Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: Blood Bath (1966)

The new Arrow release of Blood Bath is not so much a release of a film, as an entire set devoted to how Roger Corman, Frances Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Stephanie Rothman et al managed to take an obscure, unreleased Yugoslavian film and create another three films from it.  It's quite an undertaking, and included on this blu-ray set is a truly excellent feature wherein Tim Lucas takes us through all the different versions, explaining what happened, when and how and why.

I have to admit that Blood Bath is not a film I had previously seen, nor was particularly aware of, and as a black and white 1966 horror, which is fairly incomprehensible in places (and which has nothing whatsoever to do with some of the illustrative poster and ad art), it's a hard watch. William Campbell plays an artist, who is also a vampire, who is famed for his images of dead girls. In fact he paints them and then kills them, or vice versa, dipping them in wax in his studio. He is tormented by the ghost of a dead woman, and his undoing comes when this spirit summons his dead and waxed women to come alive at the end and kill him!

What is fascinating about all this, is how footage from a film called Operation: Titian, made around 1963, was cannibalised into three other films called: Blood Bath, Portrait in Terror and Track of the Vampire. I won't go into the detail here, but there's a general overview of what happened on the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Bath.

It's interesting to see Sid Haig, years away from starring as Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, and Patrick Magee, better known from films like Tales from the Crypt and Asylum, not to mention The Monster Club, making appearances here, and both do well with the material. William Campbell also does a good job, as do the various directors, matching shots and details from the earlier versions into something which sort-of hangs together.

As always, the presentation by Arrow is excellent. All four films are included in the package, so I suppose you could try and make your own versions if you so wished, as well as various documentaries and commentaries.

It's certainly a release for film historians and those interested in the career of Roger Corman, and also as an object lesson perhaps in how film-making used to be done.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition collection of the complete Blood Bath
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire
• Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire from original film materials
• Brand new reconstruction of Operation Titian using original film materials and standard definition inserts • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all four versions
The Trouble with Titian Revisited – a brand new visual essay in which Tim Lucas returns to (and updates) his three-part Video Watchdog feature to examine the convoluted production history of Blood Bath and its multiple versions
Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig – a new interview with the actor, recorded exclusively for this release
• Archive interview with producer-director Jack Hill
• Stills gallery
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on the film and its cast by Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt, Cullen Gallagher and Peter Beckman
Poster for Blood Bath. The film does not include blondes being
chained up, nor dipping girls in boiling blood. There are no skeletons, and no torture
chamber, and no rack on which a girl is strapped. There is no shrieking of mutilated victims,
and no-one is caged in a black pit of horror. There is however
a net which is used to dip a dead brunette in wax ...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time and Spaces

Received through the post a lovely little book from the nice people at Miwk Publishing ... this is Time and Spaces: A Photo Journal of Doctor Who Filming by Yee Jee Tso.

The informed among you will realise that Yee Jee played the 'Asian Child' Chang Lee in the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie which starred Paul McGann as the Doctor ... and thus this book is a record of the recording and locations of that TV Movie.

What Yee Jee has done is to revisit the locations 'today' and photograph them, putting them into the context of the TV Movie. There are a few excerpts from recording schedules, quotes and reminiscences from Sylvester McCoy and Daphne Ashbrook, and some lovely photos from the studio recording.

It's a shame that there aren't more photos from the actual recording on location, but instead we get a selection of lovely images of these places as they are 'today', with descriptions of how they were used for the making of the TV Movie.

It's a fascinating little memoir, and a trip down memory lane to the locations and places where history was made back in 1996, when the Doctor was back ... and it was about time!

Time and Spaces by Yee Jee Tso
Available from Miwk Publishing: www.miwkpublishing.com


Friday, May 13, 2016

12th Doctor's 2nd Sonic Screwdriver

It's been a long time since I was sent one of Character Options' Doctor Who products to review ... but at last they come through with the 12th Doctor's second Sonic Screwdriver ...

This first appeared in the last episode of season 9, 'Hell Bent', and was something of a surprise when the Doctor produced it from his pocket.

The main immediate difference from its predecessors is that there is no 'focussing' element at the end, instead there is a crystal-like structure which on screen reminded me a little of a Metebelis crystal. Otherwise it's the usual tube-like device with various bits and bobs on it - though different bits and bobs here to previous screwdrivers.

The operation here is a single push/pull switch on the side. Pushing it once and holding it activates a green light and a buzz, while pushing it twice and holding it makes it flash green with a whine sound. Pulling it once and holding it activates a blue light and a different buzz, while pulling it twice and holding it makes it flash blue 'chasing' around in a circle with yet another whining sound.

It's pretty cool, though it is quite hard to activate the 'two push/pull' functions. My thumb was hurting from the effort of holding the switch in place to make them work. It's also not obvious that there even is a 'two pull/push' element - I had to actually read the packaging to find out what it did! Perhaps the activation contacts could have been bigger and easier to connect to, or maybe just having four little buttons to press would have been a lot easier to navigate.

It might also have been nice if there were a couple of other manual functions to the toy - like the way that the old ones had an extending shaft and so on. However I guess that this would have pushed the manufacturing costs up.

It's a smashing looking toy though, and as the Sonic Screwdrivers have, over the years, become synonymous with the Doctor, it's nice that the newest one is available to buy in toy form.

The toy should be in the shops 'within weeks' Character say, but I'm sure there are some retailers around who will be taking pre-orders very soon.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Review: Bride of the Reanimator (1990)

H P Lovecraft has a fascinating legacy in films. I'm not sure there has ever been a wholly successful adaptation of his work (Wiki lists 33 films based on his work!), but the Re-Animator films give it a good shot.

Produced by Brian Yuzna. directed by Stuart Gordon, and starring Jeffrey Combs as Doctor Herbert West, Re-Animator (1985) was a great little film, chronicling Dr West's experiments with a luminous liquid which could re-animate the dead. Very watchable and entertaining, the film has since gained a cult following as these things do, and spawned two sequels.

After its success, Yuzna and Gordon turned to another Lovecraft tale for their next offering, From Beyond, and after that, Yuzna alone decided to go back and see what Herbert West was up to, the result being Bride of the Re-Animator. That these films were in part based on the old Frankenstein films can be no secret, with even the titles following the order of the old Universal classics.

Bride of the Re-Animator, while not quite as good as the original film, nevertheless has a good stab at being entertaining, crazy and quirky all at the same time. Once again Herbert West wields his glowing serum, but this time it allows him to create all sorts of monstrous creations through the connection together of various body parts. Thus a dog ends up with a human arm and hand, there's a cute little creature made from five fingers and an eyeball, and, as we reach the end of the film, a whole room full of monstrous creations straight from the crazed mind of FX artist Screaming Mad George.

The film is certainly paying respects to The Bride of Frankenstein with the creation of a statuesque female by Dr West from various body parts, including the heart of his assistant's girlfriend! When she rises, it's straight out of the black and white Universal film, with mad hair and jerky movements. And of course she never asked to be created in the first place ...

I really enjoyed the film, and it has a lot going for it. The monstrous creatures at the end are marvellous and I found it all channelling a sort of Freaks or The Sentinel vibe for me, as well as the more obvious Frankenstein influences. What is interesting is how close some of the plot elements are to the original H P Lovecraft story. According to details here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_West%E2%80%93Reanimator, the original work was serialised over six parts, with the first two being used for the original Re-Animator film, and the last two for Bride of the Re-Animator.

Overall the film is part of a very nice offering from Arrow, with the usual selection of documentaries and commentaries.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED 3-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
  • Brand new 2K restorations of the Unrated and R-rated versions of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • Limited Edition Collector’s Booklet
  • Limited Edition Packaging to be revealed

  • DISCS 1 & 2 – BLU-RAY/DVD – UNRATED VERSION
  • Brand new 2K restoration of the Unrated version
  • Brand new audio commentary with Brian Yuzna
  • Audio Commentary with Brian Yuzna, star Jeffrey Combs, visual effects supervisor Tom
  • Rainone and the effects team including John Buechler, Mike Deak, Bob Kurtzman, Howard Berger and Screaming Mad George
  • Audio Commentary with stars Jeffrey Combs and Bruce Abbott
  • Brian Yuzna Remembers Bride of Re-animator – brand new featurette in which the director looks back at the making of the first Re-animator sequel
  • Splatter Masters: The Special Effects Artists of Bride of Re-animator – Brand new FX featurette with a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Robert Kurtzman of KNB, Screaming Mad George, Tony Doublin and John Buechler
  • Getting Ahead in Horror – archive making-of featurette
  • Deleted Scenes

  • DISC 3 – BLU-RAY – R-RATED VERSION



  • Brand new 2K restoration of the R-rated version
  • The Target Book - Redux

    It's always lovely when a book about a subject you're passionate about gets published, and even moreso when it's written by you!  Thus it was when The Target Book was launched on an unsuspecting public back in 2007. The reception it got was brilliant, people seemed to love it! We ended up doing (I think) two print runs with our Indian printers (at the time, printing in India was cheaper than in the UK, even factoring in the shipping costs) of the paperback edition, and two different limited edition hardbacks with leatherette covers ... even so, eventually the paperbacks ran out, and the book slipped out of print.

    We then had a problem. I would have loved to have got the book onto a Print On Demand system so that copies could still be bought, but the physical page size we had chosen (as being the largest we could do for the rrp we wanted it to be) was not compatible with any system, so we couldn't use the PDFs we had, and I didn't want to have to completely re-lay out the book. Printing in the UK was too expensive for full colour at a short print run, and so we just had to accept that the book was out of print and move on.

    But people kept coming and asking about it, perhaps driven by the silly prices that copies of the book were displaying online (many of these driven by crazy automated pricing algorithms ... I suspect no book was ever sold at the prices being charged!) and we had to keep turning people away.

    The BBC Books reissue.
    Then, in 2016, several things happened all at once. Firstly I was approached by the BBC about whether I would lend some of my original Target cover art for an exhibition which was planned in London. I was uncertain, as there seemed to be absolutely no benefit to me in lending the pieces. It was to promote some reprints of the novelisations being released by the BBC, and the gallery was apparently charging an entrance fee for customers to see the exhibition, yet there was no loan fee, and no benefit to me in taking part. So I initially declined. The BBC in the form of Edward Russell was disappointed, but understood my rationale, and I think it was he who suggested, why don't you see if the gallery would sell copies of your book on the range? Not realising that it was long out of print.

    In the same week, I had a call from a regular printers that we use at Telos Publishing, and in the course of the call, I mentioned that we had this full colour book, and we'd love to bring it back into print. My contact then told me that they had just got in some new colour machines, and that she thought we could do it for a cost which worked (obviously the unit cost - what the publisher pays the printer - for a book has to be low enough that when trade discounts and so on are applied, plus all the publishers' costs, that the book can make a profit for the publisher, otherwise there's no point in doing it).  So we knocked some numbers around, and yes indeed, we could produce a new edition of the book for a cost which worked ...

    So I then looked at the book more seriously to see what might need to be done. I checked with Arnold T Blumberg, who had laid the book out originally, to ensure that he still had the files, and that he could make changes to it if needed, and yes indeed he did.

    BBC Books' 50th Anniversary edition
    The immediate thing which needed attention was at the back of the book. We had seven pages of advertisements at the back of the first version, and pretty much all of them were now out of date. So why not use those seven pages more productively for a new Appendix, which could bring the story up to date. When we published the first edition, BBC Audio had only just started releasing the Target novelisations on audio, and indeed there was a short sidebar which discussed that elsewhere in the book. And BBC Books hadn't started their programme of reprints at all. So I could cover both of those developments properly in a new section. So I got started writing and researching. Luckily everyone involved was happy to help, so I got information from Michael Stevens who has produced the audio ranges, Ben Willsher who did some of the new artwork covers for the audios, Justin Richards, BBC Books Consultant and Albert dePetrillo, managing editor at BBC Books. With interviews completed, facts assembled, and artwork pulled together (Chris Achilleos kindly snapped some pics of his original sketches for the new covers he had done for the BBC for me to use in the book!) it was all taking shape nicely.

    With the new section completed, I also had to address elements in the rest of the book. Paul Scoones kindly supplied a list of minor errors which he had spotted in the book, so these were corrected. I reworked the sidebar about audio releases to remove all the BBC Audio ones (as those were now covered in the Appendix) and to expand it slightly to include all the audio versions of TV stories which had been released beforehand. I missed off the Century 21 EP of episode 6 of 'The Chase' as that's not strictly a novelisation, more of a condensed and narrated version of the episode itself, likewise with the Genesis of the Daleks LP. But all the actual novelisations are now listed, from 1978's talking books onwards.

    BBC Books' new edition
    with new cover art
    Other illustrative detail came from artist Jason Fletcher (Fletch!), who had kindly supplied an image of the fourth Doctor to use as a foil stamp on the back of the second deluxe, limited edition hardback. I felt that it would be nice to include that somewhere, and so it became part of the endpaper design for this new edition. Finally, Alister Pearson suggested using a piece which David Lavelle had created for the Target Exhibition which showed both the first and seventh Doctors against a Target background. We managed to fit this on the Dedication page (which I had always thought was a little empty before). Unfortunately the credit for Alister and David for this image somehow vanished from the files along the way ... so huge apologies to both for that.

    Arnold sorted out the layouts, going through several iterations as usual to get everything to work and to fit. We shifted the seven blank pages to before the Index and the Target Cover Gallery as that made more sense, and expanded the Gallery to include all the new editions of the books which BBC Books have released to date. In a way this was a departure from the original intent of the Gallery which was to show all the original covers, and of course most of the new BBC editions use the original Chris Achilleos art, but they are so lovely that we thought it was worth showing them. Of course those titles with new covers (Remembrance of the Daleks, Vengeance on Varos, The Visitation and Battlefield) are also included.

    David signing copies of the finished book.
    I had decided to release the new edition in hardback - we'd not done a straightforward hardback before - and to that end, I needed to design some endpapers, and also, for the front and back covers, I wanted to take advantage of a new process that the printers had in, a UV gloss ink, which would give a glossy look to the parts of the cover it's applied to.  This is not the same as a UV gloss laminate, which we had experimented with in the past on some of Telos' books printed in India, with variable results, but a fifth run of ink.  To achieve this, I had to supply a mask for the whole cover showing which parts should have the ink applied. Strangely this is more complicated than it sounds, but I managed it.

    Thus the whole thing went off to print, with delivery set for the week before the exhibition opened. Now the waiting started!  Along the way, Chris Achilleos reached out to me about my decision not to take part in the exhibition, and after discussing it with Chris, I agreed to loan some of my original pieces for display, in part as a favour to Chris, and in part as I now would have my book available again, and the Gallery had agreed to sell some!

    The Sticker!
    A friend called Matt Doe also got in touch. Matt is a dealer and collector of Who toys and so our interests intersect! Matt offered to produce a little sticker of the cover art from The Target Book to give to people who ordered it direct from Telos. It was a brilliant idea, and so we sorted that out ... thus we had a lovely little extra to say thanks to everyone who supported the book by pre-ordering it.

    The books arrived yesterday (22nd April) and look totally brilliant. The printing quality is lovely - the original edition was a little dark in places on the printing, a feature I think of the heavier quality paper which was being used, and also of the Indian printing presses - and the cover with the matt and glossy areas is beautiful. I'm very happy.

    I hope everyone who visits the Cartoon Gallery in London to see the original Target art will fall in love with it in the same way as it has captured me and so many others over the years. I hope people will be interested enough to want to get a copy of the book too!

    As I have been writing this piece, the first review has come in ... hopefully this bodes well for the future :) https://scifibulletin.com/doctor-who/reviews/review-doctor-who-books-the-target-book/


    The Target Book
    Written by David J Howe with Tim Neal
    Foreword by Terrance Dicks
    176pp. Large format 22cm x 28cm hardback. Fully illustrated in full colour throughout.
    ISBN 978-1-84583-114-1
    Available from: http://www.telos.co.uk/product/the-target-book-hb-pre-order/

    Doctor Who: The Target Books Artwork runs from 28 April – 11 May 2016 at The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH
    Website: http://www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/future-exhibitions/50174-doctor-who-the-target-book-artwork


    Friday, April 22, 2016

    Jessica Jones

    Television today is a bewildering array of choices. And to add to all the TV Channels on Sky/Virgin/Supplier of Choice, there's also Netflix to contend with. There also seems to be more genre fare than ever, with a new horror/fantasy/SciFi series debuting every week!  So it's hard to know what to watch and follow.

    Thus it was that we stumbled across Jessica Jones. I'm not a comic reader so had never heard of her or the series, but we did a little digging, saw that it starred David Tennant, and so decided to give it a go. And I'm glad that we did.

    Jessica Jones is a strange beast. A show which has superheroes in but which doesn't major on that fact. There's no (well, limited) explanations. And the characters are not all likeable. But it works so well, and when it kicks into gear, it really grips with a thrilling narrative quite unlike anything I've seen before.

    The basic idea is that Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a private eye, and she's quite good at her job. But she's tortured and beaten inside because of a relationship with a man called Kilgrave (David Tennant) who has the power to make anyone do what he says. Jessica has a power too, she's immensely strong, and can jump or fall long distances without hurting herself, She has a relationship with Luke (Mike Colter) who owns a bar, and he has a power too: he is indestructible and his skin cannot be broken by anything.

    As the story progresses, so Jessica tracks Kilgrave down, but the man is so twisted and evil, leaving programmed commands in people to kill themselves and others. To cut out their own hearts, or to murder loved ones. The instructions have to be carried out, the victims cannot help themselves, and so Kilgrave is able to take over houses and apartments, to turn an entire police station or hospital against themselves and others ... he's a demon!

    The series progresses over 13 episodes, with Jessica getting closer and closer, trying to shield those she loves against Kilgrave's wiles, but all the time failing and falling.

    I won't say how it all ends, as it needs to be watched to appreciate. Krysten Ritter is brilliant as Jessica, managing to keep going, and to keep the 'hidden' levels of angst and pain visible on her face, even as she struggles to catch up with Kilgrave. David Tennant is, as usual, brilliant. He's using his English Doctor Who voice here rather than his natural Scottish, and he comes over as immoral, crazy, yet haunted by Jessica who is his only weakness. It's a great performance.

    If you get a chance to catch it, do so. If you love crime drama tinged with the supernatural then you should love it.

    Thursday, March 24, 2016

    Review: Thieves' Highway (1949)

    Arrow Academy dual-format Blu-Ray/DVD release, 19 October 2015

    The movie

    The late-era film noir Thieves’ Highway is held in high regard by many fans of the genre, but its great reputation is – in this reviewer’s opinion – not entirely deserved.

    The main problem with the movie lies in its scripting, and more particularly its characterisation. The story centres around war veteran Nick Garcos (Richard Conte), who returns home to the States to find that his truck-driver father has lost both of his legs in an accident arranged by unscrupulous San Francisco market trader Mike Figlia (Lee J Cobb) as part of a scheme to avoid paying him for a consignment of tomatoes. Joining forces with a deceitful former associate of his father’s, Nick drives to the city with a truckload of prized Golden Delicious apples, seemingly intent on using this as a pretext to make contact with Figlia and exact revenge on him. So far, so good. However, it appears that, on arriving in San Francisco, Nick promptly forgets all about his revenge motive after he manages to get Figlia to pay him a good price for the apples – despite having foolishly abandoned his truck right outside the man’s market stall, predictably prompting him to help himself to the produce. Then, in a moment of jaw-dropping idiocy, Nick uses a public phone in a crowded café to call his girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and brag about how much money he has made, while everyone present listens in. It is no great surprise that, when he later goes for a stroll along a deserted waterfront, he is attacked and robbed – although it eventually transpires that the culprits are two men sent by Figlia to get his money back. In the meantime, while waiting for Polly to arrive in San Francisco so that they can get married, Nick has started an affair with an Italian prostitute, Rica (Valentina Cortesa), despite knowing that Figlia has paid her to keep him occupied. (Honest, I’m not making this up.) Small wonder that when Polly does arrive, she is none too impressed to find Nick lying on Rica’s bed – although it is only on learning that he has lost all of his money that she immediately gives up on him and leaves! And so the plot staggers on, from one improbable development to another …

    In many classic film noirs, the protagonist is dogged by fate at every turn, but in Thieves’ Highway, the misfortunes that Nick suffers are really all the result of his own stupidity – or, at best, unbelievable naivety – which is nowhere near as satisfying. It is only after Nick himself has been repeatedly scammed by Figlia that he apparently remembers why he came to San Francisco in the first place, and physically attacks the man – until, that is, some police officers turn up to deliver the patronising moral that people can’t take the law into their own hands, so Nick should really have left it all to them. Nick then hooks up with Rica, and they drive off into the sunset together in his truck …
    To be fair to the movie’s esteemed director Jules Dassin (also responsible for such classics as The Naked City and Rififi), the moralising police officers and the implausible ‘happy ending’ for Nick and Rica were late additions made by the studio, 20th Century Fox, without his agreement. Where Thieves’ Highway does succeed admirably is in the visual flair that Dassin brings to it, and in its authentic depiction of the lives of the truckers and market traders involved in the Californian fruit and veg trade – an unusual but interesting background for a movie. The outdoor fruit market scenes shot on location in San Francisco’s Oakland Produce Market area are especially effective, with a number of real-life market traders being used as extras; and there are some memorably dramatic incidents on the road as the truckers make the long, tiring journey to San Francisco. In the end, though, the shortcomings with the script really let the whole thing down.

    The Arrow Academy Blu-ray

    Arrow’s recent Blu-ray release of the movie – which is handily presented in a dual-format package with a DVD (not seen for this review) and a well-designed booklet with an essay by critic Alastair Phillips and some nice stills – has immaculate picture and sound quality, courtesy of an excellent new 4K digital restoration by 20th Century Fox. A good collection of extras include The Long Haul of A I Bezzerides, a 55-minute documentary portrait of the man who wrote both the movie and its source novel, Thieves’ Market; another new documentary, The Fruits of Labour, in which film noir expert Frank Krutnik, author of the excellent book In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity, discusses the movie’s genesis, production, reception and politics; selected scene and character commentaries by Krutnik; and the theatrical trailer.

    Review by Stephen James Walker

    Sunday, February 07, 2016

    Review: The Spider (Edderkoppen)


    The six hour-long episodes of the Danish TV serial The Spider (original title Edderkoppen) were released as an English-subtitled two-disc DVD set in the UK last summer, fifteen years after their original broadcast, as part of Arrow Films’ “Nordic Noir” strand of crime dramas. Unlike more famous Danish shows such as Borgen and The Killing (with which it shares a number of principal cast members), The Spider is not a contemporary thriller but a period piece, set in 1949, a time when Denmark was still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War, with many everyday items still subject to rationing. The central character, Bjarne Madsen (Jakob Cedergren), is an idealistic rookie journalist on a left-wing newspaper, who becomes preoccupied with investigating a local ring of black marketeers presided over by the ruthless Svend Aage Hjalmar (Bjarne Henriksen) – “the Spider” at the centre of this web of crime. Bjarne is aided by veteran crime reporter H C Vissing (Bent Vejding), who takes him under his wing, but they find their enquiries obstructed at every turn by corrupt police officers, who are in the pay of Hjalmar.

    Partly based on true events, the story is set against the background of a nation struggling to come to terms with its wartime past, when some people joined the resistance to oppose the Nazi occupying force, while others became despised collaborators, creating tension within local communities and even individual families, as shown when Bjarne’s cocky collaborator brother Ole (Lars Mikkelsen) – curiously named after the series’ creator, director and main writer Ole Christian Madsen – returns from a period of effective exile in New York with a wad of cash, intending to set up a jazz club.

    This is a very well-made serial, with strong central performances, high production values and good direction, creating a very authentic-seeming period atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is really let down by its scripting. The characters are clichéd and one-dimensional, the situations hackneyed and predictable, and the plotting disjointed and implausible. The end result is that, although The Spider has an interesting setting and an intriguing premise and is very pleasing to look at, sitting through all six episodes becomes really rather a trial.

    Arrow Films’ DVD presentation of the serial is a bare-bones one, too, with no extras whatsoever. So, overall, this is sadly not a release I can recommend.


    Stephen James Walker

    Review: Five Dolls For an August Moon (1970)

    So this is a Mario Bava film, and one that I'd never heard of. The director is famed of course, and rightly so, for such masterworks as Black Sunday, but it seems that somewhere after that he lost his mojo.

    I have no idea why this film is called Five Dolls for an August Moon. There are no dolls in the film, and no moon either, and it may or may not be set in August. What it seems to be is a sort of rip-off of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, or And Then There Were None, in that there are ten people, five men and five women, on an island, and that they get killed off one by one ... no-one seems to know who the killer is, not least of all the viewer, and to be honest the film is so talky and slow that the viewer actually ceases to care much ... And when we get to the end, it doesn't make sense anyway, with people seemingly vanishing when the police arrive and then reappearing again ... and the police search the house - by which they go to the top of the stairs and without moving a foot further, or calling out, or checking any of the rooms, declare that the place is deserted. It's all very strange.

    One of the woman is a sort of 'observer' type character and runs around outside in a short dress or fetching pair of jeans, acting strange, hiding clothes in rocks, eating seafood straight from the water ... that sort of thing. The others are a strange mix of poorly acted Italian stock, looking as though they have just wandered in from whichever Italian Soap Opera was popular at the time ... It's all spinning beds and girls in knickers ... very soft porn stuff.  There is one nice death reveal - where a load of glass balls tumble down a staircase and roll along a passage to a bathroom, falling in the bath where one of the girls seems to have slit her wrists because she can't take it any longer ... I know how she felt!

    And the music! Oh my. It sounds as though it's all been played on a Bontempi organ and is dreadful. There's a meat locker in the house (inexplicable) and for some reason all the dead bodies get wrapped in plastic and hung in there.

    While I can applaud Arrow for seeking out, cleaning up and issuing all these strange films in high quality Blu-Ray format, it's a shame when the subject matter is as poor as this.

    There is an interesting and informative documentary on the disc (apparently from around 2000) where Mark Kermode explores the life and work of Bava. Of particular interest were the parallels between Bava's Planet of the Vampires and Scott's Alien ... where it seems that if Ridley Scott hadn't seen Bava's work, then the writers certainly had ... there are a lot of parallels.

    So overall, it's a lovely transfer, clean pictures, incomprehensible film and dreadful music ... Probably unmissable for the Bava completist!

    SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Optional English and Italian soundtracks presented in original uncompressed mono PCM audio
  • Optional isolated Music and Effects track
  • Optional English subtitles for the Italian audio and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English audio
  • Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas
  • Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre – a documentary profile of the director, hosted by Mark Kermode and featuring interviews with Joe Dante, John Carpenter and Tim Burton
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Glenn Kenny and a new essay by Adrian Smith on the Fancey family and their efforts to bring international exploitation titles, including Five Dolls for an August Moon, to a UK audience during the 60s, 70s and 80s