The random home video observations of author and critic TIM LUCAS.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hitchin' Up with LINDA AND ABILENE

Libido-churning eroticism in the long-feared-lost LINDA AND ABILENE.

I finally caught up with H.G. Lewis's once-considered-lost LINDA AND ABILENE the other night, courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome's THE LOST FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS startlingly beautiful Blu-ray disc -- undoubtedly one of the releases of the year, regardless of the films' individual, er, merits.

Set in the Old West, and originally X-rated for its scenes of two adult orphaned siblings who get tired of moving hay from place to place, LINDA AND ABILENE would be considered a stylistic throwback had it been made at the same time as Edwin S. Porter's THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903). The plot is very simple: First Act) brother and sister resist each other; Second Act), brother and sister stop resisting each other; and Third Act) the brother attempts to restore sanctity to their home by directing his lust toward the saloon floozy Linda, and everyone loses.

Its highlights are anachronistic glimpses of Linda's silver toenail polish (not to mention her styrofoam-stiff boob job) and - my favorite - the jumbo-sized Band-Aid spied on Abilene's foot. The director did take care to remove it when the bottom of her foot was in closeup, and the mighty distracting gash across it makes us wish she'd worn her clodhoppers whilst preening nude in the shallowest "river" ever filmed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

From Morrissey With Love

Imagining what a Morrissey James Bond theme might sound like:

Oh Mr. World Domination you bore me
And I most sincerely wish that you'd go
And oh most sincerely just blow away and
Take all the boring evil you know away
Oh Mr. World Domination please go
Because we don't need your kind, don't you know
Nor the overbearing seeds of evil you sow
It's so boring to have to stop having fun

With John Osborne's kitchen sink realism
Because your solipsism's made me pick up a gun
So Mr. World Domination you can eat my Walther PPK
Lead, I promise, is deliciously good for you
And, as you die, perhaps you'll wonder how could have you
Been so full of you to act in such a flatulent way?
So Mr. World Domination, we've had quite enough
So you can bugger off
And I'll dance home, Mission Accomplished, I thank you.

Yes, I think it would probably go something like that.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Name of Ligeia, or, I Think Too Much


It's been on my mind today that the name Ligeia may be mispronounced in Roger Corman's THE TOMB OF LIGEIA. The lightning bolt came from seeing in print the name of Walerian Borowczyk's wife (who played one of the Future People in Chris Marker's La Jetée) Ligia, pronounced (like Lydia) with the accent on the first syllable; this would seem to be the (or a) more contemporary spelling of the name. The spelling of a name may be modified over time but this isn't usually done unless its familiar, traditional pronunciation remains consistent. I love THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, and its "Lie-jee-ah" is a pronunciation I've grown up with and never questioned; I do wish this hadn't occurred to me. If I'm right, it's going to stand out in future viewings like "Don/Doña Medina" stands out in PIT AND THE PENDULUM.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Franco's Farewell Film

I had been saving it for the right night, but this evening I finally said goodbye to Jess Franco by watching his last movie, AL PEREIRA VS. THE ALLIGATOR LADIES. I have no idea how this film would look to a newcomer, but if you've seen them all or are well on your way, I don't see how anyone could deny that it's the most accomplished, enjoyable and surreal movie of Jess's final phase. It's beautifully shot, scored with freshly recorded music that spans back 50 years over countless movies, and it manages to comment on his entire career, the fantasies that have fueled a lifetime, the changing image of Lina, his long association with Antonio Mayans (pictured) and also the realities of growing older and facing death as the cackling temptations of life dance on. It is entertainment, essay and autopsy all in one, the one film of his video period that I can unhesitatingly call inspired. Who knows? It might be his 8½.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Longer, Redder Nights

I recently came into possession of a copy of Georges Franju's L'homme sans visage (1974), the original eight-part miniseries from which the feature version known as Nuits rouges (US: SHADOWMAN) was distilled. I am currently two hour-long episodes into it, only doing one per night. It has no subtitles, but the language of cinema is present throughout.

I've always heard that the feature version is the better one, tighter, better paced, etc. -- but from what I have seen so far, I doubt this. This version has all the breathing room the feature doesn't, and the best parts are almost always the slow scenes in which evil or magical deeds are made to seem mundane -- or vice versa. The opening night shot of a car's headlights as the vehicle slowly inches down a slope to idle under a bridge while two silhouetted figures dump a lifeless body in the river; bookcases opening to reveal secret passages; or a man in a red helmet and black leather jumpsuit thundering a motorcycle through subterranean tunnels hundreds of years old. This stuff goes straight into my veins; it's why I love movies.

I've heard this miniseries is under consideration for release in France as part of the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel's DVD issues of classic French fantasy television, but even if this does come to pass, it won't be subtitled. In the meantime, if the language barrier is no obstacle to you, consult your local torrent provider.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Once Upon A Time on a Lemon Farm

Tonight's viewing included "The Old Man Picked A Lemon" - Episode 29 of Season 2 of THE FUGITIVE, from 1965. It yielded something of interest.

The setting is a California lemon farm where David Janssen's Dr. Richard Kimble has found work supervising Mexican farm hands. When the beloved owner of the farm dies in a car accident, his wife Flo (Celeste Holm) is placed in temporary charge, but his errant and evil son Blaine (Ben Piazza, giving a fine performance) returns from his banishment -- he was sent away after being involved in a car wreck that claimed the life of the chief worker's daughter -- with the intention of selling the place out from under his stepmother. When Flo reveals recent codicils to the will, unknown to the son, which place her in majority ownership, Blaine hires a private investigator to research her and learns that used to work in Miami as a prostitute until eight years earlier, when the father, rich and prosperous, met her, got her phone number ("it was available"), hired her for a week of companionship and, before departing, asked her to marry him -- a story she relates to the sympathetic ear of Kimble. Blaine intends to expose her backstory unless she sells out to him for far less than her interests are worth... and, after much drama, things ultimately go the other way. The story ends with the farm's faithful Mexican workers assembling around Flo at the front porch of the family home, where she warmly invites them all inside for coffee.

If the story sounds familiar, it may be because the backstory and finale of this Jack Turley teleplay are nearly identical to Claudia Cardinale's backstory in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969) -- and her participation in that epic film's finale, when she is encouraged by Jason Robards' Cheyenne to take some water out to the workers who are building the train station on her land. I had seen this episode before but never made the connection till now.

Monday, September 30, 2013

THE FUGITIVE: My 50 Year Eureka

I'm now nearly halfway through my umpteenth viewing of THE FUGITIVE (the original, not the redo), courtesy of Paramount/CBS Television's MOST WANTED EDITION box set of the complete series. I have been watching this show for about 50 years, since it was first broadcast, but only now am I beginning to take notice of what may be its most important sociological subtext.

I am coming around to the view that what is most appealing about the show is not David Janssen (who gives what is still perhaps the most consistently believable performance of a continuous character in television), nor is it Kimble's plight at having to prove his innocence. It's not that at all... but rather that the show (inadvertently?) depicts an ultimate male fantasy of escape.

Think about it: Kimble breaks away from his domesticity in Stafford, Indiana (he didn't "kill" his wife), has numerous encounters and amorous adventures on the road, all while being doggedly pursued by a representative of the very law that tied him to that woman. William Conrad's opening narration ("... reprieved by fate when a train wreck FREED HIM en route to the death house ... FREED HIM to hide in lonely desperation, to change his identity, to toil at many jobs ... FREED HIM to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime ... FREED HIM to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture") keeps hammering those words "freed him" till they sound like serial temptations of the word "freedom." He blames a one-armed man - a metaphor you don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out. And at what sort of jobs does he toil? Construction worker, truck driver, road builder, bouncer - the sort of jobs that put hair on a man's chest.

The underlying point is surprisingly stark once you notice it. As dark and challenging as Kimble's fugitive existence may be, it FREES HIM. Once he's exonerated, it will mean a return to a regular existence, to a job and a home and a schedule, and clang clang go the jail guitar doors.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Revisiting Paul and Michelle

Because I am acquainting myself with the work of the late French actress Anicée Alvina in preparation to record an audio commentary for the BFI's forthcoming Blu-ray release of Alain Robbe-Grillet's SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE, tonight I watched her two best-known American releases, FRIENDS (1971) and PAUL & MICHELLE (1974), both directed by Lewis Gilbert.
The first, best remembered due to its Elton John score, is about a couple of mature-before-their-time 15 year olds who run away from their unhappy homes, cohabitate, and end up having a child together. The sequel (made the same year as the Robbe-Grillet film, which is hard to believe - and the same year I got married, which is still harder to wrap my brain around) picks up their story three years further on, heaping some of life's difficulties on the reunited, but still-young couple. I last saw these movies when I was 17 and single, yet already a working critic; at the time, they seemed simplistic, soapy and wishy-washy to me, but seeing them again took me back with remarkable clarity to what it felt like to be a married teenager with a small apartment and a working wife. This detail alone made them feel unexpectedly moving at times.
Anicée and her co-star Sean Bury (one of the kids in Lindsay Anderson's IF... and Joseph Cotten's son in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) meet the challenge of their bilingual roles capably and it seemed to me that it could be argued that these movies -- to be frank, mostly forgotten now -- were the more innocent prototypes of Richard Linklater's BEFORE movies. This series might have continued, but the sequel flopped at the box office. Sean Bury has been retired from acting for some time, and Anicée died in 2006 at age 53, so we can only wonder if this couple ever met again or let each other go. To my surprise, the act of watching the two films again back-to-back made me feel an emotional investment in this young family's future so, regardless of the films' respective weaknesses, I can't exactly write them off as failures.
Neither film is presently available on DVD. FRIENDS is available via Amazon Instant; to see PAUL AND MICHELLE, you'll need to be more resourceful. 

Friday, September 13, 2013


I never understood what shot FRIDAY THE 13TH into the stratosphere. Back in 1980, I saw it opening day with a friend in a cattleplex with only one other person in attendance. There were some very talented people associated with the production (like Adrienne King, pictured, and Kevin Bacon, who is not), but even then, at the outset of their careers, though grateful for the work, they must have felt they were slumming; it was nothing the world had never seen before, done better. All of Tom Savini's superbly devised gore effects faded to white before you could appreciate what went into them -- imagine having to do that with all the funny stuff in a comedy!

I wrote a grumpy, sarcastic review for CINEFANTASTIQUE but the world paid no heed. The movie, though robbed of all its gunpowder by the MPAA, somehow wowed eager-to-be-scared youngsters with fake IDs and went on to become a hit, a franchise, a phenomenon. Some people have written books about it, others have made documentaries about it, like it somehow fried their brain and changed their lives. I'm glad they had some kind of seismic encounter with art, if that's as close as they got, but I sure wish someone with the goods (like George Romero) had caught half the breaks Sean Cunningham did. But he refused to work with the majors (like Paramount), knowing his white lightning would have to kneel and be homogenized.

Anyway, Happy Friday the 13th. If you're looking for a good movie to celebrate with, there is always the wickedly clever seed that inspired this leaden but fruitful franchise: Mario Bava's 1971 thriller BAY OF BLOOD -- now out on Kino Lorber Blu-ray and DVD, with my audio commentary and, for the first time in this country, the alternate Italian cut with different dialogue scenes.

Postscript: Script supervisor Martin Kitrosser (who now works with Quentin Tarantino) told me himself that the "original" FRIDAY THE 13TH was made in direct response to the Bava film; he even proposed dedicating the film to him but that idea was shot down by Sean Cunningham. The Bava film was not perceived at that time as esoteric or even Italian; it played under a variety of titles (like CARNAGE and TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE) under the stars in every other drive-in theater in the country, and it ran in first-run and in support of other grisly features for years and years. You probably could have found it playing somewhere just a few years before FRIDAY THE 13TH opened... but a few years is a lifetime's distance to those people attending indoor showings of FRIDAY THE 13TH when they were 12 or even 17 years old. Those people had likely not seen the Bava film, of course; what matters is that the filmmakers had. Clearly what happened is that some kind of generational leap took place, positioning a new generational wave and F13 at the same cultural Ground Zero; it was the first movie that a large number of young people saw that showed them more than they were used to seeing in terms of violence and sexual candor. Mind you, this was right on the cusp of home video being introduced into people's homes. Had FRIDAY THE 13TH been made a few years earlier and released to drive-ins by a minor distributor, it would have been indistinguishable from any number of other pictures. By the same token, had it opened later in the 1980s, by then, the young people who made it a hit would have seen so much more at home that they would have grown inured to its expurgated charms. However, because FRIDAY THE 13TH was released by a major distributor, because it got a wide release in indoor theaters, and perhaps too because its censorship left some things to fertile young imaginations, FRIDAY THE 13TH had an impact on a lot of impressionable minds. Which may indicate that, in any lucky juncture of the right thing at the right place and the right time, the thing can sit back and let the place and time do most of the heavy lifting.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Streeting September 10: DEATH FORCE (1978)

Cirio H. Santiago's DEATH FORCE (aka VENGEANCE IS MINE), available on a double bill DVD with his VAMPIRE HOOKERS. I don't know what I expected, but I wasn't expecting an epic. 110 minutes -- a running time that aspires to respect rather than the usual double billing; Arkoff would have cut it off at the knees. But this is Santiago's spear hurled at the heavens; it's his answer to THE GODFATHER, THE DEER HUNTER, HELL IN THE PACIFIC, you name it -- and it toplines James Iglehart, the guy who played the unforgettable Randy Black in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, as well as Leon Isaac Kennedy and his then-wife Jayne Kennedy (who sings). Vic Diaz turns up briefly, so briefly he doesn't make the opening credits. It's not always greatness on a budget, but sometimes it is; everybody's dialled up to 10 and giving it their all. There's a young guy playing an old guy with lousy old-age makeup and Toshiro Mifune stoicism and, by the time he exits the story, by God, you half-believe he was Mifune. Low-budget filmmaking at its most insanely ambitious -- and, I have to say, better than what a lot of Santiago's peers in the drive-in trade could turn out when they were feeling their oats.