Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Retro review: Panic at the Casino (aka Black Jack) (1981) rare Peter Cushing

Now here's a curiosity - a Spanish crime caper with an international cast. Panic in the Casino, (aka Black Jack or Asalto al casino) has Peter Cushing as the head of a crime syndicate plotting a casino robbery. Mexican acting legend Hugo Stiglitz (Nightmare City, Cemetery of Terror, Night of 1000 Cats and Jaws rip off Tintorera, - such a cult actor he had a character named after him in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds) is the police chief, and a cast that includes Claudine Auger (from Bava's A Bay of Blood, and classic giallo The Black Belly of the Tarantula), and Brian Murphy, best known for George and Mildred.
Hugo Stiglitz cult legend
Peter Cushing. Just a legend.

We open with a nice Spanish guitar and a violent hijack of a security van, the robbers' even managing to off a postman who just happens to catch their eye. This 'action' scene has all the skills of a higher budget but even worse acted Cliff Twemlow movie, but we'll let that pass for now.
Next, we are in jolly old London with Cushing's character, Sir Thomas Bedford plotting his casino job and opining the delights of "a good whiskey and a good horse!" His plan involves using a visiting singer, Dynamite Duke (played very badly by the director, Max H. Boulois) and his crew to unwittingly pose as cover for getting the money out. No one would search or suspect a musician's equipment now would they?
I pity the fool who would cast the director as the singer in this film!
Brian Murphy's character is probably just in here for a little comic relief, and to be honest he's the best thing in the film - he is a chancer going through the casino finding the machines that are going to pay out, in a way that the security can't fathom, and basically, well, being George. All the mannerisms are there, his scenes could have easily been spliced in from the series! But I like Murphy, he's fun to watch (The Devils is a great example) and it's down to his portrayal of George in the TV shows that made them such a big hit (in my opinion)
Brian Murphy doing his "ticklish" routine seen so often on the TV

Anyway, back to the film, Murphy is really just a MacGuffin here. The heist has gone wrong, and the police are surrounding the casino, unable to find a way out the gang decide to take the richest and most famous of the clientèle at the casino's masquerade ball hostage. This includes Duke, dressed as Darth Vader, and an incredibly drunk guy who seems to think it's all a joke. What the gang don't count on is one of the hostages being the most sought after Nazi war criminal, Karl Kaufman, who makes his presence known when they are offered asylum by Israel. If this sounds all convoluted and puddled, well, believe me it is!
The film is pretty badly made, poorly edited and badly dubbed. Duke (the director remember) is so badly dubbed is he is practically indecipherable. Cushing is is usual nonchalant self, cruising through it like the pro he was. At least they let him dub his own lines. The music is awful the disco stylings of Dynamite Duke (performed, again by the director) are worse than your worst Spanish holiday nightmare (his "Brown Girl In The Ring" makes you wish for Boney M) and the incidental music doesn't help things either. From piano power cords to a synth sound that could have come from Pigeon Street. Then we come to the slow motion fight sequence a the end, set to the phasing synthesizer sounds that would suit a Star Wars knock off rather than a drama. The production values are low, obviously all the budget went on the gunshots and explosions as they couldn't afford a proper sign to be made for the "dressing room" in the casino, making do with a hand written one! Las Vegas have nothing to worry about from these Spanish slots.. One of the worst Eurocrime films I've seen, saved only by Peter Cushing and Brian Murphy. Good old Brits eh? 3 out of 10

Monday, 25 July 2011

David E Kelley's cancelled Wonder Woman TV pilot (2011)

A while back, when it was announced that Wonder Woman would return to the TV screens, this time written by David E. Kelley, the man behind Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, the fans waited to pick it all apart. The first photos of the costume had people screaming heresy from the roof tops. And when eventually the TV companies decided to pass on the pilot and subsequent series, the rumours abounded that the studios had suffered a knee jerk reaction from the negative vibes they were getting from the fans of the comic.
I don't really follow DC comics much, I rarely bought them, even Batman and Superman, and the ones I did tended to be Lobo. I was always more of a Marvel man. That said, I did watch the 70s Wonder Woman, with Lynda Carter spinning and trying desperately to keep her generous glands in that costume.
So when the new show was shit canned, the interest from everyone suddenly picked up again. Had the NBC got it wrong? Thanks to the wonderful thing called the internet, we can now see for our selves (if you don't know where to look, you don't deserve to see it). Much like the infamous Roger Corman version of The Fantastic Four (1994) we get to see what we weren't meant to. (at least this time its not on 10th generation VHS)
The 2011 Wonder Woman is a much different beast to the 1975 version, we are put straight into the action with WW chasing down a baddie who is running through the streets with super human speed. It turns out he is a drug pusher for a pharmaceutical company who are creating a drug to aid athletes and boost strength. The company is lead by Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley).
Wonder Woman (and her alter ego Diana Prince) is played by Adrianne Palicki, no stranger to the DC Universe, having had parts in Smallville and the TV movie of Aquaman (2007). She is now the figure head (literally) of a large company that sells WW merchandise and dolls. We sit in on a board meeting about the new action figure and Diane complains that the tits are too big (her words, not mine). The guy running the merchandise company is Henry Johns (Carl Elwes, from the Saw movies), who looks a little uncomfortable with the part.
In her homelife, Diana is lonely, with her cat Sylvester for company sitting down watching The Notebook and putting off doing her Facebook. There was someone in her past, but she chose the crime fighting over him.
To be fair, it's not too bad, there's plenty of action, and even with the unfinished CGI effects (the screener copy circulating has on screen notes "insert police cars", "darken pants" etc, and visible wires pulling the actors being punched and kicked), it's easy to see that it would have been fun to watch if not the "event tv" that they'd have liked. To be honest, there's a lot more shows out there that look a lot worse that get serveral series.It's also quite dark and violent in some scenes, WW even kills! You don't see that often in superhero adaptations!
Worth tracking down if you're interested, but you can only wonder (sigh) how the full series would have panned out if it was allowed one. 6 out of 10

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Retro review: Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr - The Strange Adventure of Allan Gray was directed by the legendary Carl Theodor Dreyer, who had made the silent classics The Passion of Joan Of Arc (1928) and Leaves From Satan's Book (1921). Vampyr was made as a silent film, but had occasional dialogue added later. As such there is very little dialogue, and most of the exposition is provided by on screen captions - and since this is a German movie, these are subtitled, so you need to read fast!

Allan Gray (Julian West - actually Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, the film's financier) stays at a remote château and is disturbed at night by a strange old man who tells him" we must save her" and leaves a package, to be opened on his death. There's an equally strange doctor (who looks like he was a heavy influence on Professor Abronsius in Polanksi's Fearless Vampire Killers) who is given a bottle of poison by a woman. After the old man's death, Gray opens his package and starts to read the book that it contained. It tells the story of vampires, and evil in villages throughout time, and how these vampires had cursed families for generations.

Rather than try and explain the story, it is best to just say - the whole thing is a work of art. Every frame of the film. Technically the film is way ahead of it's time, shadows dominate. The camera work is sweeping, naturalist and stunning. The whole sense of menace and horror is eerily provided by these techniques. There is a peg legged shadow that climbs some steps to meet it's owner sat on a bench. Scenes are purposely over exposed.

It is a poetic and beautiful film, as much as it is terrifying. It is your worst dream in celluloid. It is the 1930s equivalent of Eraserhead. It's imagery will linger in your mind long after you watch, and to a certain degree, with cinematography and visions like those on display it doesn't matter if you follow the story. In all fairness though, it isn't as incoherent as some reviews would have you believe.

I first say Vampyr in the tatty, more washed out than it should be print that screened on Channel 4 in the early 80s, when they did their own version of the horror double bill, and it had a profound effect even back then. It's nice then to be able to see the version that is now available I watched the one put out by Eureka in the UK, and it's a fantastic package. The film still has some print flaws, but nothing like the ones seen in the past. It also includes two commentaries, one by Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro, which is very interesting and shows that the man has a passion for the film too. Vampyr should be required viewing for anyone interested in the history of horror and fantasy films, it's right up there with Nosferatu and The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.
10 out of 10                        

Friday, 22 July 2011

Retro review: Vile Pervert - The Musical (2008)

Now, this one seems to have passed under my radar until this week. Vile Pervert is a home made documentary/drama/musical satire by Jonathan King. Maybe it's apt that it should come to my attention at this current time when the UK newspaper industry (red tops especially) is in meltdown and is being as demonised as they have done to so many others in the past. Karma? I'm sure JK would agree.
Whatever your opinion on JK as a person you can't deny that he has had major part in the British music industry, as a performer, writer, producer and much more. When I was growing up, he was a familiar face and name, his TV shows Entertainment USA and No Limits were required viewing, especially for someone like myself who liked to listen to things that would not get radio airplay outside the Friday Rock Show on Radio One.
Before I start with the film, I would like to point out as a disclaimer that I'm a male, in my early 40s, very straight, and if anything have a preference for older women. So at no time did I relate to JK's interests in that way. 
Now, JK had a very public trial and humiliation for allegedly abusing boys who had come to visit him at his home in the early 80s. All these allegations came many years after the events and, as we find out in this frank and very enlightening film, had no proof whatsoever to back them up.

Which brings me to the film. Shot entirely on digital video and interspersed with  musical numbers set to cut and paste videos, it is King's side of the story. An honest account of what he is. Along the way, we meet fictionalised versions of the key characters into his story,  all very thinly veiled that it wouldn't take too much to work out who they are meant to be. Waxie Maxie, a PR agent nicknamed "The Silver Stoat" who will take on anybody's story providing they say they are telling the truth, and there's money to be had. The "victims", some of which had not even met King, but then what did that matter? The police, not too bothered with facts as long as they get a result for the figures. Flame Mitchell, the ex-editor of a red top newspaper who had previously employed King as a columnist for many years, and God, the narrator of the sordid story. I say sordid, but it's not in the way the papers' would have it. The sordidness comes from the way the facts were changed, and the whole scaremongering and hysteria that comes along with anything to do with "perverts" and celebrity misdemeanours. It's worth noting that what King was accused of, and imprisoned for, involves "children" of 15, (some proved to actually older than that when the alleged events happened) and were willing participants. Even the judge, in his summing up, noted that no violence was used, and that incidents stopped when if it was clear that it wasn't wanted. None of which was reported of course. In fact there's so many twists and turns that come out of the documentary that you'd think it was a Hollywood thriller.
And then we have the music. Some of the old hits are included, Everyone's Gone To The Moon and It's Good News Week are both strangely prophetic. It's the new songs that stand out though. Taken out of context, you would think they were terrible and would outrage the public decency. But no, they all make a point. You just have to have the balls enough to think about them. Something I'm sure most people wouldn't bother doing.
There is the the wonderful Wilde About Boys, sung by King dressed as Oscar Wilde with its catchy refrain of "there's nothing wrong with buggering boys" Whaaaat.. f*cking disgusting! String him up I say.. Yep, just the sort of red rag that would have the estates lighting their torches and going en-mass to lynch the nearest paediatrician. In context, what the song is actually saying is there's nothing wrong as long as BOTH sides are compliant. Who would argue with that? It even says "as long as their not too young" and borrows from the famous quote from Wilde's cleaning woman during his trial about "as long as it's not in the street and worrying the horses".

It's worth noting when thinking how disgusting it might be for someone in their 30s to be interested in anyone of 15 or so, (the proper name is ephebophilia) that in many of the countries that YOU, the mob minded hate breed go on holiday every year the age of consent is lower than in the UK. In Spain, for example, it is 13.
The whole thing was very enlightening, and shows the press up just as much as the current scandals. While I have my own personal opinions of certain high profile accusations in the past (the other "King of pop" I have no doubt that something iffy was going on) when presented with the discrepancies that King provides it's hard not to see that something is rotten in the system.
The only warning I'd give is that you might see a bit more of JK than you'd like. There's an image I could have done without! 
In the end King presents his case with humour, and as in his final word, is not interested in making you like him, but just make you think. That it certainly does. And man, can he write a catchy tune.... 8 out of 10.

You can download the whole film - for FREE - from his website All You Tube footage included in this item are owned by Mr King.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Retro review: The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1945)

Hollywood's first attempt at Oscar Wilde's classic story of a man who wishes to never grow old, and leads such a depraved life of debauchery and callousness, while his portrait takes the strain of his excesses.
Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore) is a talented painter, just putting the finishing touches to his latest masterpiece, his sitter is Dorian (Hurd Hatfield). Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) is Basil's friend and takes a shine to the young Dorian and begins to fill his head with hedonistic ideas and fears of growing old. "this painting will always be beautiful, but you however, will grow old" he warns him. Dorian doesn't like this at all, and wishes that he would never age. Little would he know that his wish would come true.

Dorian frequents the lowest taverns,  music halls and opium dens, and forms an attraction to a singer, Sybil Vane (a very young Angela Lansbury). He instists he will marry her, but the idea is frowned upon by all his friends, especially Henry, who suggests fills his head with an idea of testing her. When she 'fails' the test, Dorian breaks the engagement off. When Sybil is found dead several days later, Henry tells his friend while playing with an old Victorian 3D viewer " we must have perspective" he tells him. Dorian is affected for all of a few minutes. When he comes to look at his painting, he notices the mouth is suddenly changed, apparently looking more cruel.

As his indiscretions and cruel intentions continue, so does the painting decay and become more corrupt. When Basil confronts Dorian, he shows him his work, now locked out of everyone's way in his old school room in the attic, and he is horrified to see it, totally deformed.

Considering it's age, the film doesn't shy away from using Wilde's cracking dialogue, and Sander's Sir Henry is perfectly rendered, and utterly convincing in his portrayal. Hatfield is cold and enigmatic, so therefore quite suitable for the Dorian character. It's interesting to note, that Hatfield would later be reunited with Angela Lansbury in a few episodes of Murder She Wrote.
The film is beautifully filmed with lots of shadows and sinister camera angles and some ingenious colour inserts when we get close ups of the painting. At first, when it's freshly done, to see it's splendour and later, its corrupt and ugly side.
It's interesting to watch especially since the recent remake is still fresh in mind. Although I may have been one of the only ones who actually thought the  2009 Dorian Gray was very good! But you really can't beat this 1945 version, it's a cracker!
10 out of 10

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Retro review: Blood of Dracula (1957)

Blood of Dracula is one of those AIP drive in films that was made to cater for the growing teen viewers who were going to 'make out' (something I don't think we ever did here in the UK) rather than watch the film.
That said, it's not too bad, but as is the case in most of the 50s films, very blood-less.
Nancy and her folks enjoying a communal smoking session before school

Nancy (Sandra Harrison) is being taken by her father and his new wife to boarding school, to teach her a lesson for missing her recently diseased mother, no doubt. When she gets there, she is instantly bullied by the clique calling themselves "The Birds of Paradise", a secret society that everyone knows about apparently. There is a science teacher Miss Branding (Louise Lewis) who is more interested in her thesis about having a power inside that could destroy the world than teaching the class. Allowing her student assistant to 'accidentally' dab sulphuric acid on Nancy's hand to get a chance to be alone with her, and use her as a guinea pig.

Using an amulet she has picked up from the good old Carpathian Mountains, she hypnotising Nancy to be under her control, in a similar way to Gloria Holden in Universal's Dracula's Daughter (1936) but without the heavy lesbian overtone.
The girl's initiation party, a swinging affair where they dance with cushions, is interrupted by three local boys who are obviously up for a good time as they bring some records and one of them does his best party piece, a hip and groovy tune called 'Puppy Love' (no relation to the Osmond classic) which is actually no where near as bad as it sounds. The party is broke up when one of the girls is found dead, attacked by a snarling shadow, and drained of blood.

 A meeting is called with the police and coroners, when one of them mentions he just happened to share a room at college with someone from the Carpathian Mountains, and he described the legend of the vampire, and how the whole area was terrified of 'Draculas'. Yep, plural. 
The girls, terrified obviously, arrange a Halloween scavenger hunt, involving finding hidden clues in the local cemetery. Miss Branding's experiments and research, however continues to pick up steam with more horrifying consequences, especially for Nancy, who has taken to looking like a female Eddie Munster when under the teacher's spell.

Like I say, it's a fun little fun, and doesn't outstay it's welcome, and would be a good companion piece to AIP's other famous teenage angst flick, I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) - which itself had the working title of Blood of the Werewolf before settling for the much more memorable name.
6 out of 10

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Retro review: The Secret of the Loch (1934)

Now here's a little rare curiosity. In the early 30s the opening of a new road past Loch Ness brought lots of passing traffic to this once quiet (and no doubt idyllic) are of Scotland. It's also around this time the famous "surgeon's photo" of Nessie, the beast believed to live in the loch, appeared. So, hot on the heels of this, and the recently released hit King Kong (1933) came this, the very first Loch Ness Monster movie!
The film opens with a terrified Scot running into the local ale house "Boys! Boys! 'Av seen it! It's no a sight for mortal eyes!" All the locals, including a very manic Professor Heggie (Seymour Hicks) believe there's something out in the loch, and all accept it. Until newspapers appear, from that London, with headlines of "mass hallucination" and "something from hell itself" Heggie decides to go to meet with his academic equals and put his case forward that there is prehistoric beastie in the depths of the loch.

The meeting is attended by a motley crew of strange looking eggheads with their loose teeth rattled when Heggie proclaims that he will prove the existence of a living dinosaur. He is rail roaded out of the meeting, but not without drawing the attention of a reporter from the Daily Sun, Jimmy Andrews (Frederick Andrews) who, smelling a story, follows the professor back north, with a request from one of the workers in his news room to "find out what they wear under their kilts!"  When he gets there, he finds he's not alone, all of Fleet Street's 'finest' have set up camp in the local inn, all after the exclusive on the mad professor and his monster. Jimmy decides to go the extra mile, and breaks into the professor's house. You see, the modern hacks (ahem) haven't invented underhand and criminal activity! When he finds himself in the bedroom of Angela (Nancy O' Neal), Heggie's granddaughter, rather than call the police or indeed, shoot him, he manages to sweet talk her into trusting him to get close to the old professor.

He also gets close to Heggie's burly helper, Angus (Gibson Gowland - a familiar face from some of the Universal Monster films), due to his wearing of a McKnockie tartan tie (he borrowed it from a girl in the office!) and over a few drams - "What's this whisky distilled from? Pepper?" Angus agrees also to try and help Jimmy get his story, since he is convinced that the professor is right about the monster.

This really isn't a horror film, or a drama or thriller. It's more comedy, and for it's age a quite good one, there's plenty of sight gags and quips to keep you smiling. Until the final 10 minutes underwater, and with the "monster" - it's no spoiler really to tell you it's just an iguana back projected onto footage of what looks like one of those little divers you put in your fish tank. But, never the less, it's enjoyable and a great example of British film making from the 'good old days' There was a time when you could find films like this on TV schedules all the time. Usually in the mid-week afternoon slot, or Saturday afternoon on BBC2 while Grandstand was on the other side. All we have now is idiots competing to see who can cook the ponciest meal or sell off their tat on a car boot sale. Oh well.... now, where's my troosers....
5 out of 10

Spoiler Alert!!! the monster in all it's glory.....

Friday, 15 July 2011

Secuestrados (aka Kidnapped) (2010)

A few years ago I came across a short Portuguese  film called I'll See You In My Dreams (2003). It was a great little film about a man having to protect his little village from zombies. It's director, Miguel Angel Vivas showed promise. So I approached Kidnapped with the view to enjoying it. What followed was almost 80mins of brutal carnage.

A family are just moving into their new luxury home, in a private complex. Their peace is shattered when three balaclava wearing East Europeans force their way in. The father is taken out to withdraw as much as possible on all the families credit cards, while the mother and daughter are left with the remaining two men. Then we are subjected to some of the most horrendous, unflinching, relentless and graphic cinema I've seen in a while. It's made all the more horrific because the situation is one that anybody could face. Do we know who the next person to knock on the door would be? Would we be prepared for it?
The film is incredibly well made, and I can't fault Vivas on that count. There's a bold move using split screen techniques to show us both sides of the 'action' (I don't recall it being used this much since Wicked, Wicked (1971) - which famously used it all the way through), and long takes which allows for lots of camera movement and little cut-aways, a technique Hitchcock used on Rope (1948).

Home invasion movies are not uncommon, but usually there is some reason given, or back story, or perish the thought, even a happy ending, but not here. By the end of it all I was left with a very sour taste and very disturbed. Probably the effect that was wanted? In this day and age, the down beat ending is nothing new, but to be SO relentless and downbeat is fairly unique. Like I say, it's an incredibly well made movie, but by no stretch of the imagination is it enjoyable.
Approach with extreme caution.
7 out of 10.

Retro review: Norman J Warren's Outer Touch (aka Spaced Out) (1981)

British horror legend Norman J. Warren made this low budget sci-fi sex comedy as a way of cashing in on the trends at the time - Star Wars was big, and the ABC type cinemas were still showing the UK sex films of George Harrison Marks and the like. As a fan of Norman's horror output (Terror, Satan's Slaves and Prey especially) and his other venture into sci-fi Inseminoid (produced by the legendary Richard Gordon) I was keen to check this out, and since it's release on DVD I now get the chance to!
The film starts with a Brad and Janet type couple, Oliver (Barry Stokes) and Prudence (Lynne Ross) in a parked car being spied on by Cliff (Michael Rowlatt), who looks like his day job is a comprehensive school PE teacher by his dress. Sad thing is, though he's not got going to get any jollies since Pru is rather frigid, and keen to hold off any hows your father until they are married. Then, she tells Oliver, "you can have it as often as you want, well Saturday anyway"
On the other side of the park, Willy (Tony Maiden) is sneaking around to find a quite place to "read" his copies of "Bouncers" magazine, and have a quick knuckle shuffle. Willy it must be said looks like Robin Askwith playing Harry Potter.
The peace of the park (well these characters are the only ones there) is disturbed when a UFO lands and they all decide to board to have a look around. The aliens are all female, in fact they have never seen a male before and a curious to examine them. These aliens are quite amiable and even have an hospitality room complete with food, drink and an advice dispensing Wurlitzer (voiced by Bill Mitchell, who had voiced the famous Carlsberg ads - probably the best voice in the world -he was also the narrator in The Beast Must Die).
The aliens decide to head back into space when they feel threatened by a Earth forces - a herd of cows, giving them time to get to know the men further. It's quite apt that the aliens look like Maya's poor cousin, since the spaceship effects were lifted from Space 1999! They are led by the Skipper (Kate Ferguson), a feisty warrior type, the medical examiner, Cosia (Glory Annen - star of cult fav "Felicity") and Partha (Ava Cadell, who went on to be a sex therapist and founder of Lovelogy University, obviously utilising skills displayed here) and all very nice they look too. There's also a sardonic and camp ship's computer, not dissimilar to HAL9000.
There's quite a few good moments in the film, it's not nearly as cringe-worthy as some so called sex comedies, and for fans of the genre, there's some things to watch out for:
While looking through the rooms on the ship, Willy picks up what looks like a Tusken Raider's Gaffi Stick (I've noticed these in other films too, so guessing there were a few left over in the stock cupboard of the UK studios!). Willy is stripped and examined by Cosia, (taking measurements that keep increasing.. ahem) and is scanned with what looks like a toy light sabre, I'm pretty sure its exactly the same one I used to have as a kid. There's also some familiar friends' framed pictures on the walls!
It's interesting to see Barry Stokes doing his thing here, I always get him mixed up with the other Barry, (Evans) but Stokes only really did one other sex comedy, "The Ups and Downs of a Handy Man" (1976), which was another that wasn't too bad! He eventually gets his girl though, and in true British fashion, keeps both glasses and socks on throughout.

There was an American version released with the Wurlitzer voiced by Bob Saget, which from the trailer I've seen makes it a little more acerbic. There was also apparently a little more nudity added, but in all fairness, there's enough on show in the UK version to keep most hard happy. It's also amusing, if not belly busting funny, which is more than most of these types of films are. Only for fans of this genre really,  but an entertaining 80mins none the less. Go get yourself a copy, invite some mates round, get some beers and enjoy. That's what these films are for. (no tissues required) Follow it up with Inseminoid and you have a great double bill!
5 out of 10 but a lot of fun.