Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR. Stars Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick.
1957. Elia Kazan’s warning shot about how broadcast mass media might be able to “package” political candidates the way Madison Avenue had done for antacid TV spots may be one of the most prescient of all American movies, and was Andy Griffith’s screen debut. Extras: The Criterion bonus extras are illuminating, as they especially need to be on a movie like this. Interviewed historian Ron Briley strengthens the undeniable case that Kazan’s work got better and more committed after he named communists to HUAC, while an excellent 2005 featurette doc is carried over from the old Warner DVD release, which this 4K transfer puts very much in the shade. In addition to critic April Wolfe’s beauty of an essay, there’s a lengthy excerpt from Kazan’s introduction to the published Crowd screenplay from 1957, as well as the same year’s New York Times profile on Griffith. Read the Full Review
Shout! Factory, Horror, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR. Stars John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll.
1955. Compact; helped by a casting mix that works; and the visual advantage of watching the jumbo title “thing” stalking the wide-open desert makes this one of the more disturbing ’50s mutation movies. Extras: Includes an often funny commentary by Tom Weaver, David Schecter and Robert J. Kiss. Read the Full Review
Shout! Factory; Horror; $29.99 Blu-ray; Not rated. Stars John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll.
My ex-wife says that 1955’s Tarantula is the ’50s mutation pic that most freaked her out as a child, and I suspect that my reaction would have been the same had I been able to catch it in in early ’56. That’s when it played my main neighborhood theater following a downtown run that had paired this desert chiller with the William Campbell-Mamie Van Doren-Keenan Wynn biker pic Running Wild, a double bill that appeals to me more than anything I’ve seen on my local multiplex marquee this year. (For one thing, I never miss any Keenan Wynn movie about hot wheels.) Unfortunately, my parents wanted me to do something comparably dull instead — I think it was something really unreasonable like eating Sunday dinner with the family — and the huge argument that ensued means that I didn’t catch one of the most essential creature features until college.
And more than a decade after its first release, Tarantula was still very good of its kind, as Parents magazine used to say in its monthly movie guide: compact (though even at 80 minutes, there’s a little too much yakking); helped by a casting mix that works; and the visual advantage of watching the jumbo title “thing” stalking the wide-open desert (I don’t think the clutter of a metropolitan setting would have worked as well). And, let’s face it: On a warm-and-fuzzy level, tarantulas may well have the “fuzzy” part covered — but in my experience, the only guys who have tarantulas as pets are pot dealers who also have 500 pet mice in their apartments when someone goes over to buy a lid. In other words, it’s not like 1957’s The Deadly Mantis, in which you can say: “everyone loves praying mantes — most of the time.” Conversely, nobody’s going to lobby against dead tarantulas, even though they’re generally harmless to humans unless agitated.
But not this one. Baby boomer favorite Leo G. Carroll, who in ’55 had just completed his network run with the title role in TV’s “Topper” before years of syndication, plays a scientist who works in secrecy way out in Nowhere, Ariz. In a large isolated home that Universal-International recycled from 1948’s Tap Roots and other studio predecessors, caged creatures lounge around behind glass enclosures between injections of serum that Professor Carroll is guinea-pigging them with; it’s part of an experiment he hopes will cure world food shortages. As a result, these animals grow at an amazing rate, with the bunnies evolving on a dime from teensy little things into a casting call for Night of the Lepus. So you can imagine the terror that ensues (to say nothing of the amount of livestock remains on the ground) once a similarly affected tarantula skedaddles — the damned thing moves surprisingly fast — out of the lab.
This escape occurs due to an unfortunate side effect when the serum is injected into humans: acromegaly (which the script manages to call by a slightly different name) — a distorter of hands, feet and sometimes facial features. One of these victims — and as with a similarly afflicted and similarly dying colleague we see in the first scene, he’s now uuuuuuuggggg-ly — decides as a final gesture to attack Carroll in the lab and inject him with the same stuff, which results in a physical altercation that busts open cages and, well, you get the idea. I have to believe that for 1955 Baby Boomers, the continuing sight of Cosmo Topper with his face falling off (with each shot of him worse than the last) was as scary as the giant tarantula, which, make no mistake, is imposing.
Clint Eastwood had four big-screen bit parts in his ’55 debut year (including one in Lady Godiva, which my prurient 8-year-old side really wanted to see at the time, and not because Grant Withers was also in it). In this case, Clint’s face is obscured behind Air Force goggles once the nearly-beaten desert authorities have no other recourse other than to say, “Bring on the napalm.” But the main leads are (as a local doc) John Agar, whose earnestness I always found appealing — plus U-I contract babe and future lifelong Eastwood pal Mara Corday as another ’50s scientist’s assistant who could just as well be one of that decade’s Playboy Playmates, which, matter of fact, Corday was in real life. According to the bonus commentary by Tom Weaver, who wrote the sci-fi movie book (actually, he wrote many more than one), poor Agar signed with the studio in hopes of getting more substantial parts than playing opposite Cleo Moore in Bait over at Columbia for Hugo Haas. Whereupon, U-I put Agar in Revenge of the Creature (coincidentally Eastwood’s debut), then let him sit around for a year before putting him in Tarantula. (As for The Mole People, which followed later, I didn’t even like that one when I was a kid.)
The commentary, which can be funny and is shared with David Schecter and Robert J. Kiss, is a new one on me: actors are utilized to deliver quotes from Weaver’s many interviews of sci-fi movie principals, including some of the talents here. Schecter does a riff of 10 or 11 minutes on how Tarantula’s effective score here was largely patched together from previous pictures, while Weaver offers persuasive evidence that the movie’s cult director, Jack Arnold, was apparently one of those guys who claimed credit for everything (though if I’d been Jack, I’d have blamed Bob Hope’s A Global Affair on someone else).
The estimable Gary Tooze of DVD Beaver recently knocked this Blu-ray’s look on the website, and anyone hoping that the movie will look as sharp as the recent Val Lewton RKO’s from Scream Factory should forget it. My own view is that the 1.33:1 copy on Koch Media’s Reg. B import looks the best (but that means 1.33 for a December 1955 release) and that the 1.78 alternative on the same disc is too grainy for my eye. That leaves this new 1.85 Scream Factory version somewhere in the middle — a nice width-to-height rendering but otherwise only on the high side of just OK.
And speaking of Inside Baseball (or maybe Inside Insects), the movie’s title appears as Tarantula on the screen — sans exclamation point — but as Tarantula! nearly everywhere else these days, including on the package art and menu here. As one who assisted Leonard Maltin on his Movie Guide dating back to when The Osmonds were charting, I can tell you that Len spent half of his adult life trying to sort out this kind of twisted arcania, which more than once must have made him ask, “I went to NYU for this?” It’s the kind of thing that makes you wish you’d pursued a more reputable profession in life — like, say, mad scientist. Though truth to tell, Carroll’s character really isn’t mad here but one who simply fell in with the wrong crowd, as in once diminutive tarantulas who eventually necessitate the employment of bombing crews.
Scream Factory, the horror imprint of multi-platform distributor Shout! Factory, will release Universal Horror Collection Vol. 1 on Blu-ray June 18. Celebrating the legacy of horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the collection includes their collaborations in the films The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935), The Invisible Ray (1936) and Black Friday (1940).
The Black Cat will include new commentaries from film historians Gregory William Mank and Steve Haberman, the documentary “Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe” narrated by Doug Bradley, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part One — The Black Cat,” and vintage footage of “The Black Cat Contest.”
The Raven comes with a new 2K scan of the original film elements, plus a commentary with Haberman, another commentary with Gary D. Rhodes, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Two — The Raven,” and an audio recording of Lugosi reading Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
The Invisible Ray features a new 2K scan of the original film elements, a commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and Randall Larson, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Three — The Invisible Ray,” and a Re-Release theatrical trailer.
Black Friday comes with a new 2K scan of the original film elements, a commentary with film historian Constantine Nasr, the featurette “A Good Game: Karloff and Lugosi at Universal Part Four — Black Friday,” an “Inner Sanctum Mystery Radio Show” performances of The Tell-Tale Heart starring Boris Karloff, and the theatrical trailer.
Shout! Factory; Horror; $29.99 Blu-ray; Not rated. Stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Russell Wade.
The Body Snatcher from 1945 finds the young Robert Wise in his career breakout (or something close), adapting a Robert Louis Stevenson story that does not have celestial seed pods nor Dana Wynter in a cocktail dress as standout components. The result is a 77-minute fan favorite that goes against certain expectations, though most would venture a good (and also correct) guess that Val Lewton produced it. Lewton’s onetime boss David O. Selznick may have had Dom Perignon budgets at his disposal, but Lewton had to do it the hard way. His touch remains as unmistakable here in terms of mood, atmospherics and tight storytelling — except that he had to produce quality on bankrolls, which, by comparison to the wallet marked DOS, conceivably might have floated a six-pack of Nehi’s.
The mild surprises I noted come in the casting. Here’s a Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi pairing filmed not at those horror titans’ standard homestead Universal but at RKO — though, yes, 1940’s You’ll Find Out had been at RKO as well. Of course, that one was primarily a Kay Kyser musical, which tends to take it out of this discussion — though I suppose one can make a case that Ish Kabibble (who was popular band leader Kyser’s house lunatic) was as scary as either. The other surprise here has to do with some misleading hype: against Lewton’s wishes, a second-billed Lugosi was added to the cast as an afterthought for some added box office clout — and yet it’s a surprisingly small role even if Lugosi does totally nail it in one his big scene here of note.
In truth, all three principals nail what primarily turns out to be a heavyweight acting duel between Karloff and Henry Daniell, as the former finesses a characterization fully equatable with his career meal-ticket Frankenstein — while Daniell carries a huge chunk of the story’s dramatic load playing a med-school proprietor and potentially brilliant surgeon who’s also become a borderline dissipated sot. The latter’s fall from grace is due to the Daniell character’s sanctioning of grave-robbing from a nearby cemetery in 1831 Edinburgh to make it possible for his students to have hands-on experience, which is probably not the way to get invited to all the best parties. Karloff is the actual robber who graduates to the deal-breaking practice of murder, and their unholy alliance extends way back into their younger days — leading to a kind of blackmail situation that pretty well guaranteed that Karloff would become a lifelong leech.
A master at projecting constipated villainy often accompanied by a mean streak, Daniell had been unforgettable not long before his turn as boarding school proprietor Reverend Brocklehurst in the 20th Century-Fox version of Jane Eyre — the one whose sadistic severity leads to little Elizabeth Taylor’s death from pneumonia. In Body Snatchers, his character is rigid as well, yet with a sympathetic streak that suggests a potentially good man, at least at the beginning, who never had a chance to relax. It takes nearly a movie’s length of prodding even to get him to consider operating on a little girl (RKO’s resident femme child Sharyn Moffett) whose paralysis he might cure.
As the editor of Citizen Kane, the young Wise had wanted to direct, and he got his chance for at least a shared on-screen credit when initially hired Gunther V. Fritsch fell behind schedule on Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People and had to be replaced mid-production. Wise’s work pleased the studio, and his work was seamless with Fritsch’s — something you can easily see in People’s earlier Scream Factory Blu-ray release. That one was more visually stunning (particularly in the Simone Simon apparition scenes) than this heavily nocturnal Stevenson yarn, but this Body Snatchers Blu-ray is a big leap over the old DVD. Beyond that, it rarely lets up in the character dynamics, and even the comparably bland Russell Wade as a med school student/assistant projects the naive sincerity his role demands.
Lewton produced 11 low-budget movies at RKO from 1942 to 1946 (two of them unsuccessful non-horror entries) after his Cat People debut became one of the biggest box office sleepers of the war years. Body Snatchers came late in the horror cycle (seventh of the nine) after a multi-picture contract with Karloff pushed the series into a slightly higher production bracket. Though their choice of material couldn’t have been more different, Lewton’s success was eerily reminiscent of Preston Sturges’; both filmmakers were like comets who had an amazing but brief run of movies that are as good now as when they were made. Oddly, Lewton’s slide began when he left RKO for Paramount after a contract skirmish, while Sturges lost his touch after leaving Paramount for — talk about a fool’s errand — a typically pipe dream deal with mercurial Howard Hughes.
Beyond 4K scanning, the Blu-ray is a nice mix between the recycled and new, starting with a shared commentary between Wise (who died in 2005) and Steve Haberman, whose credits include the screenplay for Mel Brooks’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, whose stake-through-the-heart scene got the single hardest guffaws I ever heard at a New York press screening. Both voiceovers are self-contained, with Haberman taking over after Wise’s personal reminisces (i.e. they’re not scene-specific) about what was for him a pleasant experience. There’s also the 2005 doc Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy, plus a new featurette (You’ll Never Get Rid of Me: Resurrecting The Body Snatcher) that in part tries making the quite defensible case that this was the best horror film of the ‘40s.
When all was said and done, Wise also rated Body Snatchers as a personal career favorite, along with The Set-Up, The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sand Pebbles, to name three for which he had significant fondness. I’m assuming he had considerable affection for West Side Story and The Sound of Music as well, both Oscar winners that were a long way from the Lewton pictures, Wise had his share of clunkers to go along the films of his that are still beloved, but there weren’t too many directors whose careers had as many dimensions.
Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, will release the four-disc The Poison Ivy Collection on Blu-ray Feb. 12.
The set includes the theatrically released erotic thriller Poison Ivy (1992) and its direct-to-video sequels Poison Ivy II: Lily (1996), Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997) and Poison Ivy: The Secret Society (2008), all making their Blu-ray debuts. The set includes the rated and unrated versions of each film.
Poison Ivy stars Drew Barrymore as a teenager named Ivy who befriends introverted teen Sylvie (Sara Gilbert) and seduces her father (Tom Skerritt). Poison Ivy 2 features Alyssa Milano as a college student named Lily, who finds Ivy’s diaries and is inspired to pursue a life of uninhibited sexual risk-taking. In The New Seduction, Ivy’s sister, Violet (Jaime Pressly), seeks revenge on the family the betrayed her mother. In Secret Society, a college freshman (Miriam McDonald) is invited to join an exclusive campus sisterhood, whose cold-blooded ambition causes the group to seduce, blackmail or do away with anyone that gets in their way.
The set includes a new commentary on the theatrical version of the first film with co-writer/director Katt Shea, plus trailers for each film.
According to Shout! Factory’s press release, the unrated versions of the first three films were created by inserting standard-definition footage into the HD rated version.
As discussed in depth in the bonus materials of the new Scream Factory Blu-ray of 1984’s Starman, director John Carpenter was eager to use the film to veer away from the scary fare he was known for and into the gentler realms of sci-fi and romance. Jeff Bridges anchors the film with a quirky, subtle performance as an alien entity trying to adjust to life as in a human body as he makes his way across the country to rendezvous with his mothership.
Shout! Factory; Sci-Fi; $34.93 Blu-ray; Rated ‘PG.’ Stars Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel.
To differentiate itself from the recent success of E.T., 1984’s Starman was billed as a “science-fiction romance” that played heavily on the idea of the “Greetings From Earth” messages launched with the Voyager space probes a few years earlier.
Director John Carpenter took on the project because he wanted to distance himself from his reputation as a horror director, but he was no stranger to science-fiction. He made his directorial debut with the expanded student film Dark Star in 1974 before establishing himself as a horror icon with Halloween, The Fog and Christine. But interspersed with those was the Elvis TV movie (with Kurt Russell), not to mention the Escape From New York and The Thing, both undisputable examples of sci-fi, even if The Thing takes full advantage of his horror sensibilities. And four years later he would make They Live.
Starman, however, would prove to be much lighter in tone than his previous works, with Carpenter putting an emphasis on the road trip aspect of the story that would center on the rapport between his two leads. While most of the film is a conventional “government searching for aliens” type of plot, it succeeds primarily due to the performance of Jeff Bridges, who was nominated for an Oscar for his efforts.
The film stars with one of the Voyager probes being intercepted by an alien ship, which finds the golden record on it containing samples of Earth culture and an invitation from the U.N. for alien life to visit. The aliens then send a smaller craft to accept the invitation, only for it to be shot down by the U.S. military.
After the ship crashes in rural Wisconsin, its occupant discovers the remote cabin occupied by Jenny (Karen Allen), who is pining over her recently deceased husband (Bridges). The alien uses photos of the man and some DNA from a lock of his hair in a scrapbook to create a body it can use to study humanity. This is where Bridges shines through, amplifying the awkwardness of an alien form in a new body slowly growing accustomed to it as he learns more about the world around him.
Bridges in the bonus materials recalls the approach he took to the character as one of an advanced being in a human body trying to impersonate a human. The transformation of the alien into Bridges was the result of the combination of work from three masters of movie makeup effects: Dick Smith, Rick Baker and Stan Winston.
Jenny is understandably freaked out by the clone of her dead husband standing in front of her, but quickly comes to understand what he’s there for. He needs to travel to Arizona to be picked up by his people in three days, before his human body can no longer sustain his alien energies (which allow him to control electronic devices, such as jumpstarting a car or keying the jackpot of a Vegas slot machine).
With the aid of some little metal spheres, the Starman’s powers include the ability to shield himself from danger and resurrect the dead, as in a memorable scene in which he cures a deer from recently being shot by a hunter.
Starman’s antics naturally cause a disturbance wherever he goes, creating a ripple effect that is being tracked by a group of government operatives who are divided by their interests in the alien. Some want to learn from him (as in Charles Martin Smith SETI scientist), but some want to dissect him, which creates some tension over which group gets to him first.
Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray edition looks fantastic and really does justice to the cinematography of Donald M. Morgan. Aside from the few necessary visual effects shots to establish the alien spacecraft, most of the film’s look is defined by subtle lighting effects that come across really well in high-definition.
The film gave Bridges a chance to show off some of his musical chops thanks to his alien persona relaying himself through music he’s picked up, and a film-reel flashback of his human self playing the guitar and singing “All I Have to Do Is Dream” with Allen (a duet that was included on the film’s soundtrack album). He’s eventually win the Best Actor Oscar for playing a musician in 2009’s Crazy Heart. For Allen, this was probably her best-known role outside of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Blu-ray combines some legacy bonus materials with a new 24-minute retrospective, called “They Came From Hollywood: Remembering Starman.” Bridges, Smith, Carpenter and a handful of the filmmakers are shown in separate interviews recalling their experience of making the film and what it meant for their careers.
For Bridges in particular, the film marked the start of a tradition in which he would assemble the photographs he takes on the set of his films into a scrapbook memento for the cast and crew.
The audio on some of the interviews is a bit scratchy, so viewers shouldn’t worry that their speakers are blowing out.
The Blu-ray also includes a great, insightful audio commentary with Carpenter and Bridges ported over from an overseas Blu-ray release, plus an 11-minute promotional featurette from the ’80s.
The film would go on to spawn a short-lived sequel TV series in 1986, though none of the cast reprised their roles. The show is available as a manufactured-on-demand DVD from Sony.
Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, Jan. 22 releases a new collector’s edition Blu-ray of Sylvester Stallone’s 1986 cult-classic actioner Cobra.
Stallone stars as Lt. Marion Cobretti, aka Cobra, a street-tough, big-city detective who does jobs nobody else wants or dares to do. Directed by George P. Cosmatos, the cast also includes Brigitte Nielsen and Reni Santoni.
The new Blu-ray offers a new 2K scan of the film and several new extras, including “Stalking and Slashing,” an interview with actor Brian Thompson; “Meet the Disease,” an interview with actor Marco Rodriguez; “Feel the Heat,” an interview with actor Andrew Robinson; “Double Crossed,” an interview with actress Lee Garlington; and “A Work of Art,” an interview with actor Art LaFleur.
Additional extras include an audio commentary with Cosmatos, a vintage featurette, photo galleries and the film’s trailers.
Shout! Factory will release a two-disc Blu-ray collector’s edition of 1992 cult hit Candyman Nov. 20 through the indie distributor’s Scream Factory horror imprint.
The thriller follows a graduate student (Virginia Madsen ) whose research summons a legendary spirit (Tony Todd) who haunts a notorious housing project. Written and directed by Bernard Rose, executive produced by Clive Barker, and with music by Philip Glass, Candyman also stars Xander Berkeley and Kasi Lemmon.
The Blu-ray set includes both the theatrical and unrated cuts of the film, with a new 2K restoration from a 4K scan of the original negative. The new scenes for the uncut version are high-definition inserts sourced from an archival film print.
New bonus material with the theatrical cut includes audio commentary with Rose and Todd, and another commentary with authors and horror experts Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. The theatrical cut also includes two previously released commentaries.
Additional new extras include the featurette “A Story to Tell: Clive Barker’s ‘The Forbidden,’” with writer Douglas E. Winter discussing Clive Barker’s seminal Books of Blood and Candyman’s source story, “The Forbidden”; and “Urban Legend: Unwrapping Candyman,” a critical analysis of the film with writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes.
The Blu-ray also includes new interviews with Todd, Madsen, actors Kasi Lemmons and DeJuan Guy, production designer Jane Ann Stewart, and the film’s makeup artists.
Legacy extras include “Sweets to the Sweet: The Candyman Mythos” featuring filmmaker and cast interviews; 2014 interviews with Barker and Todd; storyboards; and promotional material. The Blu-ray also includes a BD-ROM screenplay.
Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, will release 1992’s Single White Female on Blu-ray Nov. 13.
The film stars Bridget Fonda as a woman whose new roommate (Jennifer Jason Leigh) slowly begins to take over her identity.
New bonus material includes audio commentary with Director Barbet Schroeder, editor Lee Percy and associate producer Susan Hoffman; and interviews with Schroeder, screenwriter Don Roos, and actors Steven Weber and Peter Friedman. The Blu-ray also includes the film’s theatrical trailer.
Kino Lorber, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR. Stars Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi. 1963. As both the most commercially successful movie Billy Wilder ever enjoyed and, paradoxically, the last box office hit of his career, Irma La Douceseems like something of a benchmark oddity when viewed from 55 years of perspective. Extras: The Blu-ray includes two excellent commentaries, one by ‘A’-team film historian Joseph McBride and another from Brit film historian Kat Ellinger. Read the Full Review
Shout! Factory; Horror; $22.99 Blu-ray; NR. Stars Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, George Kennedy. 1964. The pairing of Joan Crawford with William Castle was always destined to be a marriage made in a burg you wouldn’t want to be in — no matter how much you might be willing enough to give any movie that exploited the point a shot in theaters. Extras: The supplements are fun even beyond a laugh-a-minute bonus commentary by Steve Haberman and David J. Show, which is just what you want with Castle’s kind of exploitation fare: jokey and knowledgeable. So in addition, we get screen tests and a fun “making-of” documentary carried over from a long-ago DVD but also a pair of juicy new featurettes. Read the Full Review