Thursday, May 5, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special Pardon Me, But Your Teeth are in My Neck! Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Anchor Bay's Blu-ray of El Topo, the Sergio Leone-on-acid cult western by Alejandro Jodorowsky be what we're talking about? Is it remotely plausible that the DVD edition of Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, the recent documentary from Turner Classic Movies, is in contention for the title? Or -- and lord knows stranger things have happened -- is it just a teensy bit conceivable that the respective disc versions of Human Planet, the BBC nature documentary from BBC/Warner are, in fact. actually The One(s)?

All worthy, to be sure, but for my money it's a tie between two entries in MGM's new Limited Edition Collection -- Richard Lester's quintessentially 60s artifact How I Won the War (with Michael Crawford and John Lennon), and Curtis Harrington's Queen of Blood, with Basil Rathbone, Dennis Hopper and Florence Marly as the titular villainess.

MGM's Limited Edition Collection is similar to what WHV has been doing with their Warner Archive series -- manufactured on demand versions of previously unavailable on video vault movies that don't (strictly for bottom line reasons) make sense to mass produce, but which can turn a tidy profit when reasonably priced to the marginal number of film buffs who want them. These are bare bones releases, obviously, not restored, but taken from the best available previous video masters; in the case of the two under discussion here, they're both in widescreen and they both look much better than serviceable.

The Lennon movie (which I hadn't seen since it played theaters back in 1967) is obviously closer to the purview of the blog you're reading than Queen of Blood, although there's no Beatle music in it. More to the point, although John holds the screen, let's just say that he probably made the right decision when he decided to rejoin his old bandmates after the filming was completed (if memory serves, he wrote "Strawberry Fields" while in Spain shooting the picture). The film itself -- a surrealist black comedy piece in the vein of M.A.S.H. or Catch-22 -- is probably best described as Middle Lester; there are lot of the sort of inspired inspired comic touches he managed in A Hard Day's Night and Help, not to mention the two Musketeer films in the '70s (his real masterpieces, I think), but overall the absurdist anti-war stuff has dated rather more than I had hoped.

On the other hand, Harrington's 1966 effort never had any aspirations to being more than grand guignol exploitation fodder, and on that level it succeeds admirably. Harrington (one of the rare auteurs who moved with ease from underground avant-garde cinema to studio work and finally to prime-time television -- he did several episodes of Dynasty, for heaven's sake) was given a couple of hours of stylish FX footage from two Russian films Roger Corman had acquired for American International, and he wrote a sci-fi vampire framing story that he could intercut with the Russian spaceships. The stuff Harrington directed mostly betrays its low-budget, and co-star Rathbone (near the end of his career) is clearly phoning it in. But the film works, finally, because of the casting of Marly as the bloodsucker. A Czech-born actress who fled the Nazis in the 40s, Marly had a brief run in major studio pictures (most notably opposite Humphrey Bogart in the 1949 Tokyo Joe) but she was blacklisted in the early 50s and all but forgotten by the time QOB was made. In any case, Harrington makes particularly skillful use of her exotic good looks; without saying a word she easily steals the film.

Here's the trailer for QOB; as you can see, Marly is one hell of a sexy demoness.

You can order Queen of Blood here; How I Won the War is similarly available over here.

And with that out of the way, and because as per usual, things will probably be a little quiet around here for a bit, here's a fun and obviously relevant little project to help give at least a modicum of meaning to our sad little lives:

Best, Worst or Simply Favorite Drive-In Horror or Sci-Fi Flick Ever!!!

No arbitrary rules, you're welcome very much, and it doesn't even have to be a movie that played in an actual drive-in. Just so long as it has that slightly disreputable drive-in spirit.

And totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. The Manster (George Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane, 1959)

Utterly ridiculous Japanese-American horror collaboration, but a pioneer in the Incredible Two-Headed Transplant genre, and somehow its creepy black-and-white mise-en-scene stays with you.

4. Castle of the Living Dead (Luciano Ricci/ Lorenzo Sabatini/Michael Reeves, 1964)

Mishegass, obviously, but with a reasonably effective ersatz Universal 30s gothic vibe, and worth enduring the bad dubbing if only for the pleasure of seeing a very young Donald Sutherland in a wicked witch schmatte and wig.

3. The Mask (Julian Rothman, 1961)

Pretty good supernatural horror that's also a slightly ahead of its time cautionary parable about mind-expanding drugs. With a particularly memorable psychedelic 3D scene set in Hell courtesy of Slavko Vorkapich, the great cinematic theorist and montage specialist whose name was converted into a verb by Grouch Marx, who famously described some film he'd just seen as having a moment where "the camera vorkapiches around."

2. Macumba Love (Douglas Fowley, 1960)

A writer who specializes in exposing fake witchcraft journeys to Brazil to investigate a voodoo cult. Haven't seen it since I was a kid, but it scared the living bejeezus out of me in the months just prior to my Bar Mitzvah (although looking at that trailer just now, it occurs to me the film may have engendered other reactions besides terror in the teenaged me). Director Fowley, incidentally, is the father of Kim Fowley, the svengali who gave the world Joan Jett, among other splendid contributions to our culture.

And the Numero Uno most delightful or reprehensible piece of cinematic Cheez Whiz in the outdoor theatre genre without question just happens to be.....

1. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

Big budget sci-fi shudders, and almost all of it (save for that iconic shot of Sigourney Weaver in her underwear) shamelessly lifted from two great no-budget drive-in classics of the '60s -- It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires.

Alrighty, then -- what would your choices be?