Review: Terror in a Texas Town (Blu-Ray)

Terror in a Texas Town coverI sure wish director Joseph H. Lewis got more a lot more respect these days. Granted, his career spanned 41 mostly B-movies spread across different genres that it was hard to shoehorn him into a box (but that’s a good thing for those who love variety and surprises). You could say he was a journeyman with quite a vision, as some of his films were memorable and considered classics by those some film lovers who’ve seen his work and appreciate it. He took some chances in his time in the director’s chair, but also made the some pretty generic titles between the brilliant ones.  While some of the results might have gone over the heads of some viewers at the time, it’s worth tracking down some of his work to see a quiet master in action when the results were really good.

In 1958, Lewis planned to retire from movies and go to TV, but opted out to make one final film, the B-quality, but memorable for a few reasons western, Terror in a Texas Town. While it’s no epic (hell, it opens right off the bat with part of the ending sequence and also uses some ancient stock footage a few times, clearly as a means to kill time and save money during its tidy 81 minutes) and the story is a bit weathered (until you know certain things about its genesis), it’s worth a watch because it’s an intriguing B-grade flick on a few fronts. Is it a “good” movie? Well, one could say where it counts it is despite its budgetary limitations.

Terror in a Texas Town-01

“No, I don’t like your tie. Besides, I’m married to the man who’s going to try and kill you, sooo…”

Sterling Hayden plays George Hansen, a Swedish immigrant, who after almost 20 years at sea, comes to America to live and farm alongside his dad, Sven, who’s been waiting for him to arrive. Unfortunately, Sven is murdered in cold blood while trying to defend his land from Crale (Nedrick Young) the steel-fisted and black-clad killer hired by McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) who it turns out, would probably rather have paid Sven off or burned him out instead of having him killed. But, gone is gone, McNeil gets his ill-gotten land and Crale quite enjoys what he does. Protests from his weary wife, Molly (Carol Kelly) who warns Crale the law could close in any moment, go ignored by Crale and it seems he’s due for a fall at some point. He’s not exactly in his prime and his former gun hand was shot off and replaced with a steel one (it’s too bad more isn’t made of this, though). McNeil’s plan is to grab all the land in the area for its newly found oil and the film opens (after the titles) with a literal barn burning as a elderly couple gets one of McNeil’s less violent choices of treatment.

(Thanks, HD Retro Trailers!)

Continue reading

Advertisements

Review: Black Sunday/Mask of the Demon (Blu-Ray)

(Thanks, FulciLives!)

Layout 1Say, did I ever tell you all the story of the time a few decades ago back in the 80’s when I learned how to brine a chicken thanks to a pair of very helpful Satanists looking for Kosher salt at a grocery store? No? Well, that’s not why we’re here, so I won’t go into it other than to say I didn’t know they were into that stuff, and hell, I’m an atheist anyway. The chicken? It was excellent by the way. Still is, whenever it’s made.

Uh, speaking of “anyway”, Let’s move on.

Still scary and somewhat phenomenally timeless, Mario Bava’s classic “first” film La Maschera Del Demonio/The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday in the US) starts off unsettling and keeps the frights coming until the end. Bava’s direction and art direction here are generally superb, although yes, there are a few plot holes you can drive a rattly (or rat-filled) old Fiat through if you follow the story too closely. But taken as a whole, it’s still a work of brilliance that many films have paid homage to over the decades since its release.

Black Sunday 02

“Where the hell is my coffee? I just woke up after 200 years!”

Very loosely based on The Viy, Nikolai Gogol’s horror tale from 1835, the film revels in its high Gothic style, early use of gore effects and the stunning Barbara Steele who plays both the evil Asa Vajda and 200 years after her demise, her relative, Katia Vajda. It’s a revenge story of sorts, as that witch and her soulless-mate Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are separated and then executed in a most bloody fashion for their crimes and yes, there’s a bit of a promise of defiant revenge from the witch. 200 years later, it’s young Katya who’s target of a newly revived Asa’s demonic ways and in tandem with the revived Javutich, things get ugly for a few people after that curse literally comes to life. Wait, or is it figuratively? I forget.

Black Sunday 04

Vincent Price wants his stage wig back when you’re done, pal.

Interestingly, the film links Satanism and witchcraft to devil worship as the same thing, which is about the sole flaw that sticks out (well, I’d guess it was seen as the same in the 1630’s, but I’m a terrible time traveler, getting too sick from the trips to pay attention and all that).

Continue reading

Arrow Brings a Few Juicy Pumpkins for an October Surprise

Arrow_ArrowAcademy_logos

Yum! Here are next months Arrow and Arrow Academy releases to ogle. Expect some really nice surprises to add to your libraries. as usual:

KILLER NUN[Blu-ray] (10/15)
THE DEAD CENTER [Blu-ray and DVD] (10/22)
RINGU [Blu-ray] (10/29)
RINGU COLLECTION [Blu-ray] (10/29)
MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES [Blu-ray] (10/29)
Oh, yes indeed, it’s guaranteed to be a scare-packed Halloween with this lineup.
-GW

Review: The Possessed (Blu-Ray)

The Possessed_00

“On a clear day, you can see forever…”

The PossessedGiven the subject matter, The Lady of the Lake is a better title than The Possessed, lets get that out of the way first and foremost. Granted, it’s also the name you’d use if talking about the legend of King Arthur and with a slight tweak, it’s the name of a 1947 film noir classic that’s a neat experiment. Still, this 1965 Italian murder mystery from co-directors Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini is a compelling, arty proto-giallo well worth a look.

The film blends both director’s styles in an impressive and intentionally at times hard to follow plot, but its intents are made to keep you guessing what’s true and untrue until the mystery is resolved. While based loosely on a series of actual murders, the at times dreamlike presentation keeps things a lot less grounded as our less than heroic “hero” figures out why the gal he was so madly in love with was possibly murdered.

The Possessed_VL

Virna Lisi as the ill-fated Tilde. She’s not a good girl, it seems.

Bernard (Peter Baldwin), a morose young man with a bit of fame is in the process of writing a new book, visits the same slightly dull Italian village he grew up in only to discover that a pretty maid named Tilde (a stunning Virna Lisi) working at the local inn has died. A little poking around reveals she may have been murdered, but why is that important information held from him (“You didn’t ask.” comes one rather surprising answer early on) and why are there a few potential suspects that happen to be from the same family that owns the inn?

Hmmm… why, indeed? Tilde only appears to him from a few mysterious dreams and flashbacks that may or may not be related to Bernard’s mental state, so he’s maybe as unreliable a narrator as it gets. Hey, at least his hazy, surreal nightmares are pretty darn interesting to say the least.

Continue reading

Review: So Dark the Night (Blu-Ray)

So Dark the Night_01

How do you say “bleak as hell” in French?

So Dark the Night coverDeceptively beginning as a charming budget flick, Joseph H. White’s 1946 film noir So Dark The Night becomes so much its name as it devolves into sheer bleakness despite a fairly cliché-filled script. Without spoiling too much, its tale of a defective detective is a lot less Clouseau and a lot more Hitchcock as time goes on. But on a second viewing, it’s clear that the cheery tone the film begins with is a perfect setup to what’s to come.

When happy go lucky but weary Parisian detective Henri Cassin (Steven Geray) takes a much-needed vacation to a peaceful French village, a series of murders occur that has him using his years of well-honed skills to solve the crimes, but a proper solution escapes him until he realizes the shocking truth.

This corker of a thriller is expertly directed and shot, clocking in at a tidy 71 minutes has a few issues, but considering them in a film that looks so polished when judged in today’s terms, it’s a hidden gem that deserves a second look. Yes, some of the “Frenchiness” is stereotypical Hollywood and parts of the third act seem as if they come out of thin air. But when you realize what’s taking place earlier may be the results of a deluded mind (and excellent score), it all makes sense.

Continue reading

Review: My Name is Julia Ross (Blu-Ray)

mynameisjuliaross01

Don’t get pushy. mister. It looks bad to the hired help.

mynameisjuliaross_coverClocking in at a taut 65 minutes 2 seconds, Joseph H. Lewis’ (Gun Crazy, The Big Combo) excellent low-budget sort of gothic noir My Name is Julia Ross will keep you guessing until its very end. There’s a feeling of immediate regret for its lowly heroine (played by Nina Foch) as the down on her luck expatriate ends up taking a secretarial job that puts her life at risk as as she’s taken in by a crooked family that means to do the poor girl in. Why this is happening to her is a little mystery the film will have you wrapped up in for its entire running time and the conclusion closes a tight thriller in just about perfect form.

Julia wakes up with a new name and location wondering what the heck is happening and why she’s wearing monogrammed clothing with someone’s initials. We previously see all her items being trashed by her new “family”, so it’s a case of dread for her fate a few minutes in. Her sole out is perhaps a local gal who works in the mansion she’s trapped in who works as a maid, but even she’s not as sharp as Julia turns out to be at the end. Julia is initially a bit addled from the “medicine” forced into her tea every morning, but her determination keeps her from losing it despite her “mother” (Dame May Whitty), “husband” (George Macready) and a few others making her life a living (albeit luxurious) hell. Living there isn’t the worst thing for Julia… except for the dying part her kidnappers want her to play for real.

Continue reading

Criterion’s Upcoming Godzilla Box May Make Me Sell an Organ

Holy Crap

My exact expression when I found out Criterion was making a dream box set of mine come true.

Wow. My wallet just jumped out the window when I saw that Criterion is issuing its 1000th set in glorious style with Godzilla: The Showa Era Films (1954-1975). The funny thing is, last month, all these flicks popped up on a cable channel and I caught most of them while wondering at one point if they were going to be fully remastered and *BOOM* – along comes this news and my wallet taking a dive onto the pavement.  *Sigh*… it looks as if it’s time for another DAF game collection fire sale, as this one’s bound to sell out fast on the pre-order front and nope, I’m neither paying some ebay scalper way too much money nor holding out for the cheap knockoffs that will pack that site and fool a few folks thinking they scored a deal from some “clueless” reseller from overseas.

Color me and me inner eight-year old thrilled. Yours too, I’d bet.

Marty and the boys

“Hey, Marty! Whatcha doin’ tonight?”

-GW

Whatever Will Be, Will Be

(Thanks, ukwebwonders!)

My first memory of Doris Day was her long-running TV series that ran on CBS from 1968 to 1975, which I understand she initially wanted no part of. Although I can’t recall a single episode (I was four years old when it premiered) other than each one I saw being as blandly wholesome and clean-cut as it gets with the usual sitcom of the era comedic flourishes (well, up until the last two seasons when network programming drastically changed).

Still, I did have “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” embedded in my brain for years (it’s still there) and yes, automatically associated it with Day, which ended up making my first viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s excellent 1956 “remake” of his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much even more entertaining.

That song gets sung twice during the film, but as I’m betting a penny some of you haven’t yet seen this classic, I’ll let you go watch the film and see how well it’s used.
Continue reading

May the 4th Needs a Fifth, I Think

Yeah, yeah. I kind of don’t like the over-celebrating thing when it comes to some stuff I appreciate, but that’s the way things are these days. Still, a little tribute is in order to a film that deserves it (well, in its original format), so here’s mine.

Perspective from an old fart who knows stuff: There was not a hint of internet nor the sort of over-speculation we suffer though today way back in 1976 when I was sitting in a movie theater and saw this teaser for the first time:

(Thanks, thecoolman!)

I vaguely recall being really curious about this upcoming film because it looked completely different than anything I could recall seeing (hey, I was only 12 at the time), yet it seemed really familiar in a few ways to stuff I’d seen on the local PBS station. At that point, I had zero idea of what a homage was or a way to grasp that George Lucas was borrowing from the past to create his own futuristic adventure (what was curiously, set in the distant past). Anyway, I noted the non-date and filed the film away in the memory banks as something to look forward to seeing. Those school friends I knew were either not interested at all or worse, had a low opinion of sci-fi films that extended to books and comics of the period. So only a rare few of the kids I knew even cared about this film before and to some extent, after it was released.

The most amusing modern thing in regards to this teaser is the Official Star Wars YT channel has an (intentionally?) embarrassing low quality teaser while other non-official sites have not only better quality ones, but one that’s been redone to include footage found in the actual release print. Granted, while MUCH prettier, I find that clip problematic because it’s redone history that erases the fact that the teaser was supposed to be cruder thanks to the film still being nowhere near completion a about a year out from its eventual release date. Sure, film fans didn’t know this and other that tiny bits (VERY tiny) of information dropped in a few sci-fi mags of the era. But that all changed as 1977 rolled around and more info as well as the successful Star Wars comic book appeared. I avoided the comic for a while, but eventually collected most of its run over time, enjoying a good deal of what I was reading (including stuff now FAR outside the current canon)

Continue reading

Detour Takes a Turn To 4K

(Thanks, Film Forum!)

Detour_MP

Well… it’s a more of a one-way ticket for a few of the less fortunate folks in this flick.

 

If you’ve somehow never seen Edgar G. Ulmer’s absolutely mind-blowing 1945 noir Detour (or even if you have via a few public domain channels) and live in the NYC area, you’re in luck. The Film Forum will be showing a newly restored 4K version from November 30 to December 6, 2018. If I’m not mistaken, I saw this on the big screen way back in 1992 (I think it was at the Film Forum or one of the other downtown NYC indie theaters) when it got a re-release alongside the Wade Williams remake that was okay (albeit not as great as the original) and added scenes not found in the original film.

It’s probably a given that this one will indeed pop up on a disc at some point and even though it’s a film I’ve seen maybe 25 or so times since, I think it’s a good chance this will get added to the library here just to have the best version available. Sure, the ratty quality of the original print lends a certain vintage “charm” to the film. But hell, it’s the 21st century and being able to see this cleaned up and maybe with some minor gaps fixed will be a real treat.

-GW