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Archive for March, 2016

10 Rillington Place (1971)Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

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Stars – Richard Attenborough, Judy Gleeson, John Hurt
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Unsettling. Unnerving. Creepy. Dank, dark and disturbing. In a carefully mannered order we learn that serial killer John Christie has begun his activities during the bomb scares and turmoil that Britain went through during World War II. He methodically convinces a woman to partake of a soothing gas mixture under the false pretext of helping her to feel better. He tells her he is after all medically trained. He pleasantly reassures the woman when she begins to panic. After she passes out from the gas he strangles her with a length of rope and we are left to conclude that he has sex with her before disposing of the body in the small garden outside his house in the alley. Years pass from the war years to 1949. Christie and his wife live on the first floor of that same building. They rent the second and third floors. We never see the sick man in the second story. A young couple with a little baby rents the third floor apartment.

10 six

Judy Geeson (To Sir With Love) is so cute and peppy. John Hurt (Alien) as the father is hopelessly incapable of coping. He is out of work. He can’t read or write. He spends his time at the local pub bragging about fabricated stories. When poor Judy discovers she is pregnant she worries that they can’t afford another child. She takes pills to miscarry. They don’t work. However Christie reassures her. He can take care of it. He has had medical training. John Attenborough is bone chilling in his portrayal of Christie. There are no scenes of extreme violence. There is very little blood. The terror lies in the way in which he can convince these people of anything. He preys on their fears, anxieties and poor education. He gets the women including Judy Geeson to put that home made gas mask on their face and breathe deeply. We see him feed in the gas from the house valve that’d go to the stove. The murder scenes do not dwell on anything repugnant. Director Richard Fleisher shows remarkable restraint. He does not over play any prurient details. He keeps the horror in the way that Christie manipulates these carefully chosen people. We can see him coming but these victims can’t. They play so easily into his hands

10 five

Judy Geeson is so relieved to find someone who can just make her problem go away. John Hurt falls hook line and sinker for anything that Christie feeds him. He can’t read so any paper that Christie holds can be anything he chooses to say. This is based on a real case. One of the most disturbing parts of that case and this movie is that way that john Christie pins the murder of his wife and baby on his tenant Timothy Evans. The man is arrested and tried. Christie takes the stand and even though some damaging run-ins with the law in his past are revealed his testimony aids in the conviction. Evans is sentenced to death. John Hurt is amazing here. Everything he does just sinks him further into the quicksand. He has no idea how to extricate himself. His execution in the film was based on the real events. The actual hangman worked as a consultant. In frighteningly short order we see Hurt in his cell. The time comes and he is whisked through a door in his cell into the next room. A hood goes over his head, then the rope around his neck and the floor is pulled out from under him. It is a shocking sequence. Christie’s murders were planned with deliberate pace and extreme attention to every detail. They were carried out slowly.  The contrast between them and the break neck speed with which Hurt’s hanging is shown is like a whiplash.

10 one

The actual events helped turn the tide against executions in Britain. The street address 10 Rillington Place became a location of such notoriety that it was totally changed in look and name. The film is carried out in a beautifully thought out professional manner. The casting, the set design, the locations and entire look of the film all evoke the era and the chilling elements of the story. Director Fleischer had done such excellent film noirs – Follow Me Quietly (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and Narrow Margin (1950).  He’d done the well known popular hits The Vikings (1958), Fantastic Voyage (1966), and Tora, Tora, Tora (1970). However it is worth noting that he also directed a trifecta of excellent films made from real life murder events – Compulsion (1959) based on the Leopold and Loeb case about college students who murder a child to show they are superior, The Boston Strangler (1968) based on serial killer Albert DeSalvo, and this one,  10 Rillington Place. The tag line in the poster for The Boston Strangler was, “Why did 13 women willingly open their doors to the Boston Strangler?” These psychological undercurrents are what really gets under your skin.

10 eight

Attenborough delivers a magnificent performance here that is unlike anything else he had done. This is a creepy and unnerving film that is remarkably well done. It is perhaps too realistic and creepy to pass as any kind of regular serial killer film if there is such a type. It plays like a finely tuned drama with horrific emotional underpinnings. That we never learn why Chrisite did these murders just adds to the injustice of it all. Having just seen this it is time to revisit The Boston Strangler and Compulsion again. Director Richard Fleischer is to be highly commended for his work here.

10 two

Video – 1.85:1
This is a dreary looking film. Colors are mostly from a drab brown palate. There are some very subdued cobalt blue tones with the occasional bit of pink found in the stripe of a shirt or a girl’s dress. Much of the film takes place inside a dingy run down small townhouse. Even though there is not a lot of light the black levels never veer into distortion. The grain is kept at bay too which is unusual for a film of that era. Skin tones and clothing all look fine with some good detail though nothing stands out as sharp. This all appears to have been done in a very controlled style. We see what the shadows let us see. John Christie appears so meek and so kind. He always keeps a respectful distance from us. Having never seen the film on screen this presentation looks to be spot on. The whole look of the film suit’s the story and characters well. There are no dirt specs, nicks or any kind of wear or damage to be seen.

Audio – English 1.0 DTS-HD mono track with subtitles offered in English SDH
Attenborough’s Christie speaks in low measured tones. He is soft spoken. John Hurt is always on edge. His voice runs off the sharp scale with frayed nerves and false bravado.  Judy Geeson sounds so pleasant most of the time. While some of the voices are indeed on the soft side this appears to be entirely purposeful and in service to the story. John Dankworth’s eerie jazz inflected score is a good match for the many unsettling moods in the narrative.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with actress Judy Geeson, and film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, Commentary with actor John Hurt, Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Felicity (1978) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

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Actors – Glory Annen, Joni Flynn, Christopher Milne
Director – John D. Lamond

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Clearly riding on the coattails of the immensely successful 1974 film Emmanuelle comes Australia’s answer to making a sex film that is nice enough for mainstream audiences. This is a nice bright upbeat film about a fresh faced girl’s sexual awakening. Though there is abundant nudity director John D. Lamond ensures that nothing feels dirty or smutty in the least. He’d probably even call the film wholesome. It did pass through the notorious British censors on its initial release which says quite a lot. Like Emmanuelle the photography is very classy. The intimate scenes use all the photography and lighting tricks you’d see in a high fashion shoot for an upscale print ad. Much of the film travels to exotic Hong Kong locations including the neon drenched streets at night to give it that tantalizing travelogue look. Star Glory Annen as Felcity is cute and her personality makes it easy to follow her throughout the film. Felicity succeeds in being exactly the kind of film it sets out to be.

f three

We first meet Felicity at an all girls boarding school. There are the requisite shower scenes and girlish flirtations. At one point the school’s groundskeeper peers in a window to catch a glimpse of the undressed star. She flashes a shy smile back at him. The young Felicity does that a few others times when men give her a lingering look. In an included interview Glory Annen reflects that that kind of behavior would elicit a scream now. In short order she is sent by her father to a holiday in Hong Kong. There she meets the fetching Joni Flynn a former model who went on to appear in Octopussy (1983). Flynn takes her on a whirlwind tour of the erotic underworld of Hong Kong. Two creepy guys follow her and when she runs in terror a handsome young man Christopher Milne gives her a lift on his motorbike. After that rescue the two proceed to get it on in every conceivable location they can find including the back of a public bus and an elevator.

f one

There is a brief period when Milne goes off on a work assignment leaving Felicity to realize how much she misses him. When she tracks him down to his bucolic beach hut the film’s message that sex with love is better that without makes a nice coda for Felicity’s odyssey. There is peppy theme song with the refrain, “ She ain’t mama’s little girl no more” that runs through the film. Severin has included a wealth of extras. Two entire features are presented as bonus titles. Both of which are less successful sexploitation films from director Lamond. Right after this film he directed a well done thriller Nightmares aka Stage Fright that is well worth a look. Make sure you see the interview with star Glory Annen in the Not Quite Hollywood Out-takes. She was a trained actress originally from Canada who was just coming off a successful tour of Woody Allen’s Play it Again Sam theater show where she had the Diane Keaton part when she auditioned for Felicity. She has some fun production stories including how she handled the copious nudity. Though the film may lean a little bit more toward pleasing the male libido Annen feels it met its goal of offering a softer look at sex that would be palatable for women and couples. Perhaps tame by today’s standards Felicity holds a place alongside those films that brought a more wholesome less prurient type of sex film to the mainstream audience.

f two

Video – 1.85:1
Though there are a few nicks and scratches the materials used look very good. Colors are pleasing with decent black levels. Various filters appear to have been used with the original photography. This gives the film a nice hazy sheen and diffused look, however there is a trade off in detail. Many of the sex scenes have a slightly soft focus, gentle grain and a style of lighting that recalls a fashion photography shoot.

Audio – DTS-HD Master 2.0 track
While dialogue is clear it’s not sharp. The music and effects are also fine but not exceptional.

Extras – Feature Film: ABCs Of Love & Sex… Australia Style!
Feature Film: Australia After Dark
Commentary on Felicity With Producer/Director John D. Lamond and Star Glory Annen, Commentary on ABCs With Producer/Director John D. Lamond and Not Quite Hollywood Director Mark Hartley, Commentary on AAD With Producer/Director John D. Lamond and Not Quite Hollywood Director Mark Hartley, Not Quite Hollywood Out-takes with Actress Glory Annen, Director John D. Lamond, and Cinematographer Garry Wapshott , John Lamond Trailer Reel

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

Journey To The Seventh Planet (1962) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

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Actors – John Agar, Greta Thyssen, Carl Ottensen
Director – Sidney Pink

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sidney Pink directed two films that came out of Denmark. This one and Reptilicus (1961). That marionette head swinging creature on the loose has a nostalgic charm though it’s pretty hard to find or defend any merits in the film. Journey had incredible poster art that featured spacemen blasting away at giant bugs with ray guns. Alas you’re not going to find that kind of action in the film itself. This American International Picture follows a crew on a trip to the seventh plant, Uranus. When they get there the terror they face comes from their own minds. That’s a plot device that has been used in quite a few pulpy fiction stories. Popular science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon even gave it a great spin in the first season of Star Trek with the episode Shore Leave. So rather than facing off with giant bugs and monsters from outer space our astronauts have to contend with a bevy of Scandinavian beauties. Look out! Here they come – Ann Smyrner as Ingrid, Greta Thyssen as Greta, Ulla Moritz as Lise, Mimi Heinrich as Ursula, Annie Birgit Garde as Ellen, and Bente Juel as Colleen. Where are the monsters? Where’s the ray guns? Is there any action, aside from the pursuit of the pin-up girls?

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j one

When the crew first arrives they find this force field like invisible wall on the planet. When they decide to go through it they suit up in bright uniforms and enter into an amazingly colorful set. It may have been shot on the cheap but the colors in this blu-ray really pop. Those sequences look pretty neat. They even wear the space helmets in this part. Apparently AIP thought the film was so incoherent that according to Tim Lucas’ commentary they had some scenes cut and new special effects scenes shot and added. You can see a few of Jim Danforth’s creatures on display. Danforth did great work on Jack The Giant Killer (1962) and the Hammer film, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970). His work here is not his finest hour. There are also some swirling psychedelic eyeballs that use pulsating whirlpool to get you dizzy. When we bid farewell to Uranus the producers chose to accompany the closing credits with a pop song by Teepee Mitchell. This one has to be heard.

j five

While Journey to the Seventh Planet is not top shelf Science Fiction it is enjoyable on a B level. The dubbing is ridiculously bad and the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense. However there are those pin up girls and some bargain basement effects to enjoy. Don’t be too hard on director Sid Pink. He’s the guy who made Reptilicus after all.

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Video – 1.66:1
This looks stellar! Color pop in a bright display. The sequence where the crew suits up to go past the wall inside the planet has loads of colorful sets and wild theatrical lighting. The colors hold true here without any bleeding into each other. Black levels are strong. Where there is detail to be found it is rendered well.

Audio – DTS-HD 2.0 in English with no subtitles offered
This is a very poor dubbing job. Music and effects are ok. The best thing about the soundtrack is that pop song that will blind side you during the closing credits.

Extras – Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas, Trailers – Journey to the Seventh Planet, Donavan’s Brain, Magnetic Monster, and Invisible Invaders.

Tin Lucas offers a commentary chock full of information. He gives solid background on the making of the film and the players involved.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair but enjoyable

Panic In Year Zero (1962) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

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Actors – Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon
Director – Ray Milland

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classic

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sure this is a cheap AIP film but it gives a stark portrayal of one family fighting to survive after atom bombs have been dropped and the big war is on. We meet Ray Milland (Lost Weekend), his wife Jean Hagen (Asphalt Jungle) and his kids Mary Mithcell (Dementia 13) and Frankie Avalon. Frankie went on to star in Beach Blanket Bingo, Ski Party and a host of other teen party flicks. Clearly the casting has been loaded to appeal to both the kids and the adults. The atomic bomb scare was very real in the early sixties. Giants mutant insects and awakened prehistoric beasts terrorized movie screens. However this one takes the story seriously and plays it straight. The whole look of the film is very grim with its contrasting black and white photography. Star Ray Milland had done some directing before and he delivers a taught suspenseful ride. There is this sense of what would you do if you were on a family vacation and suddenly you heard a huge boom and saw a mushroom cloud rise over Los Angeles. How far would you go to survive? Milland as the Dad almost immediately moves into survival mode. His son is right there looking to make his mark. The women cower in the trailer. The treatment of the women in the film is not at all emancipated. They cling to the tatters of society as the men folk tote pistols and shotguns. Those were the times.

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We hear about the big war on the car radio in a series of infrequent updates. The first real sign of the fall of society is in the gas stations. Supply gets low and the prices go up. A roadside café jacks up its prices on the remaining food they have. The place is full of people just ready to explode. Milland takes his family to the more rural towns to stock up on supplies and guns. At one point at a gas station he has to slug a guy. The man falls to the ground and we see the reverse shot of Milland standing, looking very tough indeed. Right next to him on the wall is an arrow pointing to him with the word “Men” written next to it. It may have been the sign for the bathroom but it points out that this is a man to be reckoned with. The runs ins with the bad guys who prowl the roads are shown to be truly scary. After narrowly escaping one encounter they set up in a campground to ride out the war if they can in isolation.

p three

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Milland lets us feel very alone in that little campground. If trouble comes they only have themselves to count on. He’s got an admirably pragmatic attitude. Trouble does come. There is a trio of punks they encountered on the road. Two of them assault Milland’s daughter. When father and son track them down they find the group has taken over a small farmhouse, killed the parents and moved with the daughter held prisoner in a room as a plaything for the leader. These events are played realistically. The black and white photography and straight forward filming style give it that semi documentary feel. Though nothing sexual is shown you can be very sure of what has happened to the unfortunate women. Later when Frankie takes a liking to the girl they rescue father Milland remarks to his wife that at least she is good with a rifle. She can cover him while he chops wood.

p five

p six

Most of the post apocalyptic films of the era involved monsters. Few took a different tact. The World The Flesh and The Devil came out in 1959 . In a barren city only three people were left in the intense drama also filmed in black and white. The empty newspaper strewn city streets were a common sight in many of these. Panic has an unusual shot of a suburban town gone to seed that brings that horror right into to your backyard.  For a cheap low budget film Panic in Year Zero is quite a strong story. It feels like few punches are pulled. Faith in people is tested. The script has several that come back for a second chance. Some prove to be decent while others are threats. This is a thoroughly worthwhile film that transcends its cheap origins. Joe Dante points out in his feature that he feels the film is even more effective a few years later than when it came out. That fear of the bomb is still here and we still question what would we do if it really hit the fan. Would we knuckle down like Ray Milland? Powerful stuff.

p four

Video – 2.35:1
This is a very pleasing image with good contrast and strong detail. The black and white scope field looks solid. There is also good depth in the field. You can spot texture in the clothing.

Audio – DTS-HD 2.0 in English with no subtitles offered
All dialogue is clear and understandable. Les Baxter’s jazzy score blares at you with plenty of muscle.

Extras – Commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith, Atomic Shock – Joe Dante on “Panic in Year Zero, Trailers – Panic in the Year Zero, X-Ray, the Man With the X-Ray Eyes, Premature Burial

Richard Harland Smith’s commentary is loaded with information. He gives lots of background on the various locations used. Joe Dante’s short talk is filled with admiration for the film. He also places it nicely in the context of the times when it was made..

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent