Wednesday, March 8, 2017

THE OUTER LIMITS - THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN 1964

"And as imagination bodies forth
the forms of things unknown, the poets pen
turns them into shapes and gives to airy nothing..."
                                              William Shakespeare




Original Air Date May 7 1964

"Mr. Hobart tinkers with time,  just as time has tinkered with Mr. Hobart..."


     In May 1964 the first season of ABC's anthology series The Outer Limits came to end with its mediocre ratings leaving its future somewhat in doubt. Created by Leslie Stevens who wrote and directed two of the season 1 episodes including the THE GALAXY BEING which was the series pilot and CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT (which was the only comedy episode produced during the series run), it was producer/writer Joesph Stefano (writer of Hitchcock's PSYCHO) was the primary driving force during the series initial season run.
    Unlike most other TV series of the time that were shot mostly "flat" and unimaginably THE OUTER LIMITS benefited from work by academy award winner cinematographer Conrad Hall (IN COLD BLOOD) and direction by Gerd Oswald (A KISS BEFORE DYING), John Brahm (THE LODGER) and Robert Florey (MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE ) among others, all of whom elevated the look of show with stylized lighting and camera angles bringing to mind German expressionism and giving each individual episode the feel of a 51 minute movie.
     It was Stefano who first came up with the idea of a weekly creature (or "bear" as they were refereed to buy the creators) to be featured and he gradually took the show away from its straight sc-fi origins.  Always a huge fan of Gothic horror he jumped at the chance when ABC proposed a new show titled The UNKNOWN that would feature more horror based story lines. Unfortunately the series was cancelled and the new initial episode THE FORMS OF THINGS UNKNOWN was reworked with a different ending being shot downplaying the horror elements where it was broadcast as the finale to THE OUTER LIMITS first season.




    Combing elements of European art house cinema, German expressionism and Gothic horror along with a bit of plot inspiration from Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic DIABOLIQUE from 1955 it looked unlike anything seen on American TV up to that point. Coming across as a disjointed nightmare brought to life, its filled with beautifully atmospheric photography by Conrad Hall, a creepy score by series composer & co-producer Dominic Frontiere (later used in THE INVADERS) and disorienting obtuse compositions by director Gerd Oswald. Containing excellent performances by Vera Miles (it what might be her best role), David McCallum, the wonderful & sadly under appreciated Barbara Rush and it what would be his final role Sir Cedric Hardwicke it stands as one of the highlights of fantastic television.
      A Rolls Royce speeds through the countryside (with a road sign indicating France) and at the wheel is the sadistic Andre (Scott Marlow THE COOL AND THE CRAZY) accompanied by his two mistresses the stronger and more domineering Kassia (Vera Miles PSYCHO) along with the more fragile Leonora (Barbara Rush IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE). After announcing they are going to Lenora's father in order to blackmail him Andre stops the car and stripping down to swim trunks wades out into a pond. Shot in deep focus with a Vaseline smeared lens in one of the more weirdly erotic scenes ever seen on TV he forces the two women to wade out to him fully clothed in order to serve him a martini.




    The women however have slipped a leaf from "the highly toxic Thanatos tree" in his drink and watch silently as he gasps for breath and dies in the water. Stuffing his corpse in the trunk of the Rolls they head to look for a spot to bury when they become lost in thunderstorm and take refuge at a lonely country estate inhabited by only two people. Greeted at the door by a blind servant Colas (Sir Cedric Hardwicke THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN) they're introduced to the presumed master of the house Tone Hobart (David McCallum THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.).
    Hobart reveals that he's created a "time tilting" device that allows the dead to be brought back to life. Contained in an upstairs room down at the end of long forced perspective hallway lit by a single row of bare bulbs it consists of hundreds of different clocks all connected by fine steel wire to a central pillar. Leaving the house in order to bury Andre's body Kassia discovers the corpse missing from the trunk and its shown that Tone has procured it and taken up to his device.




   Consisting of fractured story line which leaves many gaping holes in the narrative (which might be the result of the re-editing from the episodes original form) with both characters and plot points that aren't what they first appear to be (especially in the case of the relationship between Tone & Colas), it could be said that the entire thing is just a visual piece of style over substance. It's interesting how it looks forward to both the look and nonsensical plots of the then burgeoning genre of Euro-horror and remains a fascinating if flawed early example of pushing the boundaries of TV. There's an underlying sense of eroticism running through the plot (that Stefano's script does a wonderful job of keeping just under the radar) that starts the broadly hinted at ménage à trois relationship between Andre, Kassia and Leonora that continues with the tension between the more domineering Kassia and the submissive Leonora.
   McCallum who earlier had appeared in the classic episode THE SIXTH FINGER where he played a simple Welsh coal miner who as result of genetic experiments is thrust 1,000,000 years ahead in the evolutionary scale here brings as almost child like open eyed wonder to his role along with sad ruefulness to what he's created. A criminally under rated actresses, Barbara Rush does her best here with a weak role as all she does is constantly scream and jump at the slightest movements and her character is the weakest link in the plot.











Thursday, March 2, 2017

Rosalba Neri News # 25 - AMUCK ! Is Here On Blu-Ray


     
    It's been a long time coming for a decent looking uncut release of this weirdly preserve Silvo Amandio 1972 giallo, but 88 Films have recently released their beautiful new region free blu-ray edition. Featuring an absolutely gorgeous scope transfer that forever banishes to the depths of a Venice canal those previous PD eyesores that we've had to endure, it lends a whole new appreciation for the film along with the added bonus of two of the most beautiful women in 70's European cinema in the presence of Rosalba Neri and Barbara Bouchet now both in glorious HD.
    In a previous post (which was based upon that sickly green/yellow cropped Eurovista DVD), I commented on how dreary & dismal looking the short sequences in Venice looked and its amazing here what the difference is as we're shown an open, airy and sunny cityscape with blue skies and sparkling canals which now contrasts nicely against the claustrophobic setting of the house where the majority of the plot unfolds. Aldo Giordani's (ATOM AGE VAMPIRE) cinematography is finally given a worthy meduim and with the heightened quality I constantly felt the need to pause and gaze upon certain shots in the film or study the bric-a-brac filled home (and record collection !) of Rosalba and Farley Granger.
    Originally titled ALLA RICERCA DEL PIACERE (THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE) it was re-titled AMUCK ! for its American release by distributor Group 1 who mounted a lurid hyperbole filled campaign including this classic example of how to cut (or CUT ! as the case may be) a trailer.
   88 Films disc includes both Italian and English audio options with the corresponding subtitles along with delightful newly produced interviews with Rosalba and Barbara and a Q & A with Barbara from the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films in 2010.
   Available from the usual places including the fine folks over at Diabolik DVD this is already looking to be the release of the year - and plus we have the newly released 2 MALES FOR ALEXA Blu-ray from X-Rated, 99 WOMEN from Blue Underground (with CASTLE OF FU MANCHU just announced) and LADY FRANKENSTEIN coming later this year from Nucleus Films all of which make for a cavalcade of hi-def Rosalba in 2017.
   In the very near future Camera Obscura will be releasing their own version of AMUCK ! on blu with some added features and a bonus CD containing Teo Uselli's score (a portion of which was used in THE BIG LEBOWSKI soundtrack). Great times to be a Euro-cult fan !!



















Wednesday, March 1, 2017

BLOOD MANIA 1971




     The recipient of one those wonderfully flagrantly and totally false ad campaigns which attempted to amp up the horror elements in non-horror plots, BLOOD MANIA was the first of a pair of films that producer/star Peter Carpenter (Russ Meyer's VIXEN) did for Crown International. Taken along with its Crown sibling 1971's POINT OF TERROR in which Tom Jones wanna-be lounge singer Carpenter falls into the clutches of record mogul Dyanne "Ilsa" Thorne and 1970's suburban wife swapping opus LOVE ME LIKE I DO (also with Thorne and his BLOOD MANIA co-star Maria De Aragon) they form an unholy-like trilogy of post hippie 1970's California kitsch.
     With the poster promising "Terror that rips the scream right out of your throat" along with blood smeared hands and a busty naked brunette carrying a skeleton all culminating in "shocking climax" that'll "jolt you right out of your seat", we'd expect semi-sleazy 70's exploitation horror. Instead however we get gaudily lit pseudo-psychological thriller that unfolds like a daytime soap opera plot with some snatches of bare flesh and H,G. Lewis inspired bright red gore at the climax. 
    Directed by Robert O'Neill (ANGEL - "Honor student by day.. Hooker by night !"), it's awash in velvet upholstered couches, huge sideburns, ankle deep shag carpeting and men's ties you could land a jet on along with females who would seem to spend their entire life in lace nighties and pink feathered boas all bathed in almost day-glo like colors that make your head swim. Playing on double and triple bills into the early 80's it must have a few patrons scratching their head in bewilderment (or stomping out of the theater in frustration).





      Opening with a bizarre animated credit sequence followed by a woman running through colored gel lighting we're then introduced to hunky Dr. Craig Cooper who's interrupted in an early morning bath with his wife Cheryl (Playboy Playmate Oct. 67 Reagan Wilson) by a call from Larry (Arell Blanton from BLACK GUNN - and only identified as "Blackmailer" in the credits) who is blackmailing the doc for some abortions he performed back in college. In what would seem to be his only patient case through the course of the film, Dr. Cooper heads to the mansion of the bedridden Dr. Waterman (Eric Allison THE CREMATORS) whose despised and nymphomaniac daughter Victoria (Maria De Aragon WONDER WOMEN  - and allegedly Greedo in STAR WARS) who when not attempting to seduce pool boys is busily lusting after Doc Coop. Lots of seething resentment and sexual tension lust here about as Dr. Waterman also hates Dr. Cooper as he sees the younger doctor attempting to take over his clinic and his only pleasure appears to be watching his daughter get continuously shot down in her attempted amorous conquest of the younger doctor (plus there's also a bit of hinted at incest).
     After engaging in some candle-lit amyl nitrate fueled sex Cooper tells Victoria that he needs $50,000 in order to pay off his blackmailer (or "tax problems" as he refers to it) which sends the hot & horny Victoria off on plan to kill her father thereby getting her hands on the inheritance (along with Cooper). Dosing her father with poison, she does a striptease in front of a mirror causing her fathers to keel over dead for which Dr. Cooper labels the death a stroke in order to get his hands on the money. 
    The family lawyer arrives (Alex Rocco DETROIT 9000) and informs Victoria that the money is actually going to younger sister Gail (Vicki Peters THE MANSON MASSACRE and Playboy April 72 Playmate) who shows up to claim her inheritance with her "friend" Kate (Jacqueline Dalya CHARLIE CHAN IN RIO). Changing tactics Copper now sets his sights on Gail with the couple go for long walks on the beach and attending a Renaissance festival while the increasingly psychotic Victoria begins her revenge.





     Bathed in eye popping color with film-noir like use of shadows and compositions shot through other objects in the foreground, this very lurid and gaudy example of 70's drive-in cinema is very beautifully shot by Al Adamson regular Gary Graver (I SPIT ON YOUR CORPSE) who took over from busy exploitation cinematographer Bob Maxwell (ASTRO ZOMBIES), who between the two of them seemed to have shot practically every low budget film in the 70's with Maxwell also shooting the above mentioned LOVE ME LIKE I DO and POINT OF TERROR. Paced with all the urgency of drying cement at certain points, with its dark interiors bathed in psychedelic like lighting housing a dysfunctional family BLOOD MANIA brings to mind a more slickly produced & less zoom happy Jess Franco vehicle. 
    Moving to a slightly bloody and downbeat ending, its main plot bares more than a passing resemblance to its twin feature POINT OF TERROR with a somewhat moral leading male drawn into a tawdry romance for the want of money. In spite of all the soap opera trappings there is some interesting stuff lurking about including a veritable feast for fans of all things related to 70's tackiness and the performance of De Aragon in the role of the bitchy Victoria is something to behold as she gleefully chews up gobs of scenery. Leslie Simms (THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN) has fun time in the role of the household nurse bringing some comedy relief to the proceedings while the great Alex Rocco is mostly wasted in the thankless role as the lawyer who basically just shows up to read the will.  
    In a sure sign that we are living a true golden age of home video Vinegar Syndrome recently released BLOOD MANIA and POINT OF TERROR in a glorious Blu-ray double which features mind blowing colorful transfers of both features in 2K scans from the original camera negatives.