Thursday, April 6, 2017

Grindhouse- 10th Anniversary

It has now been a decade since the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature, Grindhouse, hit theaters.  Despite the fact that it did not perform as well as expected at the box office, I still believe, to this day, that this was one of the best movie-going experiences in my lifetime.  For me, personally, most movies don't seem to warrant going to the theater these days.  I think it is a combination of modern home viewing technology and the movies that are made today.  There are plenty of good movies that come out today, but they don't grab my attention quite the way movies used to and are on DVD and Blu-Ray just a few short months later, playing theaters for just a few brief weeks, so there is only a small window to go see them in the theaters now. 

With Grindhouse, it was different.  This was something I waited for and looked forward to for some time before the release.  It was one that I knew would be best to see in the theater.  This one actually made me excited to go to the movies again. 

I was not disappointed. 

What I got was over 3 hours of bloody, violent, deranged, crazy entertainment and it was more than worth the ticket price.  For the same you would pay to see any other regular movie, you got two feature-length movies, plus several trailers for non-existing movies.  It was a bargain.

Unfortunately, I think many people just did not get it.  I suppose that is to be expected, as not everybody is familiar with exploitation cinema and the grindhouse era.  That lack of familiarity for many people seemed to mean that they were not able to fully enjoy the movies and the trailers sandwiched between them.  Instead, they would wonder why something is the way it is and why the movies look the way they do, etc.

The Movies:

Planet Terror is the first of the two movies and the more rapidly-paced of the two.  I think it was a good idea to put this one first, just to get everything going quickly.  It is bloody, chaotic, and just plain fun.  It is absurd, it is exciting, and it takes you on a great ride.  It doesn't hurt that there a good few rather attractive women in it, including Robert's nieces (credited here as "the Crazy Babysitter Twins").

Death Proof, on the other hand, is more of a slow-burn movie (although it, too, features many very attractive women), which is a bit more in keeping with movies from the exploitation/grindhouse era.  All the crazy violence and action that would fill the trailer was generally from the last 20-30 minutes of the movie.  Many found Death Proof to be mostly boring, which I can understand, but do not agree with.  Of the two movies, this is the one I prefer.  I think both movies are excellent and very enjoyable, but I watch Death Proof way more frequently than I watch Planet Terror.  In fact, going off of how often I watch each of them, Death Proof is my favorite Tarantino movie, period.  I know I am in the minority on this (even the man himself has referred to it as the worst movie he will ever make), but that is my honest opinion.

The Trailers:

The first trailer is shown before Planet Terror, which is for Machete (which was actually made into a movie later).  From the look to some of the dialogue to the violence to the narration, this trailer really captures the feel of those old trailers.

The remaining trailers are shown between the two movies.  There is Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS, which really sounds like it would be a fun movie.  The mix of ideas in this one is ridiculous, but at the same time just kooky enough that it could really make for one hell of an entertaining movie.  Zombie apparently shot enough for a feature or at least close to it.  If any of the other footage will ever see the light of day, I have no idea.  Obviously, this trailer is bringing out some of the old nazi-exploitation vibe, which is great.  I will say that I think this trailer is the least convincing as far as the old, worn-out look that they all have.  This one looks like a new trailer with digital wear and tear added.  This is not enough, however to ruin the fun of the trailer and I would still dig seeing this as a complete movie.

Don't is a throwback to all the movies that had the word "don't" in their titles, of which there were many: Don't Go in the House, Don't Answer the Phone, Don't Go in the Woods Alone, Don't Look in the Basement-- you get the idea.  Some of these are actually referred to in the trailer's narration.  This is one of the most well-done of the trailers.  It really looks like something from 1977 or so.  There are even some shots that brilliantly-recreated shots from real movies, such as The Legend of Hell House.

Thanksgiving brings back the good old days of the holiday-themed slasher movie.  This one looks grimy and sleazy as hell, filled with blood, severed heads, and boobs.  Eli Roth's narration is priceless and completes the feel of those old slasher trailers.

To top off the trailers, there was also a fake commercial for the Tarantino-universe restaurant, The Acuña Boys.  If you have never seen any of these old commercials for restaurants like this, they really look just like this one looks.

All told, Grindhouse was and is a movie-experience like none other these days.  It takes viewers back to a different time, when you felt like you got a bit more for what you paid and it delivers.  Even though I think this is best experienced in an actual theater, it is still great fun in your own home on your TV in your living room, either alone or with a couple friends. 

If you never gave this one a go, you should.  And if you did, but hated it, well it isn't for everybody.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Punisher Import Blu-Ray

Okay, so this isn't exactly horror, but it certainly has an old exploitation cinema appeal to it, which I love.  I am talking about the 1989 film adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, The Punisher, featuring Dolph Lundgren in the title role.  This movie was made by New World Pictures in Australia, although it still takes place in the U.S.  Due to the financial situation with the studio at the time, it was not released theatrically in the U.S. (although it was in much of the rest of the world), but instead was released straight-to-video in 1991 or so.

I remember reading some pretty negative reactions to this movie in the letters section of some Punisher comics back in those days, which I never really understood.  Sure, it isn't exactly super faithful to the source material, but I think the basic idea is still intact and let's be honest, having Castle running around in the same outfit he wears in the comics would have looked really kooky, although the fact that he does not wear that costume seems to be a big complaint about this movie.  I think the more recent movies have done well with the costume and incorporating the classic skull design into his costume, but by then, the comics had already changed the Punisher's costume to something less superhero-ish and more realistic, so the transition to screen with the newer look was pretty simple.

However, I have always liked the look the character has in this particular movie.  I think they made a good choice in simplifying the look and finding a look that is less flashy and comic bookish.  I suppose that sounds a little weird, since it is a movie based on a comic book, but the fact is that what works on the pages of a comic book does not necessarily work on the screen in a live action movie.

All that aside, if nothing else, I think The Punisher was just a really enjoyable, and pretty damned violent, revenge/action movie.

I was very happy to see that there is a Blu-Ray release of the movie out now, which is actually an import from Australia, but it is, thankfully, region-free.  I was especially glad to see that there are different versions of the movie included in the release.  One is a workprint version from the director, which features a good bit of stuff left out of the final movie, mainly what amounts to an entire reel focusing on Frank's final couple of days before he becomes the Punisher.  You get to see him as a cop, working with his partner, Jake (played by the always-great Louis Gossett Jr.) and even see the heroin bust that is mentioned later on in the movie.  This extra footage establishes more of the characters and their histories with each other.  While I think the film still works without it, I think the loss of this material from the finished movie does impact the way it plays significantly.  In the final version, when you first see Frank, he is the Punisher, but originally, you saw him as Frank Castle, saw him being a father and husband, as well as a cop and a good friend, which also impacts the later scenes between the Punisher and his former partner, Jake.

Also included is a fairly recent interview with Dolph Lundgren, in which he seems to be pretty fond of the movie, although he does state that he feels the removal of the first section of the movie takes away from the character and the movie overall.  I find it difficult to disagree with him there.

Certainly, this is a release worth picking up if you are also a fan of this underappreciated film.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Count Dracula's Great Love and Burial Ground Blu Ray Releases

My two most recent Blu Ray purchases just arrived in the mail a couple days ago:  from Vinegar Syndrome, there is Count Dracula's Great Love, directed by Javier Aguirre and starring the late-great Paul Naschy.  And then, from Severin, the Italian madness known as Burial Ground, from director Andrea Bianchi.

Paul Naschy is most remembered for his Hombre Lobo movies, playing the ever-doomed Waldemar Daninsky, but he made so many movies in his life that it is doing the man a disservice to overlook his other roles, such as Alaric de Marnac in one of my personal favorite Naschy movies, Horror Rises from the Tomb, Gotho (aka the Hunchback) of Hunchback of the Morgue (which deserves a good Blu Ray release as well), and, of course, Count Dracula himself from Count Dracula's Great Love.

Naschy was heavily influenced by the classics of the golden age of horror and it shows in this movie, from the moody sets and locations to the look of Dracula.  Naschy took these influences and mixed it with some modern sensibilities (such as shooting in color, with plenty of blood, guts, and boobs).

The opening of Count Dracula's Great Love is quite memorable, with two men delivering a crate to a remote old house that was once a sanitarium, then getting the not-so-bright idea of looking around for items of value to steal.   They naturally pay with their lives, leading to the unusual opening credits, which feature one of the would-be thieves falling down a flight of stairs after taking an ax to the head, over and over again, at ever slower speeds.

The story focuses on a group of friends who get stranded in the middle of nowhere and end up taking refuge at the sanitarium, which is, naturally, also in the middle of nowhere.  Their host is Dr. Marlow (Naschy), who is actually the most recent incarnation of Dracula-- I don't think I am spoiling anything by saying that.  This movie establishes the idea that Dracula's physical existence can be destroyed, but he always comes back in a new form.  However, to reach his full power, he needs a woman to fall in love with him and give herself to him freely.  This will also help him resurrect his daughter.  This is similar to the idea in his werewolf movies where it requires a woman who loves Daninsky to kill him, thus freeing his soul from his lycanthropic curse.

As most of the friends succumb to vampire attacks, joining the ranks of the undead themselves, Dr. Marlow and one of the friends, Karen, grow closer and she inevitably falls in love with him.  I will stop there to avoid ruining the movie for anybody who hasn't seen it.  Besides, a full plot summary is easy to find with a quick Google search.

This release features a rather nice-looking transfer of the movie, which is a big upgrade from the DVD copy I have (the Elvira edition from the early '80s run of Movie Macabre).  There is also a trailer, a commentary track with Naschy himself featuring subtitles in English, an interview with actress Mirta Miller, a booklet featuring liner notes by Mirek Lipinski, and a reversible cover.  Not to mention, there is a DVD version included for those who don't have a Blu Ray player.  This is certainly a recommended release for any Naschy fans or fans of old Eurohorror.

Once upon a time, Italy had a really amazing and prolific film industry, giving the world many classic Westerns, action-crime movies, horror movies, amazing giallo flicks (which do often cross over into full-on horror territory, but not always), post-apocalyptic barbarian movies, and so on.  During that wonderful period, there came a movie that I really think only the Italians could have made: Le Notti del terrore, aka Burial Ground.  My first exposure to this movie was the old Vestron VHS edition, which I rented just because the cover artwork was so good (thankfully, Severin preserved this artwork for this release with an alternate cover on the reverse side, in addition to some new art by the great Wes Benscoter on a cardboard sleeve-- more on that later).  I really did not expect the movie that tape contained.

To a large extent, it is a straightforward zombie movie: a group of people in a house try to fend off a horde of zombies.  Despite this, Burial Ground is not just another old zombie flick.  This movie was made pretty cheaply, to be sure, and it does show in many places, but it has charm and it is just plain weird, making it one of the more obscure classics of this era of horror, resting somewhere between Lucio Fulci's iconic Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, Zombie Flesh Eaters, and various other titles) and Bruno Mattei's Virus - l'inferno dei morti viventi (aka Hell of the Living dead,  Zombie Creeping Flesh, and so on).

The setting of Burial Ground is a large mansion, which looks quite amazing, and is located near some old ruins, among which an archaeologist accidentally revives the dead, who then terrorize the people staying in the house.  

One of the main things everybody remembers about this movie is Peter Bark (aka Pietro Barzocchini).  He doesn't seem to have been in many movies and Burial Ground appears to be the only one is actually credited in, so it would appear it is his only substantial role in a movie.  Though in his mid-20s at the time, Bark plays Michael, the young son of one of the women (played by the lovely Maria Angela Giordan, aka Mariangela Giordano) visiting the mansion, and he loves his mother very much.  Very, very much.  I won't go into any more detail for those who haven't seen the movie.

Being a zombie movie, I need to mention the zombie makeup.  As I said before, this was a cheaply-made movie, so some zombies look much better than others.  Some utilize masks, while others are makeup.  Even the cheap ones are still pretty fun though, and there are plenty of worms wriggling about on many of the zombies.

Severin has done a rather nice job with the movie.  It looks quite good and, as I generally prefer older cover art to new art created specifically for a DVD/Blu Ray release, the way Severin handled the artwork is perfect: there is some excellent new artwork, but you don't miss out on the classic artwork (unlike Paramount's multiple re-releases of the first eight Friday the 13th movies, always coming up with some new uniform-style computer-rendered bland artwork, rather than the classic artwork from the old VHS releases).  As mentioned before, the new artwork for the outer sleeve was done by Wes Benscoter, who should be a very familiar name to anybody who is a fan of metal, particularly death metal, as he created so many classic album covers for bands like Deceased, Mortician, Embalmer, Autopsy, Hypocrisy, Sinister, Vader, and others.  His style has a rather distinct look, so you can almost always look at one of his pieces and tell it is his.  I must clarify that I do not mean his work all looks the same, rather that it is the way he shapes objects and people, something in his technique that leaves a unique stamp on each piece.  Put simply, I really like the new artwork, but very happy that classic design is there as well.

The extra features on the disc are mostly interviews, but it also has the trailer and piece about the mansion used in the movie.  This is a really great release of a rather unusual, but extremely enjoyable film.  Another excellent job by the folks at Severin.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Weird Tales and Other Pulps

Back in the 20th century, primarily the first half, there were various magazines known as pulp magazines.  They were predominately short fiction-based (although there were also some longer stories that would be serialized over multiple issues) and got the pulp name from the cheap, pulpy (and highly acidic) paper they were printed on and more or less replaced the penny dreadful of the 19th century.  These magazines featured fiction in genres that are often snubbed by many: crime, science fiction, fantasy, and, of course, horror.

One of the most important and well-known of the pulp magazines is Weird Tales.  This magazine featured the first publications of numerous now-classic stories by the likes of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and H. P. Lovecraft in addition to some quality material from now-lesser-known writers such as Seabury Quinn, Nictzin Dyalhis, and many others.

Weird Tales originally ran from 1923 until 1954, but has since been revived multiple times to varying levels of success.  So, it is a magazine that has been in print off-and-on for around 90 years, but it is that original run from 1923-1954 that people think of when they hear the name, Weird Tales, which instantly brings to mind Lovecraft's bizarre, monstrous beings from other realms and Howard's sword-wielding barbarians and eerie horror tales.  Each time the magazine was brought back, it could never be quite the same magazine as it was originally, since some of its most legendary writers were dead and, as such, had nothing new to contribute-- not to mention, the newer writers these revived versions would publish were also typically publishing novels, not just focusing on shorter fiction as these earlier writers had.  Whereas Howard, Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, and their contemporaries were published pretty much exclusively in pulps such as Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, and Avon Fantasy Reader, among others , by the time you get to the second half of the 20th century and the various newer versions of Weird Tales, the world had long since moved on and the newer writers were not pulp writers, rather novelists who would also write some short stories, which would often just be collected together to be published in book form as well, largely negating the purpose of this kind of magazine.  Nowadays, there are numerous collections of Lovecraft's stories and Howard's, as well as some of these other writers, but during their own lives, this was generally not the case.

Issues from various incarnations of Weird Tales, including two modern reproductions of the original run

As for the other writers from the various pulp magazines, some have seen occasional republication in various anthologies, often focusing on republishing tales originally published in one specific magazine, such as Weird Tales or Avon Fantasy Reader.  Unfortunately, even some of these anthologies are from decades ago and no longer in print, not to mention the fact that they only reprint a fraction of the stories that appeared in the original pulps, leaving many wonderful stories in cavernous shadow of the past, unknown to the majority of the world's current population.  To make matters worse, pulp magazines were cheap, much like early comic books, and printed on very cheap materials, which leads to them being rather scarce these days.  The paper tends to discolor and become brittle, making them difficult if not outright impossible to read in many cases.  If you find copies of these old pulps today, they are often taped together or missing pages and/or their covers.  Even copies that were well-cared for are going to have suffered from the passage of time and the low-quality materials of which they were made. The aforementioned anthologies, generally printed as mass-market paperbacks, tend to fare a bit better, partly because they aren't quite as old and the paper, while still cheap, is of a slightly more durable nature, making them easier and less expensive to acquire, while the original pulp magazines tend to be much more expensive, particularly earlier issues of Weird Tales or issues of pretty much any title featuring more well-known writers, such as Lovecraft.

1960s-era paperback collection of stories reprinted from The Avon Fantasy Reader
Today, one can track down many of these stories, if not all, fairly easily in a used bookstore or online, with options ranging from the original magazines (mainly for the collector with deep pockets) to reproduction copies (such as those done by Girasol) to the various collections that have been published over the years, some of which are high-quality hardcover editions.  It just takes some time, patience, and effort.  Some of the longer stories, ones that were originally serialized over a few issues, such as the Seabury Quinn novel, The Devil's Bride, or Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, have been published in standalone editions.  There is also a recent reprint of A.G. Birch's novella, The Moon Terror, which was originally published in two parts in early issues of Weird Tales, then soon after collected into book form with three other early Weird Tales stories.  This newer edition is basically a reprint of that book version (even retaining the original cover art), although it only includes two of the stories from that earlier edition: the title story and "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud, which first appeared in the very first issue of Weird Tales.

Collected versions of longer stories originally serialized in Weird Tales

Regardless of what format these stories take today, I believe that there is so much great horror, science fiction, and fantasy to be found among these pulps.  Every time I happen across an old paperback anthology or a collected edition of a serialized story from these magazines, there is a sense of excitement, for me at least, that can never be duplicated by modern horror, fantasy, and science fiction.  These stories are of a breed that is long-since gone and will never be again, but continually wait, overlooked and forgotten by so many, to be discovered by new generations of readers who can appreciate them much as those readers from several decades ago, who were there as each issue of the pulps hit the newsstand.

The Creeps

Back in the 1950s, horror comics were quite popular, with numerous titles from various publishers, all ranging in quality, of course, popping up at newsstands.  However, after some concern from some adults (parents always seem to need something to point to as the thing corrupting their childrens' minds-- in my day it was Garbage Pail Kids), along came something called the Comic Books Code which basically killed the horror comic.  Sort of.

EC, publisher of the top titles of horror and crime comics in those days, attempted to continue publishing its horror and crime titles, just without the seal of approval.  Apparently, sellers would return the comics to the publisher unsold.  EC soon got out of the horror comic game.

There was, however, a loophole it seems.  The code only applied to regular-sized comic books.  If you had a larger format comic book, one the size of a regular magazine, then the code no longer applied, as it was now considered a magazine and not a comic book.  Titles like Eerie, Creepy, Vampirella, and others now filled the void of horror comics.  These magazine-sized comics were generally black-and-white and seemed to be aimed at a different, perhaps slightly older, audience.

Eventually, these comics ran their course too.  Although in more recent years Eerie and Creepy have been resurrected, they are now regular-sized comics.  However, there is a newer magazine-sized horror comic title carrying on the tradition, The Creeps.

The Creeps is clearly a modern successor/tribute to those magazine-sized horror comics of decades past and does not pretend to be anything else.  I have picked up only a few issues of this quarterly title so far, but I have enjoyed them quite a bit, despite some spelling issues here and there that a professionally-made magazine/comic book should not have.  The cover art on each issue is amazing and is definitely more old-fashioned than most comics and magazines these days.  Just like older horror comic titles, this one even has its own host, The Old Creep.

From cover to cover, this magazine/comic brings back the vibe of those earlier titles, mainly the Warren magazines (The Creeps is published by Warrant Publishing, clearly another nod to the originals).  Also, with a cover price of $4.95, it is very much worth the money, in my opinion, so check it out if you have not already.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Horror Movie Novelizations

The Halloween season is starting to kick in again and one of the things I generally like to do during the Halloween season is read plenty of horror, specifically novelizations of horror movies.  Novelizations are pretty much the whipping boys of books.  Granted, they are geared towards cashing in on a movie for the most part, but the people who write these books are still actual writers (obviously, some are better writers than others), who will take on the thankless task of penning a novelization because it is a paying gig, when writing is frequently not a very high-paying endeavor.  Sure, you have Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and plenty of other writers who make a good living from the books they write, but many other authors still have to work regular jobs in addition to writing.  Even King himself had to do this in the earlier days of his career, until he started getting the checks for paperback royalties, then he was free to churn out numerous classic works at a dizzying pace.

The novelization is an interesting thing, in my opinion, since it will generally be based on the screenplay, rather than the finished movie.  This allows readers to experience a different version of the same story, since many changes can happen between the screenplay and the finished film: subplots get dropped, scenes are rewritten, scenes are cut out, etc.  Also, a novelist will generally develop characters and events a bit more in the book version, often adding to the story.  This is not always a good thing, of course, but it does give some purpose to reading the novelization-- it will be familiar, but it can still hold many surprises.  Of course, novels are also more accessible to younger audiences than their film counterparts in some cases, particularly with R-rated movies.  A younger horror fan may not be allowed to watch some horror movie because it is rated R, but will be allowed to read the novelization.  I remember reading Child's Play 2 as a kid before getting to see the movie because I was too young to go see it in the theater by myself, but could easily buy and read the book.

Halloween, by Curtis Richards (aka Dennis Etchison), as seen in the above picture, is a good example.  This one is likely one of the few novelizations based off the finished movie, rather than the screenplay, since it didn't come out until a year or so after the film.  Richards adds scenes that take place in the days of the Celts, then carries on to when Michael was a child and murders his sister.  There is even additional material focusing on his time in Smith's Grove as he is growing up, which has also popped up in comic books more recent years.  Another interesting element is that Richards gives some insight into what Michael is thinking.  For some people, this is a bad thing, but for others it's a good thing.  For me, it is a different version of the same story, to be enjoyed on its own.

Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch were written by Jack Martin (aka Dennis Etchison again) and I remember enjoying both, but it has been far too long since I read them for me to comment much on them.  Same goes for Halloween IV by Nicholas Grabowsky.  At any rate, these three do not differ as much from the source material as Halloween does.

Which brings me to Friday the 13th Part 3: 3D by Michael Avallone.  Not really sure why it is titled the way it is, as the movie was in 3D, but the book isn't-- there isn't even a cool 3D cover like the soundtrack record for the film.  Maybe they thought people would be confused if it didn't say "3D" on the cover.  There is actually a second novelization for this movie, which was done a few years later, but this one was done when the movie was new and, since it is based on the screenplay rather than the finished movie, there are some fairly major differences between this novelization by Avallone and the movie.  The main one that comes to mind is the ending.  If you don't want to read the book, but want to know what happens in this different ending, you can easily find a summary of it elsewhere online, so I won't include that here.  I remember there being some other differences earlier on in the book, but it has been too long since I read it for me to really remember them.  At some point, I do want to re-read some of these, this one included.

Despite the cash-grab nature of these books, many older ones have become collector items, sometimes going for fairly high prices (for example, as I write this, there is a copy of Halloween on eBay, the same edition I paid half the cover price for, with an asking price of $80).  I have rarely paid much for most of the older ones I have.  In many cases, I have just run across them in local used book shops, paying $1 or $2 for them.  A few I did get online, having no luck finding them locally.  Often, finding these in local stores is how I find out that novelizations of some of these movies even exist.

Dawn of the Dead is one of those.  Written by George A. Romero and Susanna Sparrow, it was released in the '70s in a hardcover format, which is pretty rare for a novelization; most of these are paperback originals.  I happened across an old Book Club edition hardcover of this one and snagged it up.  I also later picked up a much more recent paperback edition that includes an introduction by Simon Pegg.  Romero is pretty well known for shooting really long movies and cutting them way down (Martin is a particularly good example, reportedly being 3 hours or so at one point-- there is a novelization for this film as well), so it actually makes sense to have a novelization, where he could focus less on trying to get the story down to a reasonable length.  One of the main things that really sticks out to me with this novelization is the extra character development (not a lot more, just a bit).  You see a slightly different dynamic among the main characters in the novel version.  Roger, in the movie, seems to be enjoying himself way too much and gets reckless, possibly due to being immature or just overly confident.  In the book version, it is made clear that this is due to Roger looking up to Peter and constantly trying to impress him, creating something of a mentor/student relationship, whereas in the movie, to me at least, Peter and Roger are more on the same level, two friends with one being more level-headed (Peter) and the other being more of the irresponsible partier-type (Roger).

Similarly to Romero working with Susanna Sparrow, Rob Zombie teamed up with B.K. Evenson to novelize his film Lords of Salem, which also saw a hardcover release.  Rob Zombie is a fairly polarizing filmmaker, but I have at least enjoyed, if not loved, most of his movies.  Lords of Salem, in my opinion, is one of his best and is a favorite horror movie of mine from the last decade.  Rob has stated that the novel is based off an earlier screenplay than the one used for the movie, which I believe is part of the reason he wanted to have a novelization for the film.  It is still the same basic story, but there are various differences overall, with some sequences being a bit more developed in the novel version.  I think it makes a good companion piece to the movie, showing different layers of the same story, each version giving the audience different elements of the same narrative, creating a more complete version of it after both seeing the movie and reading the novel.

Aside from all of that, one of the main things about novelizations is that they tend to be quick reads, usually coming in at around 250-300 pages in length.  Even with a longer movie, such as The Omen, the novelization is typically still fairly short, so you won't spend a lot of time reading one.

Since I mentioned The Omen, I really should discuss the fact that all three of the original movies had novelizations.  After the original trilogy was completed, Gordon McGill wrote two additional original novels (Omen IV: Armageddon 2000 and Omen V: The Abomination) continuing the story from The Final Conflict, for which he had also written the novelization.  So, if you wanted more after those original three movies, Gordon McGill gave you more.

In the end, many of these books are mediocre and derivative by nature, but they generally look great, if nothing else, and some are genuinely pretty enjoyable reads.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Grindhouse Releasing

Many companies have come and gone, leaving a mark on the home video market for horror, exploitation, and general-all-around grindhouse cinema over the years, all the way back to the days of VHS, with companies like Vestron, Paragon, and Wizard through to more recent years with DVD and Blu Ray releases by companies such as Dark Sky, Shriek Show, and Severin.  One of the most revered, if least productive, to ever rear its ugly head would have to be Grindhouse Releasing.  The name says it all-- the company is focused on the glorious years of the grindhouse era, namely the '70s and '80s part.

Since the company's beginning in the '90s, it has obviously worked with a "quality, not quantity" method, usually having years between releases.  In more recent years, however, the output has picked up a good bit.  This has been mainly since Grindhouse Releasing got into the Blu Ray movement.  The main reason for the increased output is likely the fact that most of these movies have been previously released by Grindhouse on DVD, VHS, Laserdisc, or even all of these.

I would like to focus on the Blu Ray releases Grindhouse has put out so far, most of which I have.

 To start, there is the duo of Italian cannibal movies-- two of the most notorious, in fact: Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox.  Both of these releases include a soundtrack CD and cardboard slipcase.  Cannibal Ferox first got released by Grindhouse in the '90s on Laserdisc in an impressive gatefold sleeve that also included a barf bag and a 7" record with the title song on one side and a tribute track on the second side, both of which were included on the then-upcoming CD release from Blackest Heart Media of the complete score, which was paired with the score for Lucio Fulci's Zombie.  Cannibal Holocaust came out from Grindhouse originally on DVD back in 2005, and it was an very impressive release, with extensive interviews, an "animal-cruelty-free" version of the movie, and a rather enjoyable audio commentary featuring director Ruggero Deodato and actor Robert Kerman.

As best as I can tell, the Blu Ray versions include everything from the previous releases, but also include a few newer things, such as the inclusion of the soundtrack CDs.  

Next up, we have the Fulci double feature: The Beyond and Cat in the Brain.  Each of these includes a soundtrack CD as well, which I think is an excellent feature.  Both of the slipcases for these movies glow in the dark.  The Beyond was previously released by Grindhouse on both DVD and VHS, in partnership with Anchor Bay, although it seems Anchor Bay ended up getting the majority of the recognition for those releases.  Grindhouse also partnered with Rolling Thunder Pictures for a theatrical re-release of the Beyond, with the film playing in seven cities to go along with the seven gates of hell concept of the movie.  These were midnight showings and, at least the first night, they gave out plastic eyes with the Beyond printed on them.  Below is mine, which I still have 18 years later.

One thing I would have liked to see included with The Beyond is the U.S. version released by Aquarius Productions, Seven Doors of Death.  A brief clip of this version was included as an easter egg on the old DVD release and this is also included on the Blu Ray version, but I would still like the entire movie to be included.  I just find it interesting to compare different versions of these movies.  In some cases there are few differences, maybe just a few seconds snipped out here and there, but some, such as Seven Doors of Death and Doctor Butcher M.D. are more distinctly changed, at least enough to warrant having two versions of the movie included in a release.

Cat in the Brain was one of the more recent DVD releases, which included a lenticular holographic cover for the first batch. The extras for this one seem to be mostly extensive interviews, which can be good, but can also be a bit on the tedious side, depending on the person in the interview.

Then, of course, there is the Duke Mitchell duo, which isn't horror at all, but I don't really care.  These movies are both great and deserving of the love and attention that Grindhouse showers on its titles.  If you are not familiar with these movies, they are both very low budget labors of love by Duke Mitchell, who made a name for himself in the lounge/crooner scene.  It is a shame that these did not include soundtrack CDs, as I would love to have the music from these two on CD, record, 8-track-- anything really.  Massacre Mafia Style, a.k.a. Like Father, Like Son and the Executioner, has long been teased by Grindhouse, having included the trailer at the very end of the Cannibal Ferox Laserdisc way back in the '90s, so it is surprising, even for Grindhouse, that there was not an earlier release by the company for this one.  Gone With the Pope, a.k.a. Kiss the Ring, was actually never completed in Duke Mitchell's lifetime, having remained in a workprint apparently for a few decades or so, until Grindhouse picked it up and finished the movie, finally releasing it theatrically back in 2010.  From what I remember, the film was toured around from city to city, playing once, or maybe twice in some bigger cities, before moving on to the next place.  I went to one of these screenings when it came to my area and it was one of the more memorable cinematic experiences I have had in many years.  Movies like these just seem more worth the trip to the theater than most modern stuff, while there are plenty of good movies these days, a lot of it just blurs together and it is often easier to just check out a movie on some home video format, which means waiting all of a few months nowadays.

Watching either of these two Duke Mitchell movies generally makes me want to watch the other not long after, and also tends to make me want some Italian food, but to be fair, I am pretty much always up for some Italian food.

Despite the lack of soundtrack CDs with these two, there are plenty great extra bits, including a wonderful photo gallery of Massacre Mafia Style actress Cara Salerno (a.k.a. Cara Peters, Legs Benedict, and about 3,000 other names) and interviews with various people involved in the making of the two films.  There is even a bonus movie on one of the discs: Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, featuring a much younger Duke Mitchell from his days as part of a comedy duo with Sammy Petrillo.

Then we have a Peter Cushing oddity: Corruption, an Israeli flick about the love generation entitled An American Hippie in Israel, and Pieces: one of the greatest works to come out of the exploitation/grindhouse era in terms of sheer entertainment value.  It contains some of the most random and bizarre events ever put on film.  In most cases, this would be a problem, but in the case of Pieces, it just adds to the enjoyment of the movie.

While Pieces has been previously released on DVD by Grindhouse, Corruption and An American Hippie in Israel make their Grindhouse debuts on Blu Ray.  The first copies of  the Pieces Blu Rau included a miniature version of the jigsaw puzzle used in the movie (although there was another puzzle used in some of the movie, which is visible at least once in the movie at the very end).  An American Hippie in Israel includes a DVD with a different version of the movie under the title of The Hitch-Hiker.

The next on the plate for Grindhouse appears to be I Drink Your Blood, although I have seen no real information about it so far.  However, there was the fairly recent announcement of theatrical screenings of it, which generally means it should hit fairly soon. Not to mention, it seems that Grindhouse has been focusing on re-releasing all of its titles on Blu Ray and I Drink Your Blood is pretty much all that is left.  There is still another movie, Scum of the Earth, which has been listed as an upcoming release for years that is still listed on the official Grindhouse Releasing site, while other titles that were previously listed (such as The Tough Ones and Death Game) have been removed, so there will likely still be a release of Scum of the Earth.  Eventually.

I do look forward to the next release from Grindhouse, but I don't think there are many left for the company.  I did once read that after the death of co-founder Sage Stallone, Grindhouse Releasing is planning on doing the Blu Ray releases and then closing shop.  If this is true, I can understand the decision, but it will still be sad to see the end of Grindhouse Releasing.

At least it will have been fun while it lasted.