The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

Director: Terence Fisher
Screenwriter:  Jimmy Sangster
Soundtrack: James Bernard
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 23 Mins
Ratio: 1:66:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Restored BluRay Region B

Terence Fisher’s ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ was released in 1957 to huge box office success in both England and the United States, and made stars out of both Peter Cushing and a heavily made-up Christopher Lee. It was the first time that a Frankenstein film had been made in colour and with the censorship laws more relaxed than in the previous decade, a good injection of blood and a little gore was also added to the mix which made this version of the story the bloodiest yet. The script was revised several times to avoid repeating any elements from the Universal Frankenstein series. As part of this effort, new monster make-up had to be devised especially for this film which many critics commented that Christopher Lee looked like a car crash victim.
The story was adapted and re-written by Jimmy Sangster and in their new version we see Victor Frankenstein as a young man who has inherited the family estate of Frankenstein meeting his cousin who will later become his wife and employing a teacher so that Victor can study medicine in his own home. as the years go by both Frankenstein and his teacher begin experiments to re-animate animals and to set about the ultimate experiment, to re-animate a body made up of dead human beings. As the film progresses Victor Frankenstein tries to re-animate his creature several times causing death and destruction until ultimately Victor is put into prison and blamed for all the deaths in the village. In the end the message of this film is the same as the previous incarnations, man’ obsession with playing the life giver will ultimately end in his destruction and of those around him.

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In the opening credits we have a small prologue of white text on a red background introducing the Frankenstein, while the haunting score by James Bernard sets the tone for the preceding horror to come. We then begin with a tired and drawn Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) languishing in a prison awaiting his fate as he relates his strange story of his experiments. The cinematography is one of lush colours, beautiful, ornate sets and elegant costumes set in a backdrop of 19th century Europe. What Terence Fisher and hammer succeeded in doing was to recreate the mythology of Frankenstein in a bloodier and more explicit form. Here was a version of the story which was not afraid to show blood, human body parts, and have a cruel sense of humour. This Victor Frankenstein was seen as ruthless and very, very determined to make his experiments work even if it meant that he had to kill in cold blood, to him it was all part of his grand creation, to bring life to a body composed of all manner of human organs and make this being live.
Watching Christopher Lee stumbling about and not understanding what his very existence was for, I felt very sorry for the creature, who has to live like an animal, a trained monkey, with no will of his own who eventually dies in a hail of flames and a vat of acid! What an end to Frankenstein’s experiments. Curse of Frankenstein injected new imagery into an old story, the public had never seen explicit horror presented this way and in full glorious colour. It is no wonder that this movie did so well After this successful version, Hammer Studios made several sequels to ‘Curse’ continuing Frankenstein’s experiments with
re-animation, the first was Revenge of Frankenstein, followed by Evil of Frankenstein, then Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Horror of Frankenstein (without Peter Cushing) and finally Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell (Reviewed Here).

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Each sequel had some very good ideas but by the time Horror of Frankenstein was filmed, interest had disappeared for Frankenstein and his experiments, though Peter Cushing will always be remembered as Victor Frankenstein, a man who wanted to create life but could never achieve it a moral tale that has never been surpassed. I love this version of the story and feel that this is an excellent example of Hammers Golden Age, along with Dracula (Horror of Dracula), The Mummy and the Quatermass films, Hammer became synonymous with British Horror even the US market benefited from this new injection of full colour and bloody Horror and the partnership of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would make Hammer and enduring, iconic movie making studio in the annals of Horror.

I watched the recently released Blu Ray/DVD combo from Lions Gate Entertainment and have created a fantastic collectors edition, which are listed below:

  • HD Main Feature – Never before released “Academy” ratio 1.37:1 (83 mins)
  • HD The Curse of Frankenstein (1.66:1 version) – Alternate Aspect Ratio (83 mins)
  • New audio commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
  • Frankenstein Reborn: The Making of a Hammer Classic (New and exclusive)
  • Life With Sir (New and exclusive Peter Cushing documentary)
  • Four Sided Triangle – Bonus feature film (80 mins)
  • Tales of Frankenstein – Bonus TV pilot (25 mins)
  • World Of Hammer: The Curse of Frankenstein (25 mins)
  • Stills Show

I did watch both aspect ratio prints, just for the fan-comparison scenario and liked both versions and felt hard pressed to recommend which ratio to watch above the other. The colour palette for this film is now more striking than ever before and there is also the inclusion off an infamous ‘eyeball’ scene, removed at the time for the UK release but now restored on this transfer. All in all a great piece of gothic horror, with the right amount of garish gore and costumed evilness, excellent!

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Baron Frankenstein: [after his monster has nearly killed him] I did it, Paul!

My Favourite Films Of 2015

Well, that time has arrived again, an opportunity to tell you readers my favourite films of 2015. Though I guess it is a personal critic of what I watched at the Cinema and on Download (How modern). As an avid cinema goer I love to compile my favourites of any given year, but to share them with the global cinema crowd adds that extra touch. As these are my personal take on the Cinema of last year I hope you might agree with some of my views, if not, well, not to worry. Sit down, relax and have a read…

1. Mad Max Fury Road (2015) Director George Miller
This film, written by George Miller in collaboration, has had a long and oft troubled production history, with Miller stating that ‘15 years in production was way too long…’ but the finished production, a two hour car chase ac cross the desert is simple in it’s plot, fantastic in it’s visual landscape and the minimal CGI is a breath of fresh air to this old Cinema goer, so yes the throw back to the 1980’s is a fantastic treat for those film fans yearning for the old school action films of yesterday.

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2. Inherent Vice (2014) Director Paul Thomas Anderson
A great little detective movie from an American director known for his nuanced character driven movies. I enjoyed this film for the performances from Joaquin Phoenix as the laconic, dope headed detective Larry “Doc” Sportello searching for his former girlfriend amongst the drug pushers and pimps of downtown Los Angeles during the 1970’s. Based on a novel which was said to be un-filmable (which I have not read) I thought this was a cool movie, great soundtrack and some nice cinematography capturing the 70’s vibe.

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3. Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2014) Director Gabriel Clarke
I really enjoyed this film which I reviewd here:https://wordpress.com/post/cultofthecinema.wordpress.com/336  which has now become my third favourite film of 2015, this is a biased choice and I do not really care. It has Steve McQueen which is a huge plus side and the unearthed footage of the trouble production of his film Le Mans is fantastic.

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4. Amy (2015) Director Asif Kapadia
At the time of writing this list, Channel 4 UK had just aired this Documentary which made it a timely re-watch. It is still a fascinating documentary about the very talented Amy Winehouse and her whole world of beautifully crafted music and her entourage of people who had their own self interests at heart. It is still a sad movie to watching knowing the untimely ending. Very moving.

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5. Macbeth (2015) Director Justin Kurzel
This adaption benefits from some of the most beautiful cinematography I have seen in a long while. The story is old enough and adapted enough to not warrant a synopsis, butb the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Coulitard is enough to make you want to watch this version. Atmospheric to the max a fantastic film to watch.

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6. Legend Director Brian Helgeland
Take one American writer/director, a classic British true life gangster story, a stand out double performance from Tom Hardy and you have the film that is Legend. Not a film that was supposed to work, but it does. It has it’s flaws but they are out weighed by the performances and the sense of it’s period.

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7. Far From The Madding Crowd Director Thomas Vinterberg
I liked this adaptation for all the reasons the other films are on this list, the performances are again excellent especially Carey Mulligan, the cinematography is excellent, capturing the beautiful countryside of old England wonderfully and the whole film has a dated feel which I truly felt at home with.

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8. La French  aka The Connection (2014) Director Cedric Jimenez
Yes when it comes to crime films, the French have a certain way to tell their stories, whether Jean-Pierre Melville hard boiled crime flicks, or the charms of Alain Delon, French crime films have always had a sense of style, intelligence and a wit that l always enjoy. La French  (The Connection) based on the same stories as the French Connection has Jean Dujardin as a crusading youth judge turned criminal investigator who wants to arrest drug kingpin Giles Lellouch. These two men cross paths and their lives slowly disintegrate as the the reach their inevitable conclusion. A classic.

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9. Scario (2015) Director Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve is a director I have admired since watching Incendies (2010) and reeling at the shock conclusion to that film. Prisoners (2013) was another taut thriller which had a downbeat ending which was again fantastic. Scario is a excellent for a strong performance by Emily Blunt, with nuanced support from Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin with a really a tonal soundtrack which I enjoyed very much.

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10. Wild Tales aka Relatos Salvaje (2014) Director Damián Szifrón
What my intial eye about this film was the extended trailer/featurette showing one of the stories set on a plane, which as the story unfolds, each passenger had a link to an unseen main character. Eventually said plane begins to nose dive taking it’s passengers with it as it is about to hit the house of the unseen protagonists parents! Excellent. With an opening story, this collection of revenge and counter revenge is a great little feature from Argentina, well worth seeking out and enjoy the visual ride.

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11. Timbuktu (2014) Director Abderrahmane Sissako
‘A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives, which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith, abruptly disturbed.’ I really enjoyed this drama and learnt a little about another culture which is always cool in my book. Sissako delivers a powerful snap shot of life under a Jihadist rule book and how ordinary people live in fear of being forced to adopt a way of living removed from what they truly believe in.

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12. Straight Outta Compton (2015) Director F. Gary Gray
This is the authorized biopic of Dre Dre and Ice Cube’s rise to Rap super-stardom with Niggas With Attitude (NWA). Superbly directed, well acted and great to see Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, their manager and sometime mentor in a spot on role for him. The music, if you like Rap, is superb, the actual story is pretty well crafted wether wholly true is probably not relevant, it works well all round.

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13. Black Mass (2015) Director Scott Cooper
This film is one for cinema goers who have forgotten that Johnny Depp can really act. Based on the true story of notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his violent double-life as an FBI informant. Depp steals all the scenes, has a cool time being the villain and is so very menacing. Excellent.

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14. Hyena
A personal favourite of mine, this British made, London set police crime film is full of nasty coppers, even more nasty gutter gangsters and corruption aplenty, all set against the rain soak London streets. Nasty, visceral and aptly named, not a film to shy away from. This was also recommended to me by @HeidyMo when it played at the Toronto Film Festival.

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15. Girlhood aka Bande de Filles (2014) Director Céline Sciamma
This film I enjoyed because yet again it is a cool slice of French urban life with the right amount of drama, pathos, humour and street-smarts to engage the audience. You do care what happens to the characters. Considering hardly any of the main actors were professionals, Sciamma manages to gain some strong performances from her leads. a highly recommended drama.

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Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2015) London Film Festival Review

Director: John McKenna
Screenwriter:  Gabriel Clarke
Soundtrack: Jim Copperthwaite
Starring: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams McQueen, Derek Bell, Jonathan Williams, David Piper,  Alan Trustman, John Klawitter, Peter Samuelson, Haig Altounian, Les Sheldon, Michael Keyser, Mario Iscovich, Craig Relyea, Bob Rosen, Siegfried Rauch, Louise Edlind, Hal Hamilton
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 56Mins
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Cinema, Part of The London Film Festival 2015

Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans is a documentary film based around the making of Le Mans which was shot between July 1970 and November 1970 and became an infamous piece of film making and on-set production disasters which have become legendary in Hollywood film circles. This film had it;s UK premier at this years London Film Festival (2015).
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I have a very personal love of Steve McQueen’s movies and the whole mythology surrounding him as an actor and producer. After watching many repeats of The Towering Inferno and Bullit back in the 70’s on TV, I often wondered as a youngster what made this actor bring the screen to life with a knowing look or small gesture towards the screen. There are few actors that can come nearly half way through a films running time and just ‘take over’ the film from his peers (Towering Inferno) and just run with it, one that does spring to mind is Orsen Welles in The Third Man (1949), though I know there are others and I will probably have them pointed out in due course!

So to start with, I had a fantastic seat right in the middle of Row Q Cineworld Haymarket, facing the screen dead centre ! Excellent. Then a brief introduction by Adrian Wotton, one of the programmers of then festival who also introduced the writer and director and the feature. British TV documentarians John McKenna and Gabriel Clarke. With a few choice words the DocuFilm was screened to the waiting audience….

The Film itself charts the fraught creative process of Steve McQueens film Le Mans from the initial concepts, through McQueens insistence on authenticity and to demonstrate his passion for the motor racing sport and for the drivers who McQueen looked up to and emulated throughout his career as a driver.
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The film interweaves stunning newly discovered footage (which I always scratch my head at and cast a dubiously eye over) and voice recordings with original interviews within the people who new McQueen well. It is the true story of how a cinema legend would risk almost everything in pursuit of his dream. Contributions from McQueen’s first wife Nellie, his son Chad and other members of his entourage who knew the man well. What comes out from this film is the intense love the contributors have for McQueen, even though he was a man blessed with being a difficult to work with and interested in racing cars bikes and bedding women, all the time showing to the public how much he was close to his family.  A paradox if ever there was one.

McQueen had wanted to make the ultimate car racing movie, to out do any before and any after. It was well documented that when Grand Prix, starring James Garner was released, McQueen was not  best pleased, even ignoring Garner for years because of the picture.
With McQueen’s box office sales, he was well positioned to green light any film he wanted to make, including his long cherished project, Le Mans.

McQueen’s production company, Solar Productions, had signed a six-picture deal with Cinema Center Films, which had invested $6m in the movie, the largest budget ever for a McQueen film; but as the months dragged by and the eventual walking out of the films original director John Sturges and the virtual shutting down of the production after the budget spiraled out of control.
the backers started to grow nervous. Eventually Cinema Center Films moved in on the production (it had not previously been involved in the filming process) and took over completely, sending another director to replace Sturges. There were two on set car accidents, including one driver who lost part of his leg in the accident. It was later discovered that the particular scene need not have been filmed, which adds even more angst to an already fraught production.

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McQueen was reluctantly forced to act in the film only, When you watch hie performance, you can tell that McQueen was on virtual auto-pilot, not to say it was a bad performance but one from an actor who could command the whole picture at any point in the movie, he was not really there.

After Le Mans, McQueen contributed some memorable performances, but the tired look in his eye may have been form his love and loss on the set of Le Mans, the creative reign which was ripped from him and the subsequent quieting of the King Of Cool.

I as you have guessed it, enjoyed the DocuFilm very much, the found footage did show McQueen away for his acting persona revealing a man who wanted and took all, but had to live with outcomes he could not always face. McQueen’s legacy lives on, this film adds to the whole mythology and whether you see Steve McQueen as a reckless egotistically actor-producer or a man who wanted to show to the world he was not all about looks, smiles and acting, but someone who had passions outside his chosen profession and a respect to the drivers who risked their own lives to win the race!

I for the record, respect him even more as a human being and as an actor. #LFF

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Danger: Diabolik (1967)

Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Adriano Baracco (story) Mario Bava (screenplay)
Starring: John Phillip Law Marisa Mell Michel Piccoli Adolfo Celi
Composer: Ennio Morricone
Runtime: 99 min
Country: Italy / France
Language: English
Format: DVD Region 1 USA

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Mario Bava’a Danger: Diabolik is an adaptation of a popular 60’s comic strip about a master thief, Diabolik and his nefarious adventures thwarting the government and other criminals as he reaps in money far and wide. This was the perfect vehicle for Bava to demonstrate his visual eye, and demonstrate he did! As the opening credits begin with the whirring imagery and typographic into, it is a total attack of colour coupled with Ennio Morricone’s pulsing guitar driven score you cannot help but be drawn into this comic book fantasy hat is Diabolkis’ world.

The story begins with Diabolik and his muse-partner in crime Eva Cant, stealing a huge amount of cash under the protection of an unnamed European government’s police force.  Michel Piccoli playing Inspector Ginko, is charged by the government to track down Diabolik and put him away for good. Ginko does this by attacking various mob rackets run by Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) the top Godfather of Crime. He in turn is cohersed into tracking down Diabolik on behalf of the Inspector, in return for easing off of raids to his mob activities.  Diabolik is no fool, as he knows he is being set up. Kant is kidnapped by Valmont, so Diabolik agrees to meet him on board his HQ plane where Diabolik destorys the craft and escapes with Valmont hanging onto him, via parachute.  A gun battle ensues with Ginko’s police squads as Diabolik manages to free Kant so she can escape, only for Diabolik to die in the gun battle, or so we think…

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John Philip Law is the eponymous hero/villain Diabolik who’s nefarious activities sends the viewer into wanting him to do more and more, Marisa Mell plays his love interest Eva smart but unerringly loyal to Diablolik. Adolf Celli plays Ralph Valmont who seems to be straight out of the book of American gangsters with the Brooklyn accent and the demeanor of a small time Al Capone! a true send-up.  Add in Terry Thomas as a brash Minister of the Interior and you know that you are going to be into a lot of fun and action.

Again Bava use of a very limited budget does not stop him from delivering the goods and with tongue firmly in
cheek. This slice of psychedelic pop is going to leave a lasting impression on you. this movie has achieved a long history of cult status and it is not easy to see why, from the night club scene where the 80’s kids take drugs, dance and paint this is how people who can remember how the 1960’s were, surreal. Morricone score oozes 60’s feelings with fast and furious guitar riffs to the Indian mystical sounds of the sitar lulling the viewer into a hazy drug fuelled psychdellia.

It is always with pleasure that Bava rarely fails to deliver in any of his movies, and if they seem dated like Diabloik, then all the better, for it is Bava’s style and his mastery of photography that brings to life his subject, from subterranean tunnels to high rise buildings exploding in front of you it all adds to the illusion of thrills and suspense fun and comedy that bring this character to life Bava felt at home with the comic book style of Diablok, the richness of colours the sense of action
from climbing sheer walls to gun battles with the police it all had the comic book feel to each scene. Filmed in an aspect ration which reflected the comic book panels of the original source material, Diabolik was always going to have a feel for the comic strip with the jump cuts and the all round simple characterization you don’t need to know each character intimately, just enough to get the whole story going.

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The acquisition of material luxury is what Diabolik is all about, and Bava makes everything in the film look lush and luxurious. His leather suit comes both black and cream-coloured, like a designer sofa. His rubber mask covers his entire face except for his exaggerated eyes, and is such a tight fit, in some shots it looks painted on. When Eva peels it away, it’s as if she were shedding his skin. No director ever used colour like Bava, and here the variety of stunning visuals goes far beyond his catalogue of horror effects. Clouds of multicolored smoke, used to snooker the cops or to givethe bureaucrats a dose of laughing gas, have a circus-like feel to them. For simple fun, Diabolik easily outdoes TV’s Batman in scenes like Terry-Thomas’s news conference, which falls apart in  uncontrolled, infectious laughter.

Politically, Bava and his screenwriters retain much of the anarchy of Diabolik’s source, the Italian comic of Angela and Luciana Giussani. 3 As in their original, Diabolik’s plundering has destabilized the government (Italy?, France? ) into constant turmoil. Embarassed officials and bureaucrats lose their jobs over their failure to stop him. Diabolik also retains a number of his nastier comic habits: the criminal fiend thinks nothing of contemptuously killing policemen right and left, and at one point dynamites a couple dozen government buildings for little more than a lark, a personal statement to prove that his threats are never bluffs.
It would be interesting to see if this movie would work well now if it was made with a modern spin, but as it seems to be of it’s time, then I would suspect that there would be something missing from a modern version. I like Bava’s Danger: Diabolik and I would recommend it as a great slice of Kitsch 60’s swing. Fun and frivolous great to watch and very exciting! Fun  Comic Book Mayhem.

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Hercules In The Haunted World aka Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961)

Director: Mario Bava
Screenwriter:  Mario Bava
Soundtrack: Armando Torvajoli
Starring: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Ida Galli
Country: Italy
Run Time: 1Hr 28Mins
Ratio: 2:35:1 Colour
Language: Italian-English Subs
Format: DVD Region 1

Mario Bava’s Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961) is another adventure in the Hercules cycle popular in Italy during the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s. The Hercules mythology was very popular in Italian cinema ever since the 20’s and many variations and adventures were filmed for the Greek hero. Reg Parks, a British bodybuilder was cast as Hercules with a two sidekicks and an evil nemesis played by Christopher Lee, starlight from his success as Hammer’s Dracula. In a few countries this movie was promoted as Hercules meets the Vampires! which already typecast Lee as the uber-vampire lord!! The US title is Hercules In The Haunted World an altogether creepier title but bears little resemblance to the story locations.

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This time our hero must travel to Hades to retrieve a life giving glowing stone which will cure his beloveds illness. All the while Hercules must fight stone monsters, evil witch women, flying zombie vampire creatures, and finally face off against Lico (Christopher Lee) and more flying zombie-vampires. Lee wanted to move away from the Dracula persona he was now so associated with, so trips to Italy to star in movies he was offered was a must. Though this film was marketed on some countries as a vampire movie, all because of Lee’s role!

This film is again a delirious mix of colours, lighting, mist and sets that are lurid and wonderful all at the sametime, so if nothing else this is a feast of visual delights which the viewer cannot but emmerce themselves in the beautiful visuals presented before them.

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The script maybe basic, the plot simple but that is not what this film is all about, this is a Bava movie and as been pointed out before, Bava has an inexhaustible colour visual eye and a full pallet of colours which is a feast to the eye. Apparently this film was Bava’s second feature as a director, after his debut with ‘Black Sunday’ which had done excellent business worldwide. When you take into account all of Bava’s movies you can see the specific and unique visual style that Bava employs, a trademark if you like that has often been copied but never bettered.

As mythology is about the fantastic and wondrous, Bava is best suited to the genre, and is of interest to note that he contributed to many Peplums, both as cinematographer and as art directors over the years Bava’s eye for the colourful worlds of the Ancients brought to life what we thought it looked like. Unlike the first Hercules film’s with Steve Reeves, this Hercules movie is dark and foreboding in it’s tone the tasks set for our hero are scary and dangerous, though all only breed to appropriate usage of muscle and all ends well.

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In the climactic scene where Hercules is overwhelmed by the flying zombies it is a treat to watch the insane visuals in front of your eyes and not be amazed. As the creatures rise up from their tombs is delirious blues and blacks and greens, covered in smoke and dust and flying through the air trying to attack our hero you feel scared and delirious at they same time as so much is happening and this scene is so much a for runner to the later Zombie movie cycle. Bava’s extensive use of trick photography including his trademark fore and background shots, and various matte shots all created in the studio it is a testament to Bava’ ingenuity that this film is his first foray into colour and what an experience he had from baroque Black & White visuals to glorious technicolor.

Bava could be quite clearly labelled a master of the visual arts and through his long career through all his genre film making it is clear that he enjoyed making movies going experience a treat for his audience. like a great painter, Bava was able to bring his world’s to life and for us to enjoy.

Hercules In The Haunted World is a must see gem, just to witness Bava’s extraordinary use of colours, photography and special effects and the wild sets, creatures, beautiful maidens and heros ready to do battle are all in this  heady mix of sword and sandal mythology, true fun!!!

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Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana (1971)

Director : Giuliano Carnimeo
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi Tito Carpi
Composer: Luis Bacalov
Starring: Gianni Garko, Nieves Navarro, Piero Lulli
Format DVD R2 Japan Macaroni Collection 4 Disk Collection

I have always enjoyed the Sartana series of features with the eponymous hero played by Gianni Garko and also including the more comical outing with George Hilton and Charles Southwood. This is the fourth in the Sartana series of Spaghetti Western starring Gianni Grako, ‘Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana’ was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo under the pseudonyme of Anthony Ascott.

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In this adventure Sartana is on the trail of a case of gold coins which have been whisked away and ‘lost’. The only man who can get the stolen gold is Grand Full (Piero Lulli) who can piece the whole puzzle together but he is in prison, so who has to get himself inside the prison, well Sartana does! Once Full is free, Sartana has to piece the puzzle together without getting shot and killed. In his investigations Sartana meets a shady business man, a renegade Mexican bandit and and a one eyed sheriff who’s not all he seems with their only connection is that they all want the gold. With the help of an old man gambler and sometime inventor Plon Plon (Franco Pesce), Sartana finally puts the puzzle together and who and why. In a neat twist one of the inventions makes a great mobile timebomb dispatching one of the main villains in a hail of rocks! As the movie heads towards it’s climax Sartana has managed to re-introduce the main villains at a graveyard and a final shoot-out ensues.

In a very cool scene from the film, Sartana uses a church organ as a Gatling type gun to mow down Mexican bandidas on horseback in droves, very different and a cock at Nero’s Django and his Machine Gun out of a Coffin routine!

As a stand alone Spaghetti this is a fine example of the genre, though Luis Bacalov’s soundtrack sounds a little like an Ennio Morricone score (as he was Morricone’s main conductor) but nonetheless it is still a good soundtrack.

To watch this piece and the previous outings of Sartana, it is clear to see that iconogarphy is a main and essential element in the Spaghetti Western genre movie series. The trademarks of the all in black gunfighter, cigarillo, trick guns and even smarter one-liners. Sartana is the suave secret agent in the `Wild West’ a man mysterious but cool, who never seems to lose even when he’s been beaten up and had guns poked into his face he still seems the winner.

By the time the movie had been completed the Italian film industry had produced an incredible five hundred plus Spaghetti Western and the wave continued until the mid 70’s. ‘Una Nuvola…’ success as a Spaghetti Western is the fact that the lead actor Gianni Garko was the character of Sartana, much like Clint Eastwood as the ‘Man With No Name’ Garko epitomised the character, the smooth gunman, card sharp and very clever trickster who knew how to play his enemies and win in the end. As a style icon, the dress of all black with a red cravat and black cape made him look and feel like a ‘Western James Bond’ with gadgets coming out from all pockets and a neat verse of one liners which would put the Bonds to shame (probably not but you can see where I’m coming from). Sartana was a character created to monopolies on the fan base for the Django’s Ringo’s and the Sabata’s of the genre.  Watching the Sartana films you are struck by the whole cool and collected character with trick guns and even more tricky situations.

The mythical feel of the Sartana character who seemed to know when and where anything was happening made Sartana an enduring character in the Spaghetti Western genre It is no wonder that these movies became so popular in the Far East,  Asia and Africa as the cinema audiences sympathised and identified with a lone man who would bring justice to the evil men of the town.

Corruption, greed slavery they were what the establishment were portrayed as, Sartana and his ilk were the brave loners who dealt with the evils of the world, even if they too got the money. In a genre that spawned so many movies, it is refreshing to see that Sartana had some longevity with five official films, all but one starring Gianni Garko, and all with the cape, black wearing hero looking for a quick buck! and a guarantee that a Sartana film was not just about a gunfight or four but a good Spaghetti Western.

An old fashioned murder-mystery with plenty of card tricks and shoot-outs to keep the audience interested.
This was down to the skilled director, Giuliano Carnimeo, who helmed all the Sartana sequels and to his credit the movies established the character of Sartana and made him a well know cinema cowboy that even the character of Sabata (as played by Lee Van Cleef) was based on the Sartana template and many unofficial films and loose tie ins.

I have enjoyed the Sartana films very much and Gianni Grako will always for me, be Sartana. Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana is a recommended watch, enjoy!

There were alternate titles used for this movie such as
Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming! or Cloud of
Dust… Cry of Death… Sartana Is Coming.

light_the_fuse_sartana_is_coming_poster_02 200px-ArrivaSartana_DatabasePage

Stick (1985)

Director: Burt Reynolds
Screenwriter:  Elmore Leonard and Joseph Stinson
Soundtrack:  Joseph Conlan and Barry De Vorzon
Starring: Burt Reynolds,  George Segal,  Candice Bergen,
Charles Durning,  Annie Potts
Country: United States
Release Date: April 1985
Run Time: 109 min.
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: BluRay Region B Germany

It was 1985 when I was handed a copy of the Elmore Leonard novel Stick by my Dad, who had found it on the train on his way back from work one evening. Emblazoned on the front cover was the image of actor Burt Reynolds holding a Heck & Koch sub machine gun. I thought ‘no harm reading this on my way to college, would pass the time on ye olde public transport.’

stick

As time went by I began to see the film posters crop up around London, but alas I did not watch the film on the silver screen, not till I rented the movie on VHS in all it’s 4:3 ratio to watch one evening with my Dad. I enjoyed the movie very much at the time and went onto read the book several more times after that.

stick CIC VHS

The plot revolves around Ernest “Stick” Stickley, played by Reynolds, a former car thief, who has just been released from prison. At the beginning of the film we see Stickley riding the freight train into Miami, unsure as to where he is heading too, or what he is heading too. He meets up with an old friend, Rainy, whose has a  “quick stop” job for Chucky (Charles Durning) a low rent criminal near the Florida Everglades before they go home turns out to be an illegal drug deal that goes sour.  Rainy is killed by Moke, Chucky’s hitman as South American drug cartel henchmen led by led by the voodoo-obsessed Nestor, hunt Stick down.

He escapes with his life! With his friend dead, Stick needs to hide out for a while to elude the killers (who must eliminate him as a witness). While lying low, Stick finds himself watching and then hooking up with when he helps a wealthy eccentric named Barry (George Segal) a business associate of Durnings, he helps get into his locked car. Hired as a driver, he has a comfortable home with a stable job and tries to make up for lost time with Katie, his teen-age daughter. He also finds a new flame in Kyle (Candice Bergen), a financial consultant who acts as a business adviser for Barry. Before he can move on, however, Stick confronts drug dealer Chucky to demand the money owed to his murdered friend. Chucky refuses and sends albino hit-man Moke after Stick.

He becomes the target of Moke as well as Nestor. A three-way confrontation on a high-rise balcony ends in Chucky’s and Moke’s deaths. Stick must then rely on his quick wit and fists to deal with his final enemy, Nestor, who has kidnapped Stick’s daughter.  All is set for a grand finale at Nestor’s house…

Stick received negative reviews from critics in the USA. Despite opening at No. 1 in its first weekend, the film was a box office flop, grossing just $8.5 million when compared to its $22 million budget.

Reynolds is stated as saying “I wanted to make that movie as soon as I read the book. I respected Leonard’s work. I felt I knew that Florida way of life, having been raised in the state. And I was that guy! I turned in my cut of the picture and truly thought I had made a good film. Word got back to me quickly that the people at Universal wanted a few changes. The studio pulled the movie from its release schedule and asked Reynolds to reshoot the second half of the film.  A new writer was brought in along with a subplot involving his character reuniting with his daughter post-prison. Reynolds says his agent advised him to go along with the changes: “I gave up on the film. I didn’t fight them. I let them get the best of me. Leonard saw the film and told them he hated it.  After his comment, every critic attacked the film and he wouldn’t talk to me. When I re-shot the film, I was just going through the motions. I’m not proud of what I did, but I take responsibility for my actions. All I can say and this is not in way of a defence, is if you liked the first part of ‘Stick,’ that’s what I was trying to achieve throughout.” (Wikepedia)

I felt that Reynolds was trying to direct a cool crime movie and from my perspective, it does delivery the goods, but not on all the levels it needed to. The added ending seemed to bring the movie down to a revenge plot and a tying up all the loose ends as is the American studios way of doing things and it can be seen clearly here. That saying, it is still a workable feature Reynolds was trying to move away form his charm inducing schtick of Smoky And The Bandit and the Canonball Run franchise with a more serious role. That saying, he did a fine turn as honest cop Sharky in Sharky’s Machine, which he also directed, several years earlier, but Reynolds was always typecast as the charmer action man and not so much the tough thriller persona so attached to Eastwood and Bronson.

Stick to me was an honourable try that deserves a chance to be re-discovered and probably better appreciated now, as Reynolds can evoke a more serious acting side as seen in his later work. While researching information for this review, I chanced upon the original ending of Stick, on You Tube, set in the Chucky’s apartment during the tree-way confrontation with Kyle in tow, which is a more satisfactory ending and has none of the gun play of the Hector finale. As mentioned earlier, Reynolds did not have the final say on his cut of the film and once again the studios won out and crippling a perfectly good thriller.

stick Blu Ray

I for one would champion this film for all it’s merits and I guess that if I had not read the original source novel I may have never ventured into watching Stick at all, I am glad I did.

stick-movie-poster-1985-1010260642 Stick Movie Poster

Foxy Brown (1974)

Director: Jack Hill
Screenwriter:  Jack Hill
Soundtrack: Willlie Hutch
Starring: Pam Grier,  Antonio Fargas, Terry Carter, Sid Haig
Country: United States
Run Time: 1Hr 53Mins 48 Secs
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: BluRay Region B

Super bad, that she is, that Foxy Brown!

I first watched Foxy Brown on a UK Pre-Cert Guild Home Video release way back in 1983 and really enjoyed it. Though the whole 4:3 cropping did not bother me that much at the time, you could tell that a few key action scenes were shot on a wider format than you could watch on an old ‘square’ TV. It still did not spoil my enjoyment as the funk Willie Hutch soundtrack kicked into a montage of Pamela Grier doing her best action scenes while still giving her ‘knowing’ smile, I was well and truly in for a treat.

Fast forward to the nineties and my obsessive collecting of VHS films, I chanced upon a similar pre-cert Guild VHS release of Foxy, so I got my hands on it! It did help that I was working in a video rental shop for three years, so what little money I had went to feed my Video collecting habit, who could pass up some pre-cert goodies.

Subsequently Foxy Brown did get a release in the sell through market under the Soul Cinema label along with Blacula and Truck Turner amongst others. Now those great cinema gods at Arrow Films have decided to release Foxy Brown in a cool, sharp transfer onto BluRay and am I glad they did.

Not being luck enough (yet!) to watch Foxy Brown on the silver screen,. Arrow’s Blu-Ray release of Foxy Brown provides an opportunity to see this iconic film at its very best, with a new 1080 dpi transfer and some fascinating extra features. I was glad I ordered this edition as I could actually watch the whole film in a nicely remastered print. I did also purchase a few years ago the MGM UA release of Foxy Brown, which again was presented in all it’s 1:85:1 glory, but on BluRay it looks the business.

Originally intended to be a sequel to Coffy, a 1973 hit teaming Jack Hill with Pam Grier, instead it became a stand alone feature, though very similar in style to Coffy. The plot to Foxy Brown revolves around policeman Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) who has just received a new face and new identity after a stint undercover in the local drug racket. Preparing for a trip with his girlfriend Foxy Brown (Pam Grier), he is recognized by Foxy’s brother, Link (Antonio Fargas), who is himself being pursued by thugs for defaulting to a loanshark. Seeing his way out of debt, Link fingers Anderson to the drug dealers, and Anderson is shot.
Swearing vengeance, Foxy joins the stable of prostitutes run by Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder), moll to drug lord Steve Elias (Peter Brown). After sabotaging the mobsters’ relationship with a local judge, Foxy is caught, shot full of heroin, raped, and tortured in a remote shack by two white-trash employees of the gang. She manages to kill both and escape, making her way to friends in a neighbourhood vigilante committee.
Elias has meanwhile arranged a delivery of dope from Mexico. Foxy seduces the pilot (Sid Haig) of the private plane and takes control at the rendezvous point, killing most of the gang and capturing Elias with the help of the vigilantes. Showing up at Katherine’s afterward, Foxy hands over a pickle jar containing Elias’s eviscerated genitals.
Now this good old fashioned revenge cinema, Foxy Brown is cool, hard as nails, but with a soft underside towards her loved ones. Not to be mistaken, Grier imbued the role with enough sassiness and strong willed determination, you know she is not going to be made a fool by any man, whether white or black. Her character transcends racial stereotypes, but after all, this is a Blaxpoitation film, here colour and race are in the forefront, it is by no means a weakness for her.

I have had a soft spot for Pam Grier, since seeing her first in Fort Apache, The Bronx (1980) starring alongside Paul Newman. Grier played a gun wielding hooker called Charlotte who killed random clients before stealing their money. From there I began to seek out as much of her early work in Blaxpliotation films such as Coffy, Blacula etc and a few of those women-in-prison films so beloved of Roger Corman and the Philippines film production companies.

Greir carved out a succession of strong female roles during the 70’s Blaxpolitation boom, Coffy, Friday Foster, Scream, Blacula, Scream etc and you can see that she could have done more, her light was burning bright, but I feel Hollywood was never ready for a strong black actress to go beyond those exploitation roots. That saying, film fans world over know and love Pam Grier for those very strong acting traits.

Foxy Brown’s soundtrack composed by Willie Hutch, is a top notch soul-jazz fusion, with a cool nod to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, the title track to Foxy Brown being a great signature tune. Lots of guitar, brass and violin cues.

All in all a cool little action thriller, one which made Grier a fantastic all action lead heroine.Can you dig it! Yes Man!!

Foxy BrownFoxy Brown Lobby Card

Day Of Anger / I Giorni Dell’ Ira (1967)

Director: Tonino Valrerii
Screenwriter: Ernesto Gastaldi/ Tonino Valrerii
Soundtrack: Riz Ortolani
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Giuliano Gemma, Piero Lulli
Country: Italy & West Germany
Run Time: 1Hr 53Mins 48 Secs
Ratio: 2:35:1 Colour
Language: Italian with English Subtitles
Format: BluRay Region B

A fantastic Spaghetti Western! It has a great layered story, cool acting and a frantic trumpet score, this Spaghetti ranks as one of the best non-Leone westerns to ever grace the silver screen. Starring the excellent Lee Van Cleef as the anti-hero with a dark past and Gulliano Gemma as the young put upon hero who worships then has doubts about his new-found ‘father figure’ in Van Cleef.

The story begins with Guillano Gemma playing the young, orphaned man of the town called Scott (later Scott Mary), referred by the towns people as the bastard. His only friends are a washed up semi-blind tramp and Murph, the local stable manager with a past, who has taught Scott how to use a gun.
Riding into town is Talby, played by Van Cleef, a stranger with a definite past, who takes a shine to Scott and takes the young man under his wing. As their friendship grows, the towns people begin to think twice before insulting Scott.
After Talby is tried and acquitted for murder, he leaves town, with Scott following him, begging him to teach him the way of the gunman. Talby reluctantly agrees and so begins the father/son relationship that Scott has always wanted but never had and Talby’s instrument of revenge. Talby wants his share of money owed to him way back after a huge robbery. The townsfolk were in on the same robbery, but pulled a trick on Talby’s associates, so one by one they either fled or were jailed. Talby now aims to collect what is rightfully his and will stop at nothing to get what he deserves.
As Talby and Scott return to the town, Talby begins his plan of revenge, destroying the local saloon and replacing it with his own, leeching money form the local banker and forcing the town sheriff to do whatever he asks.
All the while Scott continues to idolize Talby, even failing to hear the advice from his friend Murph, who transpires to be a sheriff of yesteryear who ran Talby out from another town. Talby knows this and plots his own revenge against Murph. Things come to a head as Scott  changes form idealized young man to revenge seeking gunman, his target, Talby!

I first read about this film in Thomas Weisser’s Spaghetti Western book from McFarland publishers which gave it a fair write up. I had seen it around in a tructed format on VHS under titles such as Day Of Wrath etc, but I never actually watched it till I purchased a copy on DVD from those excellent purveyors of Spaghetti Westerns, Wild East back in 2001. Even then it was stated that a 87 minute version had done the international rounds and it was not till this release that a more complete version had found it’s way to home video.

Now those great fellows and Arrow Video have released a superb print of Day Of Anger on BluRay in both the UK and USA. It is a full 1H 53Mins 48 Sec version with both Italian and English language tracks and in a pristine 2:35:1 print.
The transfer is top notch with sharp detail and beautiful colour reproduction. The soundtrack is lovely and clear with the Riz Ortalani score blaring out in cool stereo. In terms of the whole package this is how a classic Spaghetti Western should be packaged, with no expense spared, this is one BluRay worth a purchasing

Day Of Anger Arrow

While writing this review, I had been listening to the soundtrack to Day Of Anger to get me in the writing mood, which is an excellent score, beautifully re-mastered and a joy to my ears, well worth purchasing!

diadelaira6705  Day of Anger Original Locandina 1967

Turkish Exorcist (1974) Turkish Star Wars (1982) Turkish Mad Max (1983)

Turkish Exploitation Cinema from the 1970’s to the late 1980’s  has had a long and varied selection of film remakes and rip-offs which have to be seen to be believed.  They have taken fantastical liberties with these productions. I have watched a selection of Turkish Exploitation films and here are three mini reviews and personal insights into a wilder side of exploitation genres, Turkish style!

A quick historical introduction to Turkish Exploitation Cinema of the 1960’s to 80’s: As copyright was virtually non existent on English language films during these times, many English language films were copied and re-filmed for an exclusive Turkish market. Movies such as Superman, Spider Man, Dracula, Tarzan, The Exorcist, The Wild Geese, Death Wish, all became fair game to the low budget Turkish producers who would churn our dozens of these ‘rip off’ titles to cash in on their market. With the onset of VHS and a flourishing home video market, many of these films found their way onto video tape and a whole new audience. Though, unfortunately, many of the original negatives of these films were destroyed in a warehouse fire many years ago, so only video prints were available and exchanged hands at fanatical prices.

With the arrival of DVD,  small but burgeoning labels such as Onar Films (since closed down due to personal issues) and other companies, these classic’s have had a new lease of life and and an ever growing fan base.

Seytan aka Satan (1974)

Director: Metin Erksan

Starring: Cihan Ünal Erol Amaç Ismail Hakkı Sen, Ahmet Turgutlu

Country: Turkey

Run Time: 1H 41Mins

Ratio: 1:33:1

Colour Language: Turkish with English Subs

Format: DVD-R

This is a shot by shot remake of The Exorcist set in contemporary Turkey during 1974. The Christian tropes have been replaced by Islamic ones, the original exorcist still exit sit as an aged archeologist with the biggest hat in the cinematic world! The psychologist-priest Father Karras, has been replaced by a book writing non-believer in the Devil, Tulrq, while the mother and daughter are played exactly like the American counter-part, though it is not clear what profession the mother has in the Turkish version. The special effects are, well lets say, basic but effective and the whole film is acted with all seriousness, while around the actors, sets wobble and light coloured pea soup vomit erupts. It is competently directed, pretty well acted and as a ‘rip-off’ film, very well produced. If the original copyright holders had seen this version, I guess that we would not of had the chance to marvel at this version at all.  The tennis scene is this film is funny as to not be believable, I guess if you were well off in Istanbul, you’d play tennis to pass the time!

TURKISH-EXORCIST-SEYTAN

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam aka Turkish Star Wars (1982)

Director: Çetin Inanç

Starring: Cüneyt Arkin Aytekin Akkaya Füsun Uçar Hüseyin Peyda

Country: Turkey

Run Time: 91 Mins

Ratio: 1:33:1 Colour

Language: Turkish with English Subs

Format: DVD-R

This film is a classic example of stealing the band-wagon and trying to re-sell it! The film takes various key scenes from the Star Wars Death Star and the Millennium Falcon flying through space inter cutting it with a tale of two heroic brothers-in-arms who do battle with an evil wizard alien. The film follows the adventures of Murat (Arkın) and Ali (Akkaya), whose spaceships crash on a desert planet following a battle, they then battle to save the planet using an assortment of Wooden Swords, power bracelet and various handy martial arts moves, all the while battling huge furry humanoids in giant costumes! Yes it is as crazy as it sounds.I very much enjoyed this film, though poor quality print did make it difficult to appreciate the special effects.

Turkish Star Wars

Ölüme Son Adim  aka  Last Step To Death  (Turkish Mad Max) (1983)

Director:  Çetin Inanç

Starring: Cüneyt Arkin, Emel Tümer, Yildirim Gencer

Country: Turkey

Run Time: 87 Mins

Ratio: 1:33:1 Colour

Language: Turkish with English Subs

Format: DVD-R

More like a Turkish Wild Geese, this is purported to be a Mad Max rip-off but in fact it is a paired down version of the Wild Geese, with three heroic types instead of the fifty strong mercenary unit, North Turkey covers for Central Africa and the local soldiers are men dressed with huge scarves that chase our heroes through the mountains and foothills. The classic finale of the Wild Geese is played out with a slow moving truck, a please to ‘kill me now’ as our hero has to decide if he should kill his injured friend or not, all the while being chased by eight bad guys! All in all really cheesy. The score is a mish-mash of the Wild Geese and First Blood, with some Bondian cues thrown in for good measure. Again, very enjoyable for what it was and though little to do with it’s origins, still an example of what zero budgets can achieve.

Turkish Mad Max

These three examples are worth tracking down and viewing, though be warned that these films are basic, aimed at a home market and so the production values are cheap and cheerful. I am a enthusiast of films that would watch most anything, but if this mini review sparks an interest, then go ahead and tarck these titles down, you might surprise yourself!