS. It’s a good film and worth watching, but it’s not the classic it might have been.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Mr. Roberts and The H-Man Battle In Outer Space!

Posted on: Feb 8th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

ISHIRO HONDA DOUBLE FEATURE: THE H-MAN & BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE (1958-59)
3.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Yumi Shirakawa , Kenji Sahara , Akihiko Hirata  / Ryô Ikebe , Kyôko Anzai , Minoru Takada
Director: Ishiro Honda
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Eureka!
Region: B
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p HD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 79/90 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

If you’re a fan of giant monsters stomping Japanese cities flat, then you know the name Ishiro Honda, the man who directed GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and most of the rest of Toho Companys’ kaiju faire from the 1950s up through the year 2000. Now two of Honda’s other pictures for the studio have gotten the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release treatment from Eureka! Video in the UK. One is a monster film of a different stripe, the other a sci-fi actioner whose tropes were later refit for a beloved British children’s television series.

THE H-MAN is essentially a proto-psychedelic noir/procedural about radioactive snot monsters invading Tokyo and dissolving the population. Hey, who doesn’t love a good snot monster, am I right? Starting at sea and moving into the city via the sewers, the snot gives the local gendarmes a run for their money but are (of course) defeated in the end. Or are they? This was 1958, before that particular trope was so overused as to have become offensive. I feel that cinematographer Hajime Koizumi’s highly-saturated color motifs may well have influenced Mario Bava, at a nascent point in his directing career but already well-respected as a cinematographer himself. A few of the sequences look as though they might have been shot by Bava himself – an impossibility, of course. Though director Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya were already masters of the visual, the lack of suspense during a slog of a second act brings the film down a notch in comparison to much of their kaiju work.

BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE has much to recommend – Tsubaraya’s effects are front and center from frame one, and rightfully so. Compared to much of the American sci-fi cinema of the time, the model work here is of the highest quality and the recipient of Koizumi’s deep, colorful lighting, making it stand above the pack. Strip-mined for premise as well as art direction by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s CAPTAIN SCARLET AND THE MYSTERONS (1967) television series, the film is honestly a joy visually, but suffers a similar fate as THE H-MAN when the second act unfolds. Both films are stuffed with what author and film commentator David J. Schow calls “shoe leather;” unnecessarily long shots of mundane action, dialog that could easily be excised, etc. Essentially, padding to expand the running time of the film which adds nothing to the viewing experience. BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE does accelerate once the U.N. forces reach the moon and attack the alien base there, however.

I do recommend this set, even though both films would benefit from the editor having a stern talking-to by say, Akira Kurosawa. It comes in an “O” card slipcase for the first 2000 copies and includes both Japanese and English versions of each film, presented across two Blu-ray discs. Other extras include a brand-new audio commentary with authors and Japanese sci-fi historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski on THE H-MAN, as well as one on BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE with film historian and writer David Kalat. Further, included are stills galleries and a collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp.

The Masters of Cinema package by Eureka! is definitely worth a pick up if you’re in the UK or Ireland, or have a region-free player.

 

 

MISTER ROBERTS – 1955
5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell, Jack Lemmon
Directed By: John Ford, Mervyn LeRoy
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Region: A, B
Rated: Unrated
Audio Formats: DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 – English (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Remaster from 4K Scan of Original Negative
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1-16×9 LETTERBOX
Run Time: 121:00 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Some films are classics because of writing, some because of their performances, or direction, or cinematography. MISTER ROBERTS is a classic for all these reasons and more. Based on the play by Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan  (itself based on Heggen’s novel), the film is simply a masterpiece of cinema and of storytelling.

A character study of a man desperate to be a part of something bigger than himself and to make a real difference in the Second World War, the film features Fonda‘s pitch-perfect performance as Lt. (j.g.) Douglas Roberts, stuck aboard a dreary naval cargo ship in a Pacific backwater, far from the fighting. At constant odds with his Captain (Cagney in bravura performance of pure, hilarious evil), Roberts takes solace in his relationship with Powell’s Doc, a sympathetic veteran too tired to complain any longer, and his bunkmate, Ensign Frank Pulver (Lemmon), a braggadocious schemer who never quite follows through on his plans. Executive officer of the boat, Roberts is also popular with the crew for his passive-aggressive war with the Captain, who terrorizes them regularly.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like on the set of this movie, but man…what an amazing place it must have been. Fonda was on the upper curve of his peak, with 12 ANGRY MEN a mere two years in the future; Lemmon gives his breakthrough performance as Pulver. Powell, Cagney, and Ward Bond  were all on the downward slide and past their leading man days but give wonderful performances…and imagine the tales they had to tell. Rounding it all out is a cadre of young actors playing the ship’s crew, many of whom were on the way to distinguished careers, like Ken Curtis , Tige Andrews , Buck Kartalian, and a wide-eyed and fresh-faced Nick Adams , whose future looked very bright, but would fall short of his expectations and end tragically. Rumor has it that director Ford was replaced after socking Fonda in the jaw during a heated discussion, though it was more likely due to emergency gall bladder surgery.

Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray presentation is absolutely breathtaking. Remastered from a new 4K scan, the picture is truly one of the best I’ve ever seen in this format, with little to no film grain visible throughout, colors balanced and saturated well, and deep blacks supporting a generous midtone range. The only flaws I saw were minimal focus issues near the vertical screen edges occasionally, artifacts of the original CinemaScope projection process most likely. Sound is also above expectation, and a real joy in 24-bit 5.1 surround. Extras include the original theatrical trailer and a scene-specific audio commentary by Jack Lemmon, carried over from a previous release.

Honestly, this is the best restoration I’ve seen all year on a film that I recommend everybody should own. Do yourself a favor and grab it while Warner makes it available. You never know when they might decide to go to an all-streaming model and ditch traditional media sales.

 

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: Frankenstein -vs- Jimmy Stewart!

Posted on: Jan 4th, 2021 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2 Disc SE)- 1957
4.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Peter Cushing , Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart , Christopher Lee
Director: Terence Fisher
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
Region: A
BRD Release Date: December 15, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: New 2020 1080p HD Restoration Masters from 4K Scans of Preservation Separation Elements
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.67:1, 1.85:1
Run Time: 83 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

It’s the holiday season, and a great time to make a gift of your current disc copy of Hammer FilmsTHE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Not to a friend, but to an interested acquaintance or an amiable stranger – share the gift of a wonderful classic film in an adequate digital presentation and give yourself (and a friend) a gift by ordering the new, restored version of the film from the Warner Archive Collection. After viewing this presentation of the film, you’ll never be able to go back to the current disc in your collection, whether DVD or Blu-ray. For a taste of what I mean, click the title link above to see a comparison video of the restored vs. unrestored version.

Warner Archive’s new two-disc special edition lovingly gives this film the attention it deserves, including not one, not TWO… but THREE different prints in varying aspect ratios as released in theaters. It also includes a great slate of supplemental features produced by Constantine Nasr, a man who knows his mid-century British horror movies. He’s assembled a set of in-depth featurettes that include context, history, and opinions from the likes of Dick Klemensen, publisher of Hammer-centric fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors, Sir Christopher Frayling, who provides an excellent history of gothic literature and how Hammer’s films were affected by it as well as how they affected it, David J. Miller, who contextualizes fellow director of photography Jack Asher’s work on the film and his subsequent work at Hammer, and composer Christopher Drake on the film’s score and it’s composer, James Bernard. Nasr and historian Jack Haberman also provide a new audio commentary. The film’s original trailer has also been restored and is included.

As for the film itself, it looks and sounds better than it ever has. One of the cornerstones of Hammer’s success, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was very much a gamble when the company undertook it’s production. Horror movies were at a low ebb in the mid-1950s, and the company was under scrutiny not only by the British Board of Film Classification but by Universal Studios, who wanted to make sure they weren’t appropriating any copyrighted material or designs from the 1930s films. Writer Jimmy Sangster created a totally new take on the story, focusing on the evil Baron Frankenstein rather than the monster, and injected a bit of Jane Eyre to play up the gothic aspect. Add blood, cleavage, and one-strip Eastmancolor film stock and you have a perfect storm which kicked off a decade’s worth of profitable releases for Hammer and their competitors.

If you’ve never seen it and aren’t a big fan of this type of movie, you might want to hold off on buying this set – an acquaintance or amiable stranger may be giving you an earlier disc release of it in the near future. If you are a fan, order now – this is essential viewing, and should be in any horror fan’s library.

 

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER – 1940
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Margaret Sullavan , James Stewart , Frank Morgan , Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
Studio: Warner Archive Collection
BRD Release Date: December 22, 2020
Region: A
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 99 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

What would the holidays be without an annual viewing of that timeless Jimmy Stewart classic? You may think I mean IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but I’m talking about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, a deeper dive and totally worth adding to your Christmas movie viewing list. Remade in 1998 as YOU’VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks  (well, who else could carry Stewart’s mantle?) and  Meg Ryan , with the original outshining the remake on all counts. The cast is perfect; Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan essay their characters well, dodging and parrying each other with jabs and lunges of Runyun-esque dialog provided by writer Samson Raphaelson. Lubitsch’s direction brings it all in dramatically as well as comedically, making for a tender and frustrating love story between two headstrong people trying to define themselves through the eyes of others. We know in the end they’ll come together, but the journey is the satisfying part of this film, not the destination.

Warner Archive’s presentation seems sourced from a new 2K scan of the original interpositive materials and is a marked improvement from past releases. The picture is sharp and gray tones and blacks are well defined throughout. Audio is also improved, especially in regard to dialog, which is tossed about like hand grenades by the cast – fast, furious, and much more in evidence than musical cues. Supplemental materials include a vintage MGM promotional film, THE MIRACLE OF SOUND, a Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast (Sept. 29, 1940) with Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Frank Morgan, as well as the Lux Radio Theater broadcast (June 23, 1941) with Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche, and the remastered original theatrical trailer for the film.

Don’t look for a plot-heavy story here–this is all holiday fantasy, and the focus is on the characters. If that appeals to you, then make sure you get this disc and keep it handy every year around this time. It’s worth the watch.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

 *Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: Death Scrambles Some Eggs; Plus – MOTHRA!

Posted on: Nov 30th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

 

DEATH LAID AN EGG (SPECIAL EDITION) – 1968
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Gina Lollobrigida ,Jean-Louis Trintignant, Ewa Aulin
Director: Giulio Questi
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Cult Epics Press
Region: Region Free
BRD Release Date: November 10, 2020
Audio Formats: LPCM 2.0 Mono / English & Italian Language with optional English Subtitles
Video Codec: Fully Restored 2K HD Transfer, MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:00
Run Time: 105 minutes (Director’s Cut)
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

DEATH LAID AN EGG is aptly titled. Translated from the original Italian, of course, but right on target for a film that never makes up its mind about what it is; Giallo? Sex Melodrama? Science Fiction? Murder Mystery? Psychodrama? Parody of all of these? All of these genres are present and as a result the film squeaks past as viewable for its cast, some interesting attempts at breaking stereotypes, and for being the only movie I can recall seeing that was so damned concerned with the politics of chicken farming.

Yes, chicken farming. The radiant Gina Lollobrigida and Jean-Louis Trintignant own a high-tech poultry ranch, where cousin Ewa Aulin comes to stay, creating sexual tension for all three. Gina admires her body, Jean-Louis falls in love, and Ewa has an affair with Trintignant intending to alienate the couple, then murder her cousin and frame her wayward husband for the crime with the help of interloper Jean Sobieski who knows Trintignant’s dirty secrets. Or does he?

The movie suffers from an utterly awful musical score. Composer Bruno Moderna attacks a piano like a two-year-old with a broken hand trying to make the viewer feel uneasy. This works for the first few seconds but ultimately becomes annoying. Few interludes of actual music occur, and I ended up thankful for the silence most of the time. The brightest light that shines is the gorgeous Ewa Aulin, who should have been a bigger star in the US. Can she act? Who knows? She’s not given much of a chance here, but she’s ultra-appealing.

Cult Epics’ presentation is beautiful to look at and is packaged nicely. The director’s cut has been edited from several element sources and switches back and forth between the English dub and Italian with English subtitles, which can be jarring. I thought I had received a flawed copy until I did a bit of research and got the whole story. Supplemental materials are plentiful and quite good, including a Director’s Cut audio commentary by Troy Howarth (Author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films vol. 1, 2, 3) and Nathaniel Thompson (Author of DVD Delirium and founder of Mondo Digital), a review by Italian critic Antonio Bruschini, Giulio Questi: The Outsider – the last video interview in HD (2010) (13 mins), “Doctor Schizo and Mister Phrenic” (2002) a short film by Giulio Questi (15 mins), English & Italian language Trailers in HD, and more. The packaging includes a reversible sleeve with original Italian poster art and slipcase printed with fluorescent inks, both limited to first 2000 copies.

If nothing else, DEATH LAID AN EGG is a unique viewing experience, and one you’ll likely never forget. Recommended for Giallo lovers and chicken farmers of all ages.

 

MOTHRA (Limited Edition Box Set) – 1961
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Furankî Sakai , Hiroshi Koizumi , Jerry Itô
Director: Ishirô Honda
Studio: Eureka Video (UK)
BRD Release Date: November 16, 2020
Region: B
Audio Formats: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 191 minutes, 90 Minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

All kaiju movies owe a debt to the American films that inspired them (such as Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS), but none more than MOTHRA, which was heavily influenced by KING KONG. Both films involve expeditions to a mysterious island, which result in a smarmy capitalist kidnapping fantastic beings in order to exploit them for entertainment purposes back in civilization; in KONG it’s the giant ape, in MOTHRA, it’s a pair of diminutive fairies who turn out to be high priestesses of a giant monster goddess who comes to rescue them from captivity. In her nascent form, Mothra even attempts to climb Tokyo Tower, Empire State Building style.

The film does fall back on some classic kaiju tropes – the ship in distress in a typhoon, a giant monster wreaking destruction on the city (Tokyo and New Kirk City in this case, in the fictional nation of Rolisica, the filmmakers’ combination of Russia and America), scientists of all stripes expounding theories – but deviates from the formula set by earlier Toho offerings by delving into questions of religion, humanity, and offering a decidedly feminine point of view not only via the fairies – adorably portrayed by the Peanuts, a popular singing duo at the time in Japan – but also via supporting characters, and even Mothra herself. Not affected by the radioactive fallout from atomic testing that everyone keeps talking about in the first half of the film, Mothra is actually a goddess that’s been around for thousands of years; a departure from the Toho kaiju norm. The overall tone of the movie is lighter than its predecessors as well, making for a fresh viewing experience.

Unconventional leading man Furanki Sakai (also a standout as Lord Yabu in the SHOGUN television miniseries from 1980) shines as Fukuda, a journalist set on getting to the bottom of the island’s mysteries, as does Jerri Ito in an over-the-top performance as the villain Nelson, so set on capturing the fairy twins that he’s willing to gun down an entire village of innocent islanders (played by Japanese actors in dark body paint, which would certainly be frowned upon in modern times) in the film’s darkest moment. Hiroshi Koizumi plays the stoic leading man, Dr. Chujo with the same look of knitted-brow concern throughout the film.

MOTHRA features some great special effects work by Eiji Tsubaraya and his team as well, including a large amount of optical effects combining miniature work with real crowds and other live action footage. These effects help convey to the viewer that the wholesale carnage happening onscreen is affecting real people and are used well to this end. Fukuda’s rescue of a baby in peril is especially effective.

The giant moth became so popular that she appeared in many of Toho’s other kaiju eiga, and even got her own trilogy of films in the 1990s. She proved to be a highlight of the American GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS as well.

Eureka has gone all out for this limited edition which comes in a hardbound slipcase with reversible art featuring the original Japanese poster art, the American art, as well as the original Japanese version of the film which runs 101 minutes and the 90 minute U.S. cut. Also included is a brand-new commentary with writer David Kalat, and a commentary with authors Steve Ryfle and Ed Godzizewsky, which has appeared on earlier releases. Anno Dracula author Kim Newman weighs in on the history and legacy of MOTHRA as well, and the first 3000 copies include a 60-page collector’s booklet. The package is Region B encoded, so make sure you have a region free player or live in the UK.

All in all, a very robust package and worth the price of admission. MOTHRA is a wonderful film and always worth a watch…or a re-watch.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Excerpts from the MOTHRA review first appeared in Screem Magazine #38.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

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APES ON FILM: Terrors Abound: Somnambulists and Conjurors!

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

 

 

STEPHEN KING’S SLEEPWALKERS – 1992
2.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Brian Krause, dchen Amick , Alice Krige
Directors: Mick Garris
Rated: R
Studio: Eureka! Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: October 19, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 audio options
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Run Time: 89 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

The 1980s were truly rife with film adaptations of Stephen King’s novels, for better (THE SHINING, STAND BY ME, THE DEAD ZONE) or for worse (CUJO, CAT’S EYE, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE). The 1990s started strong with MISERY, but as they settled in, his horror-related work took a back seat to adaptations of more mainstream stories such as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and THE GREEN MILE, which garnered more attention from critics and audiences. King’s first direct-to-screen story, not based on a previous work, was SLEEPWALKERS (1992).

The film introduces us to the “legend” of the Sleepwalkers – immortal monsters that feed on the life force of virgins, supposedly based on Native American folklore. Luckily, these maiden-sucking vampires have a fatal weakness; cats hate them and can scratch them to death, releasing the fires of hell within their souls. Owing as much to Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE (and coming only a decade after Paul Schrader’s stylish remake of it), SLEEPWALKERS trades in the same psycho-sexual horror headspace, focusing on the mother-and-son monster duo of Mary and Charles Brady (Krige and Krause), an incestuous pair that’s just moved into town and set their sights on the lovely life force of movie theater popcorn girl Tanya Robertson (Amick).

King really misses an opportunity to craft a story of substance by making Charles a one-dimensional vampiric douchebag, tossing off one-liners as he kills a teacher, terrorizes the initially smitten Tanya, and tears through town in his Trans Am. Had he been torn between the past and the fate thrust upon him by his evil mother and his true love for Amick’s character, the film could have been much more substantial than a teen monster movie of little consequence, which it eventually becomes.

Eureka’s Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great, but is Region B encoded, so you’ll need a region-free player to view. If you’re unable to play a Region B disc, Shout! Factory has released the film in the U.S., and the supplemental materials on the Eureka release were all ported from the Shout! Factory discs except for a new audio commentary by director Mick Garris and Lee Gambin. The Eureka release does come with a Limited-Edition O-Card slipcase with silver laminate finish and a Limited-Edition Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing by Craig Ian Mann which is included with the first two-thousand copies only.

Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS is cheesy fun but could have been so much more. Recommended for King completists.

 

THE MAGICIAN – 1973 – ‘74
1.5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Bill Bixby , Keene Curtis , Julian Christopher , Joseph Sirola
Created By: Bruce Lansbury
Studio: Visual Entertainment Inc
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2017
Audio Formats: Dolby Audio, English Stereo
Video Resolution/Codec: NTSC 1
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (or is it?)
Run Time: 1025 minutes

CLICK HERE TO ORDER

THE MAGICIAN was the third of Bill Bixby’s (MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER, THE INCREDIBLE HULK) network series, and the least successful. It lasted only a season on NBC from 1973-74, and I recall it fondly as helping to ease the sting of the cancellation of SEARCH, a show that my eight-year-old self obsessed over the year before. The series found Bixby playing the world’s greatest illusionist, Anthony Blake – a professional magician and amateur sleuth and “fixer” for friends and acquaintances who needed his special kind of help. Think of him as a cross between Houdini and The Equalizer.

The series was entertaining and the concept interesting enough, but it suffered from network meddling; bad luck (Bixby’s character name was Anthony Dorian in the pilot, and a stage magician named Tony Dorian came forward after it aired which prompted the name change to Anthony Blake); producers trying to wrestle spiraling budgets under control (halfway through the season, Blake’s private live-in jet airliner was discarded in favor of an apartment at Los Angeles’ The Magic Castle); and even a writer’s strike. Regular characters disappeared halfway through the season and new ones added with no explanation. The hook for the series was Bixby’s likable magician, but it wasn’t enough to keep viewers tuned in through all the inexplicable changes and the show folded after just twenty-one episodes.

Visual Entertainment Inc. has released the full series and pilot episode in a four-disc set in DVD format, and I was happy to get them. At first. The company admits in a warning screen at the beginning of the discs that quality is not as high as many other DVD series releases from the time period, so I was forewarned. This is excusable – the show quality is a bit rough here and there, but the fact that it was released at all (and for a reasonable price) was something for which to be thankful. What I can’t abide is that they label the video as appearing in the original NTSC 4:3 aspect ratio, which it does not. The ratio has been stretched to fit modern television screens’ landscape orientation rather than simply allowing the black bars on either side of the picture, as any sane person would have formatted it. The stretching results in loss of picture at the top and bottom of the screens to some degree, but mainly it makes everyone appear wider than normal, which pulls me (and everyone else, I assume) out of my “comfort” zone and makes the whole experience unwatchable. In some scenes it’s hardly noticeable; in the next, it’s grossly exaggerated. Maddening and completely unnecessary.

I can’t recommend purchasing this set, no matter how big a fan you might be. The best we can hope for is a release from a responsible company who respects the viewing experience at some point in the future. Save your money for that day.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Mariners and Marines, Adventures to Last a Lifetime!

Posted on: Sep 14th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – 1961
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack 50th Anniversary Edition
5 out of 5 Bananas
Format: Compact Disc
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Album Producer: Nick Redmond
Liner Notes: Randall D. Larson
Label: La-La Land Records
Tracks: 16
Run Time: 56 minutes
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VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – 1964-68
Original Television Soundtrack Collection – 4 Disc Set
5 out of 5 Bananas
Format: Compact Disc
Music by: Alexander Courage, Robert Drasnin, Jerry Goldsmith, Lennie Hayton, Joseph Mullendore, Nelson Riddle, Paul Sawtell, Herman Stein, Leith Stevens
Album Producers: Jeff Bond, Neil S. Bulk, Kevin Burns
Liner Notes: Jeff Bond
Label: La-La Land Records
Tracks: 142
Run Time: 4 Hours, 58 Minutes, 50 Seconds
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Producer Irwin Allen had created several award-winning and successful films by 1961, but that was the year he inadvertently hit on a formula that would serve him well for the rest of the decade and beyond. With VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, Allen combined quasi-military action with sci-fi themes and an apocalyptic disaster scenario. In essence, he created the combination he would borrow from, add to, subtract from and use for television and film projects well into the 1970s. From this seed, the producer would plant a television dynasty consisting of a small screen version of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, the TV series LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL, and LAND OF THE GIANTS, as well as feature films such as THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE and THE TOWERING INFERNO.

In 2011, La-La Land Records released a great 50th Anniversary Edition disc of music from the film, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, with music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter. The duo’s orchestral score is a great counterpoint to the film’s action, featuring soaring strings and stinging horns throughout. The film’s theme song, sung by Frankie Avalon, is included as well, as is the original demo recording and an alternate song that was rejected, and it’s easy to see why. The package includes a well put-together booklet with in-depth liner notes for every cue.

This year, the company released a deluxe, four-disc set of the music from the television series version of VOYAGE, and I confess that as a fan of the show I was blown away by the level of detail and the sheer amount of music included. Sawtell returned to score the pilot for the series, Eleven Days To Zero, as well as write the main title theme for the show, which has become the most recognizable cue of his career. The modern, maritime-inspired track with the stuttering harp and marimba highlights is unforgettable. The rest of the music measures up as well, with wonderful work from STAR TREK theme composer Alexander Courage, Oscar™ winners Jerry Goldsmith, Nelson Riddle, and so many more. The forty-page booklet with notes by Jeff Bond is an indispensable resource for series fans and film music lovers.

La-La Land Records is a company that truly caters to aficionados and hard-core fans of film music, and these releases reflect their commitment to that audience. Both sets are lavishly constructed to satisfy, and do not fail to do so. If you were thrilled by the exploits of the crew of the Seaview at any point – even if you were aware that some of the episodes were truly awful – grab both releases. Though Irwin Allen may not have always had the best writers on his series, he certainly had the best art directors, designers, model builders, special effects technicians and musical directors.

 

FLYING LEATHERNECKS – 1951
3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Janis Carter
Directors: Nicholas Ray
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: September 15, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 102 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

John Wayne and Robert Ryan fight the Japanese as well as each other in Nicholas Ray’s FLYING LEATHERNECKS. As Wing Commander and Executive Officer of a USMC air attack group in the Pacific in 1942, the actors play men who are two sides of the same coin—Wayne is cold and impersonal in his leadership style, but has a soft emotional center that he keeps to himself, while Ryan wears his heart on his sleeve but struggles with parsing the harsh realities of war. As the two career officers shepherd a group of short-timer, hotshot pilots that steadily succumb to the enemy, they eventually meet in the middle, but not without some fireworks first.

As the son of a USMC pilot myself, I’ve seen almost every film ever made on this subject matter and this one is an entertaining, sobering look at what must have been, to borrow the title of another film, hell in the Pacific. It doesn’t pull punches as the flight group withers due to enemy action, and the combination of actual air combat and training footage serves to maintain a gritty, realistic feel throughout.

Flying-Leathernecks-1951

Warner Archive’s single disc package features a crisp, colorful, newly restored print of the film along with the theatrical re-release trailer. Picture and sound are both very good with no artifacts present, making for an entertaining watch. Recommended for WWII movie lovers and John Wayne fans but give it a shot even if you’re skeptical – it’s better than you remember.

 

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video*WatcHDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Mysteries, Mermaids, & The Man of Steel, Oh My!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2020 By:

by Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

 Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

SUPERMAN: THE BULLETEERS – 1942
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring:
Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander
Directors: Dave Fleischer
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Fleischer Studios
Original Release Date: March 27, 1942
4K Upscale via Waifu2x by Jose Argumendo
Run Time: 8 minutes
CLICK HERE TO VIEW

Every classic film deserves a classic cartoon screening before it! Youtuber and Warner Media employee Jose Argumendo has used an “AI” media suite to upgrade an example of one of the greatest cartoons of all time, a Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon from 1942, THE BULLETEERS. In the public domain for many years, the Fleischer Superman cartoons have long been relegated to low quality VHS and DVD releases, bundled with other PD animation clips. They are actually gorgeously rendered, high-quality animation that has rarely been duplicated, and it’s great to finally see one in such a high resolution presentation, though speckles, scratches, and other artifacts are still present. It would be great to see Argumendo run another pass through existing software to eliminate those issues as well.

Not released on disc (yet!), you can only view this wonderful animated short on Youtube at the link above. Do yourself a favor and click it now and enjoy the exploits of the “Man of Steel” as he protects the Art Deco canyons of Metropolis, rescues Lois Lane, and saves the day. Up, UP, and AWAY!

MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM – 1933
4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Fay Wray, Lionel Atwill, Frank McHugh, Glenda Farrell
Directors: Michael Curtiz
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: May 12, 2020
Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Resolution/Codec: MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 77 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

Perennial screen villain Lionel Atwill keeps handwringing in MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM to a minimum, proving once again what a great actor he was. No need to overstate the sadness and madness of his character, sculptor Ivan Igor, who loses everything in a fire at the beginning of the movie and spends the rest trying to recapture a flicker of magic that he lost in the flames. KING KONG’s Fay Wray is radiant and fresh throughout, only coaxed into hysterics by director Curtiz for a few screams in the third reel, but this film truly belongs to Glenda Farrell, whose fast-talking, wisecracking girl reporter Florence Dempsey steals all the best lines as well as hearts for the duration of the film. Remade as HOUSE OF WAX in 3D with Vincent Price in 1953, the original version is the superior watch, though both are worth viewing.

Shot in a two strip Technicolor process (red and green), the film has long been available in a washed out, speckled and lined print that originally belonged to Jack Warner. For the Blu-ray release it’s been restored to amazing success by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation, with principle funding provided by The George Lucas Family Foundation. Colors are rich, though primarily tinted towards red and green, and there are little to no artifacts that haven’t been scrubbed clean. The picture is sharp and looks almost brand new in 1080p resolution. Audio is clear and well-toned. Bonus features include audio commentaries by UCLA Head of Preservation Scott McQueen as well as author Alan K. Rode. Also included are a featurette “Remembering Fay Wray” and a featurette on the film’s restoration.

Though hampered by the lack of an original musical score, especially in the final reel, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM is a true classic of its era, and a great film worthy of the restoration lavished upon it. Do not hesitate, grab this disc while it’s available!

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID – 1952
3 out of 5 Bananas
Actors: Esther Williams, Victor Mature, Walter Pidgeon, David Brian, Donna Corcoran
Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Busby Berkeley
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Warner Archives
BRD Release Date: July 28, 2020
Audio – English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Run Time: 110 minutes
CLICK HERE TO ORDER

“I learn much from people in the way they meet the unknown of life and water is a great test. If they come to it bravely, they’ve gone far along the best way. I am sure no adventurer nor discoverer ever lived who could not swim.” – Annette Kellerman

MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID tells the life story of Annette Kellerman, a pioneering aquatic performer and professional swimmer who created not only the sport of Synchronized Swimming and the modern one piece bathing suit for women, but also the cinematic nude scene in 1916’s A DAUGHTER OF THE GODS. Mervyn LeRoy’s film plays fast and loose with the facts of Kellerman’s life, but ultimately entertains thanks to solid performances from his cast, especially Esther Williams as Kellerman and Walter Pidgeon as her father. Williams was more than just a swimmer with a pretty face, she was a pretty fine actress.

What exactly do I mean by “fast and loose”, you ask? For one thing, none of the characters portrayed as Australians have any hint of an Aussie accent. None of the details of Annette’s personal life match up to reality except that she married her manager, James Sullivan, in 1912. Writer Everett Freeman’s screenplay introduces a lot of dramatic crossfire by adding a pseudo-romance with David Brian’s character, as well as a near fatal accident on a movie set that I can find no mention of in researching her life. However, the film will keep your attention as it rolls along thanks to its sharp dialog and amazing set pieces, especially as Williams cavorts in water tanks with dozens of other water ballet “dancers,” under the sure direction of Busby Berkeley. These sequences are worth the price of admission alone.

Picture quality is high, and the audio is crisp and well-balanced. The film is very colorful and looked gorgeous on my screen throughout thanks to a new 4K restoration. As with many high-resolution transfers, there is a bit of visible film grain, but not to a distracting level. Extras include an equally beautiful and hilarious MGM Tom & Jerry cartoon called “Little Quacker,” a vintage short subject called “Reducing,” a vintage radio adaptation featuring Williams and Pidgeon, as well as the theatrical trailer.

I’ve seen other reviewers recommend this for fans of Williams only, but I enjoyed the movie. As long as you realize its completely fictionalized, it’s quite watchable.

 

Anthony Taylor is not only the Minister of Science, but also Defender of the Faith. His reviews and articles have appeared in magazines such as Screem, Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, SFX, Video WatchDog, and more.

*Art Credit: Anthony Taylor as Dr. Zaius caricature by Richard Smith

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , ,

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