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HALLOWEEN 2015 COLUMN

By , , • Oct 30th, 2015 •

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This has been a quieter than usual Halloween season here at FIR. But there are a few choice treasures surfacing out there in digital-land.

First of all – scrape me off the ceiling and hold me down. Criterion has released their BluRay of KWAIDAN, and it’s a mind-boggler:


KWAIDAN

(Criterion) 1965. 183 mins. AR: 2.35:1.
Supplementals: 2K restoration of director’s original cut. Commentary by Stephen Prince. 1993 interview with the director, and a new interview with the film’s Assistant Director.
A piece on Lafcadio Hearn. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Screenplay by Yoko Mizuki, based on stories b Lafcadio Hearn. Cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima. Music and sound design by Toru Takemitsu. Edited by Hisashi Sagara. Art Direction by Shigemasa Toda. With: Rentaro Mikuni, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiko Kishi, Katsuo Nakamura, Tetsuro Tanba.

BluRay Review by Roy Frumkes

The brand new BluRay of this title is one of those events that makes me thankful that I’ve lived this long and, having seen it, I can now die in peace. This great collection of urban legends (as in The Brothers Grimm urban legends) otherwise known as oral folk tales, collected in the backwoods, etc., of Japan by writer Lafcadio Hearn, came out in 1965. It was a long film, and by the time it arrived in the US, and I was assistant managing the theater where it debuted (in honor of Hearn having lived in New Orleans), a Japanese diplomat at the opening night party informed me that the best story was missing. Since it was two-hours long, I questioned his statement (and his memory). But sure enough, when an anamorphic 16mm print came my way, there it was, THE WOMAN OF THE SNOW, the missing story, an exquisite tale of unjustified vengeance from a barely-betrayed demon.

Kobayashi shot most of the film, including large exteriors with rivers, forests, and even a battle at sea, in massive studio sets, infuriating Toho execs (one of whom I encountered at a party twenty years later and he was still ranting about the cost overruns). But its dramatically anchored sense of composition, all very thematic, is infinitely re-watchable, and its saturated colors are unparalleled.

Now get this: the Criterion BluRay release is twenty minutes longer even then the full-four-story version, running an epic three hours and three minutes. They herald it as having extended footage in each of the four stories, but it’s far more revelatory than that. There are new shots in pre-existing scenes, new scenes where none existed in the former version, a markedly different sound mix, intentional lighting and color balance shifts which make it seem as if there are alternate takes…and nudity! It was so astounding that I refused to watch it all the way through in one night. I had to savor each tale. The new footage makes relationships clearer and, paradoxically, what seemed unnecessarily long in the DVD version – for instance the third act of WOMAN OF THE SNOW – now is even longer, yet it seems to speed to its upsetting climax. I guess it’s all a matter of balance. We care more for the characters with the new footage, so we gladly endure their ritualistic, ill-fated resolution. And the vastly improved subtitles remove dubious translations from the previous versions and give us more emotional and appropriate passages.

An example of a major, overriding change: in THE WOMAN OF THE SNOW, at 101:45 on the DVD, the sound of the woodcutter’s wife sewing has a creepy squeak each time she pulls the thread through the garment. There is no thread sound on the BluRay’s soundtrack. Then, when the poor woodcutter begins to remember and tell the story of the terrible night when he first met the snow demon, on the DVD she says “What night?” (103:05), which always made it seem as if she was goading him into incriminating himself. On the BluRay, when he says she reminds him of what happened “that night,” she replies (111:56), with no sense of enticement whatsoever, “That night?” A simple but huge difference, rendering her no longer complicit in his betrayal. And then, when he describes the snow demon to her on the DVD (104:30), he comments on how the creature was “white like you.” And again, at 105:30, he uses the term ‘white.’

The description always made me feel a little uncomfortable. But on the BluRay, at 113:25, his words are translated as “She was fair-skinned like you.” And the second time (114:20) he says “Except for you, I’ve never seen a woman as pale and beautiful.” Much easier to assimilate. And to further compound the differences, the DVD is timed darker in that sequence – much darker – then the BR. Which makes the spectral blue in the DVD richer and more saturated. This I greatly prefer to the color-timing on the BluRay. The DVD image in this scene truly feels like night, with only pools of available light, as a poor person’s hut such as the woodcutter’s would have, whereas the BluRay’s lighting in this scene is so bright it feels like a TV sitcom. Combine all these elements and we’re practically talking about a different film.

Films historian Stephen Prince provides a useful commentary track, though I sense him straining to make a case for THE WOMAN OF THE SNOW as a representation of the scrutiny and harsh justice of the Emperor during WW2. While he mentions that there is new footage sprinkled throughout the film, he lets many opportunities to point out these instances pass him by. What he does devote ample time to is Toru Takemitsu’s breakthrough experimental score and sound design.

For Halloween or any time, this is a must own disc. It has been on my top ten horror flick list since it came out in the 60s; now what do I have to do? Make a special fave-of-all-faves list?

I LOST MY HORROR!


By Glenn Andreiev

Worldwide screaming headlines would blare if the following horror films played at your Halloween party. It isn’t because they are the scariest horror films, or the goriest; it’s because they are all lost horror films. Film fans and film historians across the globe anxiously await their discovery. One of the oldest lost horror films is 1916’s LIFE WITHOUT SOUL, an early adaptation of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, filmed mostly on Florida beaches. Only a few low-resolution stills and lobby cards exist of this film, which had a poor initial release. A later re-release, also in 1916, added documentary footage of a fish’s reproduction cycle to pad out the plot.

1920 saw three film versions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL AND MR, HYDE. The most celebrated of this trio being the Famous Players’ version starring John Barrymore. The most elusive of the three is Germany’s DER JANUSKOPF, starring Conrad Veidt, written by CALIGARI screenwriter Hans Janowitz and directed by the great F.W Murnau, two years before he made NOSFERATU. The theme of “The Doppelganger”, where everyone on earth has an identical twin somewhere is very much alive in German expressionist and silent horror cinema. This makes the Jekyll/Hyde story a natural for German film-makers. Veidt of course, is the Jekyll character. However, his butler is played by young Bela Lugosi. Just like NOSFERATU, an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, Murnau did not secure the rights from the Stevenson estate when making DER JANUSKOPF. The Stevenson’s sued, and a court order called for the destruction of all elements of THE JANUSKOPF. You would think by the time NOSFERATU came along, Murnau would have learned his lesson.

Of course, the most sought after lost horror film, and perhaps the most sought after lost silent film period, is MGM’s LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT. During the late silent era, actor Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning filmed some of the most perverse and twisted tales ever to grace a movie screen. Their 1927 film THE UNKNOWN (formally a lost film until a print was found in Europe) features Chaney as a lustful escaped convict pining for sexually disturbed Joan Crawford. This unbelievable film, with elements of amputee fetishes, and volcanic jealousy, still shocks in this modern era of MARTYRS and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. In Browning’s WEST OF ZANZIBAR, Chaney is a once cheerful Chaplin-like magician who becomes a hell-bent, vengeful crippled criminal. So, what would LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, where Chaney plays a crab-walking, shark-toothed hippy vampire be like? We may never know. It is believed LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT was lost in an MGM film vault fire in 1967. Turner Classic Movies broadcast a reproduction of the film using many production stills. This reproduction lets us know the film is a mystery set in a deserted British castle, but without Chaney’s rich body nuances, it was a poor facsimile. Con artists have approached historians and the Chaney estate claiming to have a copy. Famed horror film historian Forrest J. Ackerman remembered seeing the film as a youth back in 1927. The verdict?

He was not too thrilled. Browning, with Bela Lugosi as the vampire-like lead, remade the film with sound in 1935 as THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. The Browning/Lugosi film has been brushed off by classic horror film fans as a curio at best. It may not have the mind-twisting chills of THE UNKNOWN, but we all want to see LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.

Weeks after LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT premiered; THE JAZZ SINGER was seen and heard on movie theatre screens, ushering in the sound film era. Warner Brothers, the rapidly rising Hollywood studio, thanks to sound, ushered in more talkie productions. Their horror entry, THE TERROR (1928), would be the second all-talking film released. Its plot, a mix of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and THE CAT AND THE CANARY, centers on a maniac in an executioner’s hood playing an organ far beneath a spooky estate where relatives have gathered for a reading of a will. THE TERROR, like many very early talkies, suffered from the staginess of a camera that couldn’t move, and actors who had to lean towards microphones hidden within camera range. The heroine, May McAvoy (Al Jolson’s love interest in THE JAZZ SINGER) let out the very first horror movie scream here. But THE TERROR is a lost film.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY is thankfully not lost. However its sound remake, THE CAT CREEPS, from 1930, is lost. It was basically THE CAT AND THE CANARY but with long stretches of droning dialog. Cinematographer Hal Mohr worked wonders with a camera crane, something he excelled at a year earlier with the film BROADWAY.

Regardless of some of these titles being mediocre films (and we won’t really know for sure until we find them), they are treasures that I hope will turn up someday. Currently, I am making LOST EMULSION, a feature length documentary about lost films. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, and THE JANUSKOPF will be explored in my film. My website about the film is www.lostemulsion.com.

ARMY OF DARKNESS: COLLECTOR’S EDITION


By Ben Peeples

Shout/Scream Factory. 1993. 81/96/88/93 minutes. Directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi. Starring Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Ian Abercrombie, Richard Grove, Marcus Gilbert, and Bridget Fonda. Supplements include new feature-length documentary MEDIEVAL TIMES: THE MAKING OF ARMY OF DARKNESS; deleted scenes including alternate opening and ending; new featurette on creature effects; US and international trailers and TV spots; KNB Effects behind-the-scenes footage; still galleries; audio commentary with Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the director’s cut. Features the US theatrical version, director’s cut, international version, and TV version. DTS-MA 5.1/2.0 audio. 1.85:1. $34.99

Just in time for the premiere of the ASH VS EVIL DEAD TV series, Scream Factory is releasing its long-awaited collector’s edition of the third entry in the EVIL DEAD series. ARMY OF DARKNESS finds Ash (Bruce Campbell) trapped in medieval times, fighting against deadites and trying to make his way back to the present.

ARMY, like the rest of the EVIL DEAD series, has already seen many, MANY iterations on home video, and given how vastly different some versions of the film have been, people reading this review very likely have owned more than one copy of this movie at some point in their life. Thankfully, this set does for ARMY OF DARKNESS what Warner did for BLADE RUNNER several years ago; it gives you the last version of the film you’ll ever need to buy, with a few new extras to sweeten the deal.

This set contains a staggering four versions of the film: The 81-minute US theatrical version (the only version available on Blu-Ray in the US until now), the 88-minute international cut, Sam Raimi’s 96-minute director’s cut, and the 93-minute edited-for-television cut in pan-and-scan and standard definition. The theatrical cut is the weakest transfer, but its thankfully not as plagued with problems as Universal’s ‘Screwhead’ Blu-Ray edition that came out a few years ago. The director’s cut has a good transfer, but it’s the international cut (from a new 4K scan) that just looks beautiful, with plenty of detail. The US, international, and director’s cut also sport DTS-MA 5.1 mixes. Only the director’s cut contains audio commentary, a previously released track that features Campbell, Raimi, and Ivan Raimi. To be honest, I’ve always been a little disappointed in this commentary track, especially since EVIL DEAD II set the bar so impossibly high for audio commentaries, but there is some good banter and production details.

The most touted supplement is a new 97-minute documentary entitled MEDIEVAL TIMES: THE MAKING OF ARMY OF DARKNESS, which is a fun, extremely well-produced piece with archival behind-the-scenes footage and newly recorded interviews with the cast and crew of the film. There’s a sort of follow-up to it on disc two called CREATING THE DEADITES, which goes into further detail on the creature effects. Most of the other supplements have been seen on previous home video releases, notably the promotional featurettes, trailers, storyboards, set photos, and deleted scenes.

There’s a whole legion of EVIL DEAD fans out there and for them this set is going to be a no-brainer. It finally has the three main versions of the film all in one place, along with over four hours of extras (and that’s not even counting the TV version!). Definitely pick it up.


BOOK REVIEW: The Creature Chronicles – Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy.
Published by McFarland. 2014. Approximately 400 pages. Written by Tom Weaver, with David Schecter and Steve Kronenberg. Introduction by Julie Adams.

Book Review by Roy Frumkes

The introduction is by Julie Adams, who played the damsel in distress in the original CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. Check some other books and see how long the introductions run. One page? Maybe 2 ½? Ms. Adams avails herself of seven pages. And this sets the tone for the tome. It is incredibly, impossibly, obsessively researched and detailed. I’ve never seen anything like it. I doubt whether I’ll ever completely finish it. There are aspects of the CREATURE trilogy that I don’t need to wade up to my neck through. On the other hand, there are things I had always wanted to know about, and however trivial or obscure these curiosities are, they are addressed within the vast confines of this book. Nothing is left out. It’s a fetishist’s dream!

REVENGE OF THE CREATURE was my favorite. I was just the right age, and it came along and imbedded itself in my fan-brain. I’ve watched it too many times to remember – owned it on 16mm, laserdisc, DVD and BluRay. I use it for teaching and it always goes over big, because I know how to set it up. I also spoke with Ricou Browning (who played the swimming [as opposed to the walking] creature) about those things that would aid me in teaching, and he provided me with the ammunition. Much later, when I began lecturing on Film Noir, I was drawn toward the concluding episode, THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, for it’s distinctly noir sensibility.

The book states that after surgery in the third installment to open his dormant lungs, when the creature becomes docile, and puts on a lot of weight as if overeating as part of a serious depression, he ‘bears more than a passing resemblance to Marlon Brando in APOCALYPSE NOW’, which he does, down to the mu-mu he wears to cover his girth. I could have sworn that I was the only one to ever make that observation. Wait a minute…that is me, quoted from a review of the film in Films in Review. I made it into the book! What an honor!

If you’re interested in which films the three CREATURE stories were paired with when they played theatrically, you’ll find the lists within (eg., 37 for THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US, including THE LAST COMMAND, Sterling Hayden’s version of the fall of the Alamo, PETE KELLY’S BLUES, a neo-noir directed by and starring Jack Webb, and John Ford’s influential picaresque THE SEARCHERS.)

The packaging is handsome, the pictures and documents abundant and gratifying. The writing, spear-headed by Tom Weaver, vacillates between verbal gags of the type Forrest J. Ackerman sprinkled throughout his ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ magazine, and more erudite levels.

This is a great gift for a horror fan.

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