Holiday Specials


By • Nov 2nd, 2008 • Pages: 1 2

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An odd Halloween, this year. Few biggies, but a number of little goodies. Enough to fill the treat bag of any horror lover. Below are a few of these recent releases.

Two horror rarities, and one almost-horror flick, from the vaults.

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN – 1932. 71 mins.
Directed by William Cameron Menzies and Marcel Varnel. From the radio serial by Harry A. Earnshaw, R.R. Morgan and Vera M. Oldham. Screenplay by Barry Conners and Philip Klein. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Art Direction by Max Parker. Props by Kenneth Strickfadden.
With: Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware, Bela Lugosi, Henry B. Walthall.

DRAGONWYCK – 1946. 103 mins.
Written & Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Produced by Ernest Lubitsch, Darryl Zanuck. Cinematography by Arthur Miller. Original Music by Alfred Newman. Art direction by J. Russell Spencer, Lyle Wheeler. Edited by Dorothy Spencer.
With: Gene Tierney, Wvincent Price, Walter Huston, Glann Langan, Anne Revere, Spring Byington.

DR. RENAULT’S SECRET – 1942. 58 mins.
Directed by Harry Lachman. Screenplay by William Bruckner, Robert F. Metzler, from the novel ‘Balaoo’ by Gaston Leroux. Cinematography by Virgil Miller. Music by David Raksin.
With: J. Carrol Naish, Shepperd Strudwick, Lynn Roberts, George Zucco.

A nice collection, each of them in gorgeous condition, which accents the fine detail of DRAGONWYCK, and shows off Howe’s and Menzies work in CHANDU.

Of the three, CHANDU is the most impressive, suffering from a case of dueling departments. Edmund Lowe and Irene Ware are awful, flattening out our willing suspension of disbelief, as does the terrible script. Pumping the film back up are Menzies sets, Howe’s cinematography, Strickfaden’s props, and ‘s special effects. All these great talents are unable to put Chandu back together again, but as a consolation prize, we get Lugosi in prime shape, and he has some wonderful scenes (for #2500!). Fox puts a disclaimer up front about the film’s quality, but outside of an errant spice, and some minor lines, it looks gorgeous. What were they concerned about?

CHANDU, spun off of a super-successful radio show, is an early attempt at a compressed serial, a la RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, intended (as I learned from Greg Mank’s commentary) for children, with the forlorn hope that maybe adults would enjoy it as something akin to camp. There are cute animal cameos – camels, bovines, tiny frogs, etc. And there’s Ernest Munden, a dreadful comic relief character, but he’s given excellent special effects support.

Man’s colorful commentary places facts at stragegic places. He also thinks Tom Weaver for filling in some of the gaps.

Lugosi’s final ‘God’ speech really sounds like Hitler in TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, replete with gutteral voice, vocal rhythms, etc. Could the Fuhrer have seen the film and imcorporated Lugosi into his shtick? 1932 is about right. He stole Chaplin’s moustache; why not Lugosi’s ham?

DR. RENAULT’S SECRET is a poor man’s ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, with only one lost soul on display. But in its framing and veneer it looks like a Universal programmer from the 40s, which is high praise. J. Carrol Naish, as the morose ‘secret’ of the title, acquits himself well, gathering pathos, much as he did in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It’s a minor piece, and left to its own devices, it wouldn’t be worth having, but in the company of the other two, it is a lot of fun.

DRAGONWYCK was Mankiewicz’s first directorial foray, and while it has elements of horror in it, one could not honestly call it a horror film. Nonetheless it features genre stalwart Vincent Price…before he was adopted by the genre, and dark moody sets oozing horror ambience. Mankiewicz was to use Ms. Tierney to better effect in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR a few years later. For a full review, check out the FIR article by David Del Valle.

PIECES (1982) aka One Thousand Cries Has the Night 
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon. Screenplay by Dick Randall and Joe D’Amato
Starring Christopher George, Lynda Day George, Frank Brand, Edmund Purdom, Ian Sera, Paul L. Smith, Isabelle Luque.

I love October! It is the only month where I feel like everybody shares my obsession with horror movies. Blockbuster’s scary movie section is all checked out, and people pack into theaters to watch midnight showings of their favorite fright flicks from the past. If only it would stay like this all year round…

Sometimes I’m in the mood for a film that can get under my skin, and make me think long after the credits have rolled…that film is THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Other times I want to see a topless woman running through a locker room screaming her head off, while a mysterious figure chases her with a buzzing chainsaw, only to cut her up into small pieces, confiscating parts he needs for his human jigsaw puzzle…this film is PIECES.

PIECES is, as its tagline proudly advertises, “Exactly what you think it is”. The film opens in 1942, where a young boy is putting together a puzzle of a naked woman. He is caught by his mother and she goes crazy, throwing things around the house and attempting to burn all his belongings. Sound a little over-the-top? The child deals with this the only way he sees fit…he cuts her into pieces with an ax. CUT TO: 40 years later. A serial killer stalks women in a Boston college campus, severing their bodies and stealing limbs. I know the plot doesn’t sound very impressive, and that’s because it ain’t, but I guarantee nobody likes this movie for the ingenious plot.

To read the rest of Guglielmo Anthony’s review.

DVD review by Richard A. Ekstedt

Legend Films. Amicus Films, released by Paramount Pictures in 1965. Technicolour/Techniscope. 83 minutes.Widescreen 2:35.1 (16×9). Original Trailer (1:85). No subtitle option but close-captioned.

Producer…Milton Subotsky & Max J. Rosenberg. Director…Freddie Francis. Music…Elisabeth Lutyens. Cinematography…John Wilcox
Film Editing…Oswald Hafenrichte. Art Direction…Bil Constable
With: Dr. Christopher Maitland…Peter Cushing. Anthony Marco…Patrick Wymark
Jane Maitland…Jill Bennet. Inspector Wilson…Richard Green. Police Surgeon…Patrick Magee. Auctioneer…Michael Gough. Dr. Londe…George Colouris. And, as
Sir Matthew Philips…Christopher Lee.
This is a title many lovers of the fantastique have been waiting for: a beautiful 2:35.1 WIDESCREEN (that’s right folks!) release of the Amicus Film THE SKULL!  Throw those ep p/s vhs copies away and finally see the film as it was meant to be seen.

Legend Films, a leading company in digital restoration (and the colorization of older PD titles), has obtained the rights to several Paramount Pictures titles, and has begun issuing them as authorized DVD releases that are a joy to behold. THE SKULL is just an example of their emphasis on quality.

This film, based upon the classic short story “The Skull Of The Marquis de Sade” by Robert Bloch, is a tale of obsession — the mania to collect and own something at all costs, manifested by the film’s main characters, and the horrifying outcome of one such quest.

Peter Cushing (who I had the chance to meet and talk to in the 1970’s – a very warm and gentle man) plays Christopher Maitland, a writer and collector of the occult, who is offered the skull of the legendary Count Donatien Alphonse Francois – The Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), by a shady dealer named Marco (played with great relish by Patrick Wymark, best known to some viewers as ‘The Judge’ in the exceptional THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW). Intrigued by the possibility, Maitland turns to his long time friend Sir Mathew Phillips, a fellow collector who turns out to be the skull’s former owner. Warned by his friend that the skull is infested by the forces of evil and better left alone, Maitland,  now obsessed by the graveyard relic, decides to ignore his friend’s advice and seeks out the nefarious Marco. When he arrives at dealer’s flat he finds him dead – his throat ripped out. Ignoring the premonitions of his wife, Maitland, now having the skull in his study, is engulfed into a whirlwind of black horror from which there is no escape.

THE SKULL is a cinematic ballet of sorts for cinematographer/director Freddie Francis, who won Academy Awards for the films SONS AND LOVERS and GLORY, as well as his work in such genre films as DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (uncredited direction), THE INNOCENTS, EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE – to name a few. With his camera compositions in Cushing’s study as the lens lingers over the curios. to the most important shots, missing from the cropped p/s tapes but now restored in widescreen on this disc, are the POV shots that take the viewer INSIDE the skull and has us looking out from both eye sockets at the actors – done by having a large mockup of the skull positioned over the camera. The final part, done almost as a silent movie, is a visual feast as we watch Peter Cushing spiral downward in panic, set to the sparse, nervous score of Elisabeth Lutyens (who also scored DOCTOR TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS). Christopher Lee’s role very sincere performance is really an extended cameo (he is billed S ‘Guest Star’) as are Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennet (as Mrs. Maitland), Nigel Green, Michael Gough, Peter Woodthorpe (best remembered as Professor Zoltan in EVIL OF FRANKENSTEI) and George Coulouris. But the star here is Peter Cushing, who carries the movie on his shoulders in such a way that it never downgrades the talents of the other performers.

As reported to me, the original materials given by Paramount were in very good shape, with just a little bit of grain/scratches showing up on the visuals. The color is strong and the audio is equally good, with little distortion when played LOUD. Also included is the original theatrical trailer, framed at 1:85. There is no subtitle option but the filim is closed captioned. THE SKULL may be obtained from Legend Films ( or various retail outlets like Best Buy.  Seek out this film and pay the price!!

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