Saturday, 31 December 2011

Celluloid Sounds - Zombi 2 (1979)

This edition of the ever popular and world famous Celluloid Sounds will investigate the musical contribution of Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Cascio to Lucio Fulci’s gore soaked zombie opus Zombie 2 (aka too many different names to list). For pure entertainment I don’t think Fulci ever eclipsed this film, and it remains a firm favourite of mine. Intellectually I find myself gravitating to more nuanced and layered productions such as Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) or A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), but for sheer enjoyment then look no further than this wonderful film. Crucially it lacks the dream like and hallucinatory feel of his later horror films, and is subsequently able to tell its story with efficiency and economy. I often find that adjectives such as ‘dream like’ or ‘hallucinatory’ are normally used in Fulci’s cinema to explain away the terrible and shoddy lack of continuity, and to ultimately forgive incompetently plotted screenplays.

Zombi 2 is wonderfully free of such barriers, and it is also wonderfully free of the adolescent social commentary that so blighted George A. Romero’s infantile zombie pictures. Like the best horror films the primal terrors are created through music. Frizzi had contributed musical offerings (along with his frequent collaborators Franco Bixio and Vince Tempera) to several earlier Fulci productions, including Four of the Apocalypse (1975), Seven Black Notes (1977) and Silver Saddle (1978). Although Cascio gets a credit on Zombi 2 I’m not certain as to the extent of his contribution. I shall open this out to my tremendously knowledgeable readership, and hopefully someone can leave a comment telling us more about this man. Easily the most successful composition to grace the film is the eerie primal shuffle of the main title theme. The slow and plodding nature of this piece resonates with the laborious progress of resurrected corpses. It was clearly impressive enough to function not only as the title theme, but as a leitmotif whenever the zombie hordes appear.

One of the stylistic elements that binds a great number of the films outlawed in the United Kingdom as ‘Video Nasties’ is their use of electronic music. Undoubtedly this was partly attributable to the low budget nature of the production. But the use of synthetic instrumentation in so many of these films was a serendipitous side effect of a forced economy, and the results were often more impressive than the films themselves. The stark and clinical sounds only added to a sense of dislocation and alienation; a sense of the unnatural invading the natural world. One of the pleasures of Zombi 2 is its unabashed embracement of the voodoo culture upon which the myths of the zombie were born. This had become increasingly unpopular in the post 1968 Night of the Living Dead conception of the zombie. But Fulci and his collaborators were seemingly uninterested in using the zombie motif as an allegorical or metaphorical device. This is represented in musical terms by the deft combination of electronica and tribal drums.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Lobby Card Collection - A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Italian director Sergio Leone's rip off of Akira Kurosawa's masterful samurai flick Yojimbo (1960) has achieved a huge prominence in the bitter and cynical landscape of the European western. Although it made Clint Eastwood a star, and showcased Leone's exaggerated stylisations, it is the music by Ennio Morricone that has had a greater lasting appeal. Here is a selection of lobby cards used to promote the film in British, Spanish, French, and West German cinemas.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The City of the Dead (1960)

Country: UK

Horror Hotel

"Just Ring for Doom Service"

The City of the Dead belongs to a subset in British horror cinema that explores the relationship between the arcane beliefs of witchcraft and the occult and contemporary modernity. Other notable examples include Night of the Demon (1957), Night of the Eagle (1962), Witchcraft (1964), and The Witches (1966). Although The City of the Dead was produced under the banner of Vulcan Productions, in many ways it can be considered the first production of Amicus. Max J. Rosenberg  was an uncredited producer here, with Milton Subotsky taking the role of executive producer as well as contributing the story upon which the screenplay by George Baxt was based. In its own way then The City of the Dead is an historically important film, though you wouldn’t think so thanks to its descent into relative obscurity. This was a situation that was remedied somewhat by the DVD release courtesy of VCI in 2001. What makes the film particularly striking and unusual was the decision by the filmmakers to recreate the town of Whitewood, situated deep in the heart of the Massachusetts countryside, on a soundstage at Nettlefold studios, which was situated deep in the heart of the Surrey countryside in England. This gives the film a unique look, and a slightly surreal vibe, which is heightened significantly by Desmond Dickinson’s lustrous monochrome cinematography.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Lobby Card Collection - Lolita (1962)

This latest instalment of the Lobby Card Collection features Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Vladamir Nabakov's scandalous Lolita  I was only able to find one set of lobby cards for this film on my travels, nevertheless I hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Don't Go in the House (1980)

Country: USA

This dreary and depressing slasher flick was the inspiration of writer/director Joseph Ellison. I use the word inspiration cautiously in this case, because it would be fairly clear to anyone who has watched this film that Ellison was very familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Elements borrowed include a socially inept alienated psychopathic protagonist, a monstrous matriarch who also rots away in a chair and who also taunts the protagonist from beyond the grave, and a suitably creepy and gothic house on the hill. However there are also some key differences which enable the film to just about stand on its own two feet. The psycho in question Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) stalks his victims whereas Norman Bates waited for them to come to him. Kohler also has a fetish for dressing up the charred corpses of his female victims and creates a kind of macabre family for himself. Norman Bates meanwhile collected stuffed animals rather than dead people. Don’t Go in the House also has a highly subjective attitude to narration. From the outset we are placed inside the head of Donny Kohler. We are given access to his motivations by virtue of flashbacks and by the disembodied voices that haunt and torment his waking moments. The result is that the film manages to explain away Kohler’s psychosis far more successfully than Hitchcock’s movie which resorts to a hackneyed summing up by a psychologist at the end.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Spaghetti Westerns Poster Gallery [Part 2]

"A politician would promise an amnesty to the murderer of his own father to win an election." - Sheriff Burnett ("The Great Silence")

The Mercenary aka A Professional Gun (Sergio Corbucci, 1968) - US Poster

Find a Place to Die (Guiliano Carniemo, 1968) - Spanish Poster

Ace High (Giuseppe Colizzi, 1968) - US Quad Poster

The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968) - US Poster

Friday, 2 December 2011

Spaghetti Westerns Poster Gallery [Part 1]

This two part celebration of  Spaghetti Western poster designs is by no means definitive. This is a purely subjective selection, so if your favourites are not amongst the images I apologise. Without further ado I invite you to explore some wonderful art work for one of my favourite popular European film cycles.

"There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope around their neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting" - Tuco ("The Good, The Bad and the Ugly")

A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964) - Italian Poster

Minnesota Clay (Sergio Corbucci, 1964) - US Poster

A Pistol for Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965) - Italian Poster

For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965) - Italian Poster

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Lobby Card Collection - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick's science-fiction masterpiece needs no introduction from me. Kubrick is a true celluloid hero of mine, and his epic grandiose tale of the origins of mankind remains a landmark in cinematic history. Here is a selection of lobby cards released to promote the film in cinemas.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The House on the Edge of the Park (1980)

Country: ITALY

La casa sperduta nel parco

Although Italian director Ruggero Deodato has directed over twenty films in a career spanning four decades, his reputation almost entirely rests on two films that emerged in 1980. Both Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park introduced audiences to a brand of cinematic sadism the like of which was (and still is) exceedingly rare. There had been hints of course in Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976) and more specifically Jungle Holocaust aka Last Cannibal World (1977), but little could prepare audiences for the diabolical double that heralded in the 1980’s. Some filmmakers pride themselves on stylistic audacity, or perhaps a visionary and artistic attitude to persistent thematic preoccupations, or maybe even the articulation of social or political allegories. In the most famous films by the dim witted Deodato he seems more concerned with either repulsing his audience, or boring them to death. Cannibal Holocaust provides the former, House on the Edge of the Park the latter. Cannibal Holocaust is at least an important film, one that generated heated debate over questions of realism, censorship, and exploitation. A deceptively well made and well written picture that critiqued film itself as a means of representation. House on the Edge of the Park however is a mindless and emotionally hollow exercise in cinematic cruelty. The question of how Deodato could descend from the nightmarish brilliance of Cannibal Holocaust to the tedium and stupidity of House on the Edge of the Park in such a short space of time remains a mystery.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Rituals (1977)


The Creeper

The success of John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), which dramatised the clash between the white collar urbanity of middle class America and a disenfranchised backwoods rural community created ripples of influence that extended far and wide. Although ostensibly an action orientated adventure movie, there was enough paranoia and nightmarish hysteria in the film to reignite the inspiration of low budget filmmakers working within the horror genre. The rural slasher film subsequently became a sub-genre within a sub-genre, and much of its success was derived from the necessity for location shooting. Another happy by product of the poverty row production values enforced upon such films as The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Just Before Dawn (1980) was the need to shoot with handheld cameras. This gave these rural horror pictures a sense of verisimilitude that the more slickly produced effects driven slasher pictures lacked. They also tap into a more primal impulse; the survival of the fittest in the face of both nature and an unseen assailant. For me these backwoods chillers represent the most intriguing face of the slasher film, and there are very few that impress as much as Rituals.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Food of the Gods (1976)

Country: USA

H. G. Wells' Food of the Gods

Writer/director/producer/visual effects designer Bert I Gordon is living proof that one can be a jack of all trades and master of none. Despite Gordon’s obvious shortcomings there is a certain infectious enthusiasm to many of his films - especially his science-fiction efforts of the 1950’s. How can one not enjoy the absurd prospect of giant grasshoppers in the ludicrous Beginning of the End (1957), the odd poignancy of The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and the expectation of poorly realised mutant spiders in Earth vs. the Spider (1958)? As with many science-fiction films of the 1950’s the best thing about Gordon’s films were the titles. Nevertheless he managed to deliver distraction and entertainment, that is until Village of the Giants (1965) when his brand of gigantism (he also did a little people film - the awful Attack of the Puppet People [1958]) reached an apex of stupidity and boredom. Against the run of technology Gordon persisted with his visual effects, and more importantly persisted with the themes inherent in the subject of mutation. His science-fiction/horror efforts forming an interesting self-contained universe that might respond well to the auteur theory. In the late 1970’s he returned to his favoured landscape with The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), two films which took advantage of the ‘Revolt of Nature’ impulse that had been re-popularised in the wake of Jaws (1975).

Monday, 14 November 2011

Celluloid Sounds - Midnight Express (1978)

One of the very first soundtracks I purchased was Giorgio Moroder’s pulsating score for Alan Parker’s controversial and brutal prison drama Midnight Express. Midnight Express was the Italian’s first soundtrack, and at the time he was heavily embroiled in the late 70’s disco scene. It was a musical trend particularly receptive to Moroder’s brand of repetitive synth based pop. In addition to being a capable musician, Moroder was also an accomplished song writer and producer. His most notable successes his collaborations with Donna Summer and his first electro album From Here To Eternity, which saw the light of day in 1977. Moroder then might not have seemed the most logical choice to score a film involving a harrowing and nightmarish descent into the sadism and brutality of a Turkish prison. The film itself has had to answer to charges of racism over the years. Its representations of the Turkish authorities is unremittingly negative, and at times borders on the farce of caricature. But Moroder’s musical contribution stands in isolation to those arguments. The most famous piece is the throbbing electronica of The Chase, used wonderfully in the film when Billy flees from the authorities through the markets of Istanbul. The plodding repetition of the main beat creating a tension, paranoia and remorselessness that indicates that Billy is unable to escape his tortured destiny. When reduced to a radio friendly edit The Chase became a major hit single in almost every territory it was released in.

The other notable piece is the more understated and subtle Love's Theme - a track which forms the backdrop to a cathartic homosexual encounter between Billy and another inmate. Here Moroder shows a deft touch which compliments the on screen events to such an extent that it becomes one of the most emotive and touching moments in the film. Somehow the crisp modernity of Moroder’s production techniques and the spacious clarity of the music creates an ironic counterpoint to the abysmal conditions of the prison. It hints at a life outside of the concrete that entombs Billy, and eventually offers a hope of escape. The soundtrack was originally released on LP in October 1978 on Casablanca Records. Its importance was recognised by it’s victory at the Academy Awards in early 1979. On the strength of his musical involvement with Midnight Express, Moroder would go on to compose a number of soundtracks in the 1980’s - other credits include American Gigolo (1980), Cat People (1982), Scarface (1983), Superman III (1983), Electric Dreams (1984), The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Metropolis (1984).

01 Chase
02 Love's Theme
03 (Theme from) Midnight Express
04 Istanbul Blues - vocal
05 The Wheel
06 Istanbul Opening
07 Cacophoney
08 (Theme from) Midnight Express - vocal

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Norliss Tapes (1973) - TV Movie

Country: USA

Original Transmission Date: 21/02/1973

History tends to be written by the winners, and as a result the landscape of 1970’s horror strains under a stifling orthodoxy. A prevailing critical consensus (partly attributable to academia as well as fan worship) that propels names like Argento, Craven, Romero, Hooper, Cronenberg and Carpenter into the forefront at the expense of others doing equally important work in the genre. One such man whose contribution to the typography of the genre in the 1970’s remains criminally underrated is Dan Curtis. The problem is that Curtis spent the majority of his career working (either as a writer, producer, or director) in the restricted confines of television. If you want a simple index of how culturally insignificant American television was considered in comparison to American cinema in the 1970’s look no further than Dan Curtis. Curtis is now most recognised for his cult television series Dark Shadows (1966-1971) and his three TV movies The Night Stalker (1972), The Night Strangler (1973) and Trilogy of Terror (1975). His only directorial credit on the big screen was the indifferent Burnt Offerings (1976) which was more of a showcase for the histrionics of Oliver Reed and Karen Black than it was for Curtis’ direction. However when one delves deeper into the filmography of Mr. Curtis one is surprised by the number of hugely entertaining and generically progressive TV movies he worked on. One such example is the very enjoyable The Norliss Tapes.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lobby Card Collection - Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

For your viewing pleasure - a selection of lobby cards for the under-appreciated Hammer horror production Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

David Lynch Poster Gallery

Eraserhead (1977) - US poster

Eraserhead #2 - UK Quad poster

Eraserhead #3 - Japanese poster

The Elephant Man (1980) #1 - Hungarian poster

Monday, 7 November 2011

Crowhaven Farm (1970) - TV Movie

Country: USA

Original Transmission Date: 24/11/1970

The relative emptiness of The Celluloid Highway’s Cult TV Archive has bothered me for some time, so I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to explore in more detail, the often fertile soil of the small screen. In the United States the made-for-television horror movie became something of a cult institution, and flourished from 1968 to 1989. I personally consider this to be the time period of greatest interest. This is a subjective choice on my part, so I hope nobody gets there knickers in a twist if they disagree. One of the benefits of being from the UK is that I never got to see many of these TV movies when I was growing up, and therefore I do not approach them now wearing the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia. Just check out how many reviews for these TV movies give them undue credit simply because they generate a childhood nostalgia! Of course there were a handful of elite TV horror movies that broke the shackles and enjoyed wider distribution - Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Killdozer (1974), and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) just to name a few. But for every Dark Night of the Scarecrow there is a Crowhaven Farm. The title might have a certain rustic pastoral charm, but the reality is that this particular effort from November 1970 is a dreary exercise in tele-visual tedium.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Stone Tape (1972)


Original Transmission Date: 25/12/1972

The 1970’s represented a high watermark of creativity in the small screen landscape of British television. Fans of science-fiction thrilled to the ongoing adventures of Doctor Who (1963 - present), Doomwatch (1970-72), The Tomorrow People (1973-79), and Blake’s 7 (1978-81). Meanwhile fans of the supernatural were catered for by the BBC’s annual Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78) and such adult anthology programmes as Dead of Night (1972), Beasts (1976), and The Mind Beyond (1976). Many of the creepiest and most disturbing of genre programmes were reserved for children, with serials such as Escape into Night (1972), Shadows (1975-78) and Children of the Stones (1977) providing sleepless nights for youthful imaginations. One man who had a consistent gift for unsettling material was the writer Nigel Kneale. In the 1950’s enraptured audiences excitedly followed the three serials he wrote featuring the gifted scientist Professor Bernard Quatermass. In the 1960’s Kneale spent a lot of time writing film screenplays, but still found time to return to the small screen with the prescient science-fiction allegory The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968). The 1970’s saw Kneale working exclusively in television, and in 1972 he wrote his penultimate script for the BBC…the chilling feature length festive fright The Stone Tape.

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