Ghost Story

Ghost Story (Stephen Weeks, 1974)

In the 1930s, snobby McFadyen (Murry Melvin), boorish Duller (Vivian Mackerrell), and sensitive Talbot (Larry Dann) head to the English countryside for a weekend of shooting at a long-uninhabited estate belonging to a friend of McFadyen.  Strange occurrences like clanging pipes that sound like voices and a creepy Victorian doll are the least of Talbot’s worries as his class conscious school chums take amusement in his awkwardness and generally act catty (the bit where Duller and McFadyen discover that Talbot has made jam sandwiches for their hunting picnic is priceless).  Although Duller’s hobby is spiritualism and he plans to make contact with the mansion’s ghostly inhabitants (if any), it is Talbot who is given unwelcome glimpses into the tragic past (by way of the doll) involving greedy Robert’s (Leigh Lawson of Polanski’s TESS) committing of his incestuously-infatuated sister Sophie (Marianne Faithful) to an insane asylum run by the unscrupulous Dr. Borden (Anthony Bate).  Former housekeeper Miss Rennie (Penelope Keith, TO THE MANOR BORN) goes to the asylum in order to take Sophie away on the night that Borden has decided to burn it down and collect the insurance money.  She accidentally sets the inmates free and they overrun the place, killing Borden and the guilt-ridden head nurse (Barbara Shelly) while Sophie escapes back to the mansion and Robert.  The past and present begin to merge for Talbot (who encounters the spectres from the past in waking life as seemingly other people during brief escapes into town away from the oppressiveness of the house) is sucked into the tragedy as it plays out to its inevitable end and it seems that even the oblivious McFadyen and Duller (whose attempts at divining the house’s ghosts have proven frustratingly unsuccessful) may not be safe.

Scripted under the title ASYLUM, Weeks had to change the title after Amicus’ Milton Subotsky – after having read and expressed disinterest in Weeks’ script – appropriated the title for a Robert Bloch portmanteau film.  GHOST STORY has less in common with the Hammer, Amicus, and Tigon productions of the time and is more evocative of the shot-on-film BBC television adaptations of M.R. James’ ghost stories (McFadyen and Duller discover some pornographic pictures hidden inside Talbot’s copy of an M.R. James volume).  The pacing is sedate with many shots lingering after the action (Weeks cites Joseph Losey’s ACCIDENT as a stylistic inspiration) and Peter Hurst’s captures a believable and atmospheric portrait of rural England in his compositions (notably the shooting picnic disrupted by rainfall) even if the Indian drought renders the landscape a bit browner than Weeks would have liked.  Ron Geesin provides a delirious experimental score that reaches its apex during the scene where the inmates overrun the asylum.  Although the film’s cult value stems from the presence of Faithful, the rest of the cast are excellent.  Dann makes an extremely likable and relatable protagonist next to the pitch-perfect snobbery of Melvin and Mackerrell.  Mackerrell (who died of throat cancer during the 1980s was the inspiration for the Withnail character in Bruce Robinson’s autobiographic film WITHNAIL AND I) returned to India in 1984 to appear in Week’s film THE BENGAL LANCERS but the production was never finished (Nucleus and Weeks were unable to source the footage for inclusion here).  Bate and Barbara Shelley (as the asylum’s matron) acquit themselves well thanks to the depth the script allows their characters beyond being merely Sophie’s corrupt keepers.  Keith makes the most of her brief screentime as does Sally Grace as a maid who sleeps with Robert.  Lawson barnstorms through his role but it might be said the script’s ambiguous backstory allows him as much freedom to go appropriately off the rails as it does Faithful to be effectively numb and vague.

GHOST STORY was hard to see in the video age.  The only release was the big box US video tape from Comet Video under the title MADHOUSE MANSION (retitled to avoid confusion with Universal’s compromised 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub’s bestseller).  This open-matte transfer was unauthorised by Weeks.  Weeks’ director’s cut became more accessible when it appeared on BBC under its original title.  The differences between the two versions are slight but significant given the way location shooting was split between England and India.  The director’s cut opens with a series of scenes shot in England depicting Talbot and Duller heading to the train station (the first Indian location) with the credit A STEPHEN WEEKS COMPANY FILM and the title.  The MADHOUSE MANSION version begins with a full opening credits sequence which is not part of Weeks’ director’s cut.  As it was shot on film with optical titles (only the retitling itself is video generated) over a static shot of the Bangalor palace, it does not seem to be something created for this unauthorised release (although the end credits montage present in both versions credits all of the actors and both the main technicians and below-the-line crew so it seems that the main titles may have been added by someone who thought a more atmospheric opening would be appropriate).  This title sequence also starts with the Stephen Weeks Company logo which is not seen on the BBC version.  It also credits only Marianne Faithful and Leigh Lawson above the title (although Lawson is not mentioned on the disc’s front cover) and lumps in the three main actors with the supporting actors on one card after the title (the end credits sequence present on both presents the cast in alphabetical order).  The first shot after the credits is the train  station (so this version contains nothing of what was shot in England).  Weeks does not mention creating this sequence in the commentary (which is presented as an extra on disc 2).  The only other difference I could discern in the director’s cut is a brief flash back to the London Underground sequence during one of Talbot’s delirious montages.  Although the BBC TV print was also open-matte, Nucleus Films (making use of BBC’s master) is presented at 1.72:1 and 16:9 enhanced.  As with the TV print, the colours are bolder, the image sharper, and the sound cleaner (and louder) than the US video tape and is certainly the more accurate viewing option as Weeks has stated that it was intended to be seen at 1.85:1 (the review discs were single-layer but the pressed Disc 2 should be dual-layer).

The audio commentary with Stephen Weeks (moderated by Sam Umland) is very illuminating in both story and technical terms.  Weeks cites the shot where Talbot after entering the house is caught in a shaft of sunlight by a billowing blind as the moment where the house “chooses” him.  He also explains how the seeming throwaway shot of Duller finally seeing a ghost from his car window when leaving and a shot of the car passing the abandoned Borden Insane Asylum sign denotes not his departure from the film but his entrapment in the past (illuminating a later shot of Duller as one of the inmates).  Weeks also reveals that older actor Ronald Lacey was intended for the role of Duller and David Leland (who starred in Weeks’ Tigon short 1917) for Talbot but when Lacey’s doctor would not sign off on him going to India, Mackarrel was cast as Duller and that required a younger actor for Talbot (Lacey is credited as production consultant).  The shots of the Talbot and the doll running (an Indian child actress made up for the part) were actually shot in reverse with the actors moving backwards (a detail hard to discern due to the other off-kilter elements of the sequence).  American hippies were cast as the asylum inmates (reportedly after they were allowed to dine with the film’s cast and crew, the Indian servers smashed the pieces of Royal Doulton china they ate off of because they considered hippies to be lowly), the vintage cars were ones seen driving around Bangalor that the crew then rented from their owners, art director Peter Young shows up as two extras, Leigh Lawson’s wife (before Twiggy) plays a woman Talbot sees outside of the pub, Weeks’ French ex-wife Joelle worked not only on the costumes but also plays the bicycling girl seen earlier by Talbot, and many of the extras were British ex-pats living in India.  The exterior English manor was actually a palace in Bangalor while the interiors were shot at another palace (both stylized when built to look British).  Weeks does not know why he is not on speaking terms with co-scenarist/journalist Phillip Norman.  Historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff polished the period dialogue and would go on to script Weeks’ SWORD OF THE VALIANT.

The first disc includes only the film with optional commentary and the rarely seen theatrical trailer (which emphasizes that the film is a product of Britain’s youngest production company yet also refers to the film as a classic).  The substantial extras are on the second disc with the main extra being the 72 minute documentary GHOST STORIES featuring input from Larry Dann, Murry Melvin, Barbara Shelley, Stephen Weeks, Ron Geesin, and critic Kim Newman.  There is a lot of repeated information from the commentary including, understandably, several of the contributors reminiscing about Vivian Mackerrell’s fine performance, his bad luck as a working actor, and his unfortunate early death as well as Marianne Faithful’s health and how it might have influenced her performance.  There is also a lot of new information not only from the actors but from Weeks who one would have thought would have said everything possible on the commentary (such as his reluctance to use the otherwise perfect Oakley Court location because it had been seen in so many British horror films, his hunch that he would find a “lost Britain” in post-colonial India, and his discovery of the Bangalor Palace in a vintage guide book).  The GHOST STORIES documentary is chapter-encoded and comes with its own scene selection menu.

Also present on the second disc are seven short films by Weeks dating from between 1965 and 1968 including the funny yet moving Tigon production 1917 (1968; narrated by Joss Ackland), the longest short, tells the parallel “in the trenches” stories of a German soldier (Timothy Bateson) fantasising about desertion and a British soldier (David Leland) starved for action.  The spooky MOODS OF A VICTORIAN CHURCH (1967) seems like a forerunner for GHOST STORY’s atmospherics and makes one regret that GHOST STORY was not shot in 2.35:1 (understandable given the shoestring budget) as Weeks certainly has an eye for scope compositions demonstrated here and in 1917).  FLESH (1968) is the most provocative one as it juxtaposes details of a woman’s nude body with a side of beef.  A commercial for The Chelsea Cobbler made by Weeks and the alternate MADHOUSE MANSION (matted and 16:9 enhanced here) title sequence round out the video extras on disc 2 but there are also 4 PDF files accessible from your DVD-ROM drive and six Nucleus Films trailers.

This two disc set not only respectfully represents the film with its commentary and documentary, it also gives the underrated director Weeks his due (especially since the US and UK DVDs of his I, MONSTER are barebones as is MGM’s horribly cropped DVD of SWORD OF THE VALIANT; neither of which Weeks was happy with due to production and post-production interference).

 

(Eric Cotenas)

 

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide (Jake West & Marc Morris, 2010)

In the early eighties, video was in its infancy and not subject to classification by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).  As such, a flood of European (mainly Italian) and American horror pics made their way to video uncensored and into the small rental collections of auto garages, sweets shops, sporting goods stores, and new agents for children to watch after school and at parties which were usually capped off by a gang rape or acts of mutilation or multiple murder… or so the moral majority would have you believe.  The Video Nasties debacle of the 1980s in Britain was as much about political posturing as it was about concern over a supposed increasing moral decline.  Moral crusader (read: spoilsport) Mary Whitehouse started the “Clean Up TV Campaign” in 1964 and proceeded to attack DOCTOR WHO, Benny Hill, and the show TIL DEATH DO US PART (the inspiration for the American TV show ALL IN THE FAMILY).  She extended her attacks to gay publications, the theatre, and finally video under Thatcher’s government (thank you, wikipedia).

The term “Video Nasty” made the mainstream in an episode of the sitcom THE YOUNG ONES in which the gang plan to watch NIGHTMARE MAKER.  The video company that released CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST didn’t help things by sending a copy of the film to Whitehouse hoping to get some notoriety out of her reaction (which worked – Ed).  The artwork for that release soon gained an iconic significance for the opposition (illustrating several conservative-minded articles).  When it was determined that the Obscene Publications Act could be applied to video seen as “intending to deprave and corrupt” the Director of Public Prosecution drew up a list and videos were soon seized from shops across the UK.  Video Nasties became an easy scapegoat for all and any, and it wasn’t just the  politicians, either. The police could use it to explain the crime rate, parents could use it to explain unruly behaviour, and the legal community could use it as a defence in cases involving heinous crimes.  Police would seize the entire stock inventories of some video stores and made overtime pay reviewing each and every film!  Distributor David Hamilton Grant was arrested for distributing a video release of Romano Scavolini’s NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN that ran a few seconds longer than the BBFC approved cut.  Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson represented Grant and brought in respected film critic Derek Malcolm to assess the merit NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN but the judge was unsympathetic and Grant got eighteen months in prison.  Palace Pictures’ Nik Powell had better luck when he appeared in court to challenge the ruling on THE EVIL DEAD (which had already been awarded an “X” certificate by the BBFC for its theatrical showings, TENEBRAE was also certified before it made the list).

Whitehouse approached MP Graham Bright who put the Video Recordings Act before parliament.  Journalist Martin Barker – who had – was asked to write an article on Video Nasties.  When his article was not suitably condemning, he was harangued by phone at work and at home.  On behalf of parliament, an unconnected committee appointed itself to study the effects of these films on children, sending questionnaires to schools all over the country.  The Oxford-produced data was reportedly seized illegally by the committee and a report published by the committee stating that 40% of children were watching Video Nasties.  Barker followed up on the study and was able to obtain backups of all of the work.  He discovered that there were only forty-seven respondents to the questionnaire (Barker points out the rudeness of these moral representatives when trying to have a reasonable discussion with them while Beth Johnson points out their superior attitude, suggesting that they can watch these films and not be corrupted but not the masses – which brings to mind an infamous comment James Ferman made about TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE).  Despite publication of these facts, the official results had their bearing on the passing of the Video Recordings Act.

It is easy to side with anyone from the critics to Barker and Robertson but director West lets Bright dig his own grave – Kruger seems neither proud nor regretful of his actions – and the clips of other participants like Whitehouse speak for themselves.  For all the comments speculating on the type of people who find some of the lesser examples of these films objectionable, the arrogance of Whitehouse and the ignorance of Bright (and one or two other MPs), the matter-of-factness of Kruger and Ferman, and the relatable exasperated bewilderment of Robertson and Barker, Brunel University’s cult film lecturer Xavier Mendik reminds us that the Video Nasties debacle actually ruined lives.  People were fined or jailed, had all of their merchandise seized (including non-list titles to make sure for example, that BAMBI was actually the film on the cassette), and business owners their reputations sullied by visits and raids by the porn squad.  Barker reminds us that these representatives of moral standards committed fraud and were more concerned with winning an argument (I do question the use of uplifting music during Barker’s closing speech which is relevant and powerful without the need of musical editorializing).

The Video Nasties debacle is a labyrinthine story that has spawned several books and documentaries.  I haven’t read or seen most of them but Jake West’s VIDEO NASTIES: MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP, AND VIDEOTAPE not only seems fairly comprehensive but also an engrossing 71 minutes.  The interviews are cleanly shot while the archival footage varies in quality understandably.  While the archival footage exhibits real overscan tracking lines at the bottom of the frame, West and his editors do indulge in recreating the VHS tracking, dropout, and generational duplication defects to goose up the visuals and the results look authentic (and pleasurable here as opposed to their appearances on the actual movies).  The stereo soundtrack is mostly dialogue (and trailer excerpts and news footage with mono sound) but there is occasional musical accompaniment where the soundscape becomes more active (notably The Damned’s “Nasty”).  The disc also includes a logo “Ident-a-thon” which features an alphabetical sequence of classic video logos both familiar and unfamiliar.  The scene menu screen breaks the logos up into A-C, D-F, and so-on.  There are two Easter Eggs on this page which link to excerpts from the documentary’s premiere panel.  There are two more Easter Eggs on the main scene selection page which I’ll leave the viewer to discover.  Also interviewed are filmmakers Chris Smith (CREEP), Neil Marshall (DOG SOLDIERS), and stage director Andy Nyman, all of whom were kids during the Nasty panic and were inspired in their own work by the Nasties.  Actress Emily Booth appears in an amusing opening and some interstitial bits (including one well-done sequence where she gets attacked by a videotape) but most of her participation is on Discs 2 and 3 for the documentary is only the first disc of a three disc extravaganza.  Disc 2 features trailers for all 39 of the Video Nasties with contextual introductions as well as an artwork gallery.  Disc 3 features the trailers and introductions for the 33 titles dropped from the list.

Some titles made the list on the basis of certain buzzwords.  While CANNIBAL HOLOCUST, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, and CANNIBAL FEROX feature objectionable content, CANNIBAL MAN seems to have made the list through association (and the opening which features some slaughterhouse stock footage) as well as the eventually dropped DEEP RIVER SAVAGES, “cannibal lite” PRISONER OF THE CANNIBAL GOD (whose animal violence was more objectionable) and the ridiculously stupid CANNIBAL TERROR while the ludicrous DEVIL HUNTER (the pre-cert of which still fetches ridiculous prices) remains on the list.  DON’T GO IN THE WOODS somehow wound up on the list (I know there are about 30 kills in the first half-hour but, wow, this one is incompetent) and three other “DON’T” titles were investigated.  While DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE was eventually dropped from the list despite some strong content, the loopy but harmless DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT and the downright stupid DON’T GO IN THE PARK probably gained more of an audience for their brief listings.  Although TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE was never on the list, its notoriety lead to scrutiny of Hooper’s compromised EATEN ALIVE (under the title DEATH TRAP) and his very mainstream THE FUNHOUSE (although commentator Allan Bryce suggests that the latter may have also attracted attention because of the alternate title to Roger Watkins’ LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET).  Also perhaps through association with Hooper’s horror debut, the depiction of tools in the artwork or the title made titles subject to the wrong kind of attention for fear of imitative violence.  As such, AXE and THE DRILLER KILLER (the artwork of which is used as an example by one of the detractors in the documentary), as well as the dropped PRANKS (with its baseball bat artwork) and perhaps UNHINGED with its scythe-swaying grim reaper cover.  HUMAN EXPERIMENTS was also briefly on the list and Newman speculates that the word “experiments” likely drew association with the several Nazisploitation pics on the list (BEAST IN HEAT, GESTAPO’S LAST ORGY, LOVE CAMP, and SS EXPERIMENT CAMP).  BLOODY MOON featured many power tool deaths too but it also featured some taboo “blood and breasts” imagery.  The listing of EVILSPEAK may be mystifying to American viewers since the distributors hacked every single bit of gore out of the US version to gain an R-rating (although the US and UK DVDs are now uncut).  Ovidio G. Assonitis’ MADHOUSE seems to have only made the list for the “drilled dog” scene (which is still cut from the awful UK DVD) despite how fake the dog head looks in the scene.  Bright and company apparently bought the claims that SNUFF was a real film (Bright is quoted in the documentary as saying that some of the Nasty films were made in South America, which, alas, did not cause an international incident).  The listing of FOREST OF FEAR, known to Americans as TOXIC ZOMBIES or THE BLOODEATERS, seems to be just as puzzling to the Brits as it is the US viewers (particularly since the FOREST OF FEAR cover art was not even remotely provocative).  THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS and THE BIG RED ONE were also seized on the basis of their titles.

The thirty-three titles eventually dropped from the official list; not because of official reactions similar to those of the commentators here, but because they felt they could not insure successful prosecution on these titles.  Like the thirty-nine trailers on the previous disc, the “Dropped 33” are a diverse array of art and trash, several of which provoke the same kind of bewilderment as some of the official Video Nasties.  Among the artier fare are Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION (which was considered trashy by much of the British press at the time despite Adjani’s Cannes and César Best Actress awards) and Dario Argento’s INFERNO (which had its objectionable cat-eating-mouse scene cut for the tape release but restored for its recent DVD and Blu-ray editions).  Among the trash is the dreadfully boring I MISS YOU, HUGS & KISSES with Elke Sommer (which was also titled DROP DEAD DARLING although I saw it in the US under the title LEFT FOR DEAD) and THE FROZEN SCREAM.   Curiously, a couple commentators on the titles starting with “DON’T” suggest that they were the likely inspiration for Edgar Wright’s fake trailer for Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarrentino’s GRINDHOUSE but it seems directly inspired by the narration for the trailer for Tony Maylem’s THE BURNING (which is featured on Disc 2).  Others like NIGHT SCHOOL seemingly made the list because of the imagery of women being menaced by figures with knives.  Jones believes that LATE NIGHT TRAINS (although its tape face label refers to as DON’T RIDE ON LATE NIGHT TRAINS, it has the familiar onscreen title NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS) should still be on the Video Nasty list (given the logic).  He follows up on comments Mendik made on HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK about social class here in discussing the subtle acting gestures of Macha Meril’s “Lady on the Train.”

Both Disc 2 (“The Final 39”) and Disc 3 (“The Dropped 33”) feature the options to play the trailers with or without their introduction as well as English subtitles for the trailer audio (with narration in uppercase to distinguish it from dialogue).  The introductions – which feature comments from Morris, Kim Newman, Alan Jones, Stephen Thrower, Xavier Mendik, Brunel journalism professor Dr. Julian Petley, and Dr. Patricia MacCormack of Anglia Ruskin University, and TV presenter Emily Booth – are sometimes strained but generally vary from truly informative to entertaining.  Kim Newman compares BAY OF BLOOD to LA RONDE and is understandably dumbfounded by FROZEN SCREAM (he points out that the complete synopsis on the back of the box was quite helpful when viewing the film).  Marc Morris gives us the backstory on FACES OF DEATH (the pre-cert of which was missing ten minutes, including the scene featuring the cover imagery) and puzzles the authorship of the jaw-dropping CANNIBAL TERROR.  On both discs, Stephen Thrower makes some interesting arguments for some unlikely films like the “melancholy” AXE and the deliberate artistic choices of DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE.  Allen Bryce gives a couple DVD cover art-worthy quotes such as “a very immobile vampire flick” for DON’T GO IN THE PARK and describes the Mykonos of Niko Mastorakis’ ISLAND OF DEATH as a place “where men are men and sheep are scared.”  MacCormack’s introductions are at times overly-academic but usually thought-provoking.  Her thoughts on REVENGE OF THE BOGEY MAN and FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN are interesting and it would have been nice to hear her talk about POSSESSION (although, as mentioned above, Thrower does an excellent job discussing the film).  Strangely, she does not have much of interest to say about THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA which has got tattoos and castration and I’m still puzzling her “baroque interpretation of the body” comment on THE BEYOND.  Mendik’s and Petley’s contextual analyses are a bit more audience friendly.  Mendik argues for the artistic merits of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and the distancing effects during the rape scenes in HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (whose tape release was cut by 11 minutes).  Booth sounds as though she’s auditioning to be a TV horror hostess (fusing her somehow with MacCormack might make for an Elvira-esque figure), especially during her spoiler-filled introduction for KILLER NUN while WEREWOLF AND THE YETI is more suited to her gushing. (Emily Booth actually presented horror and cult-related shows on UK TV – Ed). There are some where the presenters were reaching for things to say about the films but those strained comments were appropriate to how bad the films were.  Morris, for instance, keeps things short and painless for the short trailer for the extremely painful MARDI GRAS MASSACRE while Newman points out the irony of the title ABSURD (the English export title for ANTHROPOPHAGUS 2) as well as its French title HORRIBLE but otherwise can barely sum up the energy to ridicule the film.

Besides the box art galleries for both sets of films and the collection of video logos on the 3 discs, there are some interesting extras to be found inside the trailer introductions themselves.  Alan Jones shows us his unused LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE vomit bag from the original press screening, a “guess the brain weight” press screening invitation to NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN, as well as the atypical gatefold sleeve for EXPOSE (the only British film on the list).  Petley tells us about the two alternate nude and non-nude SS EXPERIMENT CAMP covers.  The introductions to THE EVIL DEAD, TENEBRAE, DEATH TRAP and DEAD AND BURIED include rare UK TV spots.  Filmmaker Chris Smith (CREEP, TRIANGLE) makes an appearance during the discussion of UNHINGED which he rented as a kid for a party.  Fooled by the box art, the kids watched an hour and a half of talking and wandering around before all three of the potential final girls were dispatched.  Smith also turns up with some memories during the introductions to NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (re: the infamous motorcyclist’s death) and Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS.  A subtitled interview with Ruggero Deodato is excerpted during discussions of his Video Nasty list films CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK.   An additional titbit from Disc 3 is that MacCormack has a tattoo inspired by Lucio Fulci’s THE BEYOND while Jones has one inspired by Dario Argento’s INFERNO (two titles which were dropped from the final list).

The alphabetical ordering of the trailers makes for some awkwardness.  Discussion of ABSURD precedes ANTHROPOPHAGUS and Petley informs us on two separate occasions of the Nazisploitation preceding THE NIGHT PORTER and originating in the “women in prison” sub-genre.  The alphabetical ordering certainly makes it easier to search among the thirty-nine trailers (and the “Dropped 33” on Disc 3) but perhaps some alternate navigation could have been programmed into the DVDs to alternately organize them by “Zombies/Werewolves,” “Rape/Revenge,” “Stalkers/Slashers,” et cetera.  While clip-licensing might have been a big issue, the use of sequences from the trailers within the introductions sometimes undercuts some of the thrill of seeing the trailer itself (even if only a couple are truly rare and haven’t been seen on other trailer comps or DVD release of the titles).  While several of the trailers are easily source-able from remastered DVDs, several of the rarer ones have been meticulously recreated by Marc Morris (continuing his standout work from the GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS volumes).  The fonts and compositing of the recreated titles sometimes stand out from the background video in an unconvincing manner and some text screens that could not be recreated result in the 16:9 trailers bouncing back to pillar-boxed 4:3 for these shots (for instance, VISITING HOURS and the rare French trailer for WEREWOLF AND THE YETI).  While there is some entertainment value in seeing trailers in scratchy and splicy condition on Something Weird Video releases and the like, the focus on this release is on the content of the advertising rather than nostalgia.  My review copies were single-layered but it has been confirmed that the pressed discs will be dual-layered which is a good thing because these discs are all seriously PACKED (Disc 2 is over 4 hours and Disc 3 is 3 1/2 hours when the trailers are played with their introductions).  The increase in bitrate may also make it easier to appreciate the spine labels of all of the rare pre-certs on the shelves behind some of the commentators (as well as perhaps eeking out a bit more resolution from some of the poorer-looking trailers).

(Eric Cotenas)

 

Grindhouse Trailer Classics volume 3

Grindhouse Trailer Classics volume 3 

Kim Newman introduces Nucleus Films’ third GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS volume, which still manages to surprise viewers with quite a few rarities among the fifty-five trailers that make up this roughly one-hundred minute collection.

A cool trailer for Luigi Scattini’s SWEDEN: HEAVEN AND HELL (“the sex capitol of the world”) is the only thing in the collection remotely mondo, but it ends up falling comfortably in with the “sexual exposé” sub-genre of trailers for SWEDISH FLY GIRLS, SWEDISH WIFE EXCHANGE CLUB, the American THE FEMALE RESPONSE (“one moment that makes all women sisters under the skin”), the British THE SWAPPERS (“the new version of the good neighbor policy”), and THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT (which, shockingly, features no nudity and is long on dialogue scenes).  The narration for the trailer of Stephanie Rothman’s film THE WORKING GIRLS also gives the impression of an expose (and is misleadingly suggestive of the type of work they do), which can also be said of THE CLASS OF ’74 (“they’d rather teach than learn”).

Giallo trailers are pretty scarce here, offering up a nice AIP trailer for Lucio Fulci’s A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN with wavy opticals and a colorful rendition of the film’s alternate US release title SCHIZOID – which also sports the hyperbole “torn apart by terror-madness” as well as the warning for viewers with schizophrenic tendencies – National General’s R-rated release of Armando Crispino’s THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (“there’s no place to hide when the dead are alive!”), a rare and entertaining one for Umberto Lenzi’s PARANOIA (ORGASMO) with Carroll Baker and Lou Castel, and an atmospheric one Phase One trailer for THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE that sells it as a ghost story.  Antonio Margheriti’s CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE pops up as INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS, Almi Cinema’s recut R-rated version (following their original X release as CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS), which thoroughly fails to highlight Giannetto de Rossi’s gut-blasting of Giovanni Lombardo Radice spoiled in the Italian and export trailers (and also the sole bit of footage used in the to-the-point Japanese promo).  The AIP trailer for Ivan Reitman’s CANNIBAL GIRLS is also here to help represent the cannibal genre.

Blaxploitation is scantly represented here with THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR – about the CIA’s first black agent – the Civil War-era SOUL SOLDIERS, and the Columbia Pictures pick-up BLACK GUNN.  SLASH: BLADE OF DEATH (“the mighty weapon that put the force of an army in the hands of a girl”) and the MGM pick-up DEADLY CHINA DOLL (“She’s on a manhunt, and she’s a man-eater!”) represent the martial arts along with the later Cannon release REVENGE OF THE NINJA, but they also fall into the tough gals territory along with the “super-bad, super-bodied” SUPER CHICK and POLICE WOMEN (“Tough enough for any man!”).  BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA occupies the “tough chick” and WIP categories, as does Stephanie Rothman’s TERMINAL ISLAND to an extent.  The latter also fits into the rape/revenge category, although less so than ACT OF VENGENACE, a slick R-rated AIP entry directed by Robert Keljchan, who had previously essayed the COUNT YORGA films and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM.

Rape-revenge elements also figure into Peter Collinson’s OPEN SEASON, in which Peter Fonda, John Phillip Law, and Richard Lynch hunt Alberto de Mendoza and Cornelia Sharpe for sport out in the wilderness (although the film also has some rape revenge elements as well).  In MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS Susan Howard, Claudia Jennings, and Maureen “Marsha” McCormick inherit a cache of moonshine and battle their father’s killers; however, the presence of John Saxon’s as a hot rodder running ‘shine for the gals ties the film into to the “good ol’ boy” films included here like MACON COUNTY LINE and its follow-up BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY, A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS, as well as the NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (which also fits into the biker genre) which pits a gang of bikers against a corrupt cop.

Drugs are scantly represented here with PANAMA RED (“the perfect smoke”), Jeff Leiberman’s bizarre BLUE SUNSHINE, and Jack Harris’ MOTHER GOOSE A GO-GO in which former Mickey Mouse Clubber Tommy Kirk needs LSD to consummate his marriage.  The exorcism craze is covered not with one of the many Italian or fewer Spanish EXORCIST rip-offs, but with a cool English-dubbed trailer for Jess Franco’s LINDA (aka LORNA THE EXORCIST) – which features full-frontal nudity and the ballyhoo “behind the erotic beauty of a woman hides the rotten stench of hell” over a shot of one of the crabs emerging from Jacqueline Laurent’s pubic hair – and the American west coast oddity THE TOUCH OF SATAN (currently only available on DVD with the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment).

Euro-westerns were slim pickings in the grindhouse era, and the Spanish A TOWN CALLED HELL with Telly Savalas, Martin Landau, Robert Shaw, and Stella Stevens is the only representative (even rarer at this time – outside of softcore parodies – was the jungle epic, specifically TARZANA – WILD GIRL, which appears to be a very low point for Italian exploitation hottie Beryl Cunningham).  Slashers did not come along until the early eighties, but body count films anticipated the genre here with AIP’s brutal BLOOD AND LACE and CENTERFOLD GIRLS – in which exploitation stalwart Andrew Prine stalks and slashes calendar girls – and the British BEWARE THE BRETHREN (aka THE FIEND or BEWARE MY BRETHREN).

The grueling THE CANDY SNATCHERS is the epitome of the grindhouse, but hard to group as far as this collection goes, as is Greydon Clark’s “star-studded” alien predator pic IT CAME WITHOUT WARNING! (“and now it’s coming for you!”).  The Spanish VAMPIRES NIGHT ORGY and the Chinese SUCCUBARE can at least be grouped together as foreign monster movies, and their somewhat similar themes of strangers wandering into mysterious villages peopled by different types of ghouls.  LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN – a French/British adaptation of the Sebastian Japrisot novel with Samantha Eggar and Oliver Reed – and Nelson Lyon’s THE TELEPHONE BOOK about a girl “who falls in love with the world’s greatest obscene phone call!” are the unclassifiably arty stragglers in the collection.  Lastly, what would a seventies trailer comp be without something from Michael Findlay (SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED, directed by Ed Adlum), Andy Milligan (THE RATS ARE COMING! THE WEREWOLVES ARE HERE!), Al Adamson (THE FEMALE BUNCH), S.F. Brownrigg’s DON’T OPEN THE DOOR as one of the line of unrelated “Don’t” films.

As can be expected, image quality on this dual-layer trailer comp varies from trailer to trailer (as do aspect ratios and audio quality).  Most surprising are the trailers for Stephanie Rothman’s TERMINAL ISLAND and THE WORKING GIRLS, which were only available in worn VHS-sourced versions to Code Red for their DVD releases.  Since the discs in the GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS collection are intended as party discs, Nucleus has also included optional English subtitles for the films (spoken dialogue is differentiated from the trailer narration by italicization).  It’s a nice touch for general viewing as well, but I did not notice any trailers in which the audio quality might actually required subtitles to be intelligible.

  

The disc’s major extra is a fifteen-minute “guide to the Grindhouse” by critic Kim Newman.  Newman hastens to remind viewers that Britain did indeed have grindhouses, although he can only allude to some of the unsavory rumors about the London ones since he did not experience them until the eighties before video usurped the viewing medium for such films.  His talk does a fair job of finding encompassing themes to bring together the trailers in this more varied third volume, attributing the label of “whitesploitation” to the string of chick power and good ol’ boy (in that young white viewers envied the oppressed protagonists overthrowing the man in blaxploitation flicks – represented in this collection by THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR about the CIA’s first “negro” agent, the Columbia Pictures pick-up BLACK GUNN, and Civil War-set SOUL SOLDIER).  Newman muses that the trailers are often better than the features, whether thoroughly misrepresenting the film (for instance, the Etruscan zombies viewers may have been anticipating of THE DEAD ARE ALIVE, or the skull-faced ghoul of THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) or the deliberately censored trailer for NAZI LOVE CAMP 27, in which the narrator promises that the actual screening will be fully uncut (this film and Veronica Lake’s unfortunate swan song FLESH FEAST represent Nazisploitation on this set).  Newman does, however, cite THE DOBERMAN GANG as a film in which the trailer makes the most of its high concept of “clockwork canines.”  The three “Also Available” menu screens of trailers encompass all of Nucleus’ releases thus far (as well as three upcoming surprises: THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, DEAD OF NIGHT [DEATH DREAM], and CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS), as well as their “Naughty” line, which includes CRUEL PASSION/JUSTINE with Koo Stark as an upcoming release (the Naughty trailers were not viewable on my check disc, however).  A poster gallery rounds out the package.

(Eric Cotenas)