Wednesday, May 27, 2015

VIDEO WATCHDOG's 25th Anniversary Sale - On Now!

Okay, VIDEO WATCHDOG readers, listen up!

Yesterday we mailed out VIDEO WATCHDOG #179, our 25th Anniversary issue. Today, we're following through by launching OUR BIGGEST SALE EVER!

Donna is presently scrambling to prepare and post the OFFICIAL announcement, but she's given me permission to give the friends of this blog an exclusive Early Bird Alert...

Effective NOW, VIDEO WATCHDOG is having a 25th ANNIVERSARY SALE - EVERYTHING (albeit for a limited time) is now 25% OFF!

That's digital issues, back issues, deluxe reprint editions, new subscriptions, Scratch & Dents, the digital Bava book - and yes, even the entire VW digital archive!

 Simply place your order at our website here and type in the special coupon code 25 YEARS as you check out. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Franco's LABIOS ROJOS Available At Last

Ana Castor invents the Batusi in Jess Franco's LABIOS ROJOS.
Last night I watched Jess Franco's LABIOS ROJOS (1960) - his second feature, which (until this new, surprise Spanish DVD release from Impacto Films) was considered one of the most difficult of his many films to see. No collector of my acquaintance admitted to having it, and the only known print was on file at a cinemateca in Madrid. It was the first of Franco's several films about the two nutty gals (named Lola and Mari, this time around) who run the Red Lips detective agency. In this black-and-white adventure, which doesn't quite seem to know whether it wants to be a zany comedy or a serious crime picture, the Red Lips are hired to work on a case, get framed for murder, and must pose as exotic dancers at the Stardust Club to collar the real assassin. Yes, you've seen some shade of this story before in other Franco films, and the villains here include characters named Kallman, Radeck and Moroni - three names that echo throughout Franco's sprawling filmography, usually on the wrong side of judicial or moral law.

The DVD is presented solely in Spanish, with no subtitle option, so I could only follow the most obvious dialogue, but the performances are lively and comic with the two female leads, Isana Medel and Ana Castor (supposedly Franco's fiancée at the time, though they never married), fairly well in key with the ditzy characters portrayed by Rosanna Yanni and Janine Reynaud in 1967's KISS ME MONSTER and TWO UNDERCOVER ANGELS. The film is shot almost like a parody of an Orson Welles movie, with lots of Dutch angles and grotesque distortions and stylized shots of gun play in wharf shacks and jazz bands in nightclubs.

The film has an inconsistent look, containing second unit shots, various inserts and two or three scenes that were shot open aperture in contrast to the hard-matted 1.66:1 framing of majority of the picture. Carlos Aguilar's book on Franco mentions that the production ran out of money and was abandoned by its crew in protest before filming was completed. Two cinematographers are credited - Emilio Foriscot and Juan Mariné, both of whom enjoyed long and busy careers. According to to Franco authority Francesco Cesari, the film commenced production with Mariné, with whom Franco also made a couple of shorts around this time, but he had to leave when an opportunity for paying work arose. He was then replaced by Foriscot - whose later work would include such highlights as the Kriminal films, LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO with Paul Naschy, and Sergio Martino's BLADE OF THE RIPPER - who shot the majority of the film. If everyone abandoned the production at some point, it is possible that Franco himself took over to shoot the open aperture material, because this work doesn't show the same facility with lighting as the other footage. The most substantial full aperture content includes a scene of Kallman and his henchmen giving Mari a lift home in his car, and the exterior portions of a climactic shoot-out, scenes that incorporate dialogue but was shot either out-of-doors or in a car, so that none of it required the building of a set. The jazz bits aside, the non-diegetic score is much too frenzied and melodramatic - it often reminded of Roman Vlad's barnstorming score for Freda's I VAMPIRI.

LABIOS ROJOS is not quite steady on its feet but it's a likeable companion piece to Franco's first picture, TENEMOS 18 ANOS (1959) and obviously the work of the same man who made the far more confident THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, THE SADISTIC BARON VON KLAUS and THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z.

As far as quality goes, just be glad it's available at all. The source material has the general appearance of a 16mm print. The transfer and mastering are barely acceptable, with neither clean-up nor anamorphic enhancement. Scenes with heavy blacks tend to digitize and break up, and the 1.66:1 matte box edges are exposed, leaving unevenly rounded corners and other distractions. I have cropped the frame grabs below to make a better impression.

Just as surprising as the sudden availability of the main feature is the disc's only extra, EL TREN EXPRESO ("The Express Train"), a heretofore unknown short (running just under 10m) produced by Franco's company Golden Films International and directed by Rosa Maria Almirall - the real name of actress Lina Romay. Based on the poem by Ramon Campoamor, which is read aloud by "Laura Arias" (Romay herself), it uses children's book and travel book illustrations to forge a charming valentine to the bygone days of the luxury railcar. It is completely unlike anything else we've ever seen from Lina Romay.

Where can you find it? Try here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Backstage and Onstage: Souvenirs of Vincent Price

As I've mentioned here before, I once had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing Vincent Price at Dayton's Memorial Hall, when he was up there preparing to star in a Kenley Players production of "Damn Yankees." The date was July 13, 1976. Since I had the opportunity to conduct the interview but didn't drive, my friend Brian Gordon offered to drive me up for a chance to take part. I was recently interviewed about this experience for a forthcoming COLUMBUS MONTHLY story about the Kenley Players by Peter Tonguette, who was interested in seeing the other photos I took on this important day. Granted, they aren't very good photos - it was not the best camera, and there was no way of telling what I had until the shots came back from the drugstore - but they have a certain historical value to aficianados of regional theater and Mr. Price himself.

The first shot to the left is a picture of a wall in the theater's green room area. Even in 1975, the tinted photo of Ethel Merman looked very old and obviously one of her co-stars had come loose from his or her gaffer's tape. It seemed to say something profound about the world of show business and its backstage realities and I'm glad I preserved it. I remember the receptionist chiding me with a smile as I took the photo: "Now don't be making fun of my green room." The second photo, as you might guess, was taken in Mr. Price's dressing room and shows where he sat as I conducted the very first interview for MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

But if any of these shots has anything more than curiosity value it's this last one. As Brian and I were leaving, making our way through the seats toward the exit, we heard Mr. Price and a keyboard accompanist beginning to rehearse a song-and-dance number onstage - probably "The Good Old Days," as it was his character's only solo number. We stayed and watched for a minute and - perhaps inappropriately - I snapped this photo of the rehearsal just before we left. I've never seen any stills documenting this performance, so this image just might be all there is.

To round things off, I was able to find this reproduction of the play's program book via Google. I had no idea that Pia Zadora had the female lead in this production!

All original photos (c) by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG 179

Overworked as we are, it's hard to believe that Donna and I have now been publishing VIDEO WATCHDOG for 25 years - but next month, when this issue hits newsstands, will indeed mark the occasion of our Silver Anniversary. That's as long as Warren Publications issued the initial run of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND - and it makes me very proud to say that we managed to do it without a single feature article reprint. Once or twice, we have printed a review that we'd previously published, but those were accidents!

Anyway, we turned in this issue to our printer yesterday, and they got a hard proof copy to us in record time today. We're so pleased and proud of this accomplishment, I told Donna that we needed to commemorate it with a photo. After seeing the result, she was pleased to see that her Silver Anniversary ring had been included in the shot, as well - a nice little grace note.

Follow this link to a free 20-page digital preview.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Morning With Jess

I went to bed earlier than usual and awoke much earlier than usual. The angle of the sunlight in all the rooms of the house feels alien to me; it was much too direct behind my computer screen and I had to draw the shades. Not feeling quite alert enough to start working, I decided to watch all the extras on the two new Jess Franco releases from Severin, VAMPYROS LESBOS and SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY, which brought me back into that world.

It was both wonderful and sad to see Jess again, and the contrast between him at the end and the footage of the more vigorous, obsessive and ambitious man he was when he was younger, acting in his own films. Since he died, I have watched maybe three of his films; they feel different to me now that they are no longer part of a living continuum. Not less important, just different; I saw enough in the clips accompanying the extras to know that these films are getting richer in perspective, and in retrospective. When Jess was alive and still making films, any move he made held the possibility of affecting everything else he had done. Bringing back Al Pereira, or casting Lina in her final role as Alma Pereira in PAULA-PAULA, it had an effect on the way I thought of a dozen other pictures featuring that character, or a riff on him like Antonio Mayans' Al Crosby in LA NOCHE DE LOS SEXOS ABIERTOS.

Seeing the clips of VAMPYROS LESBOS where Jess was basically restaging with Soledad Miranda and Ewa Stroemberg the scene in DRACULA where Bela Lugosi offers Dwight Frye wine with his dinner, but with sunlight instead of moonlight and fishing nets everywhere instead of cobwebs, I made the connection that, here, he was reinventing everything, as a director, in the same way that Christina von Blanc's character would reinvent everything that she sees in A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, as a schizophrenic mental patient - seeing the mental hospital where she is kept as a hotel, and the doctors as hotel staff. It's an opportunity for the filmmaker to use whatever they have at their disposal to tell any story they care to tell, and for the viewer, it's an opportunity to see differently.

The Blu-ray presentations look exquisite. Frame grabs from Severin's VAMPYROS LESBOS.

 Frame grabs from Severin's SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY:



Thursday, March 26, 2015

RIP Ivo Garrani (1924-2015)

RIP Italian actor Ivo Garrani, who has passed away in his sleep on March 25 at the age of 91. Garrani was best remembered for playing Prince Vajda (the father of Barbara Steele's character) in Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (pictured), but he had a long history of playing compromised or corrupt noblemen in earlier films that Bava photographed, including HERCULES, ROLAND THE MIGHTY and THE GIANT OF MARATHON. He also worked with Bava on Leopoldo Trieste's CITTA DI NOTTE and the first Italian science fiction film, THE DAY THE SKY EXPLODED.

Thanks to Luca Rea's interview with Garrani for my book MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, we know that the THE DAY THE SKY EXPLODED - though officially credited to Paolo Heusch - was in fact first proposed and covertly directed by Mario Bava, officially its cinematographer and special effects artist.

Additionally, Ivo Garrani he appeared in such films as ATOM AGE VAMPIRE, HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN and THE SLAVE, as well as Roberto Rossellini's GENERALE DELLA ROVERE, Luchino Visconti's THE LEOPARD and the Napoleon epic WATERLOO.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

RIP Ib J. Melchior (1917-2015)

A name to conjure with! Ib J. Melchior was the writer-director of THE ANGRY RED PLANET and THE TIME TRAVELERS, screenwriter of JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET, REPTILICUS, ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and author of the source story of DEATH RACE 2000, among many other accomplishments - including the writing of an original project, SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON, a concept overridden by Irwin Allen's LOST IN SPACE series. It was announced today that he died last Friday, March 13, at his home at the grand old age of 97 - less than half a year after the passing of Cleo Baldon, his wife of many decades, last October.

The son of the great opera tenor Lauritz Melchior, and a world-renowned historian and author of several volumes of history in his own right, Ib signed just a handful of films, but they each had impact and were enough for him to assert himself in a time of great competition as one of the movies' most distinctive men of imagination (prompting the title of Robert Skotak's fine biography IB MELCHIOR - MAN OF IMAGINATION). He also wrote episodes of MEN INTO SPACE and THE OUTER LIMITS ("The Premonition").

On October 10, 1993, I had the privilege of spending a marvelous hour with Ib in his magnificent, cluttered home near the Chateau Marmont, off the Sunset Strip, interviewing him for MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. Ib had archived his own career meticulously in a series of scrapbooks, in one of which he shared with me the only letter I've seen to date written by Bava. Shortly after sending him a complimentary copy, he sent back a postcard praising the book lavishly, but he he had some disagreements with my interpretation of Bava's remarks about their working relationship on PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, which he later discussed in the 2009 book SIX CULT FILMS OF THE SIXTIES, co-authored with Skotak. I remember him laughing heartily when I produced from my handbag my long-treasured paperback of REPTILICUS for him to sign. We also talked a bit about the actress Greta Thyssen, who had appeared in the films he made with producer-director Sid Pink, who described her in his autobiography SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES as being a walking illusion, with fake hair, fake chest, etc. Ib gallantly contested this, telling me that he had dated Greta and that she was "all real."

As I'm glad I was able to express to him, he was a very important figure in 1960s science-fantasy, and I still consider THE TIME TRAVELERS - a film made entirely with theatrical and in-camera special effects - one of the few American science fiction movies that can truly be termed a triumph of the imagination. My condolences to Robert Skotak and others in my circle, whom I know have lost a dear and irreplaceable friend.

Here is something not previously shared with the public, a postcard we received from Ib shortly after he received his copy of MARIO BAVA - ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. Needless to say, an honored keepsake.