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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Cotten’

The Survivor (1981) Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, February 9th, 2017


Stars – Robert Powell, Jenny Agutter, Joseph Cotten, Peter Sumner, and Lorna Lesley
Director – David Hemmings

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

James Herbert wrote some of the best and most fun horror novels that came out during the mid seventies through the eighties. He had a tremendous knack for writing books that read like great B movies, only the budgets were huge. He was one of the first that indulged in scenes of graphic violence. Herbert also wrote well. He kept you turning the pages at a relentless pace but gave readers strong characters. Anyone who looked for a horror paperback to read during that time will instantly recall the distinctive covers that drew you to them. Titles like The Rats, The Fog, The Spear, Lair, The Jonah and The Survivor were terrific reads for genre fans. His stories however have not fared all that well when made into movies which is a crying shame. The Rats which was filmed as Deadly Eyes is well known for its shoddy use of small dogs running around with fur vests and coats on. Fluke which is a rather tender story from a dog’s point of view also made it to the screen. David Hemmings who was a highly respected actor working in films as varied as Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup and Barbarella directed this adaptation.

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A plane crash lands in Australia. Shortly after hitting the ground it explodes in spectacular fashion. Large balls of fire fill the screen and erupt into the dark sky. What is strange is that the pilot is able to walk away from the crash seemingly unscathed. He is the lone survivor. The first half hour of the film has barely any dialogue and what is there is hard to follow due to poor recording, low levels and mumbled dialogue. We get a few glimpses of the lovely Jenny Agutter (Walkabout, American Werewolf in London) but she does not really appear in the film till the last half hour. Joseph Cotton (The Third Man) has a small role as a priest. A little while later in the story the apparent ghosts of children killed in the crash takes the lives of a few locals. These scenes have very little impact with no suspense of shock to them. Eventually we learn that Agutter’s character is a psychic. She helps the pilot to unravel the mystery of his guilt and survival. The revelation as shown in the film is not as strong as many episodes of The Twilight Zone would have played it though it is definitely in that realm.

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Portions of the photography have a style that recalls the Euro horror films done in Italy by directors like Dario Argento. However there is a real inconsistency in the narrative and the basic development of the characters. Director Hemmings at least here has a plodding style. His lack of pace just kills any momentum of suspense. There is enough in this film to entice you to give it a look. The draw of the actors involved and the source novel will call out to quite a few. As someone who has enjoyed Herbert’s books immensely this was a another let down. There is a bit of creepiness to the proceedings but not quite enough to engage you the way it should. Still if you‘ve seen The Deadly Eyes and Fluke you may as well view this one.

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Video – 2.39:1
The film is given a nice presentation by Severin. Even though there are a lot of scenes in the dark black levels never exhibit any harsh noise or distortion. We get some very nice compositions at times from DP John Seal. Hemmings looks to have elected to keep a lot of scenes more on the darker side. The fireballs in the beginning are the best looking part of the whole film.

Audio – 2.0 PCM track with subtitles offered in English
The first half hour, for me had dialogue that was difficult to follow. Levels were low, actors mumbled and there was hardly any separation in the track at all. Throughout the film there was an uneasy balance between the dialogue, the odd sound effects and the ultra dynamics of Brian May’s score. Many portions of the film just felt flat and dull. Locations often had no background sound to define them.

Extras – Not Quite Hollywood – Extended Interviews with Producer Antony I. Ginnane and Cinematographer John Seale
The Legacy of James Herbert
Robert Powell on James Herbert
Archive TV Special on Location – Featuring Interviews with Stars Joseph Cotten and Peter Sumner
Archive TV Interviews with David Hemmings and Robert Powell Antony I Ginnane Trailer Reel
TV Spot

The appreciation of James Herbert’s work by two fellows was very enjoyable. They caught what appealed to his fans and gave a nice run down of his books and how some of them fared as movies. David Hemmings comes off wonderfully in the vintage TV talk show. He’s very entertaining.

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Fair

Baron Blood: Blu Ray Review

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Baron Blood (1972)

by Troy Howarth

D: Mario Bava

Main Players: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Antonio Cantafora, Rada Rassimov, Luciano Pigozzi, Nicoletta Elmi, Umberto Raho, Gustavo DeNardo

American student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) inadvertantly resurrects his bloodthirsty ancestor, Otto Von Kleist aka Baron Blood, during a trip to his ancestral castle in Austria…

In the early 1970s, cinematographer turned director Mario Bava was in an awkward position in the Italian film industry.  The so-called father of Italian horror found himself ecclipsed in popularity by his youthful disciple, Dario Argento, and few of his films made much of an impression at the box office either at home or abroad.  Bava had abandoned the Gothic horror format in the mid-60s, having realized that audiences were basically disinterested in such fare, and his attempts at broaching other subject matter did not always meet with commercial or critical approval.  In the late 60s, he forged an alliance with American producer Alfredo (aka Alfred) Leone.  They got off to a rocky start on the troubled production of Four Times That Night (1969), but Leone recognized the filmmaker’s abilities and was determined to work with him again.  The opportunity presented itself when Leone acquired a screenplay by B movie veteran Vincent Fotre.  It adopted a more modern approach to the Gothic milieu, and Leone quite rightly recognized that it was precisely the sort of material that Bava would be well suited to.

Baron Blood represents a farewell of sorts to the genre that made Bava’s name as a director, and it is also one of the few instances where he would film outside of his native Italy.  Leone was able to secure permission to film in an authentic castle in Vienna, Austria, and Bava’s fascination with its baroque architecture is quite obvious.  Though hamstrung by a script that piles on cliche after cliche, Bava’s keen eye for detail and atmosphere is evident throughout.  The film is littered with visual and aural jokes, from its deliberately jarring, jaunty opening theme music to the presence of Coca Cola machines in the castle’s stately hallways.  The end result plays as if Bava is acknowledging that the “good old days” have passed, but there’s time for one last visit to the torture chambers and foggy alleyways.

The script is very much indebted to Andre DeToth’s classic House of Wax (1953), as is Bava’s treatment of it.  The director seldom tied himself down so explicitly to a specific filmic influence, but there are simply too many visual and narrative similarities to be dismissed lightly.  When one realizes that the role of the regenerated Baron was offered to none other than House of Wax star Vincent Price, it’s obvious that Bava and Leone were wearing their infleunce for all to see.  Price would pass on the project, having had a negative experience with Bava on the ill fated Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), and it was taken instead by Price’s friend and sometimes-co-star Joseph Cotten, who had just recently wrapped his role as Price’s antagonist, Dr. Vesalius, in Robert Fuest’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971).  The cast, it has to be mentioned, is one of the strongest Bava ever had access to – clearly Leone’s eye for international distribution prompted him to hire as many recognizable faces as possible.  Cotten has been criticized for hamming up his role, but he seems a model of restraint compared to somebody like Price, who brought such theatrical flourish (and a heavy dose of irony) to many of his horror roles.  Cotten does what he can with an ill-developed characterization and seems to be having a fun time when he’s allowed to cut loose at the end.  Elke Sommer is on hand to fill out plenty of garish mini skirts and 70s fashions as the damsel in distress.  Bava’s films are loaded with memorable, strong female characterizations - but this isn’t one of them.  Sommer isn’t required to do much beyond looking lovely and screaming a lot – and she accomplishes both with elan.  She would be rewarded with a far more interesting role in Bava’s next film for Leone, the deeply personal (and seemingly cursed) Lisa and the Devil (1972).  Former matinee idol Massimo Girotti (Visconti’s Ossessione) is on hand as a Van Helsing type who warns against dabbling in the occult, while Antonio Cantafora (Demons 2) is properly smug as the slightly ambiguous “hero.”  Rada Rassimov (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) steals her too-few scenes as the medium who foretells danger, while a number of Bava veterans show up for good luck, including Valeria Sabel (Four Times That Night), Gustavo De Nardo (The Whip and the Body), Nicoletta Elmi (Twitch of the Death Nerve) and Luciano Pigozzi (Blood and Black Lace).

Bava’s direction is fluid and imaginative, as one might expect, though his late-period over-reliance on the zoom lens is distractingly in evidence.  The director creates some wonderfully stylish imagery, just the same, and he manages to top the foggy chase sequence in House of Wax when the Baron chases Sommer through some deserted alleyways.  The director’s impish sense of humor is evident throughout, and if the end result falls short of his finest achievements, it’s still a fun and engaging piece of work.  Producer Leone’s emphasis on production gloss results in some excellent production values, with the castle itself providing marvelous color and atmosphere.  Stelvio Cipriani’s score underlines the mood quite nicely and there are some good makeup effects from Carlo Rambaldi.


Kino continues their much-welcome blu ray series, The Mario Bava Collection, with Baron Blood.  The 1.78/16×9/1080p transfer looks simply splendid.  The film was released in the States originally in a truncated, rescored version by AIP – and it was this version that gave Bava his biggest commercial success in the U.S. during the 1970s.  This version hit VHS and laser disc, but it has since been supplanted by the original export edition prepared by Bava and Leone, with Cipriani’s score and the extended footage fully intact.  In a way, it’s a shame that the AIP edit remains MIA on DVD and BD, since it does make some minor improvements over the original edit – AIP was wise to trim a little flab here and there, and while I’m partial to the subtler Cipriani score, the Les Baxter music for the US version is pretty good, too.  In any event, the edit presented here made its bow on laser disc courtesy of Elite Entertainment, and it was then issued on DVD by Image before being cleaned up and presented in better form on DVD as part of Anchor Bay’s second Bava Box Set.  This new BD edition offers the best transfer seen to date, with improved color, clarity and detail.  Seeing the film this time, I noticed for the first time that the normally camera-shy Mario Bava makes not one but TWO cameo appearances in this picture.  His one cameo is pointed out on the audio commentary by Tim Lucas, but the first is even more obvious – and yet it has gone unremarked-upon (to the best of my knowledge) until now: at about the four minute mark, as Girotti and Cantafora confer at the airport, Bava can be seen mugging in the background in a blue sweater.  I’ve seen this film so many times, and it’s definitely pleasurable to be able to see something new in it so late in the game.  Beyond that, the print is in excellent shape, with only minor print damage in evidence.  The image is very sharp, and colors are vivid in the style of Bava’s Technicolor classics of the 1960s.


The lossless mono English soundtrack sounds as good as one can expect.  There is no background noise or distortion.  Cipriani’s music has good presence, and the dialogue is clean and clear.  There are no subtitles or captioning options.


Extras include the commentary track by Tim Lucas ported over from the Anchor Bay release, as well as trailers, radio spots, trailers for other titles in the Bava collection and, new to this release, the opening and closing titles from the Italian print.  The Italian credits give Girotti above the title billing, reflecting his status as a major star in Italy (he came to this film out of fondness for Bava), and credit the script to Willibald Eser and Bava, with no mention of Fotre at all.  It’s worth noting that while the titles in the film itself are presented slightly windowboxed, they are in the full 1.78 aspect ratio on these titles – it seems likely that the print utilized for the transfer was this Italian print, with the English titles ported over from the Anchor Bay release, which had been framed at 1.85.

Film: 3.5 out of 5

Video: 4 out of 5

Audio: 3 out of 5

Extras: 4 out of 5