Psychotronic fans know Bruce J Mitchell from an excellent micro-budget film by Tjardus Greidanus, The Final Sacrifice (AKA Quest for the Lost City). The film has only been released on VHS. Most people know it because it was used in the 9th season of the decidedly mixed-blessing of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Mitchell plays Zap Rowsdower — a drifter who is running from his past. And in a film with pretty decent (often good) acting, Mitchell stands out. There is great depth to his performance. But most important, he’s just remarkably real on the screen. And I know that this doesn’t sound like much but it is incredibly hard to do.
Sadly, I have never seen the film as it should be. Greidanus has gone on to a successful career — mostly in documentary film. I suspect like most low-budget filmmakers, he’d like to forget The Final Sacrifice.
Mitchell Is Known for a Cult Classic
And I’ve gotten the impression that Mitchell might have been a little embarrassed by it. On the DVD release of the MST3K episode, there is a nine and a half minute interview. At the end of it, he gave this answer:
Everybody was pretty green when they worked on this film. It was like the old saying, “Let’s get a barn and get a dance going and we’ll raise money and everyone’s gonna be happy.”
And this is one of those films. Everybody just got together — worked together. We learnt as we were going along.
And, as an actor, you don’t turn down a role. You just don’t. Something’s offered to you, you go for it and make the best of it. Would I do it again? Most definitely. Will it ever happen again? I don’t think so — at least not for me. It was just a special project.
Reading Between the Lines
The questions are not in the interview, so I don’t know what was asked. But I suspect it was something like, “How did you feel about being in such a bad film?”
Mitchell’s response is excellent. He never has anything but nice things to say about the people who made the film with him. In fact, he described Greidanus as “smart” and “talented.” And any shame he felt was manifested in a wry smile.
But when I saw that, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him that everyone involved in that film should be extremely proud. It’s a great film — interesting from beginning to end.
According to the MST3K Fandom site, it was made for less than $2,000. Think about that next time you see the chases and other high-production value shots that don’t normally end up in micro-budget films.
But the high point of it all is Bruce J Mitchell. And the fact that he was never in another film is indicative of the networked way that even the independent micro-budget world is. If others had known about him, I’m sure he would have been in demand.
“The Long Years”
Mitchell’s only other credit on IMDb is on “The Long Years” episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater. It’s a different (Better!) take on The Twilight Zone episode “The Lonely.”
The main thing he gets to do is provide some exposition. But he does it shockingly well. It shows that under different circumstances, he could have been a very successful character actor in film.
A Life Well-Lived
Instead, he seems to have worked a lot in local theater. In fact, he even performed in Ireland! And he had bands when he was younger that cut some albums.
People like Mitchell are heroes. They create art for the love of it. The fact that he was incredibly talented only adds to this.
His day job through most of his life was as a licenced practical nurse, which is also cool. He was born 4 Feb 1945 and died 28 Apr 2018 at the age of 73. I’m sure he’s missed by his loved ones, but he’s also missed by film lovers like me who never knew him.
Image of Bruce J Mitchell taken from interview on MST3K “The Final Sacrifice” DVD under Fair Use. The Final Sacrifice poster image taken under Fair use
Another month of psychotronic watching! We had a bit of a slowdown this month for reasons I can’t explain. Maybe it had something to do with the election. That sounds good. Let’s blame it on the election!
There are a lot of good films in this list. I realize that the Alien films are old but they all hold up well. And there are several from new (to me) filmmakers. So check them out!
I first saw this a few years ago and I was instantly in love. I didn’t know any of the people involved in it but it was just everything that a horror film should be. When I later learned that Mike Flanagan was the man behind The Haunting of Hill House, I was unsurprised. I expect great things from him although his large budgets may get in the way.
The Alien Tetralogy
I was 15 years old when I saw Alien. And I thought it was amazing. I told people the plot scene by scene — at least until they stopped me. About ten years ago, I was in a hospital, on the verge of death, and I saw it on AMC. I was thrilled to find that it was as good as I remembered.
The other three films are not as good but still excellent. Aliensturns it into an action film. Alien 3is more of an art film. And Alien Resurrectiongives it the Joss Whedon treatment. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t own them all.
The conceit of this film is that it causes people who watch it to die. So it is presented along with documentary footage. This was clearly good from a marketing standpoint. But I really liked the film itself about an older sister leading her brother into the underworld to save his dead dog.
Blood of the Vampire
This is a solid “mad scientist” horror film from Artistes Alliance. There are no vampires, however. These British horror films with excellent acting are never my top choices but they are ones you can put on and be assured of a good time.
Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear
I’ve gotten tired of reading reviews about anthology films because it’s always the same thing: the critic claims that this or that short is brilliant and that or this short is terrible. What they should focus on is the high points in these films.
I’m kind of jaded and don’t appreciate the humor in most of these stories as much as others will. But the short Touch is worth sitting through 10 hours of dreck to see. Overall, this is a solid collection, but I absolutely love this one film!
Destination: Outer Space
This is the last of our Christopher R Mihm films. Check out our round-up of his work for more on this film.
Diani & Devine
This is one of those things that makes me despair of the modern world. Diani & Devine are a comedy team and they’ve produced two feature films. They are shockingly good and yet are still working the trenches of Hollywood.
They have made two wonderful films that you really should watch: The Sellingand Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse. Comedy isn’t really our thing at Psychotronic Review. But these two are just ridiculously talented — like Nichols and May talented. Check them out!
I Survived a Zombie Holocaust
Oh, how meta we have become! This is about a crew that is making a zombie film when a zombie outbreak takes place. It’s very funny and the last act is quite a good zombie picture. There must be something in the New Zealand water. They make such good films!
Moose: The Movie
If someone gave me $100,000 to make a film, I fear that Moose: The Movie would be the result. It’s brilliant at time, silly throughout, and ultimately, so sweet the diabetics among us will go into shock. Clearly a film that is too much me is not going to play terribly well with me. But I think most people will enjoy this if they are open to anything called Moose: The Movie.
October Moon and November Son
In a sense, these films have aged poorly. Not more than a decade old and homosexuality in films has become much less shocking. I don’t blame the films because they have been part of that process.
Having said that, I think November Son is the better of the two and still well worth watching. Both could use cutting down for a modern audience, however.
The first half of this film is unique. The second half is pretty typical. But it’s hard to fault it given that most films are entirely pretty typical. This is a solid horror film but you shouldn’t expect too much from the end.
This is a hard one. I try not to second-guest filmmakers because I figure they know what they are doing much better than I do. And looking at the reviews, people like this film. I found it difficult. It’s very serious for the first half and then becomes something of a comedy in the middle.
I’d love to hear from people what it is I’m missing. I didn’t hate it. But I also didn’t understand what the filmmakers were going for.
I like this film a lot. It mostly transpires in a single location so it’s very focused. It reminds me a lot of Let Us Prey, a film I love. What’s going on is very strange but it ultimately makes sense.
This is a strange one about a roller derby team that is forced to spend the night in an abandoned mental hospital. This is a well-made micro-budget film with excellent acting and a better than usual script.
Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre
This film by the writer-director of Chopping Mallis exploitation candy despite the fact that it doesn’t include bare breasts. It’s a lot like a Mark Polonia film but with enough of a budget to complete the special effects. Mindless fun.
This is a great film even though I rarely find myself in the mood to watch it. Part of it is that it presses a lot of my buttons: torture, incest, and drinking vodka by the pint. But it’s also really funny in a very dark way.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The Wrath of Khan is still the best of the Star Trek movies. A big part of this is that Ricardo Montalbán is so great as Khan. But another element is that it just doesn’t feel like a Star Trek film. It treats Star Fleet as the military institution that it is.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I watched Star Trek V in the theater several times just trying to figure out what was wrong with it. Now I see that the problem was me. It’s the opposite of Star Trek II in that it doesn’t much care about drama, which is fine by me. Also: Laurence Luckinbill shows that the main cast just aren’t that charismatic. I could watch him all day!
This is a weird one about people who must win a game show or go to hell. It has an excellent cast and is probably a good one to share with the family.
New Film Page
I finally finished my Christopher R Mihm page, having watched all 14 of his films. There is a lot to like about his work and he’s surrounded himself with a lot of really talented people. Since you can watch most of his films for free, I recommend checking them out.
As regular readers know, as much as I try to cover the wide world of psychotronics, my one true love is horror. And this love has introduced me to wonderful artists like JR Bookwalter and Michael Kallio. And most recently, it introduced me to a comedy duo, Diani & Devine.
Not surprisingly, I discovered them through a horror-comedy, The Selling. I originally watched it with my long-time (Over 3 decade!) horror-film watching friend Andrea. And I don’t ever recall hearing her laugh so much in a movie. That doesn’t just mean it’s funny; it means that it is clever.
I then shared it with my friend Elizabeth and my sister Kim. They loved it too. But after the film, I went on a 15-minute rant about how outrageous it was that people could make such a great film and not then have Hollywood shower them with money for the next decade.
It’s my usual complaint: there are a lot of really creative people who never get the respect that I (the only one who matters) think they should. But I’m not an idiot. One of my all-time favorite films is Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. But I understand why most people hate it and why no one is bringing George Barry to Hollywood. What I do not understand is why anyone would think the same of The Selling.
Could it be an example of, “The reason your work has not been successful may not be because it is not good; it may be because it is good”? Probably not that exactly. But it doesn’t speak well of the film industry that there have only been two feature films from this group.
Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse
I agreed to watch this film with Elizabeth and Kim next weekend. But I couldn’t wait. And I was not disappointed.
The first shot in the film is delightful. It’s better than anything in the horribly-titled Last Man on Earth TV series.
But then it spent 8 minutes, very humorously, showing what life must be like for talented people like them in Hollywood.
In fact, there’s a wonderful joke that involves the elitism of a studio executive mentioning that he went to Northwestern. I find that especially delicious because I come from academia and while that school has cachet among many people, most people on the inside don’t think much of it. But the point of the joke is that SF State is looked down on by the Hollywood elite.
The main point of that scene, however, is to highlight how craven the executive is. He insults them over and over again. But it isn’t him doing it. He’s just explaining what others in the business would say. And this kind of resistance to owning opinions leads to a culture that is always pushing the same old thing.
That Feeling When…
This really depressed me. It’s one thing for me to live my life thinking that Hollywood is terrible and that brilliant people I admire are ignored by it. It’s quite another to see those very people say, “Yep! You’re right!”
But I soldiered on. And Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypseshowed that The Selling was no accident. It’s another film that makes you laugh out loud even when you’re sitting alone in front of your computer monitor.
And that’s just depressing. Is it just not worth investing money into stuff that seems like it was created for me and my friends? Truly: I don’t think so. I think either of these films would be a huge success at a comic convention. I think there’s an audience for this film and it’s just that the elites in Hollywood aren’t interested in looking for new audiences when they already know what plays for the 16-year-old American and the general Chinese audiences.
Some Good News
But there is good news. There are a lot of great people who have worked on both these films. Barry Bostwick has a wonderful part in the first film (and a lesser part in the second) and Jonathan Silverman has an amazing part in the second film. Janet Varney is great in both.
The films feature relatively small crews including others who have tilled the low-budget cinematic soil — like editor Chad Meserve and cinematographer Matthias Schubert (whose career has really taken off the last few years).
There is also some mention of their screenplay “Don’t Be Evil” being optioned by “Academy Award-winning producers.” Almost nothing optioned ever gets made. But it’s still great news!
Add to this the general level of professionalism of all aspects of these films. It speaks to a general respect for Diani & Devine’s work. So I don’t doubt that more films will come — eventually.
Not that this makes me any less angry that for every Marvel film, we could have a thousand The Selling and Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse. That’s nothing against Marvel films. But really: those films spend more on sound sweetening than a dozen charming and hilarious comedies. Or terrifying and gory horror films. Or whatever.
I guess we should be impressed that there is a DVD release of The Selling. (I just ordered it but I won’t be surprised if it comes with no extras like another outstanding film, He Never Died.) Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse has apparently not been released on DVD. (Why not?! Does it cost that much to create an MOD with an outfit like Makeflix? That’s an honest question; I really don’t know.)
But both films are available on Amazon Prime. And yes, Amazon sucks. But they offer a much better selection of psychotronic films than Netflix.
Do yourself a favor: watch these films! They are so good. Also: fuck Hollywood!
Afterword: Some Analysis
I like these films for a lot of reasons. They aren’t just funny (not that they need to be). In particular, The Selling presents a more honest rendering of male friendships than I’ve recently seen on film.
Overall, the films depict sweet relationships without ever falling into sentimentality. That’s especially true of the ending of The Selling, which could so easily have been horrible. These films manage to do something that is very rare: be edgy and even cynical while being positive.
Both films are more or less themes and variations. The Selling is effectively 3 short films based on the idea of a real estate agent stuck with a haunted house. Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse is more freewheeling but the same: variations on the apocalypse. Sadly, I can’t think of a single sketch-based SNL film that manages to create a cohesive whole the way these films do.
There are also important thematic elements in both films. But they can be mined any way you like. How about a leftist interpretation?
The Selling is a searing indictment of how capitalism changes human behavior from fundamentally decent and civic-minded to alienating and predatory. Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse shows how capitalism turns humans into commodities whether by studio executives or hunting lodge members.
The point is that these films are artistic efforts deep enough to think about how ever you like.
There’s more to say and hopefully there will be more films to allow me to make more generalizations. Watch them and you’ll see what I mean!
We have another mixed bag this week. Some are just fantastic. But as usual, I try to mix things up and intentionally watch films that I don’t think I’m going to like all that much.
But in many cases, films are on this list simply because I got them on disc. (Full reviews are coming!)
I continue to marvel at just how much good work is around. I don’t think we appreciate how good we have it. At the same time, it makes watching films hard because we have so many choices.
The whole point of this site is not to help people sift through everything. That’s supposedly what film reviewers are for (they fail spectacularly). Rather, we want to help people appreciate films (or at least give them a try). And that’s hard because it isn’t always clear to us why someone would like a particular film. But we try.
This is one of my all-time favorite films. I don’t have a lot to say here. You should just read my analysis.
I’ve been spending more time over at SHOUT! Factory TV these days. One of the little delights I found over there was this wonderfully gooy film about a young woman who is bitten by something and then transforms. These filmmakers know their Cronenberg and do him one better.
Horror-comedy is not one of my favorite genres but only because they are so rarely funny. When they are funny, I really enjoy them. This one is from a comedy group. It also has some nice horror moments and tons of blood.
Class of 1984
The worst thing about this film is that it seems to think it’s socially relevant. The second worst thing about it is that it takes forever to get to the good stuff. But if you can get through more than an hour of Blackboard Jungle, the last 15 minutes is pretty fun!
More Christopher R Mihm
As of this month, I have only one more Mihm film to add to my article. So it should come out sometime this month. Last month I added, Demon with the Atomic Brain, Guns of the Apocalypse (probably my favorite), It Came From Another World!, and Queen of Snakes.
This widely hated film is actually very good. I take special exception to the way that critics treat Tobe Hooper. Although he stuck with the horror genre (probably his greatest sin for the critics) he was constantly trying new things. This is a straight-up ghost story and it’s quite effective.
This is a Tobe Hooper classic. I really don’t have any idea why critics don’t like it. In its way, it’s every bit as good as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The Exotic Ones
This is a wonderful exploitation film in the tradition of Herschell Gordon Lewis. But it’s a lot better made than his films. It’s also known as The Monster and the Stripper, which is more fitting since it’s about a Bigfoot captured to use in a strip club.
Five Guns West
This film is most notable for being Roger Corman’s first as director. And as usual, it works pretty well. I have my problem with valorization of the Confederacy. But Corman can sure tell an interesting story on a budget!
Grosse Pointe Blank
Although I think the sorta-sequel of this, War, Inc, is a masterpiece, Grosse Pointe Blank is more enjoyable for most people. It’s very funny. “You can never go home again, Oatman… But I guess you can shop there.”
Isle of the Snake People
This is a pretty typical jungle voodoo drama but with good acting, dialog, and some very sexy scenes.
This is more or less a parody of The Terminator. There are a lot of negative reviews of this film by totally clueless people who just don’t grok it. It’s wonderful with lots of action and sex. I must investigate Indonesian films of this era.
I love this film. The protagonist is amazing: a young mute woman who is raped twice and seeks revenge. It’s also pretty arty.
Night of Bloody Horror
Another arty one, this thriller works pretty well with very cliched effects from the 1960s. A pretty creepy outing from the man who would go on to be Major Dad.
This is one of the better slashers from this period. The opening section with the little kids is particularly good. And the ending is interesting. The best part is the head rolling onto the dance floor.
I just got the Arrow Blu-ray on this and it’s great. Time only makes the accomplishment of this film more impressive. The effects are fantastic but then so is everything else here!
The Taking of Deborah Logan
There are supposedly a bunch of bad found-footage films. I haven’t come across them. I’m generally impressed with the genre. This one is wonderful. And it tells a pretty complicated story. Well worth watching!
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Tobe Hooper was unhappy that it took people so long to realize how funny the first film was so he made this. This is very dark comedy. But it does have some amazing comedic images like Leatherface fighting with a chainsaw impaling him. This film is a great chaser after watching the original.
John Carpenter does a typically exceptional job on this film. I have my problems with its content. But there’s no doubt that it works really well. Check out my review of the Blu-ray.
The film itself is highly polarizing. Some people love it and others hate it. I’m the same way: I love it and hate it. But there is no doubt that it’s an incredibly good film — as well made as anything Carpenter has ever done.
A team of vampire hunters led by Jack Crow (James Woods) clears out a nest of vampires in an abandoned house in the Southwest. They do this in a very cool way: shooting an arrow attached to a line into each vampire and then dragging them into the sunlight where they burst into flame.
Team Is Destroyed
That night they have a drunken party with a group of prostitutes at a motel. A “master” vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), shows up and kills everyone except for Crow, his second in command, Tony (Daniel Baldwin), and a prostitute, Katrina (Sheryl Lee), who was bitten and thus “infected.”
In their escape from Valek, they crash their truck. They steal a car from a guy (writer/director Frank Darabont) whose only crime is being in a film with asshole übermenschen. Then they drive back to the motel where they spit up. Crow will stay and dispose of the bodies and Tony will guard Katrina elsewhere.
Crow goes to meet Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) who bankrolls him. He sends Crow off with Father Guiteau. Crow treats him as bad as he treated Katrina. But we’re still supposed to like him because he is Saving the World.
Meanwhile, at the hotel, it’s clear that Tony likes Katrina. She tries to kill herself but he saves her. He cuts his arm in the process and she, attracted by the blood, bites (and thus infects) him.
New Team Hunts Valek
The four all together now, they search for Valek. Because she was bitten by him, Katrina has a psychic connection with Valek. She can see what he sees. Eventually, they learn that Velek has acquired the Bérziers Cross, which he can use to allow himself to live in the daylight. It only took abusing a prostitute and threatening the life of a priest.
They learn where Valek and his group of “master” vampires are hanging out. So, despite having nowhere near the physical and human resources they did before, they go hunting with Katrina rapidly turning into a vampire.
They kill one vampire but not before a lame joke about soccer players not being real men. (Get it?! It’s funny because it isn’t a popular game in the US!) This is the first scene of Father Guiteau turning into a badass (which is the best part of the film).
They kill another vampire but night comes suddenly and the remaining vampires attack. Tony and Katrina race away in a jeep. She’s now a full vampire and bites him. They crash the car. Katrina joins the other vampires. Tony observes from afar.
Crow Is Captured
Father Guiteau hides in a local shop and Crow is captured by the vampires. They learn that Cardinal Alba is working with Valek because he’s getting old and is afraid to die. They need Crow for a ceremony with the cross. So they bind him to it.
Guiteau climbs on to the roof of the van and shoots and kills Alba. It’s almost sunrise and Crow tells Valek that he can’t do the procedure without Alba. Valek counters, saying Guiteau will do it. And if the priest doesn’t, Valek will burn Crow alive.
Before Valek can torch Crow, Tony drives through, shoots an arrow with a line into the cross, and drags Crow away. Father Guiteau unbinds him and the vampires flea from the sun.
Crow and Valek fight. Eventually Crow destroys some of the roof causing Valek to burst into flames and then explodes. (He’s no ordinary vampire!)
Tony saves Katrina and puts her in the van away from the sun. Crow lets them go because Tony saved him — giving them two days head start. They drive off and Crow and Guiteau go back in to kill vampires as the badasses they are. Who needs sleep after you’ve been awake for two days straight?
Carpenter says that he made this film as a western — specifically Red River. It’s almost impossible to miss the similarities. But I think it explains the things that I don’t like in the film.
In Red River, there is a father-son dynamic and a shared history of the father’s lost love and the son’s potentially happier future. Additionally, the woman in the story has agency.
In Vampires, the main thing we get is that the main character is thoroughly unlikeable. I generally appreciate dark and difficult characters. But Crow is abusive to his comrades. And that just doesn’t work for me.
It isn’t a problem with the film itself. But it’s a choice. And it keeps me from liking the film more. Jack Crow is no Snake Plissken. He’s more like an advertisement for toxic masculinity. And I know I’m supposed to like it.
But I could argue that it’s brilliant. It isn’t a problem that Jack Crow is horrible and doesn’t grow in any way during the course of the film. That’s because he is the opposite of Valek who is also unchanging in his horribleness. But I can’t do those kinds of intellectual gymnastics while watching the film.
The other characters are much better. Tony, who is arguably worse than Jack at the beginning, has an arc that ends with him developing human empathy even as he becomes a vampire.
Katrina spends the whole film turning into a vampire. The part is more like an animal than a human. But it’s fascinating to watch her and Tony struggle together is distinct ways. She also has an incredibly sexy scene with Valek early on.
Father Guiteau changes in ways that I don’t love. But he experiences a solid movie arc. He stops being a book-worm (because that’s bad) and becomes an action hero badass. Okay. Since I naturally identify with bookish characters, I prefer when they clearly hold on to those values even as they transform. But it works just fine.
Weird Third Act Transition
In the film, after Crow escapes from the vampires, there is a dissolve to a slightly later time and we see the vampires rushing back to their hideout. It’s almost as though the film ends at this point and the rest is just a coda.
This is curious. It happens with about 7 and a half minutes of story left. I’d like to see more of this. I would even go for two or three codas. At least in these cases, the filmmakers would need to come up with something interesting to do rather than arbitrarily expanding their second acts.
The rest of the film is outstanding. It has a great look both inside and outside with its John Ford like vistas. The fire effects are cool. So is the gore — especially when Mark Boone Junior is cut in half. And it’s edited swiftly so that the film seems over almost before it’s begun — a notable trick for a film that runs over an hour and a half.
The acting is also excellent. The stand-out is Sheryl Lee. She isn’t given much to do other than slowly change yet she becomes more sympathetic with each scene — even after she becomes a vampire.
The print looks great. The only downside is that much of the film is at night. And it seems that there just isn’t as much contrast on video as there is on film. So it’s one you definitely want to watch with the lights out.
The audio is available as 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 DTS-HD. They both sound fine. There is also an isolated score, which is more listenable than most.
The film is only in English and it comes with subtitles only in English. It is subdivided into 12 chapters.
The interface is typical of newer releases with a static base menu with pop-up menus for the selection. Personally, I don’t like this system. I find it annoying to navigate. I wish everyone would go back to having different screens.
But if we are to have this system, it’s best to paginate the extras so that you don’t have to press down 9-times to undo a accidental button press on Extras. It also seems a little slower than on other SHOUT Factory releases.
It’s still better than what Arrow has been doing recently.
The extras are fairly good on this disc although certainly not up to what we often see from SHOUT Factory.
The best extra is the 1999 commentary with John Carpenter. He generally provides solid commentaries and this one is no different. It includes a lot of information about the production.
It may just be me but it seems like he’s a little bored doing it. At times, he sounds like he’s reading off a list. But it’s still interesting and valuable.
There is an odd 24 minute video from the time of the film’s release. It’s rendered at 4:3 aspect ratio. And it’s really just a set of shorter featurettes, with a lot of duplication:
Making of (6 minutes)
John Carpenter interview (2 minutes)
James Woods interview (2 minutes)
Daniel Baldwin interview (2 minutes)
Sheryl Lee interview (2 minutes)
B-roll footage (9 minutes).
The new interviews are better because there is less of the typical promotion-tour happy talk. Everyone does seem aware of not trying to offend anyone, however.
Time to Kill Some Vampires: Interviews with Carpenter, producer Sandy King, and cinematographer Gary B Kibbe. It runs 12 and a half minutes. My main takeaway from it was that everyone found James Woods difficult to work with but didn’t want to say it.
Jack the Vampire Slayer: Interview with James Woods — Jack Crow (22 minutes). He talks a lot of nonsense and seemed to think that Carpenter wrote the script. I’ve always figured he was very smart and he certainly comes off that way in the 1998 interviews. One interesting thing he says is that Jack Crow is one of his favorite roles and that he had wished for a sequel (other than the direct-to-DVD releases). He also spoke nicely about their efforts to keep Sheryl Lee from getting hurt during the scenes when she was abused.
The First Vampire: Interview with Thomas Ian Griffith — Jan Valek (10 minutes). He is very excited and friendly in this interview. He discusses how Carpenter kept him from the other actors and how much fun he had making the film.
Raising the Stakes: Greg Nicotero — special effects make-up (10 minutes). He talks about working with special effect coordinator Darrell Pritchett to create burning victims moving while on fire (inspired by The Thing). There are many other details about how they created particular effects. This interview could have been a lot longer!
Padre: Tim Guinee — Father Adam Guiteau (13 minutes). He’s very friendly and positive and offers a few good stories. One is about farting when James Woods was on top of him. He seems to have a sincere admiration and fondness for Carpenter.
The rest of the extras are the standard things that you might watch once:
Theatrical trailer (just over 2 minutes)
Five TV spots including a longer one for Japan, I think (3 minutes)
Photo gallery of 81 images including a fair amount of dreck (6 minutes). But the stuff from the press kit is great. So are the alternative and foreign posters.
2000 VHS: If this is your thing, you can probably find this at garage sales and thrift stores for nothing. I assume it is cropped to 4:3, which is criminal with this film.
1999 DVD: Original DVD release of 2.35:1 print with the Carpenter commentary and an image gallery. It features the same two English tracks and a French dub. There are matching subtitles.
2002 DVD: Region 2 (Europe) release of 2.35:1 print with the Carpenter commentary, image gallery, and the first section of the featurette on the Blu-ray. It comes with English and Spanish language tracks and subtitles for English, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish.
2002 DVD: Region 2 (Europe) release of 2.35:1 print with unknown extras. Although it claims to be uncut, it is 5-minutes shorter than the US release so less sex and gore. It includes 5.1 tracks in English and German. The same version seems to have been released on Blu-ray.
2003 DVD: Superbit release of 2.35:1 print with only the trailer on the disc and an insert with some making-of information. It does, however, come with English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles.
Streaming: Amazon Prime offers HD and SD versions of the film to rent or buy. Generally, these come with cast and informational text screens.
There are other version besides these. In particular, there is a Region 2 French release (unavailable) that includes the hour-long episode of The Directors called “The Films of John Carpenter” from 1999. You can generally find it online.
This is a solid release of a really well-made film that is chock-full of psychotronic delights. Regardless of how annoying I find the main character, this is not a film to miss. I like all of the Apocalypse Trilogy vastly more than Vampires, yet it is in many ways just as good.
Obviously, if you’re crazy for Carpenter, you should get this version. And if you like the film at all (and you should), it’s worth picking up. I’m certainly glad to have it.
Blu-ray cover images via Amazon, the banner image from the Blu-ray, and the film stills from the trailer. All taken under Fair Use.
Most people know of the 2012 feature film The Woman in Blackstarring Daniel Radcliffe. It was based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name. But the novel first found its way on to film through an ITV production that first aired on Christmas Eve 1989.
This widely loved film has not been well distributed. It was releases as a PAL VHS and later on a Region 1 DVD. Both these versions are long out of print although you can still find them. Thankfully, ITV has released the film as it should be on a Region B/2 Blu-ray. I was lucky enough to get a copy from the first printing. They have already run out and are doing a second run.
The Woman in Black is a Gothic ghost story. The central character is Arthur Kidd (Adrian Rawlins) — a young lawyer in 1920s London. He has a wife and two small children. His boss sends him out of town to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman.
Once he arrives, he gets odd reactions from the locals. But no one tells him anything specific. Few people have even met her, since she was a recluse. One woman does show up at the funeral, but he is never able to talk to her.
At the house, he sees the same woman. But this time, he’s terrified. And when she approaches him, he runs into the house and locks the door. Then he turns on every light in the house and has a look around. Except for one room that is locked that will later be a major part of the plot.
He finds an old audio recording device and learns from the former owner that she is visited often by some unnamed woman. “Last night, she did not come until four in the morning. Then it was bad — a bad night.”
Eventually, he learns that owner adopted her younger sister’s bastard son. One day, the younger sister came back and kidnapped the boy. But they were both killed will traveling through the marsh away from the house. Now, whenever the ghost of the sister is seen in town, a child dies due to accident or illness.
The Ending — Briefly
Kidd has many terrifying experiences before a total breakdown. Eventually back in London, his assistant tells him that a woman who dressed as though she were in mourning was hanging around outside the office. This sets Kidd off again and he destroys much of his office in an effort to burn the last of the deceased woman’s things.
Later, Kidd takes his family on holiday. They are in a boat on a lake. The woman in black appears and a large tree falls on the family’s boat — killing them all.
The ending doesn’t make a lot of sense, given that the ghost was known for causing the deaths of children. In the book, the protagonist doesn’t die — just his wife and child.
But I don’t think this much matters. It does finish out the plot in a fulfilling way. And all things considered, I’d rather be dead than haunted by this woman.
Otherwise, this film exemplifies what is best about horror. Even as I write this — having watched the film 5 times recently — I have chills. It doesn’t have many jump scares. It’s just the whole feel of the film. It’s overwhelming.
A big part of its success is due to the character of Arthur Kidd and how he is played by Adrian Rawlins. He’s likable and believable. He’s even a bit goofy at times like when he discovers the recording device. So everything he goes through really matters to me.
A Beautiful Film
It’s also a thoroughly well-made film. The sets are great. The exteriors are shot so as to edit well with the indoor shots. It’s also cleverly shot. A couple of stand-out moments are when the woman in black shows up at the house, she appears from nowhere during a single shot. Then, at the end, after she appears and the tree starts to fall, Kidd’s wife rises up in the boat to obscure the woman’s body.
It’s nice to see such care taken in a film. But it’s wonderful when it results in such effective storytelling.
The first time I saw this film was with a terrible YouTube print — probably not even as good as the original VHS release. But the film was shot on 16 mm negative with well-lighted sets. So I knew better video was possible.
There are two versions offered on this disc. There is the original 4:3 televised version and a 1.78:1 widescreen version. Both show some grain on the scenes with less light. And it can be a bit more pronounced on the widescreen version. But overall, the film looks great. And that’s especially true for the scenes that are most important.
The 4:3 version includes title cards between the acts, as the film appeared on television. These are removed for the 1.78:1 version so that it plays as it would in a movie theater.
The sound is presented in mono, but it is well mixed. The music and voices are distinct. It also includes clear and accurate subtitles.
There aren’t that many extras with this disc. But I often think releases provide a lot of useless extras just to impress people. Seven short interviews are better than one long feature that puts them together in some cohesive way? Not really.
Apart from the widescreen version of the film, which is an extra I suppose, there are three extras.
This is a minor feature. It consists of 34 images displayed over the course of one minute and 35 seconds. Some are rather good but this is nothing special.
Commentary tracks range from excellent to useless to abusive. The track for The Woman in Black is good. It is hosted by writer Kim Newman. With him is Mark Gatiss of Sherlockfame. Both of them love the film and much of the commentary is simply them commenting on things they appreciate in the film.
For example, they note that what makes the big jump scare work so well is that slightly before we see her, we see her shadow cast on Kidd’s body. It’s the sort of thing you feel but don’t usually notice consciously.
They also discuss various aspects of the novel and how the film got made.
Andy Nyman is also included. He played Jack, the shorter law office assistant with curly brown hair. He adds some colorful stories to the mix.
For me, the high-point of the extras was a little 20-page booklet, The Woman in Black: Viewing Notes by Andrew Pixley. It goes through the original book, the play, this film, and the later one. It also goes into depth about Nigel Kneale and his approach to rendering it for the screen.
I highly recommend reading this book. You will learn some of it with the commentary. But if you want to know about how this film got to screen, you should really start here.
The Other Booklet
Along with the Blu-ray came a 24-page booklet The Woman in Black. It appears to have been some kind of promotional material for the film when it was released in 1989 — a press book for the media. There are even corrections on it. The first page says it will show at 9:35, but this is crossed out in red pen and “9:30” is written under it.
It provides basic information about the plot, characters, cast, and crew. But mostly, it contains short interviews with cast members Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker, and Pauline Moran. These are the sort of interviews that would today be extras on the disc.
But I don’t think it is officially part of the Blu-ray release. The booklet is too large to fit inside the case and it isn’t mentioned on the case. So you might get it or you might not.
I’m pleased to have this. The film is great and it rewards multiple views. It’s also a film you can show to older friends and family members since it is classic horror. It is, however, scary. I just showed it to my Stephen King-loving father and he was impressed — and frightened.
Sadly, it is only available on a Region B/2 disc. But if this gets you to buy an all-region Blu-ray player, great! I purchased it directly from Network on Air for just $21.23. The total shipping charge was less than what Amazon charges and it got here in a week! So they are a company you can trust (and I have absolutely no business relationship with them).
I added a lot of films this month — some that I didn’t watch. I have a backlog of these things. But I’ve also been watching more films.
Normally, I go on vacation in June. I didn’t this year. And it’s been weighing on me. I just don’t feel like working on high-paying projects most of the time.
So I use the permission to watch films instead. Although really: watching films is work. And the better I get, the most work it is. I can’t just watch films anymore. I have to analyze them and compare them to other films and put them in context.
This Tigon production offers us witches terrorizing a village in 1700s England. It’s really nice to see a very straightforward story told so well. On the other hand, it’s hardly the kind of film I want to watch over and over. Much of the violence is highly effective. And there is a scene where a young witch tries to seduce a priest that is very sexy.
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)
I had to watch this just because everyone hates it so much. And: surprise! It’s actually really good. I don’t see how a sequel to The Blair Witch Projectcould have been better. I’m glad to own it. It is worth rewatching.
The truth is that I will never understand the appeal of John Wayne. From his earliest films to this, one of his last, he’s awkward and annoying. You can’t be a great actor if you spend all your time trying to prove to the world that you are a “real” man.
But the picture itself is good. And it makes up having John Wayne in it. But it would have been better with literally any other actor.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
I put off seeing Cannibal Holocaustfor a long time because of the animal cruelty. What’s aggravating is that none of it adds to the film. I could easily edit it all out without hurting the film at all.
And this is a great film. And one that has something to say. I don’t really see why the animal cruelty isn’t edited out. Of course, it would still be stained by that. But I do think that we just have to understand that this is how films were once made and they generally aren’t today. Let’s more on.
Let’s not forget that people continue to commit great acts of animal cruelty. People roast crabs and boil lobsters alive. Just because something is done on screen doesn’t make it worse.
Chris Seaver Films
I have tried really hard to like Chris Seaver’s films. Pretty much all of them have moments that are interesting. But they are filled with far too much puerile sexual humor that only immature 13-year-old virgin boys would find funny.
Here we have two films separated by 15 years. The first is Quest for the Egg Salad, which is distinctly better than his earlier films. And then Paranormal Investigation Agency, which is distinctly better still. But the annoyance factor is still so high that I think Seaver is a couple of decades from making a film that comes out in the black.
Christopher R Mihm Films
Christopher R Mihm is a guy who makes parodies of the 1950s science fiction and horror films. He’s put one out per year since 2006. I first saw House of Ghosts, and I didn’t think that much of it. But his films grow on you. And over time, I’ve become a big fan of his work.
I have an article about his films coming out soon.
The Crazies (1973)
The Craziesis generally said to be a lesser George Romero film. And I’d love to disagree, but I think that’s accurate. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film. But the story is too scattered and just doesn’t have the impact of one of the Deadfilms or Martin.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
I’ve been talking about this one for years. If you want more information, read my discussion.
This is one of the mythic films — something people dreamed of seeing in decades past and is now just a Google search away. The film is hardly great, but it features amazing special effects by three masters of the art form.
This is an odd one starring Ray Milland and a very young Sam Elliott. Basically: the swamp turns on a rich family. It’s very well-made but just odd. Better to watch Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive.
House Hunting (2012)
House Huntingis one of those made-for-TV delights I run into all the time. It’s a very effective haunted house film. It’s amazing what great work people do on a small budget. And what dreck they manage with huge budgets!
Lady Frankenstein (1971)
This is very Gothic but at the same time extremely disturbing with a lot of weird sexual quirks. Read my analysis.
Lucio Fulci Films
We featured two Fulci films this month: The Black Cat (1981) and The New York Ripper (1982). The Black Catis an excellent film but much more subdued than what most of us Fulci fans have come to expect. But with Patrick Magee, it’s hard not to love. I think any Fulci fan should own it.
I was surprised to learn that even today, The New York Ripperis not well-liked by critics. I figured this was a film that critics had come to recognize as a classic, but no. And it is really great. Admittedly, it’s a bit misogynistic. But it also portrays men as horrible. And it’s really effective. I think it’s one of Fulci’s best.
The Milpitas Monster (1976)
The horror film made by a high school photography class! Read my discussion.
The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)
Although not as known for it as Cannibal Holocaust, this film features animal cruelty. And it isn’t nearly as good. Still: it is worth watching. But if you didn’t have a problem with this film, I don’t see why you should have one for the other.
Night Gallery (1970-1973)
This was another of my favorites when I was a kid but I think I only saw it in syndication. This series does not get enough credit. I enjoy it more than The Twilight Zone. Read more of my thoughts.
I quite like this film. It’s a lot like Jawsbut with trucks. None of it is especially surprising but the acting is good and it holds your interest throughout.
Valley of the Zombies (1946)
This is a fun little romp. Just grab a copy from Archive. It’s short.
White Slave (1985)
This film has its moments but is kind of slow. It was released under a lot of different titles. I watched it under the title Cannibal Holocaust 2. And I can see why they did that. But it really isn’t that kind of film. It takes place in the jungle but it’s mostly a romance — although a weird one.
The Woman in Black (1989)
This is a great ghost story. Skip the more recent one and see this if you can. I just got it on Blu-ray direct from the UK, but it’s Region B/2. It hasn’t been released in the US. Time has been kind to this film and I think it will be more so in the coming decade.
Each month I seem to focus on a certain kind of film or a particular filmmaker. This month I watched way too many films by one particular director. Even though I like him, I got to hate his work by the end. Or at least it felt like that.
There are a few films here that I think are classics of the genre. I’ll mention them when I come to them.
Fully half of all the films were directed or co-directed by Mark Polonia. Along with his late twin brother John, the Polonia Brothers are legends of the micro-budget industry.
That really started with Splatter Farm (co-directed with Todd Michael Smith). This was not their first feature and yet they were still only teens. The film is extremely crude in terms of technique. But it’s also amazing. Effortlessly, the boys create some of the most disturbing film that I’ve ever seen.
Most of the films I watched were made after John died. Polonia’s technique has certainly developed but his budgets haven’t. But he uses digital effects to great effects. Many of them are the sort of thing you see in Birdemic, but used really well to make the films look a lot more expensive than they are.
Polonia also uses digital effects to render creatures. These work less well and many of his films come across as proofs-of-concept more than finished films. But there is no question that the films work. And at times, like in Sharkenstein, they are works of comic genius.
I plan to write a more thorough discussion of Polonia, so you will have to wait for that. But if you have Amazon Prime, check out some of his films.
I’m a big Don Coscarelli fan but I’d missed this one because I’m just not that into these kinds of films. But this one works well. Having now seen all of his films, I can see what ties them all together. He makes films about young people surviving. If you remove all the horror from most of his films, you end up with My Side of the Mountain.
A very Gothic horror anthology by our friend Mario Bava. It’s not one of my favorites of his, but it’s still a classic.
Dawn of the Dead
Is it okay to not especially like this film? I know why I loved it when it first came out. It’s such a survival fantasy: you fight off the zombie and then you get to play in a shopping mall all by yourself. And the only way to die is by being a total idiot.
I still enjoy it. But it’s much too long. And there are so many other Romero films that don’t get enough attention. But I’ll admit: if people didn’t like this film, I’d be a loud defender. Because there is no question that it’s a hell of a lot of fun!
This is a really good thriller with a clever plot. It’s a lot like a Hitchcock film but with much greater care. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad. At least until the very end. This one is definitely worth watching.
Don’t Torture a Duckling
I’m still obsessing about Lucio Fulci and this is one of his best films. More than in his horror films, this one is rich with themes — especially about sex and morality. And it shows the way that people act like monsters — well on display in many of Fulci’s other films.
This film ought to be used to recruit Incels. It’s brilliant — particularly in its use of Toby Radloff. But its misogyny is so extreme, it’s hard not to be troubled by it.
This parody of The Omen is hilarious. And it has an exceptional supporting cast. Sadly, it only seems to be available via Netflix streaming, which is odd given how good this one is.
This is the last film directed by JR Bookwalter. I just revisited it and it’s actually really good. The further I get into the trenches of low-budget filmmakers, the more I’m impressed with his talent.
Messiah of Evil
Directed by noted screenwriting couple Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, this is a very smart and creative zombie film. According to some scholars, this film had an impact on later Italian horror films like Zombie.
Parts: The Clonus Horror
This is a low-budget gem. Forgotten at the time of its release because of similar big-budget films, this one beats them all. It’s a great 1970s-style paranoid mystery. Who can you trust? No one!
Saving Private Perez
This Mexican comedy features a lot of great actors and some genuinely funny moments. But I was mostly kind of bored. Maybe I’d like it better if I spoke Spanish.
Space Captain: Captain of Space!
This Rocky Jones, Space Ranger parody is brilliant. I don’t know why these people haven’t done more. If you get a chance, see it!
The Toxic Avenger
Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of Troma films: trashy micro-budget quickies and more substantial and inspired stuff. This is in the latter group. It’s no Poultrygeist, but it’s damned good.
This is the find of the month: a sexy vampire filmed with equal parts sex and violence. In fact, it verges on softcore porn at times. But it is beautifully rendered. A must-see!
Lucio Fulci’s seminal zombie film. It drives me crazy that people dismiss it as a rip-off of Dawn of the Dead, when it is so different and, frankly, so much better. If nothing else, go check YouTube for “splinter eye scene.”
On this day, 30 July, in 1999, The Blair Witch Projectwas released to the world. It is one of the greatest horror films ever made.
I realize that many people will disagree with me. And those people are wrong. I suspect that when the film was released, those people were part of the overwhelming number of viewers who quite liked it.
But something happened. And I watched that something. It’s summed up by a joke I remember a late-night comedian making. It went something like this, “A new extended cut of The Blair Witch Project has been released with an additional 5 minutes where nothing happens.”
Get it? It’s funny because nothing happens in the film! Except, of course, that lots happens in the film.
Highly Effective Horror
I still remember the visceral terror of the scene where they come out of their tent to piles of rocks around them. It’s true that nothing on screen happened. But it tells a story of this malevolent force that is constantly around them but never seen.
That’s also true of the stick figures scene:
I’ve watched the film again recently just to see if it really is as good as I remember. And even if you ignore all the horror elements of it, it’s still a fascinating look at three young people losing their minds.
It would be fascinating to look at the ratings of The Blair Witch Project over time. I think you would find that they go ever downward. That really should happen to all films because over time they lose their context and people can’t see what made them interesting.
Now with so many “found footage” films around, there’s a tendency to blame The Blair Witch Project. I think that’s a shame. For one thing, I rather like the found footage genre.
Like any genre, there are good ones and bad ones. But at their best, they can be very immediate. (Check out Ouija Blood Ritual.) See what Bomberguy and Strucci have to say about The power of VHS.
And for films with a limited budget, “found footage” can be a useful conceit. And I think that also has something to do with the push-back against the genre: big budgets don’t especially help.
Watch This Film
Regardless, if you haven’t seen it for a while, I recommend revisiting The Blair Witch Projectwith an open mind. You also might check out Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. It was savaged by the film critics but that was clearly just payback for the positive reviews of the first film.
On this day, 28 July, in 1974, Gone in 60 Secondswas put into wide release in the US. Most people know the remake starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie. But this is the one to watch.
As a point of comparison, the remake cost roughly 200 times as much to make in real dollars. It highlights something that has been much on my mind these last few years: psychotronic film has gone mainstream.
Or has it? Because when films like Gone in 60 Seconds or Parts: The Clonus Horrorare remade, they lose their individuality. They become just another blockbuster. That doesn’t make them bad. But it does mean that there is a certain sameness to them that is the result of getting the full blockbuster treatment.
Gone in 60 Seconds
Gone in 60 Seconds was created by HB Halicki. He was the son of a towing company family who started his own in southern California. He did some work in and around the independent film scene before he decided to make the film.
With the exception of editor Warner E Leighton, Halicki relied primarily on an inexperienced crew. And yet, the results are exceptional. People mostly talk about the 40-minute car chase that ends the film. But I’m more impressed with the first hour.
One exceptional aspect of the film is all the inside information that it provides — from car theft to police work to the insurance industry. It all comes off like a really exciting documentary.
It’s also beautifully shot. When I first saw it, I figured that Halicki must have hired an experienced camera operator and cinematographer. But no.
Another aspect of it is the dense sound editing. You can’t possibly catch it all on one viewing. It’s as exciting as the action on the screen.
Overall, it’s just a wonderful story that has you hooked from the start. I imagine that Halicki was a great raconteur. There isn’t a lot to the story of Gone in 60 Seconds, but the telling is great.
The film was a big hit at the time. But since then, it’s been neglected and dismissed as just a car-chase film. There is so much more here and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself.
Later HB Halicki
Halicki went on to create a few more films that were similar in nature and usually in plot. But during a stunt for Gone in 60 Seconds 2, he was killed at the age of 48.
You can get Gone in 60 Seconds on DVD but the Blu-ray and combo DVD/Blu-ray are both cheaper. The single Blu-ray comes with some interviews. The combo comes with more including a commentary with cinematographer Jack Vacek and editor Leighton. The film is also on Amazon Prime.