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Archive for September, 2011

Eyes of the Chameleon DVD Review

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Eyes of the Chameleon (2005)
Director – Ron Atkins
Stars – Ann Teal, Lawrence Bucher, Laurie Zetts
Released by Troma 2011

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

While it is truly commendable to see so many indie efforts find the light of day due to Troma’s increasing number of releases one does wonder just what criteria is imposed in selecting these micro budget slashers and DIY horror flicks. Is there some mysterious post office box number that people can send their films to? Some deep and dark discrete location that Lloyd Kauffman picks these things up at and is then bound by some secret pact to release them no matter what? This one was made in 2005. Have they been trying to get a distribution deal since then? Did Troma just get this one or have they been holding onto it these past six years waiting for the exact opportune moment to unleash Eyes of the Chameleon upon the world?

To cut to the chase, well no, this was not one of those great undiscovered gems that’s just been unearthed. The so-low budget and DIY movements have bloomed due to the affordable costs of hi-def cameras, easy to learn editing software and the fact that shooting digitally virtually eliminates the need for costly film stock, developing and printing expenses. Robert Rodriguez tellingly said in the extras for his 2003 Once Upon A Time in Mexico DVD that film was dead. That movie was shot on hi-def and looked fantastic. I dare say almost as good as film in many instances. However the main ingredient that makes a movie memorable, that connects with an audience is not the equipment but whose hands it is in.

Here’s the scoop on this, the latest thriller brought to you from Troma. Sara, played by Ann Teal who also wrote and produced, is a very disturbed girl. She works in Las Vegas. As the film rolls on many of her friends and associates begin to get killed. That¹s really all the narrative line there is. The rest of the film is devoted to an incoherent collection of
activities that leave one perplexed to say the least.

Here are some of the things she does. Sara visits a fortuneteller. It does not go well. Someone’s eyes bulge out and everyone leaves in a huff. There may have been a curse put on her but no one is sure. There are flashbacks of an old uncle prying up the floorboards to reveal a little kid trapped there that he yells at, She seduces her boyfriend’s brother and then threatens him. She is mean to the nice looking detective who comes to her door, keeping him on the other side of the storm door. She gets a piercing on a very private part of her body at a tattoo parlor and when it hurts she smiles. She visits with her parents. There’s a killer with black-gloved hands that kills again and again. There is lots of fake blood splattered all over. She goes to a masquerade party full of debauchery and has kinky sex with people in masks until of course one of the people wearing a mask begins to slice everyone up. Sara takes the obligatory shower to wash all the blood off but she feels weird. There are shots of a chameleon randomly inserted every so often I guess to remind you of the name of the film? Then that same old guy lifts up the floorboards and begins taunting that little kid again, for like the third time.

Director Atkins heaps in parts of giallo inspiration, mystery films, kinky sexual imagery and some gory kills and stirs into a hopeful hybrid mix that ultimately makes for a cocktail of nothing on the rocks. To make matters worse the film looks very poor, even forgiving the lack of dollars at hand. Here’s hoping that next time Mr. Troma has to go check the drop box there is something better in there for him to put out.

Video – Non- anamorphic 4:3 letterbox, color. The film has a very dull lackluster look to it. It appears pale. Sometimes these digital efforts have a weakness that is hard to overcome.
Audio – .Dolby Digital stereo. Serviceable, nothing special.
Extras – You get a deleted scene that turns out to be yet another one of that old guy yelling at the poor little kid cowering under the floorboards. Leave the kid alone!

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

DVD – Poor.

Movie – Poor.

The Cat O’Nine Tails: Arrow Blu Ray Review

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Cat O’Nine Tails (1970)

by Troy Howarth

Written and Directed by Dario Argento; Starring Karl Malden, James Franciscus, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Cinzia de Carolis, Horst Frank, Rada Rassimov, Werner Pochath, Aldo Reggiani, Tino Carraro, Umberto Raho, Fulvio Mingozzi

A blind man (Karl Malden) teams up with a reporter (James Franciscus) to help unravel a string of murders linked to a genetics research institute…

Dario Argento’s second feature didn’t generate quite the same success and critical acclaim as his 1969 debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, and its reputation in the Argento canon hasn’t exactly soared in recent years. Some of the cold attitude can no doubt be traced to Argento himself, who has publicly referred to it as his least favorite of the films he has directed (though undoubtedly it has since been dethroned by 2009′s Giallo). While it is true that Argento fought an uphill battle with the German co-financiers of his sophomore effort, the end result is by no means unrewarding.

On the downside, the film suffers from overlength and a scenario that hinges on a central idea that really isn’t all that interesting. Argento peppers the narrative with quirky character vignettes and sidebars that are far more compelling than the central ‘industrial espionage’ plot thread – this is telling in itself. Argento has often remarked that the German co-producers wanted a ‘jetset version of Bird With the Crystal Plumage,’ and he was so hellbent on not repeating himself that he allowed the story to get away from him. There’s little doubt that the film lacks the focus and narrative momentum of Bird, which remains one of his most tightly (and coherently) plotted, pictures. Argento also seems so fond of the various subplots that he allows the picture to drag on for much too long – it clocks in at a flabby 112 minutes, as opposed to the lean 90+ minute running time of Bird. As a giallo, it’s also not particularly successful – the central plot thread feels awfully generic, and the various red herrings are dealt out so wrecklessly that it’s impossible to get a really good fix on ‘who-done-it?’.

All of that should not suggest that the film is a failure, however. On the contrary, if one can deal with its deficiencies, it still offers a lot of the classic Argento magic. The film is carried by a charismatic pair of leading men: James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Oscar-winner Karl Malden (Patton). Franciscus brings ample charm and credibility to what could have been a stock character. He makes his nosy journalist into a likable, believably vulnerable human being. Malden is superb as the blind ex-reporter who makes crossword puzzles in his spare time. Like so many Argento protagonists, they are drawn into the mystery by a morbid form of obsession – what starts off as a lark becomes very serious indeed as they both come under attack by the killer. Malden and Franciscus compare favorably to Tony Musante’s ‘American abroad’ in Bird, and they remain among the most engaging and sympathetic of Argento’s fractured protagonists. The supporting cast is more hit and miss, with Catherine Spaak proving woefully inadequate as the femme fatale who may or may not hold the key to the mystery. Her relationship with Franciscus feels like a tacked on concession for the box office, and it never really goes anywhere; they also share a love scene that may or may not have been meant to feel as cold and awkward as it does in the context of the film. Pier Paolo Capponi (The Boss) does what he can with his stock police inspector role, while Horst Frank (The Head), Werner Pochath (Iguana With the Tongue of Fire) and Umberto Raho (Baron Blood) add color to their respective character roles.

Argento’s flair and craftsmanship are also very much on display. The film may not be so colorfully over the top as his later hits, but it shows him continuing to refine his craft. He makes bold use of split diopter to create some striking deep focus images, and continues to experiment with flashy editing as a means of breaking things up and making them more interesting. The director also begins to fully explore the possibilities of subjective camerawork, which he would mold into an artform by the time of Deep Red (1975) and Tenebre (1982). The widescreen cinematography by Erico Menczer (Machine Gun McCain) is slick and atmospheric, while Ennio Morricone contributes yet another terrific, jangly soundtrack. The film also displays Argento’s propensity for shocking violence – it may not be nearly so ‘wet’ as his later pictures, but Cat contains some moments that remain positively wince-inducing, notably a ‘rope burn’ number that has to be seen in order to be believed.

Cat may not rank in the absolute top tier of Argento’s filmography, but it is hardly the poor relation some have dismissed it as being. Thanks to the director’s stylish sensibility and a couple of terrific central performances, it transcends the weaknesses of its script and remains a well crafted, enjoyable entry in the giallo canon.

Video:

Cat was recently released on blu ray by Blue Underground in the US.  I gave that edition a glowing review, which I still stand by, but some fans on line were less than impressed with the transfer; to each their own, of course.  Arrow’s new all region release has therefore been awaited with some trepidation: would it offer a more desirable alternative for those who were disappointed with Blue Underground’s release?  The answer now seems apparent: no.  That is not to say that this is a shoddy release, a la Arrow’s last two Argento releases (Tenebrae and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage).  Far from it.  The 2.35/16×9/1080p transfer looks very nice on the whole – but it does suffer from a softness in detail at times which can only be explained by over aggressive DNR work, and the colors don’t seem quite so vivid as they were on the Blue Underground edition.  The end result is more than watchable, but once again Blue Underground emerges victorious in comparison.  Simply put: if you didn’t like the BU disc, you probably won’t be won over by this one, either.

Audio:

Audio options include both the English and Italian dubs.  Both tracks are in good shape, showing off Morricone’s wonderfully jangly soundtrack to its full effect.  The English track is preferable to the Italian (both Malden and Franciscus dubbed their own roles in English), but it’s nice to have the choice between the two – and English subtitles are provided for the latter.

Extras:

Extras commence with Dario Argento Remembers The Cat O’Nine Tails, in which the director reflects on one of his least-favorite films.  Argento speaks warmly of the late Karl Malden but essentially says that the finished film does not reflect his style or vision very well.  Up next is The Cat O’Nine Tails in reflection, in which Argento’s long time friend and associate Luigi Cozzi talks about his take on the film.  Cozzi got an insider’s view of Argento’s conflicts with producer Goffredo Lombardo and provides some nice insights into the problems the director faced on the picture; he also claims to have talked Argento out of going with a happy ending!  The last featurette is Sergio Martino: The Art and Arteries of the Giallo, in which the giallo filmmaker continues his talk on the genre which commenced on Arrow’s release of Bird With the Crystal Plumage.  Martino tips his hat to Argento and his influence over him and others who worked in the genre, discusses some of his own contributions to the genre, and tries to give some insight into what makes for a good giallo.  It’s a nice interview and a good way to wrap up the meat of the supplements.  An Italian trailer is also included, and the final package will also include the usual reversible cover art, a doubled sided poster, and liner notes from Argento expert Alan Jones.

Film: ***1/2 out of *****

Blu Ray: ***1/2 out of *****

The Real Cannibal Holocaust: DVD Review

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

The Real Cannibal Holocaust (1976)

by Troy Howarth

Directed by Akira Ide; Screenplay by Annibale Roccasecca and Shinjiro Kanazawa

This shockumentary focuses on the habits and customs of the ‘savage’ tribes of New Guinea…

Don’t let the ballyhoo fool you – this was made well before Ruggero Deodato’s infamous Cannibal Holocaust.  Though advertised by One 7 Movies as a cash-in of sorts, the actual onscreen title is: Nuova Guinea, l’isola dei cannibali, which translates as New Guinea, Island of the Cannibals.  The film is essentially a late entry in the shockumentary subgenre popularized by Gualterio Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s Mondo Cane (1962), and like so many films of its ilk it derives its thrills from the notion of cashing in on the ‘novelty’ of primitive cultures.

A coproduction between Italy and Japan, the picture directed by Akira Ide.  Ide doesn’t appear to have found much fame or fortune in the film industry – indeed, if the IMDb is to be trusted, this was his one and only stint as a director.  Even so, he does a decent job with the material at hand.  The rough and ready shooting style gives the film a more amateurish edge compared to the more carefully composed Jacopetti and Prosperi films, and tighter editing would have been appreciated, but it’s still oddly engaging if approached in the right frame of mind.  There’s undoubtedly a deeply cynical, even racist slant to many of these films, with this being no exception, and the end result is poised rather uneasily between anthropological study and sensationalist drivel.  That said, if one approaches it knowing that it’s all for show rather than education, The Real Cannibal Holocaust is decent enough as entertainment. 

The film explores the ‘dark secrets’ of the tribes of New Guinea, which had been liberated from British rule in 1975.  As is usual with these films, a straight faced narrator babbles on about native customs and traditions as the camera zooms in close, making sure to pick up every sensational detail imaginable.  The images range from the repulsive – cannibalism, animal cruelty – to the comically over the top, a tone best represented by the long section devoted to the male tradition of making custom-made cod pieces.  Have you ever wanted to see somebody get their nose pierced?  You can see that, too, in loving detail.  Just how much of the imagery is real and how much of it is staged is open to speculation – but for sure, there are images of mutilation and torture on display that make the film appropriate only for those with strong stomachs.

Video:

One 7 Movies’ release of The Real Cannibal Holocaust is nothing to get excited over.  While it’s nice to have this obscure shockumentary made readily available for fans of the subgenre, the full frame trasnfer leaves a lot to be desired.  The image appears worn and faded.  There’s little doubt that this was ever a particularly handsome picture to look at, but the transfer certainly doesn’t do it any additional favors.  It’s watchable, basically, but nothing more.

Audio:

The mono Italian soundtrack is in OK shape.  The score is pilfered from various Italian soundtracks, much of it from Riz Ortolani – his song Why?, used to such great effect in Umberto Lenzi’s giallo So Sweet… So Perverse.  The narration comes through clearly, and the removable English subtitles are easy to read, though they occasionally suffer from some grammatical errors.

Extras:

None

Film: **1/2 out of *****

DVD: *1/2 out of *****

Mystery Science Theater Gunslinger & Hamlet DVD Review

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Mystery Science Theater Presents
Gunslinger (1957) & Hamlet (1961)
Stars – Beverly Garland, Allison Hayes, Dick Miller, Maximilian Schell
Released by Shout 2011

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Previously to be found as part of larger sets put out by Rhino, Shout has given these two episodes their own individual releases. Each show runs 90 minutes unaccompanied by extras of any kind. When the menu screen comes up you are offered the choice of hitting play or ejecting the DVD and watching something else. Even though these are separate DVDs it made sense to give them a look together.

Gunslinger

Originally broadcast in 1993, this was original host Joel’s second to last episode with the bots on the Satellite of Love. After the familiar theme song the host segment tomfoolery begins after Joel has affixed a balloon to Tom Servo’s Head. They roll dice and he pumps more air into poor Servo threatening to explode the contraption in a celebration of the old Ka-Boom game. Meanwhile the evil Dr. F inspired by the movie Scanners tries to explode his assistant’s head. There’s a theme at work here.

Gunslinger is a Roger Corman Western of which there were not many; and we can see why. Before the credits even roll William Schallert (Patty Duke’s father on TV) gets gunned down and his wife Beverly Garland picks up a shotgun and becomes the new sheriff in town. She tangles with local saloon owner Allison Hayes (Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman) and before long the two of them are rolling around in the sawdust in a real catfight. Then they ride horses back and forth over the same landscape and that’s about all that happens. Corman regular Dick Miller plays the bartender name Wormy. The film does not have much going for it and there is precious little for Joel and the crew to make fun of.

I caught references to a Led Zeppelin song, a Monty Python song but the best stuff was the way they kept working in F Troop material. Any cowboy with his hat turned up in front was called Agarn. Whenever Beverly Garland burst in on someone one of the bots would wine, “Will Parmenter” just like Wrangler Jane would say to Ken Berry. This was a fun outing but not one of their best.

Hamlet

This is a Mike Nelson one initially aired in 1999. Mike is a very friendly jovial host and it’s easy to see why fans took to him so well when he replaced Joel. He’d been with the show behind the scenes and in many off the wall cameos so his was a welcome face that got a promotion. Mike opens this show by dealing three card Monte and even hoodwinks the evil Pearl into betting to let him choose the next movie he and the bots are subjected to. He wins and loose. He picks the classic, Hamlet, thinking…Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh Zeffirelli…her choice, they’re all good. But the joke is on him when she unearths an obscure German TV version that’s been dubbed into English.

I like this series. But this episode is gong to separate the men from the boys, the fans from the Misties as the hardcore refer to themselves. This black and white, mostly faded gray TV show was shot all on one set. It mostly consists of static shots of people mouthing Shakespeare’s lines in German as a valiant crew dubs them into English. That had to be a session from Hell. It’s beyond awful. You can pat yourself on the back for recognizing one voice, the voice of Khan, the Fantasy Island man himself: Ricardo Montalban. That’s where the fun ends. Maximilian Schell wanders about leaning on railings and walls. He talks to people, he talks to ghosts, and he talks to himself. And it just goes on and on. Ponderous. Deadly. And therein lies the real problem. We all accept that for the most part Mike and the bots are there to make fun of the bad movies. We are in it for their wisecracks and witty humor. But still, we have to sit through the whole movie with them. Most of the ones they screen are sufficiently lame but they move, they’re over the top in excess, and they’re outrageous enough to entertain. We may even like them. But this one, Hamlet is more than a chore to get through.

Mike and the bots, at least to me, seem to be struggling with this one. It may be too bad for them and they seem defeated by the sheer boredom of it. Once in awhile they get off a good one, but anytime the film goes on for more than a few moments without any kind of quip or remark from the crew the shows plods on and becomes very difficult to watch. To me they get caught ball watching and the film just drifts along. The whole set is a dull dishwater worn out black and gray. It was shot on a theater stage and characters wander in and out taking an eternity with their cues. At one point during a particularly long close up monologue, one of the bots cries, ”Cut to camera two! Cut to camera, two!” Anything to break up the monotony. Hamlet, I surrender. You win.

Video – Gunslinger is presented in faded color. Hamlet is shown in worn out black and white. Everything is that familiar TV screen shape, as it should be.

Audio – Fine. You can hear the wisecracks and the film’s dialogue. There are sections in Hamlet that just go on too long without anything to hear at all. Although to be fair my perception of that may have been altered by the mind numbing dullness of the film.

Extras – The disc menu lets you choose to play them or not. That’s it.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic

DVD – Gunslinger – Good, Hamlet – Good

Movie – Gunslinger – Good, Hamlet – Poor