Monday, 30 April 2012

Poll Results - May Film Reviews

The results are in, and the die has been cast. For the majority of April a poll has been in operation to determine two of the films I will be reviewing in May. This new innovation to The Celluloid Highway seems to have met with a favourable and enthusiastic response, and I’ve decided to make it a regular feature. I often find that one of the trickiest aspects of undertaking a blog such as this is actually deciding what films to review. There is no rhyme or reason to my choices aside from the fact that I have no interest in writing about average movies. I much prefer discussing films that are either very good or very bad. The eight films chosen for this recent poll hopefully reflect this. I also like the idea of knowing that each month I will at least be writing about a couple of films that I know someone out there would like to see discussed on this site. So without further delay, here are the full results for the April poll;

01 LADYHAWKE (1985) – 5 Votes (29%)
02 MELANCHOLIA (2011) – 4 Votes (23%)
03 THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (1971) – 4 Votes (23%)
04 DUST DEVIL (1992) – 2 Votes (11%)
05 BARE BEHIND BARS (1980) – 1 Vote (5%)
06 IT’S ALIVE (1974) – 1 Vote (5%)
07 BLUE THUNDER (1983) – 0 Votes (0%)
08 THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS (1974) – 0 Votes (0%)

Richard Donner’s fantasy fable Ladyhawke was a clear winner, but there is a tie for second place between Melancholia and The Panic in Needle Park. Therefore the first person to leave a comment on this post can choose which of the two will be reviewed. If nobody comments I’ll flip a coin at a later date. In the best tradition of football league tables the bottom two are relegated, with a total lack of interest in these titles they will never again feature in a future poll, but they may still get reviewed at some point. The remaining films all live to fight another day and may be used again in a future ballot.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

Country: USA

Despite being hamstrung by a misleading and inappropriate title that conjures up the muted chills of The Cat and the Canary (1927) and Gaslight (1944), Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is in fact one of the most insidious and disconcerting horror pictures of the 1970’s. This is no small feat in a decade awash with some of the most important and influential films to ever grace the horror genre. One obvious inspiration for Jessica was George A. Romero’s keynote speech for a new type of modern horror film Night of the Living Dead (1968), but where Romero’s film utilised schlock and sensationalism, John Hancock’s debut effort instead opts for an unassuming and inconspicuous subtlety, an approach to the material that almost certainly had negative consequences on the films box office potential. It’s abundantly clear from the films descent into obscurity, lessened somewhat by its regular showings on late night television, that co-financier Paramount Pictures either didn’t have the desire or the knowledge of how to sell such a distinctively offbeat picture. The failure of Jessica to resonate with a substantive audience, in a decade which saw a number of dreadful films clean up on 42nd Street and in the drive-ins, is one of the more depressing chapters in the annals of horror history. But with the likes of Stephen King and Kim Newman championing the cause, a decent DVD from Paramount (put out in 2006, and badly in need of a re-issue), the movie has steadily built up a loyal and appreciative cult following.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Three Stephen King Short Films

I’m a major enthusiast for, and follower of, Stephen King’s remarkable Dark Tower saga, and to commemorate the UK release of The Wind through the Keyhole, the latest chapter in this ever evolving mythology, I thought I’d write a piece dedicated to the more shadowy and indistinct corners of the King filmography. The Stephen King short film is a phenomenon all of its own, but one that generally exists below the radar due to the fact that the films are almost entirely the work of students and/or passionate amateurs. All of these intriguing (and to be fair often quite amateurish) efforts are known by the collective term Dollar Babies. For those unfamiliar with this term and the ideology behind it, here is a quote from Mr. King himself;

“77 was the year young filmmakers - college students, for the most part - started writing me about the stories I'd published (first in Night Shift later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper promising that no resulting film will be exhibited commercially without approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar. I have made the dollar-deal, as I call it, over my accountant's moans and head-clutching protests sixteen or seventeen times as of this writing..” *

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Planet of the Vampires (1965)


Terrore Nello Spazio
Planet of Blood
The Demon Planet
The Haunted Planet
The Planet of Terror

Perhaps more than any other work in Mario Bava’s diverse and fascinating filmography, his 1965 science-fiction/horror effort Planet of the Vampires best illustrates the Italian’s unerring ability to utilise the limited resources at his disposal in a positive fashion. Planet of the Vampires, like the majority of Bava’s pictures, was a threadbare production made on a poverty row budget. It did however have the benefit of Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson as executive producers, and a subsequent guarantee of US distribution through their company AIP. The source material was a short story by Renato Pestriniero entitled One Night of 21 Hours, a story which remains as obscure as the man himself. If anyone knows anything more about Mr. Pestriniero please feel free to leave a comment. This was subsequently adapted for the screen by Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Callisto Cosulich, Antonio Roman, and Rafael J. Salvia. A consequence of being in partnership with AIP however was the necessity of an English language version; herein lies one of the great tragedies to afflict Planet of the Vampires. The English version was handled by Danish novelist/screenwriter/director Ib Melchior (The Angry Red Planet [1959], The Time Travellers [1964], Robinson Crusoe on Mars [1964]) and Louis M. Heyward (writer of such masterpieces as Pajama Party [1964], The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini [1966] and Dr. Goldfoot and the ‘S’ Bomb [1966]). My assessment of their contribution to Planet of the Vampires is thus; watch the original Italian language version!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)

Country: UK

Hammer’s 1959 production The Man Who Could Cheat Death was a sobering lesson in how the British studios unique brand of gothic horror could easily become stilted and uninteresting. There were warning signs in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) which was sluggish and long-winded in places, but the appetite of cinema patrons for a sensational colour horror film in the dour and dreary late 1950’s, to a certain degree papered over the negative consequences of Terence Fisher’s unadventurous, unobtrusive and minimalist attitude to film direction. Fisher’s style however was particularly suited to Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), and this trilogy of excellent gothic pictures did what a Fisher film does best; shows off and celebrates other aspects of the production. Fisher was an extremely generous filmmaker, and one who instinctively knew that certain aspects of a film should be highlighted, while others should be left to linger in the shadows. A casualty of this approach was Fisher himself, whose status as a director was never recognised by contemporary culture. The Man Who Could Cheat Death was Hammer’s fifth departure into the Victorian trappings of gothic horror, and on almost every level is an unqualified failure; and while defenders of Hammer may argue that it fails in spite of Terence Fisher’s best efforts, I think Fisher needs to take his share of the blame.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Exterminator (1980)

Country: USA

In an interview for Arrow Video’s recent blu-ray release the writer/director of The Exterminator James Glickenhaus mentions the influence of Sergio Leone’s ‘Dollars’ trilogy, is unable to avoid (though one gets the impression he’d like too) the obvious debt paid to Michael Winner’s Death Wish (1974), but doesn’t even mention Rolling Thunder (1977) the film to which The Exterminator is most closely allied. It seems inconceivable that Glickenhaus wasn’t at least on nodding terms with the Flynn/Schrader production, which was the first film to explore the readjustment of returning veterans within the framework of the vigilante/action sub-genre. Admittedly The Exterminator places almost its entire emphasis on the vigilante/action angle, and emerges as less worthy and thought provoking as a result, but the plus side is that it is much more entertaining due to its total commitment to exploitation elements. In the years following Rolling Thunder cinematic representations of Vietnam had taken a more existential and philosophical route in and out of the conflict. The critical and commercial success of award winning productions such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979) had made the subject the territory of self professed ‘auteur’s’ driven by ego, greed, and megalomania. By contrast Glickenhaus chose to drag the subject down into the sewer, to wallow in the shit of Grindhouse exploitation, and I for one am extremely glad of this.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Puzzle (1974)

Country: ITALY

L'uoma Senza Memoria
Man Without a Memory

Having carved himself a niche in the ripped torso’s, tests of strength, and myth and fantasy of the peplum, and then confidently leaped into the saddle for the dusty heat and cynical violence of the spaghetti western, it was inevitable that director Duccio Tessari would eventually find himself staring into a bottle of J&B Whiskey and making himself at home amid the chunky turtle neck sweaters, blazers, and camp penthouse apartments of the giallo. But like Fernando Di Leo, Enzo G. Castellari, and Tonino Valerii, directors more commonly associated with other popular cycles, Dessari’s journey into the jet-set cosmopolitanism of the giallo was brief, but in one case at least, very memorable. This memorable addition to the fabric of the cycle was in actual fact his first foray, the beautiful and evocatively titled The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971). Tessari’s means of stylistic expression was significantly more restrained in this example, and the broad violent punctuation marks represented by the set piece are barely in evidence. Instead Tessari very wisely adopted a more simplified filmmaking approach which serves the tightly plotted narrative, instead of overwhelming it. He was aided in his cause by a fine score from Gianni Ferrio, expert cinematography by Carlo Carlini, and a solid lead performance by Helmut Berger.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lobby Card Collection - Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott's neon-lit future noir conception of Phillip K. Dicks Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one of my favourite science-fiction pictures, and I'm horrified to discover that it hasn't been covered at all on The Celluloid Highway. There are some films that I feel so close too that critical objectivity is all but an impossibility, Blade Runner is one such film, which is perhaps why I have avoided reviewing it to date. To compensate for its notable lack on these pages here is a series of eight lobby cards used to promote the film. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Two Films by Davide Melini


Country: SPAIN

I recently received a pleasant communiqué from Italian writer/producer/director Davide Melini directing me towards two of his short films The Puzzle (2008) and the beautifully titled The Sweet Hand of the White Rose (2010). The former runs for just under five minutes, and the latter for just under seventeen, so I felt it was the least I could do to spare twenty-two minutes in the service of independent filmmaking. Melini informs me that he worked with Dario Argento on the abominated monstrosity The Mother of Tears (2007); for those who have never heard of Mr. Argento, he made a couple of good films in the 1970’s which he has since lived off. Obviously Mr. Melini hasn’t read my review of The Mother of Tears, otherwise he may well have chosen to omit that nugget of information. But I’m not entirely anti-Argento, and I won’t hold it against Davide that he had the misfortune of working with such an amateur. His five minute short The Puzzle actually does have a notable thing in common with recent Argento movies; its story is so slight as to be non-existent and it makes about as much sense as sugar on chips. Melini  takes a writing credit for this effort, and to be fair, I think he’s being overly generous to himself. There is just a single line of dialogue, delivered unconvincingly  by actress Cachito Noguera, and apart from this the film almost entirely consists of flashy and self-conscious stylistic trickery.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Euro Crime Poster Gallery [Part 2]

La Polizia ha le Mani Legate aka Killer Cop (Luciano Ercoli, 1975) - Italian Poster

Morte Sospetta di una Minorenna aka Suspected Death of a Minor (Sergio Martino, 1975) - Italian Poster

Mark Colspice Ancora aka Mark Strikes Again (Stelvio Massi, 1976) - Italian Poster

Il Grande Racket aka The Big Racket (Enzo G. Castellari, 1976) - Italian Poster

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Euro Crime Poster Gallery [Part 1]

A Ciascuno il Suo aka We Still Kill the Old Way (Elio Petri, 1967) - US Poster

Il Giorno Della Civetta aka The Day of the Owl aka Mafia (Damiano Damiani, 1968) - Italian Poster

US Poster

Gli Intoccabili aka Machine Gun McCain (Giuliano Montaldo, 1968) - US Poster

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Alternative Jukebox

For some time now I've been wanting to share my music library, so I recently decided to create a channel on Youtube dedicated to my weird and wonderful collection. The Alternative Jukebox thus exists as a document of this diverse range of music. I have quite a lot of film soundtracks, between 2-300 at the last count, and these would figure prominently on the channel. But my music tastes are wide and varied and for this project I didn't want to piegon hole myself exclusively to the realm of cinema. Hence the fact that I haven't decided to call it Celluloid...something or other! Included in this post is a preview post and a link to the channel. If you're feeling particularly supportive I'd be very happy to welcome you as a subscriber. And if you're feeling particularly generous you might like to share the channel with others who may be interested. Thanks in advance!


Related Posts with Thumbnails