Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Favorite Stuff From 2015

     I've had a lot of fun with this the past several years and although this 2015 list got a lot bigger than intended, I just couldn't stand to edit it down (believe it or not - there's, even more, I thought warranted inclusion). It simply unbelievable the stuff we are lucky enough to have coming out and pretty amazing to think that we live in a world where you can buy DEMONOID MESSENGER OF DEATH and THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE on Blu-Ray..... !??!


     Just in time for Halloween Warner cut loose in 2015 with a major portion of their Hammer catalog on blu-ray. Although this release came under some online criticism for not including CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA (Warner said these two titles needed some work), what we have here is an excellent collection that showcases some superb examples of Hammer Gothic at it's finest.
  For starters you have Christopher Lee's finest performance (and a contender for Hammer's best effort) in THE MUMMY, the best Frankenstein sequel with the grim FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and a couple of first-rate Dracula's with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and best of all the masterful TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (and you get Linda Hayden in HD !).

LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN 1976 88 Films Region 2 Blu

    The 1970's Italian crime genre (or poliziottesco) had been a bit under-represented on a digital medium, but with the past release of Raro's two Fernando Di Leo box sets, Arrow's superb stand-alone release this year of MILANO CALIBRO 9 along with this entry which was directed by Ruggero Deodato (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) things are looking up.
   One of the best entries of the genre, LIVE LIKE A COP opens with a jaw-droppingly insane motorcycle chase through rush hour Rome and never lets up for the next 100 minutes. Starring Euro stalwarts Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock along with Adolfo Celi and the gorgeous Silvia Dionisio, it plays out like a combination of DIRTY HARRY amped up to about 11 along with some STARSKY AND HUTCH buddy cop humor mixed in. Now we need Grindhouse Releasing's long hinted at the release of Umberto Lenzi's ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH.

THE OBLONG BOX 1969 Kino Blu

    Director Gordon Hessler's group of late the 60s/early 70's horror films for AIP have often been given the short shift by fans & critics coming as they did after Roger Corman's magnificent run of "Poe" films. Part of the problem was that all four of Hessler's films were tampered with in various ways in regard to content, music, and editing. Back in the days of their Midnight Movie line MGM did restorations on all of them and now with the ongoing releases of the AIP catalog on blu Kino has brought the first (and the best in IMO) of his films in HD.
    Dealing with family curses and the sins of British colonialism coming home to roost, Hessler came to THE OBLONG BOX after the tragic death of original director Michael Reeves. Featuring a superb leading performance by Vincent Price, nice supporting roles by Christopher Lee (who sadly only shares one short scene with Price) and Hilary Dwyer, along with some beautiful cinematography by John Coquillon (who went on to shoot many of Sam Peckinpah's later films).
   To complete the release of Hessler's A.I.P. catalog, Twilight Time has released the bizarre SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and Scream has announced releases of CRY OF THE BANSHEE and MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE for 2016.

NASHVILLE GIRL 1976 Scorpion Blu DVD

     Directed by Gus Trikonis (MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS and THE SWINGING BARMAIDS) this exploitation take on COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER is a cautionary tale concerning the pitfalls of country music stardom. Anchored by an earnest & heartfelt performance by Monica Gayle (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS) this A.I.P. release contains some excellent original country music on the soundtrack, a wonderful cast (including Leo Gordon, Jesse White, and a scene-stealing Marcie Barkin) along with an engaging storyline balanced out with just the right amount of drive-in elements. One of my top favorites from 2015.


    Regular readers of this blog know of my fascination for all things Rosalba Neri (in particular this film), so this release was very exciting news around here. One of the last "Gothics" from the golden age of Italian horror (and along with LADY FRANKENSTEIN one of Rosalba's only true horror roles) it features an insanely entertaining hodgepodge of non-sensical myths, vampire lore, and historical personages all mixed into a delirious plot with much blood and bare female skin splashed about.
    Directed by Lugi Batzella (NUDE FOR SATAN) and photographed by Joe (EMMANUELLE) D'Amato Code Red's blu-ray features a nice transfer from a 35mm CRI (which is a revelation compared to those shoddy PD DVD's) - and Rosalba's blood-soaked resurrection sequence (now in all it's HD splendor) is still one of the true highlights of 70's Euro-horror.


     Director David Gregory's alternately heartbreakingly sad and darkly amusing documentary concerns director Richard Stanley's (HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL) failed attempt to bring his dream project of H.G. Wells ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU to fruition on film in 1996. Along with another recent film in JODOROWSKY'S DUNE from 2014, it's a fascinating example of the "lost film" documentary genre (although I guess technically MOREAU really isn't "lost"). Starting out as a modestly budgeted film, the inclusion of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer into the cast along with a remote location, a hurricane, and various other factions all worked to doom Stanley's project.
    Although obviously lacking the participation of the leading principles in the form of Brando and replacement director John Frankenheimer with Kilmer a no-show, the narrative is left to Stanley along with a host of New Line executives, crew and supporting actors who all tell a fascinating story of actor egos run amok and crushed dreams.

THE SENTINEL 1977 Scream Factory Blu

     Over the years I've owned this movie in various incarnation through a theatrical showing (on a double feature with AUDREY ROSE), Beta, VHS, Japanese laserdisc, DVD, German blu-ray with finally this newly released Scream Factory blu-ray and with each new viewing my fondness for this sometimes maligned film has grown. Although admittedly not a great film it does have an alternately bizarre and creepily uncomfortable atmosphere running through it along with a cast of up and comers including Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger and a quick view of a young Richard Dreyfuss along with a gaggle of older Hollywood faces including Arthur Kennedy, Mel Ferrer, Ava Gardner and to just to cement its horror cred - an appearance by John Carradine (in one of ten roles for him in 1977!)
      A young model played by Cristina Raines (whose performance has also grown on me over the years) moves into a Brooklyn brownstone that houses something evil lurking about and whose tenants include Burgess Meredith channeling Ruth Gordon from ROSEMARY'S BABY, along with Sylvia Miles and Beverly D'Angelo as cannibalistic lesbians. Scream Factory's blu includes a spanking new transfer and some new extras - including a fascinating commentary with Raines where she addresses her issues with the film (and director Micheal Winner).

FINAL SCORE 1988 OMG Entertainment DVD

    If there's one name that will cause hardcore fans of 1980's action world cinema to become misty-eyed its Indonesian director Arizal. His movies, which also included THE STABILIZER and AMERICAN HUNTER, sometimes showed up on late-night cable or grey market video releases that populated the shelves of mom and pop video stores under various titles and gaudy boxes. Damnably hard to find expect for murky VHS derived bootlegs his catalog received a boost among collectors thanks to this kick-starter funded release from OMG Entertainment.
    In a basic and oft-repeated plot stoic Christopher Mitchum stars as a decorated Vietnam veteran living a peaceful life in Indonesia, whose wife and son are brutally murdered by members of a crime cartel led by fellow American Mike Abbott. This naturally sets Mitchum off on a bloody vendetta as he works his way up the corporate ladder (checking names off a handy list) and leaving a vast trail of bodies behind him. Filled with some of the most insane stunts ever filmed (the climactic motorcycle/helicopter thing has to be seen to be believed) and a plot that bounces from one madly goofy action sequence to another this is a truly mind-bending viewing experience.
    OMG's release although taken from a full-frame analog video master (god knows where the original film elements are) is still very colorful with a nice image.


     More Barbara Steele Italian Gothic horror is always welcome and this release from Severin provides a nifty triple feature as it not only gives us Barbara in all her B&W HD eternal beauty for the main feature but as a bonus we get U.S. theatrical versions of CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964) and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965).
    Mario Caiano's NIGHTMARE CASTLE has all the hallmarks in the form of creaky doors, candelabras, shadowy hallways along with revenge from the grave and (most importantly) the presence of the goddess of Italian horror (here in a dual role). You also get an early appearance of Spanish horror beauty Helga Liné, a co-starring Paul Muller (LADY FRANKENSTEIN) and a score by Ennio Morricone.
    Severin presents the longer 105 min. cut under the title THE NIGHT OF THE DOOMED (which plays much better than the shorter U.S. print) with the torture chambers, acid disfigurements and Gothic trappings all looking beautiful. The disc also contains a commentary by Barbara and David Del Valle on the main feature and along with the two bonus films (both taken from 35mm) all of which make for a great triple feature. Hopefully someday soon we'll get Barbara and director Riccardo Freda's creepy ode to necrophilia THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK and it's followup THE GHOST.


     A wonderful example from the golden age of Spanish horror (although to be honest this is more of a thriller) this unsettling little gem has long been a staple of those bargain multi-pack DVD horror collections and luckily now has been given a beautiful upgrade from Scorpion. Directed by Eugenio Martin (HORROR EXPRESS) it features excellent work by its two leads in Aurora Bautista and Esperanza Roy. Playing a pair of sisters who run a boarding house in a small village, with one sister having a rather bent view of religion as she begins disposing of female guests who she feels are morally corrupt. Featuring a stifling atmosphere of sexual repression and religious hypocrisy it also has an appearance by the always welcome Judy Geeson along with Blind Dead alumnus Lone Fleming.


     Make fun of me if you want, but I love these movies. Once every year during the winter I watch the entire run of the A.I.P "beach movies" over the course of a weekend and now thanks to Olive, I can watch two of them (with the rest hopefully to follow) in all their bikini-wearing HD eye-popping color glory. Representing #'s 2 & 3 in the series (and can also be looked at as a Don Rickles double feature - which is always a good thing) MUSCLE BEACH PARTY and BEACH BLANKET BINGO are both full of the things that make this series enjoyable with goofy humor, "G" rated emphasis on sex with close-ups of gyrating bikini-clad beach party-goers and great musical guests including Stevie Wonder, the god-like Dick Dale and The Hondells (and of course Frankie and Annette).
      MUSCLE sadly loses the great Harvey Lembeck's Eric Von Zipper but gains Bond girl extraordinaire Luciana Paluzzi while BINGO (my favorite) has the unbelievable Bobbi Shaw, the unhinged Timothy Carey as South Dakota Slim ("I've got lots of ideas..., all on them vile, booby..") plus Playboy Playmates Donna Michelle and Patti Chandler.


    This trio of Enzo G. Castellari urban decay/post-apocalyptic action features were a few of the onslaught of films that were produced in the wake of ROAD WARRIOR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE WARRIORS box office returns. 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS and its quasi-sequel ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX feature a dystopian view of a then future NYC with THE NEW BARBARIANS channeling some ROAD WARRIOR action combined with a spaghetti western. All three are immense fun containing such elements as Fred Williamson in full bad-ass mode, a pissed off Vic Morrow, an evil Henry Silva, outlandish costuming, body counts that must number well into the hundreds and crazy-ass stunt work. For even more fun (and the makings of a truly monumental movie marathon night) Code Red brought out a trio of 80's apocalypse fun via the Philippines with Cirio H. Santiago's WHEELS OF FIRE, THE SISTERHOOD and EQUALIZER 2000.

THEM! 1954 Warner Blu

    One of the first (and THE best) of the 1950's "big bug" movie craze THEM! benefits from director Gordon Douglas's no-nonsense documentary-style shooting, the presence of James Arness and James Whitmore in roles of co-heroes and a police procedural beginning that leaves the identity of the "monsters" until a good bit of suspense has built up.
    From the opening sequence of a small girl found wandering in the desert (later only able to scream "Them ! Them !") to the finale in the Los Angeles sewer system this a wonderful example of 1950's sci-fi firing on all cylinders and is filled with scenes and quotes (who as a child will ever forgot the ship sequence) that were forever ingrained in little monster kids brains.
    Warner also released SON OF KONG, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and Ray Harryhausen's THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS on blu and from their Archives division we got Willis O'Brien's THE BLACK SCORPION with Richard Denning and Mara Corday.

MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE 1974 GONE WITH THE POPE 1976/2010 Grindhouse Releasing Blu DVD

     Two of my favorite releases from this past year where this pair of GODFATHER/MEAN STREETS homages that were directed, produced and written by nightclub crooner Duke Mitchell (who by the way also starred in both). A self-taught filmmaker Mitchell used the money he made singing in nightclubs to fund these dream projects. In MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE he sought to right the self-perceived wrongs he saw in THE GODFATHER and it's portrayal of Italian families and honor. Mitchell attempted to show the Italian American Mafioso and family experience filtered through his own family stories and experiences working the supper club circuit.
    Awash in bloody violence (the opening sequence where Duke and a buddy kill the entire staff of an office building while one of his songs plays on the soundtrack is worth the price of admission alone), 70's fashions/decor run amok and some of the most entertaining stream of conscious dialogue ever committed to celluloid its a fascinating example of self-taught film making.
   Filmed in 1976 and unfinished at the time of his death in 1981, GONE WITH THE POPE has Duke and a couple of cohorts concocting a scheme to kidnap the Pope and demand one dollar from every catholic in the world in exchange for his release. Even more bizarrely entertaining than its predecessor, it was lovingly assembled by editor Bob Murawski from film elements kept by Mitchell's family (and remember - "You're in, or your in the way !!").


    Straddling the two decades that were the golden periods of low budget schlocky horror, DEMONOID while never going to be considered a great movie is a GREAT low budget schlocky horror film that pretty much hits all the marks - Hollywood ex- A-lister slumming for a paycheck (Stuart Whitman) and younger up and comer (Samantha Eggar) for a couple of names for the marquee, bat-shit crazy plot that defies logic, some familiar faces populating the background (among them a quick cameo by busty Russ Mejer starlet Haji). and endearingly cheesy special effects.
    A U.S./Mexican co-production directed by Alfredo Zacarías (who's equally insane THE BEES  is coming this year from Vinegar), it mixes a bit of 70's cinema fascination with all things satanic along with a disembodied hand. DEMONOID was released in two versions with the U.S. version spiced up with some pre-credit topless sacrifice footage. Vinegar's release contains both cuts of the film, an interview with Zacarias and trailers and artwork.


     Mario Bava's classic blueprint for the next couple of decades upcoming Giallo genre has been through numerous video incarnations over the years but has never looked better than on this release. Awash in his trademark pulsating colors and prowling camerawork,  a murderer stalks through a fashion house with all of Bava's trademarks pushed to almost a fever dream level with the bloody & violent murders still packing a jolt. Without getting into the 1.67 framing controversy, this has been a release I've been waiting a long time for and I was infinitely pleased with it.
    Containing a wealth of extras, it was unfortunately held up for U.S. release for rights issues, but Arrow's UK version is region free. One of the true cornerstones of Italian cinema (and horror/thriller cinema in general) this a perfect example of why Bava's influence continues to felt to this day. Now somebody please bring on KILL BABY KILL.

THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE 1962 Scream Factory Blu

    This lurid & unintentionally hilarious little B&W shocker is one of the true classics in the realm of "so bad their great" horror films. Combining the favorite "living disembodied head in a tray" motif along with strippers, a mutant monster in a closet and some early gore effects it never fails to entertain. Scream Factory's gorgeous transfer brings all of its low budget glory out in startling clarity (there are quite a few major studio releases from this same time frame that should look this nice) and to top it off there's even a bit of topless footage included as an extra that was filmed for the international markets.

AXE 1974 Severin Blu

     Filmed in North Carolina and originally titled LISA, LISA (distributor Harry Novak changed the title to the more publicity friendly AXE), this perversely weird little mixture of an art-house film and Southern Gothic horror is a fascinating example of low budget 1970's regional horror. Featuring a hauntingly unforgettable performance by one and done actress Leslie Lee as a strange young woman who along with her invalid grandfather finds their rural house invaded by a trio of on the run hitmen.
     Like many independent horror films of the 70's there's a sad back story to this as director Frederick R. Fiedel watched this film (along with his other production KIDNAPPED COED) disappear into the murky mazes of low budget distribution and shady dealings.
    Originally released by Something Weird on DVD, both AXE and KIDNAPPED COED has been given a new lease on life courtesy of Severin with the full participation of director and writer Fiedel. Severin's package includes both features along with the hybrid BLOODY BROTHERS that Fiedel assembled from the two features along with a boatload of extras.


A few things I'm looking forward to in 2016...

    Russ Meyer's Hollywood excess morality fable and rock musical BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has been scheduled for release early this year from Arrow on Blu-ray (Region B only). A bit later is BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (Margaret Markov and Pam Grier in HD !!) and John Milius's violent DILLINGER starring the incomparable Warren Oates.
   Also from Arrow is their American Horror Project Vol. 1. Arrow's (hopefully) ongoing series of low budget horror films that snaked through way through the '70s and '80s on drive-in & grindhouse circuits on Dbl. and triple features. It will kick off with this pretty amazing collection that contains THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD and THE PREMONITION.

    Don May Jr. over at Synapse has been painstakingly working (and well worth the wait I'm sure) on his trio of Argento blu-ray titles and hopefully we'll see TENEBRAE, PHENOMENA and (best of all) SUSPIRIA at some point this year - and hopefully CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE at some point.

   Kino/Scorpion's TRUCK STOP WOMEN (Claudia Jennings in HD !) and the classic HOLLYWOOD BLVD. (Candice Rialson in HD !)

  Treasures from the A.I.P. catalog will continue with among others Scream Factory releasing THE DUNWICH HORROR (paired on a Dbl. feature disc with MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) and Olive on tap with THE TRIP and Kino will bring us PANIC IN YEAR ZERO.

   Grindhouse Releasing with the blu-ray of  S.F. Brownrigg's SCUM OF THE EARTH (aka POOR WHITE TRASH II).

   Vinegar Syndrome always has few surprises up their sleeve and along the above mentioned THE BEES they had a nice surprise recently as their release of  CORRUPTION had a hidden easter egg containing a print of Roger Watkins's nihilistic grindhouse classic THE LAST HOUSE ON A DEAD END STREET. Vinegar is currently on the hunt for better materials for a full-blown stand alone release.

1 comment:

  1. What a great post. I love so many of the films on this list too. Nashvile Girl, Nightmare castle. Bronx Warriors I have very fond childhood memories of. And I'm a big fan of the Sentinel. Very unrated horror gem, which I got for 5 bucks at Kmart back in the early 2000s.

    Then the ones that are on my list of things to see like Devil's Wedding night. Axe sounds really cool too.

    Thanks for a great year of posts, Dick! Look forward to 2016 with you.