Tag Archives: 1969

1971 DRIVE-IN DOUBLE FEATURE: CASTLE OF FU MANCHU AND I, MONSTER

Coming Soon…

“They live by night. They hide in the dark and rise from the shadows. They can never feel the warmth of living human blood in their veins. Their bodies are cold and dead… Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Rated the most shocking horror show of the year by “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Together, in one film, they meet in a fight of fright. Kings of horror battle to the death. Dracula vs. Frankenstein!”

And…

“Night of the Blood Monster. Caged women pitting their men against heavy artillery and hired killers… changing the day into a night of horror. ‘s victims know the taste, the smell, the tortures of Hades. Chained women—captives of pleasure; cattle to be abused, tortured and murdered. Night of the Blood Monster.”

It’s Showtime!

When Christopher Lee teamed up with Don Sharp in 1965 for the rousing The Face of Fu Manchu, the result was successful enough to catapult its star into yet another franchise. The Sharp/Lee followup The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), while not quite the level of its predecessor, was a spirited sequel—but what better way to kill a franchise than hand it over to a bonafide hack? Cost-cutting producer Harry Alan Towers did just that when he tapped to helm The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968). Of course, even a hack can manage to produce entertaining drive-in fodder—unless it’s Franco, who, true to form, shot quickly and without an ounce of enthusiasm or pride in his craft. It’s not hard to imagine that 1971 drive-in audiences were picking up a lot of caffeine at the concession stand during the endless 92 minute running time of Castle of Fu Manchu. The masochist Towers chose to stake his goldmine for good when hiring Franco yet again; Castle was still being milked two years later on the drive-in circuit, paired with the feature below, in an attempt to recoup it costs.

Still from The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)Within minutes, we learn that it was none other than Fu Manchu  who was responsible for sinking of the Titanic. To prove it, Franco economically uses black and white footage from 1958’s A Night to Remember and tints it blue so we won’t know the difference. It only gets more embarrassing. There’s a bit about turning seas into ice; kidnapping; an Asian babe; scientific experiments; TV’s Robin Hood, Richard Greene (!!!) as a nemesis; and more stock footage. When Franco’s not slapping in news reels, etc., it appears he was prodding the cast awake (although it feels as if he napped his way through a lot of it himself ). There’s some unintentional hilarity to be had (i.e. the heart transplant) with enough no-doze.

Intermission…

“Hot dogs: the All-American favorite. Certainly we serve them, piping hot and full of flavor. Call for yours now.”

“Help reduce losses of lives and loss of property caused by fire. Don’t give fire a place to start.”

“Barbecue! Barbecue! Barbecue! Our barbecue is prepared especially for you.”

“Go to church Sunday. The strength of a people is found in the strength of their faith. Support your church. The Management.”

“Today, we’re interviewing a stomach. Hello there. What is life like as a stomach? Oh, boy—it was hum-drum until what’s-his-name discovered Tony’s Pizza. Tony’s Pizza? Yeah, I was suffering from the pizza cravings until Tony’s came along. Crispy crusts and zesty sauces. Wow! What’s next? Another pizza craving. Just thinking about Tony’s pizza sets me off!  Does your stomach send you pizza craving signals? Tony’s, the pizza-cravers’ pizza, available at the concession stand.”

It’s showtime!

I, Monster (directed by Stephen Weeks) is an Amicus production of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and despite the name change, it’s one of the most faithful of the many cinematic adaptations. It has a poor reputation, which is largely undeserved.

The 1920 version (directed by John S. Roberts) starring John Barrymore, the superb 1931 version (directed by Rouben Mammalian) starring Frederich March, and the lousy 1941 version (directed by ) starring  Spencer Tracy (one wit cracked, “is Spence playing Jekyll or Hyde now?”), made much of female characters being subjected to Hyde’s lechery. Like the source material, I, Monster is devoid of a romantic subplot. In addition to the title, liberties are taken in the setting, moved to early 20th century, the pronounced Freudian subtext, and fact the the transformation is achieved through injection as opposed to drinking the kool-aid.

Although I, Monster misses some of the novella’s satire, it’s impressively produced, with Lee giving one of his best performances, thankfully free of overt makeup. is relegated to a supporting part, but is typically efficient. Originally it was distributed in 3D, and there are a few obligatory vignettes exploiting the fad, but ultimately it’s a sleeper.

“Remember to place your drive-in speaker back on the stand before you leave.”

This review, including the drive-in bumpers, refers to the double-feature available from Sinister Cinema.

CAPSULE: OBSESSIONS (1969)

DIRECTED BY: Pim de la Parra

FEATURING: Dieter Geissler, Alexandra Stewart, Tom Van Beek,  Donald Jones

PLOT: A carefree medical student’s life is thrown into disarray when a painting falls from his wall, creating a peep-hole to the neighboring apartment where he witnesses a world of LSD-fueled rape and murder.

Still from Obsessions (1969)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The oft-hyphenated phrase, “by-the-numbers”, springs to mind when thinking of this picture. Trying to be a ian thriller, a drug morality tale, and (perhaps) a soft-core pornographic movie, Obsessions fails on all counts—with the only weird thing being that somehow let his name be associated with it.

COMMENTS: There is unfortunately little useful to say about this mish-mash of a Dutch film. The press release and DVD blurb hype it up as best they can, going so far to claim that Obsessions helped to jumpstart “auteur cinema in Holland.” That may well be true, but that’s something better explored by a film scholar (that is, some other film scholar). As it stands, all by itself, on its own, as a movie, it stands… kind of wobbly. Thinking back on it now, the only clever bit occurred during the plot setup in the opening credits.

A heavy, framed picture of a modified Van Gogh portrait (with super-imposed razor poking at the poor man’s ear) falls from the thin wall of Nils Janssen’s apartment, bringing with it a hunk of plaster and leaving behind a perfectly-sized peep-hole. Through this new portal, Nils (Dieter Geissler), an affable medical student, sees and hears strange doings across the way, finding that it’s not all scooters, cognac, and medical school in his trendy downtown world. His improbably attractive girlfriend Marina (Alexandra Stewart), a journalist for a fashion magazine with a sideline in pop-news, joins in his… “obsession” …and the two try to unravel a bizarre crime spree involving LSD, a series of addled young women, a fat drug-dealer with a lazy eye, a con posing as a US Army officer, and a masseuse who plies her trade with her feet. Before you can say “tight slacks,” things go south when the criminals discover they’re being spied upon.

Had this rambling plot been in the service of a pornographic endeavor (something the Netherlands didn’t shy away from in the 1960s), I’d feel more sympathetic to it. The amateurism of the acting, staging, and dialogue (not sure how involved Scorsese was in the writing; he was in his mid-20s at the time and only in town for another project) all smacks of high quality smut or low quality drama. For better or (more so) worse, Obsessions is the latter–and all the Hitchcock references and “gee-whiz!” camera tricks can’t change the fact that we travel through the film’s ninety minutes with a mix of incuriosity and relief at its brevity.

Pim de la Parra and his confrère Wim Verstappen went on to achieve notoriety a couple of years later with their full-blown adult feature, Blue Movie. Afterwards they cruised through the 1970s with a series of “mature” titles interspersed with the occasional drama and experimental film. While it seems P de la P could have pursued one direction or another after his late-60s crime-thriller, I’d wager that either genre isn’t any poorer for him having stepped away from it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Filled with arty montages, plentiful nudity, and Hitchcock references galore (note all the stuffed birds everywhere), Obsessions is a really odd one, mixing old school thriller tropes, chic ’60s fashions and decor, and sleazy kink, all with that percolating Herrmann music underneath.”–Nathaniel Thompson, Mondo Digital (Blu-ray)

1969 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, IT’S ALIVE, AND SATAN’S SADISTS

After the success of 1968’s The Conqueror Worm (AKA The Witchfinder General, with a deliciously evil ), director was assigned dual films: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again. Unfortunately, shortly after pre-production work on The Oblong Box , Reeves died at the age of 25 from an accidental, lethal mix of alcohol and barbiturates, putting an end to a promising career. The film must have seemed cursed, because scripter Lawrence Huntington also died. Gordon Hessler replaced Reeves and Christopher Wicking replaced Huntington. Given Reeves’ high critical standing, Hessler was immediately criticized as being unable to fill the late director’s shoes. While there’s little doubt that Reeves’  idiosyncratic style would be impossible to imitate, he was unenthusiastic about the assignment to begin with. Thus, whether he could have made a better film is pure speculation. Despite starring Vincent Price and The Oblong Box can hardly compete with ‘s AIP Poe series, but it does have an ambitious, somber, gothic style of its own and is well photographed by John Coquillon.

Of more interest is a genuine oddity in the AIP canon: Scream and Scream Again, which also starred both Price and Lee along with (in what amounts to a cameo) and the same writing/directing team of Wicking and Hessler. Released in the U.K in 1969 and stateside 1970, Scream and Scream Again is one of the queerest horror science fiction extravaganzas committed to celluloid, which may explain why proclaimed it among his favorite films. Wicking’s screenplay is an ambitiously brazen adaptation of Peter Saxon’s “The Disoriented Man.” Given that Hessler is a minor cult filmmaker, Scream and Scream Again is, likewise, a film with a minor cult reputation, one that deserves a broader audience. Although imperfect, it is creepy and perverse enough to be of interest to weird movie lovers who crave a challenge.

Still fromScream and Scream Again (1969)The fragmented plot (one of several) opens with a jogger in the park, keeling over from what appears to be a heart attack. He wakes up in a hospital bed to a nurse who won’t speak to him. After she leaves, the jogger finds that his leg has been amputated. He screams.

The corpse of a rape victim is discovered with two puncture wounds on her wrist.

In an unnamed European totalitarian state, a humanoid Gestapo soldier (a lurid Marshall Jones) murders his superior by squeezing his shoulder.

The jogger wakes up to find his second leg amputated. He screams again.

Inspector Bellever (Alfred Marks) of Scotland Yard sets up a sting to Continue reading 1969 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, IT’S ALIVE, AND SATAN’S SADISTS

250. THE CREMATOR (1969)

Spalovac Mrtvol

“The Lord arranged it very well when he told people: ‘Remember, dust thou art and to dust thou returnest.’ A crematorium, dear friends, is clearly a God-pleasing object, because it helps God to speed up the transformation of people into dust.”–Kopfrkingl, The Cremator

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rudolf Hrusínský, Ilja Prachar, Milos Vognic, Jana Stehnová, Jirí Lír

PLOT: Kopfrkingl is a crematorium operator in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s who holds odd opinions about the liberating nature of death, based largely on his self-study of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Because he has German blood, an old army buddy recruits him into the Czech branch of the Nazi party. His beloved wife’s half-Jewish parentage, however, soon becomes an issue that threatens his advancement both in the party, and in his chosen profession.

Still from The Cremator (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • The movie is based on a novel by Ladislav Fuks, a Czech who had been a forced laborer (arbeitseinsatz) during the Nazi occupation. Fuks collaborated with director Juraj Herz on the screenplay.
  • Although he was their contemporary, Herz did not consider himself part of the In school he studied puppetry (in the same class as ) rather than film, and had few friends in the New Wave clique. (One exception was director , who plays the small role of Dvorák in The Cremator). He did sneak in to film screenings at FAMU (the national film school that incubated the New Wave movement) and filmed a segment for the 1966 anthology Pearls of the Deep, which was rejected because of its length (30 minutes).
  • The Cremator began filming during the Prague Spring, but was interrupted by the Soviet invasion in 1969, which made completing it a challenge. The film was released and screened but removed from circulation soon after.
  • Czechoslovakia submitted The Cremator to the Oscars as Best Foreign Film, but the Academy did not grant it an official nomination.
  • The Cremator won best film, actor (Rudolf Hrusínský) and cinematography (Stanislav Milota) at the Sitges Film Festival, but not until 1972, three years after its initial release.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Most likely it’s frequently tuxedoed cremator-in-chief Rudolf Hrusínský’s round face, the subject of so many closeups, that will stick with you the most. We chose to highlight the moment when he is invited into the rear tent at the freaskshow to gaze at the embalmed two-headed specimens and faces ravaged by syphilis, in which he shows a strange fascination.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Buddhist Nazism; the throne in Lhasa; girl in black

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A WWII drama soaked in an atmosphere of Gothic psychological horror, The Cremator seems like a screenplay might have written if he’d lived to see the Holocaust. Distorted lenses and madcap montages track the cremator’s bent descent from eccentric mortician to megalomaniacal tool of ultimate evil.


Second Run DVD trailer for The Cremator

COMMENTS: The IMDB categorizes The Cremator as, among other Continue reading 250. THE CREMATOR (1969)

BARRY MAHON DOUBLE FEATURE: THE WONDERFUL LAND OF OZ (1969) & THE BEAST THAT KILLED WOMEN (1965)

is another 366 saint awaiting canonization.  His directing breakthrough was with the fiasco Cuban Rebel Girls (1959), which is essential bad film viewing. For another eleven years, Mahon made one godawful film after another until someone wised up and quit funding this hack (he died in 1999, never making another film after 1970). He was something of a for his time, although no one was stupid enough to give Mahon millions of dollars.

Most of Mahon’s films were  Z-grade nudies (International Smorgas-Broad, The Adventures of Busty BrownFanny Hill Meets Dr. Erotico), but there are a few execrable standouts, with The Wonderful Land Of Oz (1969) and Thumbellina (bundled into  1972’s Certified Weird Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny) being among the most memorable.

Literally looking like garage filmmaking, The Wonderful Land of Oz opens with a warbled song and introduces us to hanging sheets, Glinda (still annoying, regardless of who plays her), a papier-mâché purple cow with blinking eyes, and badly costumed characters, including the Wogglebug: a man with antenna, bug eyes, and a walrus mustache.

Still from The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969)The Tin Man and Scarecrow are obligatory characters, but Pumpkinhead has replaced the Cowardly Lion. Someone forgot to give him a microphone under that oversized head because we can barely hear him. It hardy matters, because he seems to be struggling with his lines. His fellow cast members, who frequently talk to themselves, are no help, mumbling their cues as they move lethargically, seemingly having overdosed on tranquilizers.

Tip (Channy Mahon, Barry’s rugrat) replaces Dorothy. Tip is loaded with dull angst over his evil stepmother, the Wicked Witch Mombi ( played by someone named Ziska). She makes the boy go to bed on time, and when he attempts to rebel against such parental sadism, she vows to turn him into a statue. Comatose slapstick and phlegmatic sing-a-longs are visually accompanied by a cardboard fence (which we keep expecting to fall over) and half a gallon of straw on the soundstage floor to represent a stable. Tip flees with the aid of Pumpkinhead, who is brought to sort-of life via magic powder. The two run afoul of an obnoxious high school band (is there any other kind?) headed by teenaged brat General Jinjur. Tip and Pumpkinhead manage to make it to Emerald City (it’s a short walk around the garage), but rather than encountering a wizard behind the curtain, Tip gets magically transformed into a girl (he doesn’t put up much of protest) by Glinda, who confirms what we have always known: she is more Dolores Umbridge (the real villain of Harry Potter) than good witch (although she is called a fairy here). That sickening, bloated pink dress and K-Mart tiara fools no one. After that suburban porn reject Glinda forces a sex change on poor Tip, she does an exit stage left, cruelly depriving us yet again of the chance to see her die a horrible death.

Tip transitions from dull tyke to pouting queen. The eye blinks of our purple cow generate more life than poor Tip. Whatever hell Channy put Barry though off-screen, daddy has his humiliating revenge here.

The Wonderful Land of Oz is mind-numbing in its wretchedness. To think that kiddie cinema patrons actually had to shell out a dime to sit through this smacks of a prime example of yesteryear’s cruelties.

The Beast That Killed Women (1965) features a guy in a blue rubber gorilla suit terrorizing women in a nudist colony, which means lots of nudity, some bad 60s music, even worse dancing, and one actual kill. I just saved you an hour.

238. THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES (1969)

AKA Sayat Nova

“Besides the film language suggested by Griffith and Eisenstein… cinema has not discovered anything revolutionarily new until The Color of Pomegranates, not counting the generally unaccepted language of the Andalusian Dog by Buñuel.”–Mikhail Vartanov

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sofiko Chiaureli, Vilen Galstyan, Giorgi Gegechkori, M. Alekyan, Spartak Bagashvili, Medea Japaridze

PLOT: The Color of Pomegranates is essentially impressionistic and plotless, although the tableaux roughly follow the chronology of the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova. We first see the poet as a child in a village, introduced to the images that will follow him throughout his life: the lute, the iconographic texts of the Armenian Apostolic Church, farm animals. As he grows, he marries, becomes a widower and then a priest, leaves his monastic calling to travel the countryside as a bard, and is finally killed by Persians.

Still from The Color of Pomegrenates (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • Sayat Nova (the name translates as “King of Song”) was an 18th century Armenian priest, poet and ashik (a wandering troubadour who played a “saz,” a Central Asian lute). Nova was killed by Iranian invaders for refusing to convert to Islam.
  • Sergei Parajanov was born in Georgia to Armenian parents, and began his filmmaking career in Ukraine. Each of his major films is built around the folklore of a specific Soviet satellite state: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) revolves around Ukrainian legends, The Color of Pomegranates (1968) deals with an Armenian poet, and The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984) covers the mythology of his native Georgia. His final movie, Ashik Kerib (1988) shows an Azerbaijani influence.
  • First titled Sayat Nova, Parajanov’s film was immediately banned by the Soviet censors, then five minutes of religious imagery were removed and the film was briefly released under the title The Color of Pomegranates. The missing footage was restored in 1992.
  • Parajanov’s difficulty with USSR censors stemmed both from his rejection of the official aesthetic doctrine of socialist realism and from concerns that his films would revive nationalist sentiments in formerly independent states (Ukraine and Armenia). Parajanov, who was bisexual, was jailed from 1973-1977 on what are widely considered fabricated charges of homosexual rape, and was not allowed to make another film until 1984.
  • Actress Sofiko Chiaureli plays at least five roles in the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Since actress Sofiko Chiaureli serves as Parajanov’s muse for this poetic odyssey, playing multiple roles (both male and female), it is only right that it is her face, reconfigured in dozens of guises, that we associate with the film. For our still, we selected her final appearance as the statuesque, granite-faced “Angel of Resurrection”—with a rooster perching on her shoulder.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Floating spinning lutes; Church of Sheep; shiny Mongol shoots a fresco

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: If someone sat down to watch The Color of Pomegranates with no background, they would have no idea what they were seeing. None at all. Every carefully composed image in Pomegranates is coded to a meaning, but the key to interpreting them is missing. If you are a time-traveling Armenian from 1969 you will understand more of what is going on in Parajanov’s vast visual poem than the average viewer—but not a lot more. Don’t fight the movie, just allow yourself to drown in the mystery of its images.


Trailer for The Color of Pomegranates

COMMENTS: One of the earliest scenes in The Color of Pomegranates Continue reading 238. THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES (1969)

230. THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)

Recommended

“Nobody ever got the point about what it was about. What we were trying to say through all this laughter and fun, was that if they dropped the bomb on a major civilisation, the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again and have Barclays Bank, Barclay cards, garages, hates, cinemas and all…just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity.”–Spike Milligan

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Rita Tushingham, Michael Hordern, , Richard Warwick, , Mona Washbourne, Marty Feldman, Spike Milligan, Dudley Moore,

PLOT: After a nuclear bomb is dropped on Britain, about twenty survivors prowl the wreckage, including 17-months pregnant Penelope and her parents and lover, who live on a still-functioning subway car. Aboveground, Lord Fortnum seeks the opinion of a doctor, who confirms his suspicions that nuclear mutation will soon turn him into a bed sitting room. When the chocolates taken from vending machines run out, the family makes its way to the surface, where Penelope finds herself engaged to the doctor, the mother turns into a wardrobe, and the entire family moves into Lord Fortnum.

Still from The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Bed Sitting Room began its life as a one-act play, written by comedian Spike Milligan and John Antrobus in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Promoters acknowledged the film’s limited commercial prospects by issuing a poster with the tagline “we’ve got a BOMB* on our hands” and the footnote (“*BOMB – a motion picture so brilliantly funny it goes over most people’s heads”).
  • The film bombed so hard, in fact, that director Richard Lester could not find work for four years afterwards, and when he returned to movies he toned down the absurdism of his early films and worked in a mainstream idiom, returning with the action-comedy The Three Musketeers (1973) and going on to direct blockbusters like Superman II (1980).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The BBC, tidy tuxedo on top his top half, sackcloth on the bottom, squatting in an empty television frame on a blasted salt flat to deliver exposition.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: BBC post-bomb broadcasts; dad’s a parrot and mom’s a wardrobe; a doctor living inside his patient

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Twenty very British survivors of the apocalypse go about their business amidst the rubble, despite mutations that gradually change them into furniture or bargain housing. This absurd anxiety nightmare about the Bomb could only have come out of the Swinging Sixties; it’s one of the weirder relics of an era when filmmakers felt it was their patriotic duty to laugh in the face of the imminent apocalypse.


“Trailers from Hell” annotated original trailer for The Bed Sitting Room

COMMENTS: The original play “The Bed Sitting Room” was written Continue reading 230. THE BED SITTING ROOM (1969)

CAPSULE: THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969)

DIRECTED BY: Jack Smight

FEATURING: Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas

PLOT: A young hobo meets a man covered from head-to-toe in tattoos; each illustration tells a story of the future if you gaze it at long enough.

Still from The Illustrated Man (1969)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It has a few odd moments, but overall this collection of speculative fiction isn’t that strange. Maybe people were easier to wierd-out in 1969; after all, this movie comes from a time when the tattoos that cover from Steiger’s character from head to toe made him a freak only suitable for a job as a sideshow attraction at a carnival. Today, the Illustrated Man could just be any old barista at Starbucks.

COMMENTS: Structurally, The Illustrated Man‘s concept is simple. Rod Steiger is Carl, the title character, whose body is a canvas of tattoos (“illustrations!,” he insists) that move and tell stories if the viewer stares at them long enough. Neophyte hobo Willie (Drivas) does so, which is the excuse for the movie to launch into three mildly ironic science fiction short stories. Meanwhile, a lot of time is devoted the interplay between Carl, whose harsh experiences are etched on his very flesh, and the wide-eyed younger wanderer who can’t resist peeking at the bitter future promised by the illustrations. Carl also relates, in flashback, the story of how he met the “witch from the future” (Claire Bloom), who seduces him into becoming her canvas.

The three tattoo-inspired stories involve a virtual reality nursery and some very spoiled children, a group of soldiers trapped on a planet where it never stops raining, and the tale of the last night on Earth. The major roles in these insets are also played by Steiger, Bloom and Drivas, but the framing story (and its flashbacks) outshines each of them. Steiger digs into the role like a famished hobo digs into a steak, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. He is grizzled and dominant as the tattooed tramp wandering the Earth looking to take vengeance on his witch, but fresh-faced and easily led as the younger man who stumbles into her lair. A couple of fantastical, surreal elements also exist in the framing story: Carl’s highly portable dog, and his ability to silence crickets. These moments give the film a strange altered reality and a creepy texture that goes beyond the chills elicited by mere campfire tales. The Illustrated Man received generally poor reviews at the time of its release. It’s not quite as bad as its contemporary critics thought, but neither is it a lost cult classic. It’s a perfectly serviceable science fiction anthology that will probably satisfy the average “Twilight Zone” enthusiast, but it also leaves a lot on the table, since Steiger’s meaty Carl seems like he could carry a feature-length film.

Ray Bradbury’s short story collection “The Illustrated Man” was first published in 1951. The framing story there only consists of a few paragraphs, so the adaptation necessarily expands greatly on the Illustrated Man’s character. Bradbury later wrote a short story also titled “The Illustrated Man,” which shows up in print editions of the book starting in 1997; it’s a dark fairy tale that is thematically similar, but very different, plotwise, than the story that appears in the film. There are rumors of a remake (which would adapt some of the other 18 stories in the original collection), with to direct.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…[the] screenplay is unsharp, without focus, working into and out of the hallucinations with great awkwardness. It also is so thinly structured that it simply cannot contain Mr. Steiger’s baroque performance as the man whose very skin is haunted.“–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Caleb Moss. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: CULT OF THE DAMNED [AKA ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO] (1969)

DIRECTED BY: Robert Thom

FEATURING: , Holly Near, Jordan Christopher, Charles Aidman, Lou Rawls, Davey Davison, Roddy McDowell
PLOT:  The travails of Beverly Hills-born Tara Nicole Steele, whose mother is a famous film star still trying to remain in the spotlight and whose father (Charles Aidman) is a closeted homosexual. When she returns home for her debutante party, she falls under the influence of a charismatic rock singer and his band mates, and the influence spreads to the entire household.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One of the lesser known products of the culture clash of the Psychedelic 60’s with Old Hollywood, Angel is a sweaty Tennessee Williams fever dream/soap opera on acid, and would make a decent double bill with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—and give it a run for its money.

COMMENTS: There’s just no description for Angel, Angel, Down We Go, other than to call it another raw look into the (twisted) brain of Robert Thom, writer of Wild in the Streets, Death Race 2000, and The Witch Who Came from the Sea, among others. Angel is the one time that Thom was in the director’s chair, having direct control over his material.

Angel was soundly flogged by critics and ignored by the general public when first released in August 1969, but when the Manson Family made their debut at roughly the same time, the film was given a second go-around under a different title, Cult of the Damned, in hopes that audiences would flock to the carny show. Audiences didn’t, critics still flogged the film, and it fell into obscurity, not even getting a home video release until February 2015. There were some satellite-TV screenings in the 80’s and on Showtime, and it streamed on Netflix (often getting confused with Guyana: Cult of the Damned). The movie gained a small cult of devotees who managed to catch the rare screening or who saw it during its initial run. While the title Cult of the Damned hints at lurid Mansonesque goings-on in upscale Beverly Hills, there is no cathartic massacre of demented hippies tearing down the social order at the end of the film. The original Angel title is more in line with the film’s tone, which is violent, but is mainly emotional/intellectual violence.

Angel would seem to be part of that slew of films made in the late 60’s where Old Hollywood, trying to stay relevant to audiences, collided, J.G. Ballard-style, with the New Counterculture (Valley of the Dolls, The Big Cube, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Myra Breckenridge). It also partakes of the subgenre where a charismatic individual wreaks havoc on a ‘normal’ family (Teorema). It even goes further by actively incorporating aspects of avant-garde/underground film and theater, further exaggerating the camp of Hollywood melodrama. Imagine if some studio had hired to do a narrative feature film.

According to Paul Green’s “Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films,” Angel originally derived from a 1961 play of Robert Thom’s, repurposed as “A far out version of The Green Hat kind of play about a wild girl heading for destruction… a present day type of F. Scott Fitzgerald heroine.” That fits with reading the film as a demented fever dream of its main character/unreliable narrator, Tara Steele (Holly Near): child of neglectful parents and victim of emotional (and quite possibly, sexual) abuse, whose psychology is visualized via a Robert Rauschenberg/Martha Colburn type of collage created by artist Shirley Kaplan.

One can go on about the flaws of this film—and many have—but the main flaw is oddly the thing which makes it fascinating. Angel is overstuffed with themes which occur throughout Thom’s work: the fascination/repulsion with Old Hollywood (The Legend of Lylah Clare, The Phantom of Hollywood), the jaundiced look at the youth culture (Wild in the Streets), the effects of emotional and sexual abuse (The Witch Who Came from the Sea). It’s as though he decided to put in as much as he possibly could, since he was finally directing. The film never registers as being out of control, however; Thom’s direction is very deliberate and he gets excellent performances from the cast.

Recently released on Blu-Ray by Scorpion Releasing/Kino-Lorber (under the Cult of the Damned title), the film has an excellent presentation for home video, including a very informative and insightful commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson (from Mondo Digital) and Tim Greer. One quibble is the lack of subtitles;  the film is very dialog-heavy, with a lot of melodramatic word play that you might miss the first time. Subs would definitely help follow the theatrical dialog.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Confusion reigns in this sick film about Hollywood decadence.”–TV Guide

FELLINI SATYRICON (1969): THE CRITERION COLLECTION ON BLU-RAY

“The quintessential Fellini film. There are orgies, murders, abductions, rituals, all presented coolly, without editorial comment—as might a Warren Commission Report from Mars.”—Vincent Canby

Although Fellini Satyricon (1969) has already made the List, its re-release as a Criterion Collection Blu-ray warrants additional coverage. The previous MGM DVD Edition was threadbare, and although it thankfully kept the film in circulation, you can now donate your copy to a  virgin (although making Satyricon your first would be unwise).

Actually, my MGM DVD has proven quite handy over the last decade, being one of my most coveted films for the bourgeoisie to walk out on. More than once it has been useful in ridding myself of unwanted guests, or those who have overstayed their welcome. Rather than repeatedly looking at the Seiko on my wrist, all I had to do was slap Satyricon into the player and within a half hour I would, without fail, find myself alone enjoying the company of my dear, beloved, beautiful late Siamese cat, Betty.

The last time I pulled it out was possibly the most beneficial to me: a family member, for some reason, decided to drop by; which would have been fine, except that he brought with him his hopelessly constipated Bible-beating fundamentalist girlfriend, who proceeded to “enlighten” and “warn” me about the upcoming rapture, lest I be “left behind.” I neither argued nor even looked at my watch. I merely smiled, popped in Satyricon and—bam—in a record time of seventeen minutes, sister So-and-So was outta my door. I gave Betty her trout and lay back, thanking both St. Federico and MGM. Although Betty broke my heart by suddenly, and without warning, flying off this mortal coil, she can now join Federico and my wife and I (in spirit), looking down from trout heaven at a crystal clear Criterion Satyricon. I am willing to bet that, with this release, I can beat my seventeen-minute record the next time an uptight cinematic illiterate or artless boob darkens my door.

Of course, the film was loosely based on Petronius’ ancient satire, and all that history is covered here. As with Roma (1972) Fellini includes his name as part of the title, not out of ego, but to inform the view that this is Fellini’s personal interpretation of the satire, not Petronius. Conventional wisdom says that with Satyricon Fellini entered a whole new plane of eccentric (some would say excessive) personal filmmaking, daring to produce a work which does not strive to be populist. Fellini counted this, with 1976’s tragically unavailable Casanova, as his most perfectly realized film.

Director of Photography Giuseppe Rotunno supervised Criterion’s digital restoration, which renders the viewing experience an entirely new film. The difference is almost akin to seeing a painting in the flesh as opposed to looking at in an art history reference book. From the rich pigments of the clothing to the caked face paint of the extras, the vivid background colors, reddened skies, bluish serpentine caverns, and even the subtitles (a new and improved English translation), this is a radical improvement over MGM’s release. As a product of the late 60s, Satyricon is mesmerizingly psychedelic. The fabric of Fellini’s hellish milieu never looked so sumptuous and inviting. Additionally, its absurd dialogue, spoken in multifarious languages, and the Nino Rota score are at their most cacophonous.

Starting with the audio commentary track, the extras are aptly idiosyncratic. Not recorded directly for the Blu-ray release, it is instead an expansively informative “Behind the Scenes Diary,” recorded in 1971 by Eileen Lanouette Hughes. She covers Fellini’s original vision for the film, how that vision evolved during production, provides behind the scenes descriptions, the history of the film’s funding, explains Fellini’s processes and casting decisions, and compares Petronious’ satire to Fellini’s finished adaptation.

“Ciao Federico,” is an hour-long documentary produced by Gideon Bachmann in 1970. Showing the behind the scenes interaction between director and cast, it reveals Fellini as something of a taskmaster, albeit one who quickly apologizes for belittling his actors. Among the visitors to the set, we see  and his doomed wife, Sharon Tate.

The director discusses everything from the latent morality of the film (aka godless violence) to Gene Shalit’s waxed mustache in a series of interviews. An interview with DP Rotunno reveals the director’s aversion to creating a realistic ancient Roman world; he desired instead a mythical, artificial look.

Classical scholars, film consultants Joanna Paul and Luca Canali expand on Hughes’ commentary in the “Fellini and Petronious” supplement. On set photographer Mary Ellen Mark amusingly recounts anecdotes of working with Fellini (and the director’s sycophants).

Fellini Satyricon Poster“Felliniana” is a hi-res slideshow from Dan Young’s epic Satyricon memorabilia, including a collection of provocative posters.

An extensive essay booklet by film scholar Michael Wood accompanies the original theatrical trailer, closing this release. It is enough for several nights’ worth of cozy, entertaining, academic foreplay before consummating with the film itself. A wholeheartedly recommended, essential release.