Thursday, October 18, 2018


A long-time victim of shoddy, unauthorized video releases, Peter Hunt’s appealing and highly-prescient adventure thriller GOLD (1974) finally arrives on North American Blu-ray in yet another first-rate release from the ever-prolific folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics. 

Unfolding in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid regime, GOLD gets off to an equally exciting and disturbing start when a major cave-in at the Sonderditch gold mine not only threatens to halt production in its tracks, but also results in the general manager being killed. In the ensuing chaos, Rod Slater (Roger Moore), one of the company’s more rebellious, risk-taking foremen, is primed to take over the dead boss’ position. However, unbeknownst to Slater, it’s all just a ploy so he can be used by his employer as a patsy to take the blame for an elaborate scheme to flood the mine, which was slyly orchestrated by its managing director Manfred Steyner (Bradford Dillman) and an unscrupulous group of financial investors, led by Farrell (Sir John Gielgud); an intentionally-fabricated disaster which, in turn, would cause the going rate of gold to skyrocket to astronomical levels on the world market.

Although that’s the main crux of the film as based on Wilbur Smith’s bestselling novel Gold Mine (1970), GOLD has plenty more on offer as it weaves its way through the conspiracy angle of its script, whose subject matter remains every bit as topical today as it did back then. In what amounts to a glorified cameo, respected thespian Sir John Gielgud’s Farrell is undoubtedly one of the more frightening characters in the film, who keeps everyone (i.e., his fellow financial investors) in check by means of his quiet resolve and obvious superior intellect. Playing one of the criminal scheme’s prime architects, Bradford Dillman’s restrained performance as Manfred Steyner is soft-spoken throughout (albeit menacingly so), and his character’s actions are motivated by pure avarice and the promise of still more wealth and power than he already possesses; so much so that when his adulterous wife Terry (Susannah York), daughter of the mine’s cantankerous owner Hurry Hirschfeld (Ray Milland), begins an illicit affair with Slater, he represses his obvious anger, knowing full-well that Slater’s recklessly impulsive nature will come in handy when they conspire to implicate him with the flooding of the mine. In what would normally be a superfluous diversion, this romantic subplot becomes one of the film’s main narratives, and at one point, it even resorts to showing a montage of them flying in her single-engine Cessna light airplane high above the stunning South African landscapes (beautifully shot by veteran DP Ousama Rawi) and visiting one of her father’s wildlife reserves. These picturesque detours in the narrative puts the already laidback pace still further at risk. It’s all so well-realized, though, that it never detracts from the viewer’s overall enjoyment of GOLD

A tremendous opening and final act frame the film beautifully, which not only depict the harsh, unforgiving reality of working down the mines (a stunning static shot looking above as an elevator [known as ‘the cage’ in mining vernacular] descends into the mineshaft is particularly frightening), but just how precariously life hangs in the balance that deep underground. At the outset, men are horribly crushed by falling rock, their faces smashed into pulp, while one poor miner’s leg is irremovably trapped amongst the rubble, which results in an impromptu emergency amputation that seriously pushes the envelope of GOLD’s PG-rating. The film’s climactic flooding also doesn’t hold back in showcasing additional moments of bloody mayhem. 

Shot in South Africa (and at Pinewood Studios in London), further violence ensues due to the obvious rising racial tensions, which is represented by the extremely challenging working conditions in the mine itself and the ongoing scuffle between Kowalski (Bernard Horsfall), a racist white foreman (“You hit them because they can’t hit back! …The next time you touch a face darker than mine, you’re OUT!” exclaims Slater) and Big King (Simon Sabela), a seasoned and exceedingly skilled mineworker who even receives an award for courage and (quote) “the saving of human life”. In an interesting aside, the ‘harmonious’ viewpoint of the Sonderditch mine proves to be nothing more than a cynical public relations façade, and outside of the very few (including Slater, who obviously represents the filmmakers as well), Apartheid’s multi-tiered system of segregating the races into separate castes is still very much in evidence, with most of the native Africans in the film being treated as nothing more than expendable beasts of burden. 

Sandwiched between Roger Moore’s starring roles as James Bond in Guy Hamilton’s LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE MAN WITH THEGOLDEN GUN (1974), GOLD likewise borrows plentiful elements of the 007 franchise, including Slater’s ability to be rough-and-tough when needed one moment and then dapper and dashing the next. He’s charismatic as hell and has great chemistry with his co-star Susannah York, so even when the film focuses its attention on the far-less-exciting romantic subplot, the action never really flounders. Outside of the Moore connection, director Hunt also worked on a number of Bond pictures, firstly as an editor on the early Sean Connery classics (such as both Terence Young’s DR. NO [1961] and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE [1962]) and then graduated to directing when he helmed the superb – and once-controversial – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969), starring one-time-only 007 George Lazenby, so it comes as no surprise that GOLD is very much in the same vein. Even Maurice Binder, a veteran of over a dozen Bond films, designed the simplistic, yet impressive title sequence, which is perfectly accompanied and complemented by Elmer Bernstein’s remarkable score.

After years of substandard DVD releases from such dubious outfits as Diamond and Platinum, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ Blu-ray is a very welcome edition indeed! Remastered by Pinewood Studios (which may have been carried-out as far back as 2013 for Odeon Entertainment’s All-Region U.K. BD), Kino’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p disc is a hugestep-up in picture quality, but the transfer’s biggest asset is its retaining the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which finally allows viewers to appreciate the full scope of the film, as well as many of the intricate details in the mines themselves, which are far easier to make out this time around. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio also sounds solid, with a nice range between many of the film’s action scenes and the contrasting quieter, insidious moments in the boardrooms. Kino have also included English subtitles for the hearing impaired. 

As nice as the transfer is on Kino’s new disc, they’ve also included an audio commentary with film historians Howard S. Berger and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, and for anyone that has listened to any of their previous commentaries will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy here once again. Their love for the film is evident right from the start, which they both saw as youngsters and it was the film’s tough violence that left an indelible mark on their impressionable psyches, which they now claim to be one of the (quote) “harshest PG films of the ’70s”. They go on to discuss the film’s unusual genesis; the film’s aforementioned many Bond series connections; some of the (quote) “adults-only stories” between Moore and Milland (many of which are recounted from Moore’s various autobiographies); the interesting character arcs; and of course, the claustrophobic mine settings themselves. All-in-all it’s a great listen, and makes an ideal extra for an already topnotch Blu-ray. An original trailer for the film (“Four tons of rock produce one ounce of the most precious metal in the world: GOLD!”) as well as trailers for some of Kino’s other titles – such as Bryan Forbes’ Roger Moore headliner THE NAKED FACE (1984) and Ray Milland’s Roger Corman-directed pre/post-apocalyptic survivalist drama PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) – finish off the extras. Completing the package, Kino also provide reversible artwork, both of which are excellent. Order it from Amazon here.

Friday, October 12, 2018


One of the many low-to-no-budget, regionally-shot Troma pickups from the late-’80s, James Riffel’s THE HOUSE ON TOMBSTONE HILL (1988) – or DEAD DUDES IN THE HOUSE, as it’s more commonly and funkily referred to – was released straight-to-video under that completely misleading latter title coupled with an even more blatantly misleading ad-campaign. Thanks to the efforts of Vinegar Syndrome and their on-going attempt to release a good deal of mostly forgotten Troma-related titles, THE HOUSE ON TOMBSTONE HILL has never looked better in this slick-looking new Blu-ray / DVD combo package.

A group of friends arrive at a dilapidated old house in hopes of renovating it. However, Mark (Douglas Gibson), who has purchased the property for next-to-nothing, is completely unaware of its horrific past. Before they know it, they all become trapped inside the place as its previous owner, a craggy ol’ hag (Gibson again, under heavy makeup) with a penchant for murder, kills them off one-by-one. But, in an unexplained plot twist, the victims proceed to come back from the grave, not to party but to help her finish the job… 

Originally released as THE DEAD COME HOME (the current title on VS’ print) before Troma gave the film its belated home video release on VHS tape back in 1999 (early into the ‘DVD era’), the film – had it been released a decade-or-more earlier, during that format’s heyday – might have garnered a much more appreciative and affectionate audience; something which VS’ new disc release will undoubtedly do now (better late than never, as they say!). In spite of the film’s highly – if unsurprisingly – deceptive ad campaign, which makes it look like some early-’90s hip-hop teencom (?!?!), the film’s one-note structure (without doubt inspired by Sam Raimi’s still-influential THE EVIL DEAD [1981]) works surprisingly well, and although its supernatural elements are only flimsy at best, this fact doesn’t hinder its basic entertainment value any. The numerous gory set-pieces provided by New York-based makeup F/X guys Ed French and Bruce Spaulding Fuller are certainly technically competent and compelling enough, with most of the, uh, ‘disposable’ cast members meeting some sort of horribly grisly demise every few minutes; which also includes an exceedingly gory bodily bisection care of a supernaturally-propelled windowpane. 

As with their other Troma acquisitions, VS have once again given this little-seen film a complete – and very welcome – overhaul, from top to bottom. THOTH has been (quote) “scanned and restored in 2K from its 16mm original camera negative”, and the results are most impressive, to say the least. Of course, there is simply no comparing it to any of the previously-released – and awfully drab – VHS and DVD releases. Visual details are far more defined, naturalistic and colourful (e.g., with nice bright, deep reds!), and this is especially pertinent to the movie’s many over-the-top gore scenes, for obvious reasons. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is also clear and robust and, although it falls somewhat short of being demo-quality material, it nonetheless sounds terrific given the film’s poverty row pedigree. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also included.

Extras begin with Three Dead Dudes (29m14s), which features on-camera interviews with three of the film’s stars: Mark Zobian, Victor Verhaeghe and Douglas Gibson. All three of them have plenty to say about their experiences including how they landed their roles; the Cherry Valley, New York locations, including the film’s titular house; the laidback shoot; and also the numerous Ed French makeup F/X. In the next extra, Temple of Schlock’s ever-knowledgeable Chris Poggiali conducts an audio interview (which plays over assorted still shots from the film) with the film’s director, who discusses much of the film’s pre-production phase; the cast and crew; Troma’s ad campaign, which was initially modeled after The New Kids On The Block; the changing industry; as well as how he at one point confronted some bootleggers who were selling his film on eBay. In addition, a generous – and supercool! – behind-the-scenes still gallery (4m33s) is also provided, but it’s too bad VS couldn’t locate Troma’s original trailer for the film, which would have been interesting to see, just for an added bonus. And speaking of bonuses, VS have, as per usual, also provided the package with reversible cover art, which includes both Troma’s misleading DEAD DUDES poster art and a 1,500-unit Limited Edition slipcover designed by Earl Kessler, Jr., and this edition is still available from Vinegar Syndrome

Monday, October 1, 2018


Early English export ad-line, from Foreign Sales Italian Movie Trade (January 1977): “Another hallucinating page in the black annuals [sic] of crime.”

One sociopathic scumbag, to another: “I don’t give a shit about cops!”            

Exaggeratedly touted by Subkultur Entertainment as “A tour de force of horror”, Luigi Petrini’s KIDNAPPING …A DAY OF VIOLENCE (1977) was one of many ‘teenage crime wave’ scenarios, which proliferated at the peak of Italocrime’s popularity, of which Romolo Guerrieri’s YOUNG, VIOLENT, DANGEROUS (1976) is probably the best-known example. More commonly known as simply DAY OF VIOLENCE, Subkultur’s Blu-ray / DVD combo is yet another highly attractive release of this genre obscurity. 

After getting thrown out of an upper-class house party, which underlines the mandatory generational gaps (“These young folks don’t have any taboos anymore!”), two-bit punk Paolo Soprani (Mario Cutini, who at times bears some resemblance to Helmut Berger) meets up with Jo Arbelli (Marco Marati), who is demoralised because he was unable to make love to his girlfriend Anna (Maria Pia Conte). After forcing their way into Anna’s house, they rape her and, to make matters worse, in the ensuing scuffle, they murder her next door neighbor on top of it. On the run, they attempt numerous petty crimes to try and earn some fast cash (“With money, you can fuck the whole world in the ass!”), but after some dubious inspiration, they decide to hold-up an upscale restaurant and take the clientele hostage. Negotiating with Insp. Aldovrandi (director Mario Bianchi in one of his few acting roles), they demand $1 million in gold ingots and safe passage in exchange for the hostages, but as tensions mount, Aldovrandi also has to wade through plenty of bureaucratic red tape. 

Originally (circa 1976) announced as STORIA D’AMORE IN GIALLO (trans: “Thrilling Love Story”), but eventually retitled OPERAZIONE KAPPA: SPARATE A VISTA!! (trans: “Operation K: Shoot On Sight!”), this film was initially hoped to star George Hilton, Cutini, popular softcore starlet Gloria Guida and ex-peplum star Roger Browne, a more upscale cast which may have given the film a bit more prestige. Cutini was the sole actor to wind up in the finished film, however. (Lucky him!)

Italian 2F manifesto courtesy of Steve Fenton.
While basically a subgenre of the poliziesco, most of these Italo-JD pictures came in the wake of the infamous Circeo Massacre in September of 1975, wherein three young men brutally raped and tortured two teenage girls outside of Rome. Films such as Sergio Grieco’s and Massimo Felisatti’s VIOLENCE FOR KICKS (a.k.a. TERROR IN ROME, 1976) and Mario Imperoli’s COME CANI ARRABBIATI (1976) began to focus predominantly on disillusioned, violent youth, a subject which integrated well with the established Italocrime genre. In the case of DAY OF VIOLENCE, Petrini’s crude messaging (“I fear the future!” exclaims one hostage) is peppered throughout the film, which even includes a title song with some typically strained lyrics (“We loathe war in the city” / “We want a peaceful city”), but like most discount exploitation films, it also wallows in the excessive violence and sleaze it so passionately condemns. Following the example of these earlier films, originality was never one of Petrini’s strongpoints, and in a brazen – or just plain desperate? – attempt to add at least some substance to his meagre scenario, the film also structurally replicates Sidney Lumet’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), but without any of the emotional conviction a situation such as that depicted in the film requires and, if anything, it continues to highlight the misanthropic/chauvinistic excesses of the leads. 

Petrini’s film is a generally downbeat, grubby affair, but as with their earlier Italo-crime Blu-ray of Marcello Andrei’s SEASON FOR ASSASSINS (1975), Subkultur’s Region B Blu-ray really looks terrific. The remastered image is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is very clean, and apart from a softish opening credit sequence, the rest of the transfer is razor-sharp, with stable colours that really pop off the screen amidst the dreary urban setting. As a side-note, Subkultur have also included a “Grindhouse-Version”, which is essentially an unrestored version of the film. The DTS-HD 1.0 Mono audio is provided in both German and Italian with optional German and English subtitles with the German audio sounding a little canned, but being an Italian crime film, most English-speaking viewers will undoubtedly choose the latter.

Italian soggettone courtesy of Steve Fenton.
The most significant extra is an on-camera interview (7m42s) with film composer Fabio Frizzi, who was one of three composers (the others being Carlo Bixio and Vince Tempera) that made up the collective calling themselves Bixio-Frizzi-Tempera. Speaking in English, Frizzi talks about the Circeo Massacre; the (quote) “not-so-exceptional” cast and how Marco Marati got his role through his connections to the Bixio family; he also discusses the failed attempt of creating Magnetic Systems, a rock band very much in the vein of Goblin, but Frizzi doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the film itself, unfortunately. Other extras include a couple of trailers for DOV, alternate opening and closing credits, and a 10-page booklet with an essay from Thorsten Hanisch, which is in German only. Although Limited to 500 copies, Subkultur have decided to offer two distinct cover choices, which are still available via Amazon Germany here and here and it's also available from DiabolikDVD.

Thanks to Steve Fenton for additional comments and research.