Full transparency: all Blu-rays reviewed were provided by Kino Lorber, Arrow Video, and Synapse Films.
Finally, the best month of the year is here: OCTOBER! The one I’ve been waiting for, folks. There’s nothing quite like the thrills and chills of a month marinated in the macabre. As the days dwindle and the nights grow longer, it’s nice to sit down with a spooky story or two to keep you company and to keep you and your loved ones on your toes. Who knows what creeps around every conspicuous corner? Horror movies are always a fun and communal way to let the hairs stand up on your neck and get your pulse pounding and your stomach churning without having to go out and find a masked killer to get the job done. So that is why I bring you some of the wildest, weirdest, and most weighty selections this column has seen to date.
Joining us this month is Synapse Films with their reissue of Lamberto Bava and giallo giant Dario Argento’s nightmare-inducing (and nightmare-logic-infused) horror duology Demons and Demons 2. Arrow Video comes in swingin’ with a substantial piece of film history and a fresh collection for non-weeby western eyes: the Yokai Monsters Collection, featuring the entire trilogy of the influential yokai monster movies produced by Daiei, the studio behind Gamera, as well as exhaustingly prolific auteur Takashi Miike’s 2005 yokai free-for-all, The Great Yokai War, which begs the question “What if there was a great yokai war?”
The final addition to my reviews this month — as well as my pick of the month — comes from Kino Lorber, but not in the form of a film. No, ma’am. We are treading into the uncharted territory of TV and TV movies with, if not the granddaddy of “monster of the week” television shows then certainly the cool uncle of them, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. For such a momentous occasion I decided to bring back past guest, Lotus operations & visual arts manager, radio DJ, and The X-Files aficionado Amanda Hutchins to talk about the sizable impact this show has had on TV and film as a whole, its never-ending delightfulness, its fascinating pedigree, and how it embodies the more “fun” side of the Halloween season.
Take a listen… if you dare.
Also out this month…
And for the more faint of heart, I have here three titles from Kino Lorber that have less to do with the loathsome and ghoulish and more to do with libido and greed. These are all classics, but sadly there was no room for anything less than lurid on the podcast, so please take a minute to read about them here:
A pre-To Kill a Mockingbird Robert Mulligan brings us one of the most relatable stories life has to offer. You’re a wealthy American businessman named Robert Talbot, played by the ever-chiseled Rock Hudson. All you want to do is take your yearly leave to your vacation villa on the Ligurian coast to have amorous alone time with your wildly attractive but betrothed Roman mistress, Lisa Fellini, portrayed by sex symbol Gina Lollobrigida. You decide to move the trip up from September to July when, wouldn’t you know it, you find out your right-hand man Maurice (a charming Walter Slezak) has been treating your geteaway home like a timeshare and has rented out rooms to a gaggle of teenage girls for the summer. To make matters worse, an equally large group of impassioned boys on their own European adventure decide that they’re going to hang around your home come hell or high water so they can cozy up to the company of co-eds. It’s up to you, wealthy American businessman Robert Talbot, to quell the onslaught of raging hormones while also keeping your increasingly impatient lover not just satisfied but… happy.
Like I said, a VERY relatable story.
All joking aside, while this film is most famous for starring Bobby Darrin (in his film debut) and Sandra Dee as the young lovers who both fall in love on and off screen (Sandra and Bobby would marry very soon after meeting for the first time on set, which became the subject of the 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea), the film itself is a pleasure! It’s an American’s take on an Italian sex comedy. Hudson plays the conservative, somewhat irascible, but sweet-hearted man that needs to learn that sometimes romance isn’t just expendable and that the best-laid plans can go awry, while Lollobrigida realizes that marriage, attraction, and happiness all need to go together. It’s a little shaggy at nearly two hours long and I wouldn’t call Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee the most compelling screen presences (we are almost all certainly here for Rock and Gina), but the movie gives Bobby time to shine with a song and I’d call the whole thing very very very cute — what more could you want out of a movie about seasonal sexcapades set during the Italian summer?
Along with a beautiful transfer, the film comes with the original theatrical trailer as well as an audio commentary track from the two David’s: film historian David De Valle and filmmaker David DeCoteau. You can find Come September through Kino Lorber.
To me, Fritz the Cat is one of the most fascinating collaborations of the late 20th century. Here we have the film debut of notorious animator and director Ralph Bakshi — probably better known at this point for his misfires Lord of the Rings and Cool World than for his provocative and innovative works Heavy Traffic, Coonskin, and Fire and Ice — in which he has (somewhat) partnered with an equally as provocative cartoonist, R. Crumb (underground comix pioneer and Zapp Comix co-founder), to adapt Crumb’s teenage countercultural creation “Fritz the Cat” years after the counterculture had declined and the Manson murders had left a bad taste in the American zeitgeist’s collective mouths. Fritz the Cat was distributed and advertised by Cinemation Industries (the very same distributor that put out the late Mario Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) as the first “X-rated” animated film in history. Both creators have their own sexual proclivities that pop up frequently and loudly in almost all of their work. And both initially meet and respect each other as artists in the early stages of production… and both leave with almost no kind words to say about each other.
While R. Crumb by all accounts barely cooperated during the making of Fritz the Cat, you can feel this mismatched tension throughout so much of the movie, which would go on to be radically influential in the cultural landscape of animation aimed at adults. The comic strip “Fritz the Cat” is a sincere ode to the youth culture of the ’60s and its rebellion being crafted by a young man living it as it happens; Fritz the Cat the film mocks and lampoons that very culture. To quote Mr. Zappa, the whole thing takes on the air of “who you jivin’ with that cosmic debris?” Fritz is a con man looking for a fix in the film, exploiting women, black people (here portrayed as crows), and the American underground to get his rocks off at almost every turn. It is quixotic and well-animated and the vibe and soundtrack all do their best to immerse you in this world of anthropomorphic animals being thinly veiled representations of racial groups and youths, but it never quite works as well as you want it to! It’s compelling to watch, but after you finish, you feel like none of it added up to much. However, despite all that, you can see its DNA all over the landscape of adult animation and its flippant attitude towards whatever youth culture is annoying its creators (I think South Park owes a huge debt to this movie), so for that I think it is absolutely worth your time to check out this movie made by two men whom some worship and some call repulsive and to watch text and adaption come into direct conflict with each other.
The film comes packaged with the original theatrical trailer and radio spots from the time, plus an audio commentary by animation historian and author G. Michael Dobbs and Swamp Thing artist Stephen R. Bissette. Pick up Fritz the Cat from Kino Lorber in collaboration with Scorpion Releasing.
Warning: the trailer below has very explicit imagery.
The evolution of the Western, like any genre, is influenced by the national mood of the populist audience going to see it. That’s why it’s intriguing to see a film pre-date that national mood by quite a few years — Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz is such a film. Starring Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster as rival but eventually united mercenaries during the Franco-Mexican War, Cooper plays Ben Trane, an ex-Confederate solider simply looking for work when he crosses paths with Lancaster’s greedily smirking, unstable, trigger-happy Joe Erin and his gang of killers, featuring some very small supporting roles from some big icons, including Charles Bronson, Jack Elam, and my boy Ernest Borgnine. After a terse meeting, they eventually team up after being recruited by Marquis Henri de Labordere, played by a pre-Joker Cesar Romero (no makeup needed to cover up his especially virile facial hair at this point), and Emperor Maximillian I of Mexico (George Macready) to assist Countess Duvarre (Dangerous When Wet’s Denise Darcel) to Veracruz for $25,000.
The journey doesn’t exactly bring what you’d expect from a 1954 western: a lack of clearly defined heroes (even Gary Cooper is just the more sympathetic anti-hero); backstabbing from our protagonists; threatened child murder; and just generally a whole heap of violence you wouldn’t expect from a western at the time. This month’s round-up has been filled with influential films that have quietly crept into cinema we are all more familiar with, but to see a movie like this predating something like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or Sergio Leone’s oeuvre by 10 or more years is quite shocking. This was the ’50s, and while we are all now aware of the dark undercurrent that ran under such an idealized decade, it’s cool to see a movie like this (a successful one at that!) slip through and make its place among films like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Brigadoon. Though, given that 1954 would see slightly more racy pictures like Rear Window and On The Waterfront appear, maybe it was just time for that undercurrent to bubble its way to the top.
Vera Cruz is a great two-hander. Cooper looks like he is in danger of being swallowed up by Lancaster’s cutthroat, but in the end both leads lend something beneficial to the picture: the portrayal of different shades of gray at a time when black and white was more in vogue for the American Western.
Featuring a commentary by Repo Man director Alex Cox, a theatrical trailer, and a “Trailers from Hell” segment from director John Landis (who parodied elements of this film for his own Three Amigos), you can find Vera Cruz through Kino Lorber.
David Carter is a film lover and a menace. He plays jazz from time to time but asks you not to hold that against him. His taste in movies bounces from Speed Racer to The Holy Mountain and everything in between.