Friday, April 14, 2017

THE NECROMANCY 1972

Bert I. "Mr. Big" Gordon's take on ROSEMARY'S BABY
 and all things Satanic 70's with Orson Wells and Pamela Franklin !


"Life To The Dead And Death To the Living...."



    During the 1970's when he wasn't appearing on Johnny Carson or shilling on TV commercials for wine that's located on the bottom shelf in chain grocery stores Orson Welles lent his presence and distinctive voice to a wide ranging slate of projects including this 1970 effort from Bert I. "Mr. Big" Gordon (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN & EMPIRE OF THE ANTS). Gordon who leading up this seemed to be attempting a "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" style of film as his output included family matinee fare, a (very bad) sex comedy and thrillers before jumping on the 70's Satan bandwagon with this project.
   Written, produced and directed by Gordon it was shot in 1970 but legal wrangling kept it unreleased until 1972 when Cinerama released it often double billing it with their Euro imports such as the 1972 version of BLUEBEARD with Richard Burton. In 1983 it was re-edited with additional nude scenes shot (by persons unknown and a bit from the original shoot) in a satanic orgy with the original lopped off and Fred Karger's invocation score replaced by a cheesy 70's synthesizer where it was released under the title THE WITCHING. There are some surviving stills that show that Gordon originally filmed a hardwr cut before trimming it down.


 I love phone shots in movies !


    After their baby boy is born dead Lori Brandon (Pamela Franklin THE INNOCENTS and LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) and her husband Frank (Michael Ontkean TV's THE ROOKIES & TWIN PEAKS) decide to move from Los Angeles to the small town of Lilith where Frank has accepted a position at a toy factory owned by Mr. Cato (Orson Welles). While driving there the couple witness a fiery car crash where at the scene Lori finds a creepy rag doll with fingernail clippings in the doll's pockets (which would seemingly send any sane person screaming straight back to the big city). After they inexplicably run out of gas Frank hikes to a station and Lori is drawn by the sounds of chanting to a strange funeral overseen by folks in black robes whom all suddenly disappear and the returning Frank insisting she dreamt it all.
    Upon arriving in Lilith the find everybody nice & friendly in a Stepford Wives and/or satanic cult sort of way and while at dinner with Mr. Cato he strangely explains that his workers create "magic rather then toys". Paying special interest in Lori. Mr. Cato encourages her to read a black arts book entitled Grande Grimore while at the same time she begins to noticing disquieting things about town as they are no children or adults over the age of 30 besides Mr. Cato. She also befriends a strange young woman & coven member (Lee Purcell MR. MAJESTYK) who runs a local store filled with mysterious bric-a-brac.




     Drawing on many tropes from various movies as anyone whose seen ROSEMARY"S BABY can guess the motives of husband Frank (although compared to Cassavetes Broadway aspirations in ROSEMARY'S BABY, Frank and his desire to be a big wig in toy factory seems a bit trivial). NECROMANCY doesn't break a whole lot of new ground but Gordon does maintain an atmosphere of slowly encroaching dread along with parading a checklist of occult movie set pieces including flashes of a goat headed demon, images mysteriously appearing on tarot cards and in goblets along with robed figures chanting. There's also a WTF rat attack which suddenly appears out of nowhere as well as a bizarre pre-credit sequence with Franklin floating through space. Awash in bright sunshine it has a definite post-Manson 70's hippie California vibe to it (it was filmed in Los Gatos) and would make an excellent double feature with 1971's BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN.
     Pamela Franklin who had appeared as a child actress in Jack Clayton's classic THE INNOCENTS in 1960 and Hammer's THE NANNY from 1965 was one of few genre actors who moved easily into adult roles such as the sadly fallen through the cracks AND SOON THE DARKNESS from 1974 and the outstanding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE in 1973. Franklin (who's never looked prettier) has an odd accent here as it floats from British to American (sometimes in the same sentence) but does an admirable job with Gordon's sometimes head-scratching dialogue. She meant her husband Harvey Jason (COLD TURKEY) on this film and they remain married to this day and own the Mystery Pier bookstore in West Hollywood.
    Wells with a large prosthetic nose reads his lines with all the somber tones of a Shakespeare tragedy and seems to be trying to channel Vincent Price in one of his Corman/Poe roles. Although obviously slumming it here he bring a sense of nobility to the proceedings.
     Code Red's Blu-Ray release of Gordon's original theatrical version  oddly has a MPAA PG rating card at the beginning of the film but then finishes with an R card. Featuring some topless nudity (courtesy of Sue Bernard from FASTER,PUSSYCAT KILL ! KILL !) and some fleeting Pamela boobies it was one of those 70's movies that as released straddled both ratings and could have very easily carried a PG in spite of the bare flesh.

"We'll sell no wine before it's time" 





  





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 !!