September 28, 2012

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) - 40 years old and now on Blu-ray

(1972, UK)

Another look at the first EC horror comics movie

To mark the 40th year of Amicus Films' Tales From The Crypt, I watched the recently released Australian blu-ray, a very welcome HD upgrade. With so many darkly-lit horror films, there's sometimes 'picture lag' on DVD, where the shadows and darker areas freeze and shift, moving differently to the lighter foreground. Probably a combination of DVD compression and viewing it on an LCD screen, made even more noticeable by a larger screen-size. Blu-ray lessens the problems with its higher storage capacity.

Roy Ashton make-up study
There's a little grain, as expected, and the print seems to have been in good condition. It's a slightly lighter presentation than I'm used to, Peter Cushing's 'black eye' masks are even more noticeable now. Of course, it's easy enough to adjust the contrast and brightness at home to make the scene suitably murky. Grimsdyke's scenes are so brief, I wish they'd just painted his eyes black and guided Cushing into doing the scenes completely blind. Okay, I think about that scene too much... but it's still one of the greatest-looking zombie make-ups.

The dead walks!
Tales From The Crypt of course has other undead characters... Plus of course the glorious, restored, censor cut that appeared in all the DVD versions. It used to be a huge jumpy film splice when it screened on TV in the 70s and 80s.

Late 1970s TV Times clipping
The Joan Collins segment really grabbed me. My first taste of a yet-to-be-named 'home invasion' story. Almost a silent movie, the story unfolds as we share her character's thoughts, communicated through some great visual storytelling. She discovers there's a raving lunatic just outside the house (dressed as Santa Claus), and quickly has to secure the house, barring the windows as he stalks around looking for a way in. All this is conveyed through her eyes and reactions. There's no dialogue, just an ironic roster of jolly Christmas carols playing on the radio.

Publicity foldout, and the original paperback novelisation
It's not the only story with effective, lengthy, wordless scenes. Ian Hendry's Maitland stalks around after a car crash, but we only see the horror develop through his point-of-view. In the final story, Major Rogers runs a home for the blind by skimming the money for himself. He pays for his crimes, locked in a solitary cell, again with no-one to talk to. Along with him, we experience his punishment gradually and silently.

While the original EC Comics stories would have a cruelly witty captioned commentary from the Crypt Keeper, the film presents him as a character inside the action, rather than a TV host. He's presented as a marvellously mysterious and ambivalent figure. What's missing in this early visualisation of Tales From The Crypt is humour, but that's certainly a benefit. Without the release of laughter, each ghastly twisted ending remains more haunting.

What a knight for a Crypt Keeper...
While IMDB currently lists the UK release as "October 1972", the UK premiere was September 28th (according to a contemporary issue of Films & Filming). In London that month, Crypt was up against John Boorman's wilderness classic Deliverance, Michael Ritchie's brutal Prime Cut and Ken Russell's angrily artful Savage Messiah. Tough, grim competition, but Crypt continued the success of the many short story horror films from Amicus Productions.

Australian Blu-ray, but the title heading is from the TV series
I was initially reluctant to order this Australian blu-ray, released by Shock Entertainment, because of the mixture of right and wrong artwork on the sleeve. There are photos from both the 1972 film and the 1990s US TV series. On the front cover is the poster from the film, but the typeface and green gloopy art is from the TV series. The front cover gives 50/50 odds as to which movie it contains. Thankfully, it's the Amicus film, but these confusing errors must have lost them sales.

More lobby cards, more facts, more of a review about Tales From The Crypt in Black Hole Movies here

The 1964 Ballantine reprint
In other trivia, the Wikipedia piece on the movie reports that writer/producer Milton Subotsky based most of his script on this 1964 volume of reprints because the original comics weren't available. Explaining the coincidence of why this paperback (published in the UK and US) has four out of the five original comic strips. (The fifth story was picked from the 1965 Vault of Horror reprint).

More about Grimsdyke's simple but effective make-up on the Peter Cushing blogspot and Grimsdyke rises again (publicity photo)...

Tales from the Crypt is uncut on DVD in the US and UK
Tales From The Crypt on DVD in the UK, pictured at the top

Tales From the Crypt on DVD in the USA, double-bill with Vault of Horror

1972 Jack Oleck novelisation, back cover

September 19, 2012


(2011, USA)

Who's Roger Corman? You're kidding me...

The name Roger Corman no longer ignites the interest of young moviegoers that it used to. His name can now easily draw a blank expression. Casual film fans remember directors' names rather than producers, and Roger Corman hasn't directed since 1990 (an adaption of Brian Aldiss' Frankenstein Unbound). His recent regular producing credits are on such products as Sharktopus, which probably wouldn't inspire anyone to even read the credits...

Roger Corman, shooting on the run
But his legacy includes the Death Race and Piranha franchises. He produced the original templates in the 1970s. His direction hasn't an auteur's style, he's more dedicated to the script and the players. His Edgar Allen Poe adaptions are still highly regarded enough to stay in circulation, but these hits are just snapshots from his fifty years of movie-making.

Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) - not as simple as it sounds
This documentary takes us through his life story using a fantastic roll-call of interviewees and choice clips. Starting young in a big studio, he soon had his work taken away from him and he quit, instead making his own films independently. Not easy, back in the 1950s, but he hasn't looked back.

The hugely popular Edgar Allen Poe cycle, directed by Corman (1961)
Most of his films are entertaining exploitation, honing a formula that have kept him working far longer than so many others in the industry, and always profitable (with one noble exception, The Intruder, which has surely made its money back by now). Once again always making a profit. In this business! His films, even their titles and posters, may be scoffed at, but his finely-honed formula has taken him through every shift in taste and technology.

Roger Corman directs, William Shatner stars (1962)
He keeps budgets down by not having big stars, but by recognising new talent. Or by using names that used to be big. If there are good-looking sets somewhere, write a script around them. Can't afford a camera truck for road shoots? Just find a car with a big boot! Not sure if the audience is interested? Choose the name and have a poster painted before you make the movie!

Directed by Corman in 1967, written by Jack Nicholson
He gets his ideas from current events and trends, but gets productions into action within months, before Hollywood has time to react. Like Asylum Studios do now, but with far more panache. Well at least he used to have panache - I can't say I've seen too much of his recent work.

Jack Nicholson in The Terror (1963)
But even if you don't like his low budgets and sensationalist concepts, his story is still astonishing as he became an extraordinary springboard for so many major Hollywood players. A place for young filmmakers and artists to get a start in an old man's industry. Hence the extensive interviews with Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme... A pity that Francis Ford Coppola isn't in there too.

Jack Nicholson bares all in Corman's World
This short documentary is a great introduction to Corman's world and could have been twice as long for my money. For established Corman fans, some of the stories are very familiar, but given a boost by the impressive interviewees who tell them.

Sylvester Stallone in Death Race 2000 (1975)
Currently on blu-ray and DVD in the US and UK. My only complaint is that I'd have loved a trailer reel, in order to revel in his back catalogue...

More Roger Corman in Black Hole Reviews...

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Dinocroc (2005) 

September 16, 2012

GYO: TOKYO FISH ATTACK! (2012) - Junji Ito anime adaption

(2012, Japan)

Don't gyo anywhere near the water...

The DVD cover art makes this look like a Sharktopus derivative (and nowadays, ripping off Roger Corman would be a very low stoop). But it's actually a most welcome feature-length anime adaption of Junji Ito's 2001 manga story, Gyo. Animation makes for a faithful realisation of his visual style and unreal world.

Three students are spending a study vacation on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. But what they think is a rat running around inside their beach house turns out to be a fish... on legs... stinking like a corpse. Outside, the ocean appears to be emptying - every kind of sea creature is running up the road. Their holiday ends abruptly when a shark appears at their window...

As the creepy crawling catastrophe heads for the cities, humanity gets infected and slaughtered in an escalating variety of nasty...

While a possible root cause is discovered (for me, it doesn't hold enough water), you're invited to revel in the bizarreness and grotesquerie of Ito's nightmare visions.

Ito has written and drawn my favourite scariest manga stories, also inspiring the live-action movies of Uzumaki and the Tomie series (currently numbering nine). The Uzumaki manga is my favourite ever manga story (published in three translated volumes by Viz). But Gyo topped it for gruesomeness and I thought it would defy adaption. While a live-action Gyo would 'out-gross' The Human Centipede, anime is a logical option.

From Junji Ito's original 2001-2002 manga story, Gyo

Anyone new to Juni Ito's stories, or even Japanese horror, needs to be warned that this isn't a traditional disaster/invasion movie. The authorities aren't going to turn up at the end and clear it all up. One hero isn't going to set everything straight. These are explorations of Ito's fears, in this case the ocean, taken to logical extremes, but following dream-logic. The hallucinatory climax brings some of Ito's best work to life in glorious colour...

Some of the isolated weirdness that happens in Gyo has more context in the manga, and could be mistaken for story-points (like the floating fish corpse in the binbag). But they're just extra bizarre ideas that Ito wants to freak us out with.

The anime is quite short (at 71 minutes) but runs at a very fast, multi-legged pace. The chronological events of the manga are slightly scrambled, making the character's logic even harder to follow. Some of the horrors are reassigned to different and new characters (horror-reassignment?), and the scuttling escalation is now rushed and out of sequence. (If the town's overrun by walking fish, I wouldn't stick around...). Initially, the media seems unconcerned, transport runs smoothly, and some of the streets remain strangely clear of ambulatory sea life.

Besides the altered timeline, another deviation from the manga is the addition of more female nudity, sex, and low-angle crotch-shots. Mixing up soft-porn titillation with sexual violence is still a regular trait of adult anime, but the one-sided sexual victimisation of only the female characters really needs to move on and challenge the genre stereotype that has dogged anime, ever since the infamous Legend of the Overfiend followed Akira into international consciousness.

The 3D animation of the fish, sharks and other unearthly creations clashes with the 2D characters as usual, but seeing these creatures so vividly portrayed is a surreal treat.

Early, publicity artwork
I'm delighted that Terror Cotta have released this so quickly (on a region 2 PAL DVD in the UK), rather than the years-long wait we normally have to endure for translated Japanese movies. The extras include an interview with creator Junji Ito, who I'd like to hear a lot more from! The English subtitles are pretty good, but could have done with a spell-checker. There's no option of an English-language dub, which I personally don't miss. But as I've said, the cover art (seen at top) looks like an Asylum movie (and I'd have really liked a reversible option). Though I'll admit that while I liked the original artwork, it's equally misleading.

An anime expansion of the world of Uzumaki would be next on my Ito wishlist...

Here's a short taster of Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack on YouTube...

Other movies based on Junji Ito manga:

September 01, 2012

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) - creepy, paranoid, body horror

(1978, USA) 

A San Francisco health inspector (Donald Sutherland) and a friend at work, an analytic scientist (Brooke Adams), begin to start encounter people who've undergone a radical personality change. Despite calling in expert opinion from a psychiatrist buddy (Leonard Nimoy), they suspect that this creeping change throughout the city could be connected with a new strain of plant life. They missed the movie's prologue, where these strange new flowers grew from seeds that drifted from another planet...

Jack Finney's 1954 story The Body Snatchers, (probably influenced by Heinlein's 1951 novel 'The Puppet Masters') was quickly adapted as the 1956 classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers directed by Don Siegel. Itself a hugely influential movie across several genres, sparking discussion as to which particular political threat it might have been highlighting.

After Star Wars (1977), the science fiction movie genre was largely derailed into emulating its success, but without the budget or the creative and technical talents. It also gave me an appetite and expectation of huge dollops of space-fantasy and special effects in anything described as sci-fi.

I was also reluctant to see this new version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when it was released at the cinema, because I hadn't yet seen the original, even on TV. I'm glad I decided to though, the shock moments have haunted me since. While I keep rewatching it partly out of nostalgia, I honestly think it's a fantastic adaption, if not the best.

It's excellent in conveying the growing paranoia and increasing panic that 'they're all out to get me' as the situation worsens. Donald Sutherland is about as far away from an modern action hero as you can get. Just an intelligent, normal guy in a surreal situation. I love his gasp when he sees a road accident - a realistic, natural performance. Brooke Adams and Veronica Cartwright (just before she appeared in Alien) portray the feeling of revulsion and loss of control. Leonard Nimoy is at pains to demonstrate he could play non-aliens, just before he sucked back into the Star Trek universe. An early, typical Jeff Goldblum performance is comfortably at home in the rambling, post-hippy mindset of self-help San Francisco.

While the long hair and floral furnishings date the movie (as do the overuse of camera zooms), the fashion is back in vogue now. Not that we've macrame hanging on the walls, just yet.

The organic special effects aren't overused and fairly low-budget, though largely convincing and imaginative, serving the story perfectly. At their best, you still can't quite work out what you're looking at. Particularly brilliant are the early stages of the seeds (all handmade effects, none of it taken from stock footage of nature). Some of the make-up effects are gloopy enough to prefigure David Cronenberg's 'body horror' cycle (in which Jeff Goldblum would again appear, in The Fly. Hmm, Art Hindle would also star in Cronenberg's The Brood).

The horror of the scenario is elevated by Ben Burtt's sound design. Hot off Star Wars (1977), but decades before Wall-E, his sound effects and mix maximise the experience of panic right up to the iconic closing scene. (To my ears, there's a little bit of T.I.E. Fighter in there.)

While this was a fresh adaption of the novel, it echoes the 1956 film and does what many remakes fail to, it pays homage to the success of the earlier version, with two brilliant cameos. I need to revisit Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993), but remember it as very different, story-wise. I found The Invasion (2007) the least interesting - but it's approach is possibly a clue as to what the Videodrome remake will turn out like - a more action-oriented chase movie, thin on the essential paranoia.

The US blu-ray showcases the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well as possible, despite the low-light cinematography sometimes delivering an excess of film grain. But half the creepy fun is from the 5.1 DTS sound, that enhances one of the scariest ever horror soundtracks. There are also interesting retrospective interviews with the director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff), the cast, Ben Burtt and more. Director's commentary track too.

Downside is the cover art that attempts to confuses this with the two, more modern adaptions when it should be pushing it as the best of them all.

Update November 2013
Now also available on blu-ray in the UK, with different extras, from Arrow Video.

Jack Finney's novel re-published
This reprint of the original novel baffled me recently, because the text had been updated to switch the action to San Francisco to tie in better with the film!

Late 1970s means Fotonovels too!