Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hammer Glamour by Marcus Hearn

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Based in the United Kingdom, Hammer Film Productions has long been known for their Gothic horror movies, often re-imagining the 1930s Universal Monsters to much success. Movie fans in general will be familiar with Hammer for some reason, be it through their brand of horror, film noir, sci-fi or Raquel Welch’s pre-historic bikini. Throughout their long history Hammer has been known for their lovely women stars and co-stars, affectionately known as the Hammer Glamour. Now author Marcus Hearn has put together one hell of an introduction to the hotties of the Hammer world and titled his book simply Hammer Glamour.

This hardcover coffee-table book is packed with 160 pages of gorgeous women in provocative poses on great movie sets as they invite fans from all over the world into the Hammer house of horrors. Hearn does a magnificent job in his brief introduction giving a quick history of Hammer Film Productions. The book provides good overviews of the ladies’ careers before and after their Hammer days. The stars are alphabetized and given a page, sometimes two, of info to go along with their awesome photos.

The beauties are given a full page of one of their best shots as well as two or three smaller pics that fill out the info page. The bright color and stunning black and white photos allow the ladies and their wonderful costumes to live again. Most photos were taken on location or on the wonderful sets Hammer created. Also included is a list of the Hammer films they appeared in, making for another great reference for Hammer films to see.

The beauties that Hammer Films used throughout the years are all here including the above-mentioned Raquel Welch along with Ursula Andress, Eva Bartok, Vera Day, Suzan Farmer, Barbara Payton, Stefanie Powers, Janette Scott, Barbara Shelly, and a very young Nastassja Kinski to name but a few of the over fifty profiles featured. Besides Welch’s steaming shot on hot rocks there are absolutely fabulous photos of Yutte Stensgaard in a very Marilyn Monroe-like pose on red satin sheets (here shot on a vampire’s bed), Caroline Munro in thigh-high black boots as a vampire vixen, and Valerie Leon in a black bikini/lingerie piece that’s just incredible. There’s a lot of that by the way: bikini, lingerie, low cut, cleavage shots, and tons of high boots and hemlines. Some of these starlet’s names are simply alluring as is the case with Olinka Berova, Carita, Ingrid Pitt, Catherine Von Schell, and Victoria Vetri; these names have flair and roll of the tongue.

Marcus Hearn delivers a fascinating look through his photo selections and interesting sketches of the women and people tangled in the Hammer web. Hammer Glamour is a must for Hammer film fans as well those interested in beauties of the silver screen, pin-up girls, and overall knock-out photos of hot women in timeless poses. Never mind the $29.95 price tag. Pick it up for the hotties and cherish it for the bits of movie history and gossip it provides.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Written by Fantasma el Rey

William Castle, "the master of ballyhoo" knew what people wanted and how to hook them into buying a ticket. A wizard sideshow barker from the old school that filled seats and made a profit from his low budget horror films. He had a knack for finding the gimmick and pitching the hell out of it. This new five-DVD set offers eight gems, originally released by Columbia Pictures in the late '50s and early '60s, each running at a "fun" time of about 90 minutes. So join me, if you dare, as I take a peek at The William Castle Film Collection.

Castle's films didn't make a fortune but they made enough that the studio kept bringing him back to do more of what he did best: low-budget, gimmicky, spook movies. Hitting with Macabre and House On Haunted Hill in '58 and '59 Columbia brought him in to produce and direct. The films here aren't in chronological order but their placement does make sense in an odd way.

Disc one pairs 13 Frightened Girls (1963) and 13 Ghost (1960). Girls is a laughable look at the spy world as a young daughter of an international diplomat secretly, and unbeknown to daddy, gets involved with his intricate affairs. While getting chased by "Reds", she narrowly avoids death, capture, and becoming too entangled in the web of deceit that is being a secret agent. She also has 12 friends that attend the same Swiss boarding school to help her along the way, thus the title.

13 Ghost is a standard haunted house story, inherited by an unknowing family somehow related to the recently deceased that promised "13 times the thrills! 13 times the chills! 13 times the fun!" The gimmick here, 'cause Castle nearly always had one, was his use of "Illusion-O," a handheld piece of cardboard that had two transparent colored strips that would be used at the proper time. One was blue, to see the ghosts, the other red if you didn't want to see the ghosts, mostly pointless as the ghost would appear no matter what.

Disc two's Homicidal (1961) and Strait-Jacket (1964) are dominated by strong stories and the glue that is gore. Homicidal is an obvious "homage" to Hitchcock's Psycho with certain scenes filmed very much the same way. Our lead gal is a hot blond and our creepy male lead is an oddball with something not quite right about him. The twist at the end and the actual showing of stabbings put this one just over the Psycho edge. The gimmick is the "fright break" 45 seconds before the climax of the film which allowed folks to leave and get their money back but they had to hangout in the "coward's corner" for the remainder of the picture.

Apparently told to hold the gimmicks for Strait-Jacket, Castle went out and found something even better, Joan Crawford. After seeing What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? Castle had to create his own and hired Psycho author Robert Bloch to cook up a story that featured the aging Crawford. She plays an older women returning home to her daughter after being locked up for 20 years in an asylum for hacking up her husband and his lover with an axe. Upon her return, more folks begin to get whacked and who is to blame? That's right ol' Miss Crawford or is she? This one is enjoyable all the way to its twisted, axe-swinging end.

On disc three we venture into The Old Dark House (1963) and meet Mr. Sardonicus (1961). As the title implies, The Old Dark House is about just that and not much else. An American car salesman in England gets involved with a family of kooks in an old, rundown mansion and is almost killed as he investigates who is bumping off the others. Tom Poston (from TV's Newhart) makes this spooky comedy enjoyable but overall this one is passable.

Mr. Sardonicus takes us back to England, this time in a gothic tale set in 1880s London and is the story of a once decent fellow, Baron Sardonicus, forced to do ghoulish deeds. His face hideously frozen in a bizarre smile (very reminiscent of The Man Who Laughs), he attempts to pressure a talented doctor into restoring his good looks or suffer the consequences. Meanwhile, Sardonicus tortures young girls from the village with leeches and other devices as he gets his jollies and hides his true face behind a mask. A good film that finds Castle reaching back to the past and putting us in a setting much like the Universal monsters roamed. The gimmick here is The Punishment Poll, a card given to the crowd with thumbs up or down to decide the fate of Mr. Sardonicus. Castle appears and makes the tally himself.

Disc four is all comedy, intended or not, with The Tingler and Zotz! Tingler is a dumb movie with an outrageous plot that somehow Vincent Price gets to work. A lobster-like creature lives in the human spinal cord and is only active during fright but by screaming it's stopped and can no longer do harm. Price, a doctor, captures one. It gets lose in a theater and runs amuck leading to the gimmick of Percepto. Some seats where rigged to vibrate at a key moment in the film and gave the audience a "scream" or a giggle. Price and the really bad creature make this dumb flick fun.

Zotz! tells of an absentminded professor (Tom Poston) who comes across an ancient coin with magical powers. He tries to tell his fellow staff members, who laugh at him, and the government, who laugh as well. But they stop laughing when the "reds" show up and kidnap our hero who uses the power of the coin to thwart their efforts. He and the coin return safe and sound. It's an all-right comedy with some funny moments when watched at social gathering. Those who went to see this got a "magic" coin; tales tell it did nothing.

Finally there is a bonus disc with the documentary Spin Tingler! The William Castle Story featuring interviews from many people who knew or where influenced by Castle, including his daughter Terry, John Waters, Roger Corman, John Landis, and Joe Dante. We get a further look at Castle's adventures in life, movies, and what made him tick, his wife and family. The special feature on the documentary is a cool audio commentary by producer/director Jeffrey Schwarz and Terry. It's a great look at the life of a man who directed many films of all genres and could turn nothing into something.

The featurettes on the four other discs are pulled directly from this documentary and edited to focus on a specific film and/or gimmick. Along with those featurettes are other making-of pieces, vintage promo shorts, alternate opening sequences, and a bunch of original trailers. The set also includes two good episodes from the Castle-produced TV series Ghost Story (1972-73). So hurry, hurry, step on out and get your copy to enjoy and witness the ghoulish glory that is The William Castle Film Collection.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Written by Pirata Hermosa

In 1973 writer/producer Gene Roddenberry with the help of director John Llewellyn Moxey introduced another view of the future to the public in the shape of a made-for-TV movie. In 2009, Warner Brothers has made it available as part of their Archive Collection, and as common with the collection there are no special features.

People familiar with Roddenberry through his famous creation Star Trek know that he has a very optimistic look into the future of mankind. In Genesis II you can see sparks of that hope for the future, but it’s quite a bit darker.

The year is 1979 and NASA scientist, Dylan Hunt (Alex Cord), has come across a major breakthrough. Long-distance space travel has always been a hurdle for astronauts. In order for them to explore the vast expanse of space they needed a way to keep from dying of old age before they reached their destination. But Dylan has found the answer and has been able to successfully place lab rats in suspended animation for 10 years while the rats age only one day.

Once a discovery has been thoroughly tested, the next step is to test it on a human subject. That volunteer is none other than Dylan himself. Just moments after entering suspended animation, an earthquake strikes the underground facility in Carlsbad Canyon, burying the entire facility and leaving him trapped inside the pressure chamber.

Expecting to only be asleep for a few days, Dylan awakens in the year 2133 when a group of people called the PAX discover the hidden chamber and revive him from his long sleep. While he slowly recovers from the effects of his 154-year slumber, Dylan learns that there have been a lot of changes to the world. The planet has been devastated by nuclear war and only a handful of human settlements remain.

In order to help with his rehabilitation and teach him about the ways of the new world, the PAX make a huge mistake by assigning Lyra-a (Mariette Hartley) to be his caretaker. She may have voluntarily joined the PAX, but she is actually a spy sent by the Tyranians, a group of mutated humans that live near the ancient city of Phoenix.

After poisoning Dylan’s mind against the PAX, Lyra-a takes him to meet her people. At first the Tyranian society seems to be one of culture, comfort and luxury, but it doesn’t take long for Dylan to see that they rule with an iron fist and have subjugated regular humans to work as slaves. And when he finds out that the true reason he was brought there is to fix their failing nuclear reactor he organizes a slave rebellion.

The premise of the story is an interesting concept, but it really fails due to the limited format of a 74-minute TV movie. There is not nearly enough time for the audience to become acquainted with the new world and connect with all of the different characters to form any type of attachment. The most obvious example of the rushed plotline comes at the end when Dylan stays behind to save his friends from capture, but then manages to escape, return to the PAX, and destroy the reactor in about a minute. Even a strategically placed commercial break wouldn’t be able to slow down the pacing. It feels like an entire chapter is missing.

For Roddenberry fans it’s a nice addition to your collection. Not only does it give you a glimpse into other concepts the creator of Star Trek had, but there are a number of interesting production techniques they both share. The font used on the cover and in the credits is exactly the same, automatic doors make a familiar whooshing sound, the Tyranian stim weapons sound like a phaser on overload, and the background music has that same futuristic tone that leaves you feeling like Captain Kirk could stroll in at any moment.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving (10th Anniversary Edition DVD Gift Set)

A cat will spend time playing with a ball made of string, but that doesn’t make it quality entertainment. A child may watch Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving (10th Anniversary Edition), which hit shelves on September 29th, but it is not quality entertainment simply because it is as poorly constructed as a ball made of string.

Taking stories, some of which that were poor on their own, and combining them into one film when they obviously don’t go together can only result in poor storytelling. Unfortunately that is the case here as “Ground Piglet Day,””A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving,” and “Find Her, Keep Her,” are combined to form Seasons of Giving.

Disney has taken this convoluted story and packaged it perfectly for the very young. The Anniversary release includes a small Christmas stocking with Pooh and Tigger on it, and the single-disk includes as Bonus Features two episodes of the television show The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and two games in which the viewer can decorate a Christmas tree and color a picture. So, there is plenty here for the kids to play with, and the really young certainly won’t ask the obvious questions. Why does the animation look different from story to story? Why are some of the voices different? Why does Christopher Robin have an accent in one story and no accent in another? Where are Kanga and Roo for most of the film?

Jim Cummings as the voice of Pooh is fine, though more enjoyable in the feature than in the television show, as the latter gives Pooh too much dialog, and the delivery is inconsistent. This release gives the viewer both Cummings and the legendary Paul Winchell as Tigger, and though Cumming’s performance is adequate, escaping the shadow of Winchell will be a challenge. Similarly, John Fiedler has been the voice of Piglet for decades, so having Steve Schatzberg as Piglet in part of the production is distracting.

Though some adults may overlook these obvious flaws of technical continuity, the poor storytelling will make most unhappy. Storytelling has always been a strong point for adventures featuring the characters from the Hundred Acre Woods, but that is not the case here, as the opening story of lost calendar days, makes little sense, and sets the tone for the rest of the Seasons of Giving.

Recommendation: Obviously it is hard to steer parents away from getting this for their kids. The stocking is quite cute, and it is an inexpensive gift that will provide a few hours of viewing, but the family deserves better from Disney, and there are better Winnie the Pooh stories out there. Don’t let the addition of the collectible stocking lure you into buying a product not good enough to stand on its own. Some anniversaries should not be acknowledged.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Written by Senora Bicho

The Stepfather
is a thriller loosely based on the real case of John List. I was a 14-year-old when it was released and remember it being pretty creepy. I haven’t seen it in many years and was curious if it would still be as spine-chilling as I remembered.

It opens with a blood-covered man who has apparently just murdered his family. He cleans himself up, takes his bloody clothes, and leaves town. One year later, he appears as Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) and is recently married to widow Susan Main (Shelley Hack). Susan’s 16-year-old daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) dislikes Jerry and blames him for creating distance in the relationship with her mom. When Stephanie gets expelled from school, she suggests going to boarding school in an attempt to get away from Jerry, but he won’t allow it. Jerry continues to try and win Stephanie over, but she continues to keep his at a distance.

The brother of Jerry’s last wife, Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen), convinces a reporter to run an article on the slaying of his sister, which surfaces at a neighborhood BBQ. Jerry becomes enraged, and Stephanie witnesses a tantrum in the basement. She becomes suspicious and writes to the newspaper asking for a picture of the suspected murderer. Jerry intercepts the photo when it arrives and reacts with another violent outburst.

Ogilvie continues to investigate his sister’s killer and Stephanie confesses to her psychiatrist that she is frightened of Jerry, who continues to unravel as the film moves towards its climatic conclusion.

A couple of special features are included on the DVD. There is an audio commentary with director Joseph Ruben who later went on to direct Sleeping with the Enemy, The Good Son and The Forgotten, three intense thrillers worth seeing. “The Stepfather Chronicles” is a new featurette with interviews and behind-the-scenes information on the film.

O’Quinn is absolutely frightening as a man teetering on the edge. The film gets its first-ever DVD release on October 13th. There is also a remake being released in theaters October 16th with Dylan Walsh in the lead role. Walsh has large shoes to fill as O’Quinn’s performance is the reason the original works so well.