Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The MONSTER AND THE GIRL - DVD REVIEW


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

COGS, SPOOLS AND 1/2" TAPE #2 - The DESERT TIGERS VHS REVIEW


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!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

R.I.P. ED LAUTER

Ed Lauter with Geoffrey Lewis in Robert Benton's BAD COMPANY (1972).

Definitely one of the busiest character actors in both film and television, Ed Lauter sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 74 from mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer.

Ed Lauter began his career in the early ‘70s on television, but moved into films quickly and appeared in no less than five features in 1972 including Stan Dragoti’s highly underrated DIRTY LITTLE BILLY, Richard Fleischer’s The NEW CENTURIONS, Robert Benton’s BAD COMPANY, Robert Culp’s HICKEY AND BOGGS and George C. Scott’s RAGE.  In 1973, he appeared in Lamont Johnson’s The LAST AMERICAN HERO alongside Jeff Bridges as Burton Colt, his boss and Stockcar sponsor in yet another underrated American classic.  In 1974, in what is undoubtedly his most famous role, director Robert Aldrich cast him as Captain Kanuer, the tough-as-nails, but somewhat conflicted prison guard in The LONGEST YARD opposite Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert.  Of course, this led to a string of other prominent roles in J. Lee Thompson’s The WHITE BUFFALO (1977), Richard Attenborough’s MAGIC (1978), Michael Mann’s TV movie The JERICHO MILE (1979), Peter Hunt’s DEATH HUNT (1981), William Dear’s TIMERIDER (1982), Lewis Teague’s CUJO (1983) and of course Michael Winner’s insanely entertaining guilty pleasure DEATH WISH 3 (1985).  He continued to work steadily in both film and television right up until his death and, according to some sources, has appeared in over 200 films and TV work.  His last completed film is the sequel-of-sorts to The TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014), which will apparently open next year. 

Mr. Lauter’s vast body of work speaks of itself, which, with his cool professionalism, instantly added a touch of class to whatever he appeared in.  Mr. Lauter, thanks for the good times, you will be sorely missed.  R.I.P.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

VIDEO WATCHDOG LOVES KOMMISSAR X


In the newest issue (#175) of Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas examines Anolis Entertainment’s remarkable KOMMISSAR X DVD Box Set released in Germany.  As a long-time fan of these German/Italian spy-yarns from the ‘60s, they never received the kind of attention they deserved and, outside of this box set, probably never will.  Each film is essentially a series of adventures starring Tony Kendall as Agent Jo Walker and Brad Harris as Captain Tom Rowland, who, through a number of circumstances beyond their control, usually end up working together in order to rid the world of criminal masterminds.  Like most European spy-romps of the ‘60s, the KOMMISSAR X films are almost criminally underrated on these shores.  Fortunately, Tim reveals all sorts of great info about this once popular franchise and even comments on the superb DVDs (love those Easter Eggs) with his usual insight and attentive eye for detail, adding an even greater appreciation to these highly entertaining films.  Visit Video Watchdog and order your copy today.  You’ll be thankful you did.

On a side note, this set was released on October 4th, 2012 in a limited pressing of 1200 copies, Anolis packaged the first film KISS KISS... KILL KILL (1966) and the bonus documentary X-MEN STRIKE BACK (2009) in a beautifully illustrated sturdy box, leaving room for the subsequent films, which were released in the early part of 2013.  The box set and individual films are available here.  
Lastly, check out this great YouTube video featuring artwork and press materials from the KOMMISSAR X films along with Angelina Monti's extremely catchy title song.  Believe me, you won't forget it.