Friday, 17 April 2020

Blu-ray Review; The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (Second Sight)

The history of cinema boasts many tales of mad scientist's whose desire to play God often leads to an unhappy ending for all involved.
In Roger Corman's 1963 feature "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes", a much respected scientist Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) begins ground-breaking experiments with all good intentions.
Xavier claims that human vision is blind to all but one-tenth of the universe, and seeks to develop a way to sensitise the human eye
so that it can see radiation up to the gamma rays and beyond, thus enabling us to truly see everything around us for the first time.

Dr Brandt (Harold J. Stone) and Dianne Fairfax (Diana Van Der Vlis) both step in to warn Xavier of the consequences of self-testing,
but Xavier stubbornly ploughs away, ignoring cease-and-desist calls from the medical authorities.
Following a partially successful animal experiment, Xavier finds the serum now gives him the ability to see through solid objects,
leading him on a journey to manslaughter, the thrill-seeking world of the fairground and the gambling halls of Las Vegas,
en route to a truly chilling downbeat ending.

The portrayal of Xavier by Ray Milland really is a triumph, running through the whole gamut of human emotions,
with solid support from the smart Diana Van Der Vlis, whose character displays courage, compassion
and a fierce sense of loyalty right up to the very end.
However, it's Don Rickles who almost steals the show here, taking Xavier under his wing and turning him into a would-be healer and,
consequently, money-making machine who can instantly diagnose exactly what is wrong with those who seek medical aid.

It's a hugely entertaining ride for sure, with speculative scientific theories that are just about plausible, and special effects
that would have fired the imaginations of early 1960s audiences.
In many ways, this is my own favourite film from the Roger Corman collection, and Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation
does the film full justice.

Here, Floyd Crosby's cinematography looks splendid, with bold, bright colours beautifully rendered by this high definition disc.
On the extras front, we begin with two audio commentary tracks.
The first is by director Roger Corman, who talks about the 15 day shoot, explaining the original story concerned
a jazz musician who took too many drugs and why this story was dropped.
Roger is fullsome in his praise for Milland, Van Der Vlis, Rickles and Floyd Crosby, and justifiably proud of how well
his film fared at the US box office against the industry big hitters.
He also talks about his time with AIP, and explains why he feels this film should be remade.
It's a fascinating track, setting us up nicely for another commentary; this time from Tim Lucas.
As usual, Tim delivers a wonderfully informative track, and declares from the start that he considers "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes"
to be Roger Corman's signature film.
Tim manages to include a wealth of background and theory into his talk, going into a comparison between script and film; providing career information
on credited and uncredited cast members; talks about David Cronenberg, "The Lost Weekend", "Through A Glass Darkly",
"Nightmare Alley", Edgar Allan Poe - all highly relevant in his discussion of Corman's film - and X-ray vision.
Do listen out for his comment regarding drying paint in Xavier's room! You will certainly see this film
with fresh eyes after listening to this track.

Next up is The X Effect; an interview with Roger Corman (14m 16s)
Roger talks about his original treatment for this film; about the two movies he mad with Ray Milland;
the importance of pre-production planning and connects X to his Poe films.

American Gothic: an interview with Kat Ellinger (23m 13s)
A video essay from one of the brightest and best film scholars. Here, Kat discusses the 50s and 60s films that preyed on our fears, and about the deep
existential themes that lie within.
"Paradise Lost", "Frankenstein", "Mr Sardonicus" and "Masque of The Red Death" are just a few of the books and films mentioned in this beautifully delivered talk that will
raise your appreciation of what Corman accomplished here. Kat also references Corman's Poe series, with a look at the gothic
aspects of Corman's work.

Joe Dante on The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (6m 7s)
Joe labels this film one of the most ambitious films of its decade, and goes on to enthuse about the cast,
with a special mention for Don Rickles and also chats about film technology of today and yesteryear.

Trailers From Hell (2m 35s)
Mick Garris plays the trailer for his favourite Corman film.

Original Prologue (5m 2s)
Well worth inclusion here, the original prologue takes in the 5 senses touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

The disc concludes with the 2m 19s original trailer.
There's also a booklet - which I haven't seen - which includes writing by Jon Towlson and Allan Bryce.
Most of the UK's excellent boutique labels provide booklets with their releases, which are a valuable addition
to the special features. I respectfully encourage you to read them, if you don't already.

Second Sight will release "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes" on 4th May. The disc is Region B.
An essential purchase for lovers of Cinema Fantastique.

Thanks to the wonderful Debbie Murray at Aim Publicity, I now have a copy of the booklet.
It's a beautiful 38 page affair, comprising of cast and crew credits, terrific colour and monochrome photographs
and two informative essays.
The first, by film historian Allan Bryce, is titled X Marks The Plot" Seeing Through A Cult Sci-Fi classic.
Allan's 5 page overview of this film begins with his early fascination with X-Ray vision,
moving onto a resume of Corman's career leading up to X and a look at the screenplay and optical effects.

The second essay, by critic and novelist Jon Towlson, is titled Roger Corman: The Auteur With The X-Ray Eyes, running for 6 pages.
Here, Jon talks about the failure of Corman's "The Intruder" and what drove him to make X, and goes into the script
and the concept of 'Spectorama'.
Both essays are so very well conceived and written, and eminently worthy of your time.
Second Sight have also included a reversible poster with new and original artwork, and the disc and booklet
are housed in a rigid box featuring some rather splendid artwork by Graham Humphreys.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Final Curtain. Ed Wood (1957)

With "The Twilight Zone" still two years away, Ed Wood's "Portrait of Terror" series ended almost as quickly as it had begun, though the sole surviving episode
is recommended for fans of Rod Serling's series.

Theatres all over the world have long been associated with supernatural manifestations, with the spirits of deceased performers and patrons reputed to
revisit the places that gave them great pleasure during their time on earth.
The setting here is the Dome Theatre, based in an unnamed American town or city. Here, the actor (played by James "Duke" Moore") finds himself onstage in
the after hours, when cast and audience have departed to the safety of their homes.
The actors imagination soon begins to move into overdrive. Was the burning out of an arc lamp due to intervention from another world?
Is there someone/something out there amongst the supposedly empty seats?
As the actor surveys the darkened auditorium, the urge to visit every room in the building takes hold, and he ascends the spiral staircase in the witching hour.

Of course, Dudley Manlove's narration some 'wonderful' Woodsian dialogue: " A night I had looked forward to with fear" is one such gem, and the familiar reliance
of stock footage; the camera lingering for too long on shots of no great import and Moore's short bursts of overacting remind us that this is an Ed Wood production we're watching.
Still, this 22 minute short really got under my skin at times, as Moore - who overall delivers an acceptable performance, wanders through the theatre en route
to the final room that may contain a true portrait of terror.
Credit must go to director of photography William C. Thompson for creating a truly unsettling point of view, and to Jenny Steven's whose involvement gels on
repeated viewings.

It's a real shame that the intended series never happened, but full marks to one Jonathan Harris who purchased "Final Curtain" from a collector,
thus ensuring it received its 15 minutes of fame.
"Final Curtain" is currently available to view on youtube, and well worth a view for Woodites and for those who enjoy a journey into fear, uneven as it is.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Blu-ray Review: World On A Wire (Second Sight)

Based on the novel "Similacrum-3" by Daniel F. Galouye, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "World On A Wire" was broadcast in 1973 by German TV company WDR, in two episodes.
This groundbreaking production anticipated the likes of "Blade Runner", "The Matrix" and Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" to push the envelope in the Sci-Fi genre.
"World On A Wire" concerns a super computer that's being developed by the IKZ company. This computer is partly an electronic simulation machine that creates
an artificial miniature world, populated by over 9,000 units or 'people'. A giant steel corporation discovers this computer can also study and predict consumer
habits and demands for a 20 year period, and takes an active interest in development.
Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) is assigned to debug the software after Professor Henri Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) dies in mysterious circumstances.
When IKZA chief of security Gunther Lause (Ivan Desmy) literally vanishes into thin air, Stiller finds himself in a shadowy world where people are a bundle
of electrical circuits, and private interests dominate.
The introduction of Vollmer's daughter, Eva (Mascha Rabben); an Achilles and the Tortoise drawing; the name of Christopher Nobody and a parallel world
that may or may not be the 'real' one all add to a thoroughly absorbing 204 minutes.

The general theme of alienation in what may be an artificial world is well conveyed by a marvellous cast who include Barbara Valentin, Margit Carstensen,
Gottfried John, Kurt Raab, Uli Lommel, Ingrid Caven and Eddie Constantine, while the set designs with banks of TV screens and mirrors, which acknowledge and reflect the two
worlds are major parts of a production that was indeed way ahead of its time.
Second Sight's 2 disc Blu-ray presentation sees "World On A Wire" make its UK Home Video debut. The main feature is split over the 2 discs, and image quality
is good with well managed grain and plenty of detail.
The supplementary features being with "Looking Ahead To Today" (48m 31s) by Juliane Lorenz.
This documentary takes a look at how Fassbinder and crew depicted the future; how the TV production deal was realised; Fassbinder's attitude towards
location shooting and how the cast reacted to his ideas.
With valuable contributions from cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, this is a stimulating work that adds further weight to its subject matter.

Observing Fassbinder (7m 44s)
This is a short tribute to photographer Peter Gauhe who was stills photographer on 15 of Fassbinder's projects.
Peter is sadly in the early stages of dementia, but recalls how he started in the industry and learned his craft, and also discusses his relationship with the director
and his own acting roles.

On-Set Featurette (4m 19s)
Fassbinder talks about his TV series and how he got to grips with translating the book.

No Strings Attached: Renate Leiffer On Fassbinder (29m 15s)
Here, Renate talks about her work as an on-set translator; her relationship with the director and exactly what working with WDR meant to them.

Original TV Recap (4m 32s)
A general recap of key events in this production.

The Simulation Argument by Nick Bostrom (22m 38s)
Nick Bostrom from the Future of Humanity Institute at the university of Oxford presents a fascinating talk about simulation civilisations, concerning the future and our place in the world, and how he became interested in the argument.

"World On A Wire" will be released by Second Sight on 18th February, in rigid slipcase packaging.
As an extra special bonus, there's a 50 page perfect-bound booklet (which I haven't seen) featuring new essays from Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing
by Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe.
We are lucky enough to have some of the world's finest boutique labels here in the UK, and releases like this confirm we have never had it so good when it comes to the cream of World Cinema in our own homes.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Blu-ray Review: When A Stranger Calls/When A Stranger Calls Back (Second Sight)

For me, the 1970s was a magical period for the movies. There were so many films possessing a certain aura which has lingered down the years.
Made in 1979, Fred Walters' "When A Stranger Calls" is often compared to "Black Christmas" and John Carpenter's "Halloween", yet brings its own style and substance to the
table. Almost 40 years on, it's ripe for rediscovery.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) arrives for babysitting duties at the Mandrakis house, charged with looking after two young children while
their parents enjoy an evening out.
Following a series of anonymous phone calls - "Have you checked the children?" - Jill becomes convinced that someone is watching her every move.
When the phantom caller declares he wants her blood all over him, the stage is set for a grisly discovery.
Police involvement determined the calls were coming from inside the house, further upping the ante in this terrifying case.
We then move forward 7 years to a time when Jill herself is a parent and soon to become embroiled in a similar case, as a killer escapes from an asylum and
targets her own family.

With some fine supporting turns from Charles Durning, Tom Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst and Rachel Roberts, "When A Stranger Calls" boasts an overwhelming sense of
isloation and dread, driven by Dan Kaproff's ominous score.
The film was beautifully shot by DOP Don Peterman who captures that unerring sense of unease when darkness falls and tensions are amplified tenfold.
There are levles of suspense, too, that occur outside the Mandrakis abode: check out the pulse-pounding chase at a homeless shelter as the killer
strives to elude cop turned private investigator John Clifford (Durning) in a gripping game of cat and mouse.
It's testament to Fred Walton and his crew that their film still stands up today as a model of how to keep your audience on edge throughout.

When A Stranger Calls Back (1993)

Julia Jenz (Jill Scholen) is harassed during her babysitting stint by a stranger who claims his car has broken down.
Sensibly, she refuses to let him in to use the phone and tries to phone a repair firm herself.
With the phone line dead, Julia claims to have been in touch with the company, promising help will arrive within the hour.
As time ticks away, the man returns, demanding to call the repair firm himself and tensions rise leading to the abduction of two children.
5 years later, Charles Durning's John Clifford character resurfaces when Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) - now with a family of her own - is traumatised
by a phone call at a restaurant where she is enjoying a night out.
Clifford once again uses years of experience on the force to identify the shadowy predator who has a wholly unique way of delivering pure evil
inside the four walls of home. What should be the ultimate refuge.
I won't give the game away with regard to the reveal, but will guarantee your jaw will hit the floor!
With another wonderfully atmospheric score from Dana Kaproff, "When A Stranger Calls Back" is everything and more that a sequel could be, signing off
a double-bill that has real replay value.

The supplementary features begin with "The Sitter" (21m 22s).
This is the original, rarely seen short film which provided the basis for Walton's feature.
While it didn't go down too well with certain movie execs, it's a fascinating watch, using ingenuity and imagination that would really blossom a little later.

Directing A Stranger. An interview with director Fred Walton (16m 35s)
Fred reveals the idea for his film came from a newspaper article; talks about Kane, Durning, Colleen Dewhurst mand other cast members, explaining he tends
to leave actors alone and allow them to find their own levels.
He admits he doesn't like to revisit his work, and also praises DOP Don Peterson.

Carol Kane on When A Stranger Calls (17m 25s)
Carol reveals how she got the part; explains why she chose not to view "The Sitter"; talks about the humanity of the characters
and how her character changes in the sequel. It's a real delight to see this beautiful lady holding forth on these things and a nice addition to the package.

Rutanya Alda On When A Stranger Calls (5m 18s)
Rutanya (Mrs Mandrakis in the first film) talks about her career - including "Greetings", "Hi Mom" and "Rocky II" - the learning curve in acting,
and how she got the part in Stranger.

Scoring A Stranger: an interview with composer Dana Kaproff (7m 47s)
Dan talks about his background; his famous mentor; composing the music for both films, and likens his scores to a character in the films.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation from a brand new scan looks fabulous, and the package is nice rounded off with a CD soundtrack and a 40 page booklet.
Please note: Second Sight really have listened to their customers, and have made this disc Region Free.

"When A Stranger Calls" is released 17th December and is highly recommended for fans of the cinema of unease.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Juliet of the Spirits (Cult Films)

Fellini's 1st full-length feature film originally came to my attention via a big screen presentation at Derby Film Festival, many moons ago.
"Juliet of the Spirits" certainly left its mark on me.
The titular character here is played by Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife) who takes the role of a repressed housewife.
Juliet suspects her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) is being unfaithful, and takes steps to discover whether her fears are correct.
Following a wonderfully over-the-top consultation with a renowned psychic, Juliet enters a parallel world of the spirits, unleashing an array
of colourful creations that light up the screen during their time with us.
This dreamlike world reflects the director's fascination with our experiences beyond the walls of sleep, coupled with his active interest in the occult and the afterlife.
It all makes for an enticing cocktail that's made even more potent by the presence of Suzi (Sandra Milo). Juliet's sexually liberated neighbour is the polar opposite of
this timid woman who ultimately seeks to break free from her shackles and finally live.

"Juliet of the Spirits" succeeds in its brief to really get into the heart and soul of a woman, thanks to Fellini's inspired direction and a wonderful performance from Masina.
Juliet won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966, and its reputation has endured for more than 5 decades in the annals of World Cinema.
Now, this landmark film is available on Blu-ray for home viewing from Cult Films, via a 1080i presentation.

There are two commissioned extras on this disc. The first is an understanding Fellini commentary track from the excellent Kat Ellinger, who adds another triumph
to an already impressive catalogue of commentaries, video essays and writing.
Kat's track greatly increases our appreciation and understanding of this film, and also of Fellini's other work.
She examines the director's conflict between the sacred and the profane; discusses the Jungian aspects of the film, and succeeds in her intention to help us better understand this great director.
The other specially commissioned extra is a new video essay from author, critic and Oxford professor Guido Bonsaver.
'Dazzling Spirit' runs for 14m 36s and examines the three important elements to the film, and also takes in the director's interest in the occult.It's a fine essay and increases our appreciation of what was accomplished here.

"Juliet of the Spirits" is out now in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD release and is also available on digital platforms.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Blu-ray Review: D.O.A. A Right of Passage (Second Sight)

"The world is yours for a season"
Oscar Wilde

I started going to music gigs in the Autumn of 1976, taking in the likes of Budgie, Man, Curved Air and Steve Hillage.
Truth is, I was bored and didn't know it. Then, the Punk Rock explosion took place, which saw one of the most exciting musical revolutions ever.

D.O.A. A Right of Passage offers fascinating insight on both sides of the channel, following the Sex Pistols' infamous tour of America, while also
keeping tabs on what was happening in the UK.
The end result is a must for those who were there at the time, and for anyone who wonders what all the fuss was about.
Both sides of the fence are well catered for here, with fan interviews before and after gigs - some positive, some negative - while the odious
chain-smoking Bernard Brooke Partridge and Mary Whitehouse do what they did best, attacking anything they didn't understand.
There is coverage given to other worthy bands - with footage of Generation X, Sham 69, X Ray Spex and The Rich Kids - but this is the Pistols' show,
and their glorious wall of sound hits home with live footage of the likes of "Anarchy In The UK", "EMI" and "Holidays In The Sun".
The band played seven dates in the USA, culminating in that final gig at Winterland, San Francisco when the band trudged off, leaving us with one of the finest debut albums ever recorded.

Lech Kowalski's documentary really does get under the skin of Punk, with this movement's DIY attitude of making something out of nothing, uncovering
the state of things for an army of participants who felt let down by a system designed to bring them down. Witness Terry Sylvester - a working class lad
who tells it like it was before taking the microphone to front his own band, Terry and The Idiots.
There are some wonderful stories and anecdotes from the contributors here, who provides articulate insight into what went down and why, within a true example of guerrilla film-making.
Of course, the concert hall footage is alone worth the price of the disc, with Lydon showing he's one of the very best live performers, being utterly mesmeric.
I'd seen Joe Strummer, Iggy, Lux Interior, Patti Smith, Ari from The Slits, Siouxsie and Ian Curtis and Lydon can be added to anyone's list of fromtmen.

Another 30 years from now and the number of people who were present and incorrect during Punk's Golden Years will be vastly diminished. That's one of the reasons
documentaries such as this are so terribly important, turning the spotlight onto an age When We Were Kings.

The special features on this Blu-ray disc (which also includes a DVD) being with "Dead On Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was" (1 hr 55 mins 20s)
Here, we are privy to the recollections and opinions of key players in this story.
John Holmstrom (founder of Punk magazine); photographer Roberta Bayley; co-director and journalist Chris Salewicz; Pistols historian Mick O'shea; Midge Ure and many others, including Malcolm Maclaren. We hear about the origins of Punk with New York Dolls and Iggy namechecked (Roberta talks about being on the door at CBGB's); how the film ran into financial difficulties; why the crew were banned from filming at gigs, and there's valuable input from photographer Rufus Standefer. The Sid and Nancy infamous bed interview
is also included.
Nice to see Lamar St. John pop up, too, being the girl on the ground in the main feature, and still vital after all these years.
This generous making-off doc with a wealth of nostalgic footage gives considerable added value to an already worthy disc.

DOA A Punk Post Mortem (27m 8s) .
Chris Salewicz talks about the documentary and certain individuals, recalling the Sid and Nancy interview; the part played by Tom Forcade of High Times magazine and
looks at what Punk meant and continues to mean.
I struggle to think of anyone better than Chris to tell this story, which continues to resonate over 40 years on.
D.O.A. A Right of Passage will be released on the Second Sight label on 10th September. Image quality on this high definition presentation is strong,
and there's also a limited edition booklet in the package, written by Punk aficianado Tim Murray with additional article by Phelim O'Neill. The booklet is limited to the first 2000 copies, so hurry!

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Blu-ray Review: The Changeling (Second Sight)

Compile a list of big and small-screen superior spookers, and the usual suspects inevitably come out to play: the BBC's Christmas ghost stories, The Haunting,
The Innocents, The Legend of Hell House, The Stone Tape, Bava's Kill, Baby...Kill!.....another solid addition would be Peter Medak's The Changeling.
My own association with this film dates back to the opening weekend of its theatrical release when I was lucky enough to attend a screening at a cinema
in London's Tottenham Court Road.

"The Changeling" begins with a truly tragic scene. Composer John Russell (George C. Scott) is on vacation with his wife and young daughter when a roadside
accident leaves him well and truly alone in this world.
The grief-stricken Russell moves to Seattle in an attempt to rebuild his life, subsequently moving into the Chessman house, which has spent the last 12 years uninhabited... by the living, at least.

Russell soon finds out why, as strange manifestations suggest the house - or something in the house - is reaching out to him.
A piano that plays untouched by human hands; the ubiquitous child's ball that bounces down the stairs; a music box which plays the same tune
as Russell's latest composition and - most chilling of all - a wheelchair with a mind of its own.
Add to this the thoroughly unnerving banging sounds that always take place at 6.00am, and icy terrors that lie behind closed or half open doors
and you have a haunted house tale par excellence.
There are so many scenes that make the spine tingle and the blood run cold, including a seance that ultimately delivered far more than was
initially suggested, leading Russell to investigate sinister Senator Joseph Carmichael, played by Melvyn Douglas.

Ken Wannberg's wonderfully evocative score builds the tension nicely, while also being sensitive to the twin tragic aspects of this story. Of course,
George C. Scott is also finely tuned into proceedings, delivering a pitch perfect performance as a man who has lost his family and must start again.
Russell's burning desire to positively react to voices from beyond the grave and his reactions to haunted memories are beautifully conveyed by Scott
in one of his most heartfelt performances.
In these times of overkill and excess, the resurrection of this superbly directed film will gladden the hearts of all those who hold it in high regard,
and also bring new admirers to the fold.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation unveils a 4K scan from the IP that boasts rich colours and a healthy amount of grain.
The extras begin with an informative commentary track featuring Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels.
We hear why the film almost didn't get made; how Medak started out in the business; his stories about being on the sets of "The Haunting" and "Marnie";
why the film didn't take off in America, and there are discussions about the music and sound design and warm words for Scott and Douglas.

The House on Cheesman Park (17m 31s)
A featurette based on the Cheesman house which was built on a giant graveyard, with between 2,000 - 5,000 bodies still buried there when production began.
The Cheesman property had all the trappings: secret compartments and doorways; a bouncing ball and the diary of a young boy, making this a fascinating story.

The Music of The Changeling (8m 59s)
Here, composer Ken Wannberg talks about the great John Williams; the process of scoring a film and the pressures involved.

Building The House of Horror (10m 56s)
Art director Reuben Freed talks about building and lighting the sets; logistical problems; the budget and the passion of the crew.

The Psychotronic Tourist (16m 2s)
The wonderful Kier La- Janisse - author of "House of Psychotic Women" - plays host to 12 locations used in the film.
We get to see how the places look today, including the scene of the roadside accident, and visit a graveyard that contains two absolute legends.

Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling (5m 31s)
Mick explains that he loves this film for its emotion, and talks about "The Haunting" and "Don't Look Now". He also explains why "The Changeling"
remains a very personal film for those of us who saw it theatrically.

The package is rounded off by the original theatrical trailer (2m 18s) and a TV spot running 29s.
Second Sight have also included the original soundtrack on CD and a 40 page perfect-bound booklet (which I haven't seen) containing a new essay
by Kevin Lyons, original production notes and an archive on-set interview.
Hugely recommended for those cold Winter evenings when shadows cast long and the imagination takes over.