Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
Today I read that artist Bernie Wrightson was retiring due to an illness that has impaired his ability to draw and paint. I have been lucky enough to meet Mr. Wrightson and have him sign my copy of his magnificent version of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein but I always thought I'd have the chance to talk to him again at another convention down the road. Here's hoping he is comfortable in his retirement and feels the love and affection of his millions of fans.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
I just caught up with THE SINISTER EYES OF DR. ORLOFF (1973) via Derodo Films' Blu-Ray release and was a little surprised to discover it is pretty much the same story as Franco's 1972 film NIGHTMARES COME AT MIDNIGHT. Oh, there are some differences involving family relations, revenge and an inheritance but the last half of one film is strikingly similar to the other. This isn't really a surprise as Franco often recycled ideas, characters and plots from one film to another. But it did freak me out a bit because I kept wondering if I was watching a film I had already seen or not. The details were enough off that I eventually realized what was going on but it was a little disconcerting.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
In the Winter I like to dig more deeply into the cinema and fiction of the 1930's and 1940's. The cold days and nights just seem perfect for snuggling under a warm blanket with a good pulp adventure novel or a fun old film. Sadly, the last few weeks in
have been bizarrely warm for the season making it difficult for me to work up
the cozy feeling I like for this time of year but I have found a few nights
cool enough to feel proper for January. On one of those nights recently I
watched an Eddie Dean western from PRC called THE HAWK OF POWDER RIVER (1948).
This was one of the last starring roles for the famous singing cowboy star before he was relegated to the occasional guest spot on a television show. Although his screen career faded one thing he continued to do until the 1990's was sing and at that he was quite good. I'm partial to the western & swing style of music popularized by Dean and his fellow singing cowboy film stars so as far as I'm concerned the tunes that pop up in these cheap little programmers are often the highlight. I own a couple of Dean's records and each time I listen to him I realize I want to own more.
As for THE HAWK OF POWDER RIVER (1948) it is only an OK entry in the genre. Clocking in at under an hour it still manages to wear out its welcome pretty soon even if having the vicious villain be a vivacious vixen is a nice change from the norm. The script is pretty tired and the only real energy is in the few horseback chases that pad the story out. If you are interested in the singing cowboy films of yesteryear I wouldn't start with this one but the songs are pretty darned good.
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Saturday, January 21, 2017
The horror sub-genre generally known as 'nature attacks' blossomed in the 1970's and probably reached perfection with Jaws (1975). Certainly Jaws was not the first movie to put humans at the mercy of a relentless animal antagonist but it's success guaranteed that it would never be the last. Being very well respected and the most profitable film of its type there was little doubt that more such movies would be made but while much fun can be had watching the various carbon copies with monsters of all types, it's the nature attacks tales that stretch outside the basic formula of Jaws that are the most interesting. That's not to say that most of these films are good but they are usually fascinating viewing just to see what threat from the animal kingdom can be blown up to epic proportions to frighten the public. I'm sure the producers of The Bees had Hitchcock's brilliant The Birds in mind as a template but that is a level of competence that this film could never reach.
Dr. Miller’s wife Sandra (Angel Tompkins) smuggles some of the remaining bees back to
and takes them to Dr. Sigmund Hummel (John Carradine) who also happens to be
her uncle. Siggy, as he is called, is the head man of this UN bee project in
the States and has been working in the field for years. With the assistance of
John Norman (John Saxon) and Sandra Dr. Hummel tries to continue Dr. Miller’s
work. While their work progresses a group of greedy American businessmen try
illegally importing some killer bees of their own into the United States.
Their plan goes horribly wrong and their courier is killed in transit releasing
his bee stash into North America and off we go
into disaster film territory. The bees set up shop in a cave near a public park
(!), begin multiplying, building hives and occasionally stinging a person to
As the bees become a bigger and more deadly problem threatening to destroy the entire human race the UN team begin to make some real progress and actually slow the insects' advance for a while. But at that point the bees evolve into a species smarter and more deadly than anyone could have imagined leaving Dr. Norman fighting to find a way to communicate with the creatures to stave off the end of humanity. I don't want to give away the completely mad ending so that the curious can marvel at it's unusual solution to the problem. I'll just say that the ending is almost worth getting through the rest of the movie just to witness.
Let's be clear about this now - The Bees is a terrible film. It's inept in a dozen different ways with awful dialog, a ridiculous romance angle, ham-fisted villainy and generally wretched acting. The only two actors that make it out of this mess with their self-respect intact are Saxon and Carradine even if that venerable actor is saddled with a truly stupid German accent. I love John Carradine and it was great to see him featured so prominently in a film this late in his career. He’s good in his role but I did find myself constantly distracted by the sight of his arthritic, crippled hands. I'm aware of Mr. Carradine's arthritis problems later in life but this was the first time I've seen a director choose not to hide this deformity onscreen. It drew my attention repeatedly and made me wince whenever I saw him holding things or picking up objects. Saxon is the only actor that seems to be rewriting his dialog on the fly which is to say that his lines sound the least stilted and juvenile throughout. Saxon finds a way to seem naturalistic in his role even when he is being asked to do some pretty dumb things and, as a plus, he gets to have a gratuitous fist fight.
Just one more note about the film that I can't ignore. The sort of jazzy score by Richard Gillis is pretty bad and entirely inappropriate to the events it is used under. It feels like music written for another story idea that got grafted onto this film out of necessity. It is almost always out of place and distracting especially after the seventh or eighth time the same few bars of music leap out of the soundtrack to emphasize whatever is happening. The music might work in another movie but here it's overused and it's repetitive nature just grates on the viewer's nerves.
Luckily for fans of nature amok movies The Bees has been release on Blu-ray by the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome. The movie looks and sounds fantastic putting to shame the poor quality transfers from video sources I've seen in the past. In fact, I can't imagine a better looking presentation of the film and one might even say the excellence in evidence here is better than the film deserves. The only special features are the movie's trailer and a very nice ten minute interview with the film’s director Alfredo Zacarias. Zacarias speaks with a lot of passion about The Bees and it's clear he really felt he was doing something important. I certainly don't think this is a good movie but I can appreciate the work the director put into this project and hearing his story from his own lips might have been the best part of this Blu-Ray.
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Monday, January 16, 2017
This monthly post is long overdue so I'm going to be brief and get the list posted. I saw eight (!) movies in the theater in December and I've already written about a few of them so follow the links below to read my thoughts on those.
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN was a film I was going to skip as I have fallen out of love with Tim Burton and his increasingly shallow films. I was prompted to see this one by a British review that praised it and I'm glad I did. Eva Green is a marvel and the film works very well.
DON'T BREATHE is a good but not great variation on the home invasion idea. It's effective, tense and minutely explores it's chosen environment to terrifying ends.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK is a very weak sequel to the first Reacher film. Although the action scenes are well handled the connective tissue and story itself are thin and uninvolving.
THE ACCOUNTANT is a excellent crime film and one that skillfully accomplishes many different things. The main character is fascinating as are the various ways he has constructed his world to both survive and thrive. The film holds many surprises and is very well acted.
BAD SANTA 2 is a case of going back to a well that was mostly dry. It's not a bad film but it is too much of a retread of the first even if the new setting and new characters do liven things up a bit. Kathy Bates is great as
mean spirited criminal mother but she's about the only real surprise the film
has up its sleeve.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) - 8
DEAD RECKONING (1947)- 7 (lesser Bogart noir)
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016) - 8
BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) - 6 (rewatch)
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) - 7 (rewatch)
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015) - 8 (rewatch)
KRAMPUS (2015) - 8 (rewatch)
SILENT NIGHT (2012) - 5 (remake is too cartoonish)
DON'T BREATHE (2016) - 7
ELVES (1989)- 3
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016) - 5 (weak sequel)
SNOWED UNDER (1936) - 6 (fun but too tame little farce with excellent female leads)
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) - 7
THE ACCOUNTANT (2016) - 8
STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE (2016) - 8
MONTANA MOON (1930) - 5 (pre-code drama with Joan Crawford)
DR. STRANGE (1978) - 6 (actually not bad for a 70's TV movie)
ARRIVAL (2016) - 9
BAD SANTA 2 (2016) - 6
Sunday, January 15, 2017
For years I have longed for a good video release of this little gem and now it appears that my begging and crying has finally paid off!
NEW UK/US TITLE: Caltiki the Immortal Monster (Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD)
A unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive
North American pre-orders links should be live soon!
Release Dates: 10/11 April
Arrow Video presents a collaboration between two giants of Italian cult cinema – Riccardo Freda (The Vampires, The Horrible Dr Hichcock) and Mario Bava (5 Dolls for an August Moon, Blood and Black Lace)!
A team of archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god Caltiki.
Though Riccardo Freda received sole directing credit, a significant portion of the film was in fact the work of Mario Bava, who also served as its cinematographer and was responsible its striking special effects. Drawing on a diverse array of influences, from The Quatermass Experiment to the works of HP Lovecraft, Caltiki the Immortal Monster is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive. Presented here for the first time in a newly restored high definition transfer, Caltiki shines – and terrifies! – like never before.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• New audio commentary by Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava and So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• From Quatermass to Caltiki, a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman on the influence of classic monster movies on Caltiki
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master, an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki, an archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti
Thursday, January 12, 2017
We return to the films of Antonio Margheriti and the decade of the 1970's to see what an Italian made Disney film would look like. You might remember the kind of film we're talking about if you are of a certain age -THAT DARN CAT, GUS, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES and certainly THE LOVE BUG which turned a cheap German made car into a fun loving childhood hero. Somehow. And when European producers wish to capitalize on the big budget hits of
they do the easiest thing possible to create a movie that the public will
mistake for American fodder - they hire an American star! In this case, Dean
Jones, lead actor in several Disney kiddie features was lured to Italy to make a
film just as cute and stupid as the pabulum being force-fed to the little
bastards by Uncle Walt's fantasy machine. How well it succeeds will be a test
of your own nostalgia or, perhaps, your lack of patience with resolutely silly
John Hudson joins me to dig into this ridiculous science fiction comedy and, as difficult a watch as it was for grown men, there are joys amide the pain. Not a lot of joys, but enough to keep us from losing our minds. We talk about the good cast, the odd choice of aspect ratio, the fantastic music, the Italian Peter Lorre, pointless animal testing and bizarre tropes that get trotted out in this genre of Saturday afternoon kiddie matinee films.
Of course, we also spend a sad amount of time lamenting the extremely short time the mythical Invisible Chimp is a part of the story. Clearly he was a highly paid ape and they could only afford him for a couple of days! As a bonus (?), I also take a minute to complain loudly about one of the dumbest turns of phrase/jokes/sad bits of non-humor from the past that is present in this film in the very first seconds. Sometimes I just have to get things off my chest even if it might make me sound like an old man screaming at clouds. Sorry.
Thank you for downloading and listening to the show. Mr. Hudson and I plan to step up production of these Margheriti episodes this year and we even go so far as to announce the next two films we'll cover. We love going through these films and it is a blast see that there are others out there interested enough in his work to listen to us praise him. Join us over on The Bloody Pit Facebook page (which I forgot to mention in this show) or write us a review in iTunes or wherever you find our show. See you next time!
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
I don't know if I can so much recommend this film as warn you about it. If you of a certain age you might have some memories of the various Disney kiddie feature films starring Dean Jones. He was in THAT DARN CAT! (1965), THE UGLY DACHSHUND (1966), THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK (1971) and, or course, THE LOVE BUG (1968) and a couple of its sequels. He became a household name for a decade or more because of these films and they were both popular and profitable. So it was not difficult to figure that European producers would try to mimic this successful formula and who better to make this effort as well as possible than Antonio Margheriti?
Podcast on the way!
Sunday, January 08, 2017
Ted Chiang is a science fiction writer of some note and many accomplishments. I've only read a few of his short stories but each one has been brilliant showing the author's skill at thinking through an idea to something hidden just on the other side. If I had known ARRIVAL (2016) was based on his fiction I would have seen it opening weekend.
I will not ruin any of the many pleasures this carefully crafted film has to offer but I will take a moment to complain about some of the criticisms I read about the story that kept me from seeing the film until the end of the year. If the only thing you want to talk about after this powerful film has concluded is that it was stupid for an alien race to travel to our planet but not already be able to communicate with us you can officially go straight to hell. The entire film revolves around the fact that the aliens are struggling to find a way to talk to us and even their worldwide project using multiple sites and contact styles is massively difficult. One might make the rather easy leap to think that the complexity of the task and the hardships involved in the struggle just might be the damned point. Or at least one of them. Idiots.
But, to be clear, ARRIVAL is one of the best films I saw in 2016 and well worth seeing. It's thoughtful, smart, emotional and satisfying in ways I had forgotten science fiction can be. I'm not ashamed to say I wept tears of both sadness and joy.
Saturday, January 07, 2017
Friday, January 06, 2017
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
I really enjoyed Marvel's latest superhero film DOCTOR STRANGE but I'm used to that feeling. What I'm not used to is the feeling I had BEFORE I sat down to watch it, which was dread that there was no way to make the world of Stephen Strange as interesting as Iron Man, Captain
Daredevil. That has been the problem with Strange in comic book form for
decades now with Marvel never able to get his title to last more than a few low
sales years before cancellation. It's difficult to craft the kind of tales
comic book readers want when, at the end of the day, the solution is usually
just magic-ing the threat away. Great Doctor Strange stories have been told
over the years but sustaining the character over time becomes an exercise in
bigger and more esoteric villains that drift further away from the concrete
'punch'em in the face' reality that superhero fans crave.
Adding to this long term problem is the natural tendency toward metaphysical ideas in the Doctor Strange storylines and nothing screams action less than contemplation of why we do what we do in this dark and mystical world. This tends to limit the fanbase for the character somewhat and I feared that Marvel might lose it's bet that Strange and his world could be brought to the screen effectively.
Turns out I was wrong but in an odd way.
It seems that Marvel's solution to what I saw as a problem was to turn into the slide and simply amp up the speed and tension. They, in effect, used Strange in the same way they use Captain America by positioning him as a stranger (heh, heh) out of his depth, tossed into a war for which he has little previous experience. Therefore, all the mystical knowledge becomes battle training and the sorcerous threat is not just to the world, but to Strange personally. This puts our nascent hero in the rank of new recruit to an old war bringing fresh eyes to a conflict that he somehow might be able to finish. Sound like any good comic book stories you know?
Of course, this recasts Stephen Strange as much more of a man of action and violence than previous incarnations but it still remains true to the heart of him as a character. I might have been surprised to see Doctor Strange fighting physically as well as magically but the film blends the two together well and impressed me with the clever ways the mystic arts fold into the previously established cinematic world Marvel has built. Yes, the acting is good. Yes, the visuals are incredible (as they would have to be to approximate what Steve Ditko drew in the 1960's). Yes, the world building is stunning. But what I was most impressed by was the attention paid to making various characters both identifiable as people with motivations and as logical parts of a universe that also contains The Hulk and Spider-Man. This careful scripting does a great job of presenting lots of moving parts that, when they start to go out of synch, seem like sad inevitabilities given what we know about those parts. Not everyone fights for the same reason.
Even if DOCTOR STRANGE had been a failure I knew that by simply attempting to bring him to the screen Marvel was going to move into a different area of storytelling for the universe they have crafted. Since it is a success, but one that bends Strange's reality to a more manageable (profitable?) track, I suspect that more of the stable of Marvel magic-users will start to appear in one form or another. I'm sure they will be fitted into to a warrior mold as well, but it is my hope that maybe one of them will be allowed to be just as damned strange (!) as his two dimensional original without becoming an ersatz Steve Rogers. That could be really interesting.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Sunday, January 01, 2017
Even though much of the movie-going world seemed thrilled with the last Star Wars film I was quite underwhelmed by The Force Awakens. It was too much a safe rehash of the original film with the barest sprinkling of new ideas scattered about to distract from the dumber elements that piled up as the film barreled along. It wasn't a terrible film but it was far from inspiring or very good at doing more than making fans go squee.
Given that, I was not very excited to go see the 2016 SW offering, but the fact that it was being touted as a stand alone tale and I love seeing science fiction on the big screen means that of course I saw it. Glad I did. This is easily the best Star Wars film since 1980 and the first in just as long to make me actually fear for the lives of the characters onscreen. There is a grittiness and danger inherent in this story that is refreshing. It reminded me that way back in the first two films people died in often harsh ways just as if they were fighting a darkly violent Empire bent on ruthlessly subjugating a galaxy wide population. No fuzzy bears tripping storm troopers, no insane leaps off of impossibly tall buildings and no gravity or logic defying saber fights were present to make the audience wince. ROGUE ONE brings back the sense of danger that makes the stakes of the story feel real. Good guys do bad things, morally hard choices are made and terrible ends come to undeserving people. But, at the same time, there is humor in the film that seems natural to the characters and not wedged into the scene to please children.
It's not perfect. The death of Krennic shows that the reshoots couldn't find a really satisfying way to end his villainous character and the CGI recreations of a couple of characters are only fitfully effective but this is the most enjoyable Star Wars film in decades and is to be applauded for its accomplishment. Yeah, it's essentially The Dirty Dozen reset in SW but it is done very well. I hope that we get to one day see some of the discarded early versions of scenes that turned up in the various trailers just to be able to see why they were deemed less worthy.