Fun time discussing Cat People with Derek!
Fun time discussing Cat People with Derek!
I think, if I was stranded on a remote island, with food, water, shelter and a means to watch Toho’s Icons of Sci-Fi Collection (The H-Man, Battle in Outer Space, and Mothra), Criterion’s When Horror Came to Shochiku [studio] DVD set (reviewed here), and perhaps a few Bogart films, I would be completely content —at least for a while. Criterion’s Eclipse Series of films are described as “lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics… affordable for the adventurous home viewer”. Eclipse Series 37 is just that, including these lesser known titles:
I had never seen or heard of The Living Skeleton or Genocide. Both films are listed in the Filmography of Stuart Galbraith’s excellent Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films (1994, McFarland), but are not reviewed in the main text, so I am thinking these were relatively scarce films in the U.S.
For year’s I had looked for Goke (my vote for one of the weirdest films ever made), and finally one day I received a copy from fellow b-movie afficionado Rich Chamberlain BLOG. Galbraith notes that with the possible exception of Toho’s Attack of the Mushroom People (1963), there really isn’t a film quite like Goke. I think, thematically it’s nothing like Matango, but I agree both films are entirely unique. Goke is a colorful, twisted, sci-fi/horror/crime entry. I’d lump it into the sub-genre of alien possession films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came from Outer Space, and The Hidden (1987). It’s not one of your run-of-the-mill vampire films. I’d give every single Tom Hanks movie in my collection to see Goke on the big screen.
Genocide is indeed strange. It’s not a lost classic, but deserves a peek. How can you go wrong with mutant bees and wasps wrecking havoc on military ilk and mankind? I love these films shot with Fuji-Color film stock. They are bright, contrasty and colorful films. Genocide probably has an anti-Vietnam War message somewhere (“Don’t send me back there!”), but I was largely entertained by the look of the film. We also get to see some terrific macro-photography of the scary and real Japanese Giant Hornet (Vespa mandarina japonica) considered by some to be one of the most horrifying insects on the planet BZZZZZzzz.
The X from Outer Space is one of my favorite Kaiju! This film is non-stop fun from the opening, pop-jazzy titles to the the final big city assault by the title monster. It’s a shame Shochiko didn’t make any more giant monster films. However, this isn’t horror!
The Living Skeleton is the purest (and only) horror film of the set. Here we have crisp black-and-white photography, gangster (or pirates?), ghosts and ghost ships, tortured lovers, fog (I wonder if John Carpenter saw this flick?) and several gruesome scenes. The Living Skeleton might be the funnest of the bunch. It’s talky and perhaps a few minutes too long, but why quibble? Man, I could watch this stuff all day. Bravo once more to the folks at Criterion. Happy Holidays.
Island of Lost Souls (1932, Paramount) is one of the finest horror films ever made, and for good reason —Bela Lugosi’s performance as The Sayer of the Law; Charles Lawton’s creepy and evil performance as Moreau; unusual and unique makeup; Karl Struss’s expressionist photography; weird and elaborate sets; and one humdinger of a script based on H.G. Wells’ novel. For many years, this was the top requested horror film amongst genre fans, and this new Criterion Blue-ray delivers. For many years the only copy I had was a ripped-off and decent laserdisc print which had a short lifespan. Back in the day those laserdiscs were pressed and released, the fans bought them, and that was the end of them. (Fortunately, I grabbed Criterion’s “Cat People” when I did. It’s a collectable now and a superb print.) Lost Souls deserved the treatment from Criterion, and although the source material was terribly aged, the resultant restored disc is clearly the best available print for home-viewing pleasure. It looks terrific, down to the strands of yak hair on Lugosi’s mug.
I have heard that some angry birds are out there and are complaining about the transfer (I confess I bitched about the Lord of the Rings BR), and some of the footage at Moreau’s plantation does look over-exposed. I can’t tell if it is due to Struss’s use of diffuse lighting or if it is due to the restoration. It’s nothing to quibble about! Go buy this film and keep it in your collection and watch it ever year at Halloween until you die.
Lost Souls offers some grisly material dealing with vivisection of beasts. I can see why it was banned in several countries. In Australia is was tagged as NEN —not for aboriginal eyes. I showed the film to my girlfriend. She lasted until the first moans originating from “The House of Pain”. After that she was off reading a magazine (and it wasn’t Rue Morgue). The makeup and Lugosi’s performance are not to be missed by horror fans (I wonder what animal The Sayer of the Law was?).
The extras include an interview hosted by John Landis with Rick Baker (who seems bored) and the informative Bob Burns. It’s worth watching, especially for comments regarding makeup, Lugosi and Burn’s mentor Charles Gemora (who appears as a gorilla in the film). I also like the interview with DEVO’s Gerald Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh (there are horror fans everywhere so watch out!). Also check out the image files, which offers a macro-glimpse of some mighty inspired makeup.
Island of Lost Souls. 5/5. Horror Masterpiece restored by folks at Criterion. Top DVD of 2011.
Along with the nerve-racking The Wages of Fear (1953) —a story about a team of desperate misfits carting two truck loads of nitroglycerin through bumpy terrain, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955) ranks as one of the most suspenseful film ever made. I rank both films on par with any of Hitchcock’s finest thrillers. Back in March 1992, I saw a restored print (148 minutes) of The Wages of Fear at the Detroit Film Theatre. I was mesmerized. Once the trucks get moving, the film is unrelenting. Clouzot keeps topping the thrills with one brilliant sequence after another. It was like the first time seeing Jaws. While I think “Wages” is a better film, Diabolique stands on it’s own for having one of the most startling scenes ever struck on celluloid. Don’t bother looking for the stupid remakes. Go straight for the Criterion Blue-ray disc.
Since 1984, I’ve been watching Criterion video discs. They’re about the finest discs available. On most DVDs/BR, they offer a combination of exquisite film restoration pressed on premium material, unique supplements and usually an enclosed essay. They’re DVDs for film connoisseurs. The new Diabolique Blue-ray is the cleanest and sharpest print I’ve ever seen. I doubt it looked this good when it was originally released. I’m going to watch it again tonight—
Man, times have changed. Back in the day I watched films on 16mm. Sometimes I still do at a convention like Monster Bash or Cinema Wasteland. My friend Mace had clips of Star Wars on 8mm. No sound. We loved it. I watched a ton of flicks on videotape. Those things are extinct and most video stores (what’s left of them) don’t carry VHS tapes. I loved watching Alien on VHS. There was even a format called CED – Capacitance Electronic Disc. Video discs. No not laser discs. These were the record-like things enclosed within a flat plastic cartridge. I think RCA made them. They worked a bit like a record in having a stylus. I thought they were cool because you could watch a copy of “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” on them. Film was hard to find. Then of course there were the laser discs. They actually came out for consumers in 1979 (remember “discovision”?). I loved them and still have about 300 or so. I have 3 players for backup. Cheap. $50 used. The big thing about LD’s were the premium ones called CAVs. Constant Angular Velocity —you could freeze frame a near stationary image, as opposed to CLV – Constant Linear Velocity. These are dead terms. Freeze-framing was a big deal for people like me who studied and scrutinized every frame of King Kong. Criterion-Voyager Press put out a terrific LD of King Kong. It cost $99 in 1984 and was the second LD made by Criterion after Citizen Cane. $99 was a chunk of money back then. In today’s economy, think of buying a DVD of an ultra-rare movie for $205. This LD was the cake, with a separate audio channel with Ron Haver commenting on Kong and loads of supplements. The guys at Criterion really pioneered home viewing for film buffs.
DVD used to be called “Digital Virtual Discs”. I was really stubborn when they came out, but eventually broke down. Then I upgraded to HD-DVD (ugh), now Blue-Ray. Now I’m streaming and downloading flicks from who knows where. My dad used to say films would be encoded on little glass marbles that would spin around on a carousel-type mechanism. Not a bad prophecy —they’re encoded on silica.
For my money, this Kong LD was and is awesome. Man have times changed.