Wednesday, October 23, 2013


In this digital age, most of the Universal Horror Classics are available on DVD or Blu-Ray but, as always, some titles just fall through the cracks.  Stuart Heisler’s The MONSTER AND THE GIRL (1941), which is actually a Paramount production licensed by Universal during the ‘50s, was one such film before Universal released it via their Made-On-Demand program Universal Vault Series.

Scot (Philip Terry) Webster is on trial for his life for a murder he didn’t commit.  Revealed through flashbacks, he was searching for Larry (Robert Paige) Reed, a scam artist who married his sister Susan (Ellen Drew) and then sold her to a prostitution ring run by W.S. (Paul Lukas, later seen in John Huston’s The ROOTS OF HEAVEN, 1958) Bruhl, the suave syndicate boss.  Meanwhile, most viewers will spot George Zucco, star of many late-entry Universal and Poverty Row horror films calming sitting in the courtroom as the judge delivers his death penalty verdict.  Zucco is Dr. Parry, a scientist in the midst of an experiment that is of “infinite importance to the human race”, but involves nothing more than the transplant of Scot’s brain into a gorilla.  As expected, Scot still has revenge on the brain but with his psyche stuck in a gorilla, he now has to “mangle” the entire syndicate one by one.

Like Arthur Lubin’s BLACK FRIDAY (1940), The MONSTER AND THE GIRL is more of a crime drama than a horror film, which may be a letdown for some viewers.  The first half is actually quite engaging as Bruhl and his men (including a great slimy turn from character actor Marc Lawrence as The Sleeper) deceive and turn the tables on Scot, who was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.  It’s actually very similar in tone to any number of film noirs of the period.  The opening is especially memorable with Ellen Drew as Susan addressing the audience as she steps out of the mist to reveal that she’s the catalyst of the misfortune we’re about to see. “I’m bad luck Penny.  I bought a million dollars worth of trouble for everybody”, she says mournfully.  At the halfway mark though, the film switches gears with typically eerie exteriors of Dr. Parry’s mansion and the obligatory transplant operation, which goes about as smoothly as possible.  Once the operation concludes, the horror elements remain fairly subdued and, to be honest, the film would work just as well if Scot were still alive pursuing his vengeance in the shadowy underworld.  Instead, as the gorilla, he “mangles” Bruhl’s men breaking “every bone” in their body while a pair of bumbling detectives try and solve the case, but they don’t get very far.  They merely argue with the coroner and provide some light comedy, which further accentuates the rather jarring plot shift from hardboiled noir to pulpy horror; it’s sort of like two mini-movies in one, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either.  

Universal’s Made-On-Demand DVD-R actually looks pretty good with nice contrasts and a relatively sharp picture.  The only issue is the rather tiny sound, which at times was difficult to hear during some of the film’s quieter moments.  No extras are included, not even a standard menu screen.  You can order it here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Welcome back to the world of long, lost VHS tapes.  For this second installment, let’s take a look at Magnum Entertainment’s The DESERT TIGERS (1977), a rather mundane WWII film with a few sleazy surprises. 

Beginning rather abruptly, Maj. Lexman (Richard Harrison) and British Lt. Keller (Isarco Ravaioli) command a joint squadron to destroy an oil refinery in the North African desert.  They accomplish their mission perfectly, but unfortunately, they are captured and sent to a German POW camp overseen by Kommandant Von Stulzen (Gordon Mitchell) and Dr. Lessing (Lea Lander).  However, it isn’t very long before Lexman and Keller begin organizing the other prisoners for a daring escape, which once again lands them the desert and the Germans hot on their trail.

Partially modeled after The GREAT ESCAPE (1965), this cut-rate effort from Z-grade filmmaker Luigi Batzella (using his Ivan Kathansky pseudonym) is a fairly uninteresting WWII potboiler but, like his infamous SS HELL CAMP (aka The BEAST IN HEAT, 1977), The DESERT TIGERS also features a number sleazy moments interspersed with “borrowed” action scenes*.  Despite the innocuous cover of Magnum’s tape, the film features all the requisite nudity, torture and flogging during the central “chamber of sensual horrors” sequence, which wouldn’t be out of place in any number of Italian naziploitation efforts of the time.  In a typical scene, Von Stulzen and his drunken troops grope topless Bedouin women while a cross-dressing belly dancer moves to the strains of some generic Arabic melodies.  Over-acting wildly, Mitchell as Von Stulzen exclaims, “Even with an army of perverts, we shall win the war” in one of the film’s most memorable lines.  For the most part though, The DESERT TIGERS stays firmly within the usual WWII norms and ends just as abruptly as it began.
Released in 1986, Magnum’s tape actually sports a decent, although somewhat dark transfer and looks to be uncut, which even includes a rather startling castration.  This was also released with the same bland cover on Classic Family Entertainment, which would certainly raise a few eyebrows if some oblivious parents rented this for their kids.  The video generated title card is most likely replacing the film’s original export title of ACHTUNG! THE DESERT TIGERS, which seems rather unnecessary. 

Obviously, this tape is long out-of-print, but the film was released on Italian DVD under its original title of KAPUT LAGER: GLI ULTIMI GIORNI DELLE SS on Perseo in a nice (and brighter) 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and, despite what Amazon Italy claims, it’s only in Italian.  You can order it here.

* The entire battle sequence at the desert oasis is taken from Alfredo Rizzo’s HEROES WITHOUT GLORY (aka I Giardini del Diavolo, 1970), which was also pilfered by Eurociné for many of their in-house productions including Pierre Chevalier’s EAST OF BERLIN (aka Convoi de Femmes, 1978) and A.M. Frank’s OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES (aka L’Abime des Morts-Vivants, 1981).  Some of the action scenes from The DESERT TIGERS subsequently turned up in Batzella’s BLACK GOLD (aka Strategia per une Missione di morte, 1979).  Whew!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Following their excellent limited edition DVD of Umberto Lenzi’s The CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST (1976) earlier in the year, German label Film Art have finally released his subsequent crime film BROTHERS TILL WE DIE (1977).  This was the second film after ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH (1976) to feature Tomas Milian as Vincenzo “hunchback” Marazzi or “Humpo”, his tasteless, but wholly appropriate nickname.  If that weren’t enough, Milian also plays his twin brother Sergio who also goes under the more colourful moniker of “Pigsty”.

Returning to Rome after a lengthy absence, Vince locates his brother Sergio and through his help, strikes up a relationship with Maria (Isa Danieli), a local prostitute that becomes his main squeeze.  It doesn’t take too long before he is organizing a meeting with a local stick-up crew led by Perroni (perennial bad guy Luciano Catenacci) that plan to rob an armoured truck outside the Bank of Rome.  In a clever move, they use tear gas as a distraction during the heist but, due to his very obvious deformity, Perroni and his men decide to double-cross and shoot Vince during the heist, because it would be too easy for the police to identify him.  Of course, Vince escapes into the sewers during the mayhem and, in a standout scene, crawls to his safety through the mud and shit bent on revenge. 

For anyone into Italo-crime films, there is plenty to enjoy here despite the lack of an American or prominent Italian “good guy” star in the form of a Maurizio Merli or Luc Merenda.  In order to carry the film, Milian truly out-does himself playing both twins, which have typically outlandish hairstyles (both ridiculous looking wigs) and a little too much eyeliner.  Along with Giulio Sacchi from ALMOST HUMAN (1974), the hunchback (or il gobbo on Italian prints) is one of Milian’s most memorable characters whose tenacity and ruthless demeanor make for great entertainment.  Plus, he also gets to spew out a number of hilarious one-liners long before they became trendy in action films such as this.  A couple of great examples include, “Humpo is gettin’ humped” or “When you’re born with a hump, you ain’t got much room for a heart”.  How’s that for some thought provoking existentialism?  As Pigsty, Milian ups the comedy factor and dons the exact same wig from Lenzi’s FREE HAND FOR A TOUGH COP (1976) and Stelvio Massi’s DIRTY GANG (1977).  In a fairly impressive bit of optical work, Milian plays both Humpo and Pigsty in the very same scene quite effectively, but the best is saved for last when Milian as Pigsty actually rises above the material in a rather poignant and bittersweet finale.

As mentioned earlier, Pino Colizzi as Inspector Sarti is no Maurizio Merli, but he does an adequate enough job even as he tries to emulate signor Merli right down to his appearance with the same mustache and haircut.  Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t seem so.  Other notable poliziesco veterans include Guido Leontini as Mario “Coldcuts” di Gennaro, Sal Borgese as Albania and Carlo Gaddi as The Panther, one of Humpo’s right-hand men.

Released on Italian DVD by Federal Video under its original title of La Banda del Gobbo, this was a nice release that offered a great 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, but unfortunately had no English language or English subtitle options.  In what seems to be a continuing series of poliziescos, Film Art’s DVD also includes a superb 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer but they have decked out their edition with Italian, German and English language options along with optional subtitles in German and English as well.  Extras include Part 2 of the Franco Micalizzi interview from The CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST DVD, an English language trailer (under the English export title BROTHERS TILL WE DIE) and an attractive booklet, which is in German only.  This is a PAL Region 2 disc and limited to 1000 copies, so grab one here while you still can.