Thursday, January 31, 2019

KRULL (1983)

I have once again watched this film. I have only strange reasons.

KRULL (1983) is one of those big budget 1980's science fiction /fantasy films that I managed to avoid until the 21st century. About 10 years ago I finally decided to see this picture, rented the DVD and discovered that my instincts had been correct about it all along - It wasn't very good. And it was also not very memorable as is easily seen by the fact that 10 years later I realized I needed to see it again because it had almost completely faded from my memory. And I had bought a Blu-Ray of the damned thing for $5. I'm a loon! 

This is an odd film in numerous ways but I'll divide up my impressions into two columns. First, the things that I can praise about the film.

1. This is an absolutely gorgeously photographed movie. It is wonderful to just gaze at the widescreen photography by the great Peter Suschitzky. His work here is stunning and the equal of his fine efforts on the films of David Cronenberg.

2. The movie is shot on breathtakingly beautiful locations in Italy and the Canary Islands. The valley's, mountains and plains provide a travelogue of this fictional planet that makes me wish it was a place I could visit.

3. The sets are very well constructed and realistic. They are all quite detailed and very visually interesting. Each of these artificial locations has a different feel and look that adds color and detail to scenes that often need them. Whoever was in charge of the set design and the construction of these pieces should be commended for doing excellent work.

4. The cast, for the most part, does an excellent job the entire way through. In my opinion, veteran character actor Freddie Jones takes top honors. He's lucky in that the screenplay actually gives his character the opportunity to stretch out and cover a lot of emotional ground. I'm used to Freddie Jones being very good (often better than the material that he's working with) and he really shines here giving a nuanced and sympathetic performance in a role that allows him play against a number of different types of characters. Alun Armstrong is also very good and is one of the few characters in the movie that actually has some kind of story arc. He does a great job and is clearly giving this role 100% from beginning to end. In a better world (or at least in the film with a better script) this performance would have gotten him dozens of similar rolls in movies. There are also fun turns by other young actors at the beginning of their film careers. Liam Neeson makes a good impression in one of his earliest feature film roles and actually has some good scenes as we run across one of the his wives in an amusing sequence. The excellent Robbie Coltrane has all of about four lines of dialog. He does what he can with the role but one suspects that most of his performance that left on the cutting room floor. Lysette Anthony playing the lead heroine, is beautiful and does a fairly confident job with the rather limited role but it is obvious that she was dubbed by someone else. The film has several moments of out-of-sync dialog when she is speaking her lines and it appears that actress Lindsey Crouse was tapped to 'Americanize' the role. I suppose that it was decided that having only the hunky star sound American was a little odd but it's sad to have Miss Anthony's voice taken from her.

5. The special effects in the movie are very good throughout with only a couple of instances of FX that have poorly aged. That's one of the benefits of non-CGI work - it still looks good decades later! The miniature work is impressive as well and are very well matched to the various sets. Indeed, all the practical on-set FX are very well realized.  Plus, any movie that sports a stop-motion animated giant spider has got me on its side to a certain extent, or at least has my respect. I do suspect, though, that the actors in the scenes with the giant spider were unaware that those sequences were going to have a giant spider in them.

And now for the things that I did not like. Woo boy! 

Unfortunately, the things I dislike about the film can be summed up as 'pretty much the most important part' - the script! It is weak, weak, weak! And in the areas where it's weakness could be forgiven the direction doubles down on the flimsier aspects every time. Sadly, the filmmakers of KRULL were convinced that they were making an EPIC. You can sympathize with them to a degree since the story has all the surface details of an epic fantasy story - heroic prince, lovely and brave princess, vast evil army aligned against their happiness, big bad villain attempting to possess the princess and destroy her world, etc. But the narrative is not strong enough to hold up these classic mythological tropes. It mostly comes off as thin and stretched with the first half of the film having long periods of ponderous boredom. The prince played by Ken Marshall is given very little character beyond being the hero. He has no growth in the story, learns nothing and is simply a cipher in place to lead the fights. The script has him grinning like a boy on an adventure right after the death of his father and kidnapping of his bride making him seem a little oblivious to the supposed deadliness of the situation. Let's just say 'tone' is not something the script gets right. Also, I could never figure out how the villains decided to use swords rather than their powerful firearms. Why didn't they just blast everyone?

Of course, some of the film's dullness may be down to the clear fact that some of story was hacked away to get the running time to two hours. There are several characters that get nearly no time onscreen after being introduced which becomes very silly later when we're supposed to care that they are in danger or get killed. It points even more to the fact that this was shot as an epic tale but chopped down. It might be interesting to see the deleted scenes for this film just to discover if it might have been slightly better. But, as I think the movie is too long to sustain it's slight story as it is, I suspect a longer cut would be even more dull.

KRULL is a pretty film but completely forgettable. Maybe I should read the Alan Dean Foster novelization?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Prepping for the next Beyond Naschy episode! 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Star Trek Discovery

When it was announced some time ago that there was going to be a new Star Trek series I was excited - up until I learned that it was to the be the flagship show for a new streaming service that I was never going to pay for. I have a couple of streaming sources already and I'm simply not willing to pay for another one just to see a single show. But for Christmas I was gifted with the Blu-Ray set of the first season so I finally settled in to see what Star Trek: Discovery was all about.

Wow! This is the best Trek series since the original. Seriously.

I should state for context that I am a huge fan of Star Trek but have found the various sequel series to be of little lasting interest. Both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine took two or three seasons to stop stumbling around in dullness and each series had a near crippling flaw (or two) that makes revisits painful. Honestly, anyone that can defend the Holodeck episodes or the never ending Ferengi idiocy can hold forth anytime. I won't be listening. I never made it beyond the first couple of episodes of Voyager or Enterprise for different reasons. Voyager was following the TNG template of boring me to death for twenty minutes of each episode and Enterprise couldn't stop showing how shiny and sexy everything was. Good-Bye.

I won't be spoiling any surprises here, as I hope others can see this series as cold as I did. Discovery avoids one of the past series' bigger problems by only producing fifteen episodes in the season. This means that every show adds to the overall story without having to slow down for side stories. The one episode that could conceivably be argued as unnecessary to the whole still adds amazing detail to various characters and provides enormous laughs. At that point in the season this tonal break was a welcome relief before the final run of incredibly tense developments. I was so impressed with this season of Trek that I kind of want to rewatch it immediately with foreknowledge of the endpoint. The various breadcrumbs laid out were masterful and I suspect I missed a few hints along the way.

After finishing off the season in about five days (!) I decided to learn what the general consensus on the show was. Turning to the internet I found that I am apparently in the minority of at least the loudest voices. I learned that the show's main character had no personality, that the writing is terrible, that the actors don't know what they're doing and that the entire production is a disaster and a stain on the good name of Trek. OK.

While I know this new show does some cosmetically controversial things - Klingon redesign, new technology, advanced use of the transporter, etc. - as a major fan of the original show I had no trouble rolling with these modernizations of elements of the franchise. At the very least, this is the second time the Klingons have been altered so it's no big deal. If I was able to accept the first radical redesign back in 1979 then the new experimental engines on Discovery are also no big deal. I feel these changes keep things fresh by not being bound to the past's limited look. Never before have I been so impressed with a new show and then learned that it was so reviled. I guess Trek fans and I may have parted ways permanently. 

I suppose that for a generation that holds the blandness of TNG up as their most beloved Trek series, something as spicy as Discovery must be unpalatable. That's a shame. In the 1990's DS9 found itself competing with a better written and smarter show in Babylon 5 and shifted it's style of storytelling to move forward. Now the better plotted, smarter show is an actual Star Trek prequel and fans can't handle the future because they are mired in nostalgia. Seems that is the repetitive nature of SF fandom - Love followed by deification followed by ossification followed by unyielding dogma. I've seen it over and over so I shouldn't be surprised but I am disappointed. I just hope this show survives the sad fandom backlash. I truly fear the next thing that would be created to conform to the complaints leveled against this fine effort.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Trailers From Hell - BUCK PRIVATES (1941)

Larry Cohen makes his case for everyone checking out an Abbot & Costello movie! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Warriors of the Shadow Realm and Weirdworld Covers

I've started reading the collected edition of the original Weirdworld tales written by Doug Moench with artwork by Mike Ploog, Alex Nino and Pat Broderick. I'm beginning to think Moench may be one of my all time favorite writers of comics from the 70's and 80's. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Bloody Pit #79 - MAN MADE MONSTER (1941)

We begin 2019 with the first new show in our Universal Horrors of the 1940's series.

MAN MADE MONSTER (1941) marks the first Universal horror starring role for Creighton Chaney a.k.a. Lon Chaney, Jr.  Given the part of a lovable lug misused by one of the screen's maddest mad scientists, Chaney establishes the perfect acting style for his character. With his hang-dog eyes, broad grin and furrowed brow he presents himself as a good natured, kind fellow without an unpleasant thought for anyone. This performance would serve as the template for his future roles in Universal horror films as the much put upon victim of a certain lunar curse. But this is the starting point for that 'doomed man' characterization and it's a good one for both the actor and the film.

Troy and I pull this one apart with the usual help of the fantastic Universal Horrors book by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas which provides a lot of background and contemporary reviews. We also heavily reference the excellent essay by Bryan Senn on this film from the Lon Chaney, Jr. Midnight Marquee Actors series book. His work is essential reading for fans of the actor and those looking for real insight into this underappreciated movie. We discuss the odd notion of having a good scientist and a bad scientist under the same roof; the strange case of the missing romantic subplot; the late blooming lust of the mad scientist for the film's lovely co-star; the 'master race' desires that drive the plot and the dividing line that keeps pets alive in a horror film. We talk about director George Waggner's work before and after this effort as well as the years long trail the story took to finally reach the screen. We also spend a lot of time heaping praise on the great Lionel Atwill's amazing performance as the crazed man seeking knowledge to keep the lower classes in their places!

In the final segment of the show we read out a pair of emails from listeners and dive into the various topics they bring up. On what other podcast will you hear discussions of the Italian Filmirage production company's output (Ator!) paired with a critique of Hammer's four mummy films? If you'd like to let us know what you think on these subjects, or any others, we can be reached at or over on the show's FaceBook page. Thank you for downloading and listening!

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

What I Watched in December

WIDOWS (2018) is the kind of crime thriller that gives crime thrillers a good name. It’s smart, well plotted and emotionally  honest about its characters. It helps that the cast is exceptional with Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki turning in brilliant performances. They bring nuance and strength to roles that could be merely serviceable if handled by less capable actors. I expected high level work from Davis but I had only seen Debicki in roles that didn’t require real depth or skill. In this film she is a revelation and a perfect match for her veteran partner. Their male co-stars are very good as well but those two ladies are the beating heart of this very good film. This is my first encounter with director Steve McQueen but I think I’ll be seeking out his earlier work now. His eye for scripts seems solid and his visual choices are clever often finding a fresh way to deliver layers of information within a single shot. This is one of the best films of the year. 

INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE is one of the best animated films of recent years and one of the best Spider-Man films yet made. It effortlessly introduces its audience to huge amounts of detail and a dozen characters while telling an exciting and ever expanding story. As a lifelong fan of the character and it's many permutations I was happy to see so many of the various incarnations given space to be the unique heroes that they are on the page. It's wonderful to have all these possibilities open up for future screen stories with such an intelligent film. 

They said it couldn't be done. It was the joke kicked round the schoolyard for decades. But now, James Wan brings AQUAMAN to the big screen as the badass superhero he has always been on the comics page. Acknowledging the sneering comments that have 'Super Friended' the character 's reputation early on the film presents an origin tale built to interlock with the present day adventure as Arthur Curry takes his place in Atlantis, accidentally creates his greatest adversary and learns the fate of his absent mother. It's almost too much for one film (and it's a little too long) but it's not slow and the charm of Jason Momoa in the title role is infectious. Looking forward to more such films!


WIDOWS (2018) - 9
TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL (1953) - 7 (well done Cheeta action)
SUSPIRIA (1977) - 9 (1977) (with live musical performance of the score)
PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES (2015) - 7 (rewatch)
1941 (1979) - 9 (rewatch of the long cut)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992) - 9 (rewatch)
CARRY ON SCREAMING (1966) - 6 (funny but a little long)
SLAY BELLES (2015) - 3 (low budget Santa horror)
TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) - 7 (Christmas tree rustlers! Roy Rogers) (rewatch)
THE ICE PIRATES (1984) - 3 (unfunny and slapdash)
SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER (1991) - 4 (Slightly better than the previous two)
SCROOGE (1970) - 9 (rewatch)
THE SHE-BUTTERFLY (1973) - 7 (Yugoslavian horror film!)
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) - 8 (wonderful stage drama)
AQUAMAN (2018) - 8
EMMANUELLE AND THE BLACK COBRA (1976) - 5 (rewatch on Blu)
AMAZON JAIL (1982) - 4 (Women In Prison tale with maximum nudity)
MURDER OVER NEW YORK (1940) - 7 (Charlie Chan mystery)

Monday, January 14, 2019

HOUSE OF TERRORS (1965) a.k.a. Kaidan Semushi Otoko On YouTube!

If you have any interest in Japanese ghost stories and have not seen this film yet - GO! Click above, get some popcorn, a drink and settle in for a great little chiller. This film should be much better known. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019


I just finished watching Jess Franco's film SINFONIA EROTICA (1980) recently released on Blu-ray by Severin. This is another of Franco's films that I've missed in my various hunts through bootlegs over the past 20 to 30 years and I was glad to see that there are still so many little hidden gems out there for me to find. This one was made in 1979 and is another of Franco's explorations of the works of the Marquis De Sade. While now that I've seen the film I don't agree with the ballyhoo on the back of the Blu-ray calling this a lost masterpiece, I do find it to be absolutely fascinating in many ways. This is once again Franco in experimental mode using the camera as a questing eye roaming around the scenes to lock onto images as the actors deliver their lines. At times these movements and changes in focus are seemingly at random but when sometimes they click the film succeeds in bringing a fresh perspective on the story slowly unfolding before you.

While the film certainly has all of the exploitable elements that you would expect from a 1970's lensed Jess Franco effort it is very much a period piece as well. Filmed on a couple of gorgeous locations with some pretty decent costuming and an attempt to bring a sense of. Reality to things. The movie manages to once again do to me what more and more of Franco from this period of his career is capable of - It manages to mesmerize me. For an hour and 24 minutes I was caught up, dazzled, occasionally frustrated and sometimes overly curious about how he is doing what he's doing and why he is attempting to tell this story in this way.

From the opening we are told that there is a plot involved between Lina Romay's character and her doctor. It's not until the third act, of course, that we will learn what this plot is but along the way we see enough depravity around the home she lives in with her husband the Marquis to know that it would have to be pretty daunting to outdo the sexual nastiness and murderous intent of this woman's husband. Without ruining anything I'll just say that the finale is satisfying and journey there is one I'm glad I took. As with all such Franco works your mileage will vary.

Severin's Blu-Ray has a couple of significant extras too. A brief interview piece with Franco in which he talks about the ladies loves of his life. This was touching, warm conversation and brought a tear to my eyes. I miss old Uncle Jess. The other extra is an excellent 22 minute talk from author Stephen Thrower discussing Franco's work and this film in particular. As always, Thrower is entertaining and incredibly informative making this extra worth the price of the disc for fans.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Retro-Futuristic Art From the Past

Man. The future used to be so much more cool. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Sunday, January 06, 2019

José Larraz's SYMPTOMS (1974)

Director José Larraz is best known for his incredible erotic lesbian vampire film VAMPYRES (1974) but anyone coming to SYMPTOMS (1974) expecting a similar blood-soaked nudity parade from the great man's most prolific period is going to end up disappointed. While this film does have a comparable atmosphere to the sexy vampire tale it is much more of a slow burn character study. The horror elements are present and accounted for but the deliberate journey to the third act revelations is a big part of the joy.

This is a film that takes it's time doling out details but is never boring for several reasons. First is that the two main actors are very talented ladies who are able to communicate paragraphs of emotion with their faces. Lorna Heilbron plays Anne who has come to stay for a few days with her friend Helen in her English country house getaway. Helen is played by Angela Pleasance and in many ways this is her film. The mystery that unfolds carefully over the movie's 91 minutes centers on her past romantic relationship that appears to have gone bad. Anne is trying to get her mind in order after breaking up with the man in her life while Helen seems drawn to her friend in an increasingly needy if not obsessive way. Patterned on Polanski's REPULSION (1965) this is a carefully told tale of pain and madness that spirals out of control. It rests on excellent performances from the leads with smart help from the legendary Peter Vaughn as the house's groundskeeper who knows just enough to get himself into harm's way.

But the second reason the film is so captivating is now only possible to evaluate because of the recent Blu-Ray release from Mondo Macabro. The way most Euro-Cult fans have seen SYMPTOMS for decades has been through a dupey bootleg VHS print that was barely watchable. This HD release allows us, for the first time, to see the glorious cinematography on display! Director of Photography Trevor Wrenn shoots the large house, the woods surrounding it and the nearby lake with the eye of a painter. Almost ever scene holds multiple moments of stunning beauty captured perfectly. This is a gorgeous movie and the careful framing and lighting adds immeasurably to the mesmerizing nature of the whole experience. There are shots that could be printed and hug on gallery walls for the admiration of the general public and they are all in service of this fascinating little horror-drama. I find it hard to believe that a man as clearly talented as Mr Wrenn only shot one other film for Larraz before ending his cinematography career. 

Needless to say I highly recommend seeing the MM Blu of this film if possible. Go in with the understanding of the slow build quality of the narrative and the revelations and shocks that come later will be all the more powerful.

Friday, January 04, 2019

The Lost Giger Bat-Mobile

I consider Joel Schumacher to be one of the worst directors Hollywood has every handed a $100 million film budget. Even the one film he had a hand in that I enjoyed (PHONE BOOTH) felt as if he was trying to find a way to screw it up from the opening minutes. Thankfully the Larry Cohen script was tight enough to keep him from sabotaging the story and it remains a taut little thriller.  But I am happy to find that not every idea he ever had was crap, although they might not have made it to the screen.

When Schumacher was tapped to take over the Batman series in the mid-90's he commissioned the mad genius H. R. Giger to redesign the Batmoble. Yes! The man responsible for countless nightmares because of the monster he built for ALIEN (1979) was given a shot at creating in the world of Batman! What an idea! Of course, it didn't fly with the filmmakers and was dropped at concept stage allowing Schumacher to go ahead and create a truly crappy film that made enough money for him to helm an even worse Bat-film afterward. Giger's designs certainly would not have guarantied a better film than BATMAN FOREVER (1995) - we're talking about a director with incredibly poor cinema sensibilities - but it would have added some spice to Schumacher's neon-splashed mess. A shame and a missed opportunity.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

The Grijpstra & De Gier Mystery Series

Last year I picked up two entries in the Dutch Grijpstra & De Gier mystery series at my favorite used bookstore. I knew nothing of these police detective books but was intrigued because both of them were written in the 1970's. I've occasionally read foreign mysteries of note and usually enjoyed them so it felt good to grab something up with no foreknowledge except that the books must have been successful. After all, the info inside the front cover listed at least ten other titles in the run.

I'm working my way through what appears to have been the fifth in the series 'The Japanese Corpse' and it is delightful. I know I'm reading a translation but the prose is beautiful. Author Janwillem van de Wetering's way with description is wonderful painting a vibrant image in my head that carries real heft and emotion. He takes the time to give even brief scenes flair and small characters a depth that makes the entire investigation fascinating. Two characters spend a great deal of time in Japan posing as Dutch criminals so we are also treated to a bit of history between the two countries I was unaware of until now. All of this is done smoothly and with smart wit. I consider this writer a real find! I can't wait to finish this one and rush on to the other I picked up next.

A little digging shows me that in 1979 a film was made from the first of the series! It is well thought of and stars Rutger Hauer as DeGier. And it seems to be available to stream on Amazon Prime under the title FATAL ERROR! This is extremely exciting. I'll have to watch this soon. There was also a television series made of the books that lasted from 2004 to 2007 producing 46 episodes in total. I will have to check that out as well, if I can find an English friendly option. Now, back to the book!