Friday, February 27, 2015

Review - Rabid (1977)

I have a fond association with David Cronenberg's second major film, Rabid. It was one of the earliest film novelisations that I ever read, and I may have even read the novelisation before I saw the film ... and I remember a local cinema down in Newquay, Cornwall, had the poster in their frame showing the girl in the deep freeze ... and this image tantalised and thrilled me ... it wasn't until I saw the actual film that I understood who the girl was and why she was frozen!

And now the lovely people at Arrow have released a remastered version of the film on Blu-Ray, complete with a nice little selection of extras ... so let's dive in! But be warned, on this occasion I do give away the ending ... so if you've not seen it and intend to, then stop reading now.

The film itself looks lovely. There is some black speckling around the opening title cards, but I suspect that this is on the original prints too, and would perhaps take too much to remove digitally. But aside from this, the print looks clean and is very watchable. The film itself is actually a little pedestrian to be honest, but it has a seventies charm about it. It's interesting to note that it was released the same year as another favourite film, Dario Argent's Suspiria as both films seem slightly ahead of their time. Cronenberg always comes up with the goods, and here it is former porn actress Marilyn Chambers who astonishes as Rose, a biker-chick girl who gets into a nasty motorcycle accident outside a place called the Keloid Clinic near Montreal  (after Doctor Keloid, and not after the keloid as a type of scar tissue - though the medical meaning of the word is obviously deliberate in the context of the film). Rose is taken into the Clinic and given emergency treatment and plastic surgery to repair damage to her breasts and hpper body - flesh is removed from her thighs and treated to transform it into generic tissue which can then take on the attributes of wherever it is used on the body.

Unfortunately for Doctor Keloid and Rose, some of this generic tissue decides to develop into a puckered anus-like lesion under Rose's arm, and inside the hole is a chitinous barb, through which Rose can ingest blood from victims. Thus Rose heads off on a bloodsucking spree, taking from patients and nurses at the surgery. Unfortunately, these people then develop a fast-spreading madness, similar to rabies (hence the title of the film) and before long, Montreal is under martial law as people head off foaming at the mouth, biting others, and spreading the 'zombie plague'.

The film meanders a little, but always comes back to Rose, who ends up living with a friend ...but Rose gets sick when she doesn't eat, and she doesn't want to feed off her friend ... but then ends up killing her anyway ... she has a fight with her boyfriend who wants to help ... but Rose is an independent sort, and doesn't believe that she is the source of the infection, so she picks up another man and feeds from him, locking herself in a room with him to prove that he won't go mad ... but of course he does and the film ends on a somewhat bleak note, with Rose's body being thrown in a dump truck with the rubbish.

As a cycle, it's quite neat, as the ending removes the source of infection, and, presumably, all the other crazies will be hunted down and killed, and the problem is resolved. But for Rose, as an innocent and helpless victim, it's bleak and unremitting. She has been turned into a quasi-vampire by doctors, and can't help her hunger for blood - when she tries to resist it, and even to eat normal food, her body can't process it and she's sick and vomiting, or writhing on the floor clutching her stomach in intense pain. She HAS to feed to survive, but that feeding spreads the madness. She even tries feeding from a cow, but this too fails - she can take only human blood.

So in this sense, the film is very tightly constructed, and Rose's trajectory really only has one arc, and can really only end in one way.

Also on the disk among the extras is an episode of The Directors series which focusses on Cronenberg, covering off all his films, and revealing that, in actuality, The Fly is his most commercially successful film to date. It also reveals that Cronenberg has had to withdraw from projects because of studio interference, and that he feels he has to remain true to his own visions in his filmmaking, and, to be honest, this is why his oevre is so intense and personal, and has resulted in works as diverse and surreal as Shivers, The Brood, Scanners and eXistenZ, not to mention Crash and Naked Lunch.

The film was released in a dual formal Blu-Ray and DVD format by Arrow on February 16th 2015.

All in all, it's a great little package, showcasing a good slice of early eighties horror from a director who always makes films which are thoughtful and entertaining, never forgetting that at the heart of any good horror story, there is a personal viewpoint.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
  • New High Definition Digital Transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio Commentary with writer-director David Cronenberg
  • Audio Commentary with William Beard, author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg
  • Archive interview with David Cronenberg
  • Brand new interview with executive producer Ivan Reitman
  • Brand new interview with co-producer Don Carmody
  • Make-up Memories: Joe Blasco Remembers Rabid – A short featurette in which Blasco recalls how the film’s various gruesome effects were achieved
  • Raw, Rough and Rabid: The Lacerating Legacy of CinĂ©pix – Featurette looking back at the early years of the celebrated Canadian production company, including interviews with author Kier-La Janisse and special makeup artist Joe Blasco
  • The Directors: David Cronenberg – A 1999 documentary on the filmmaker, containing interviews with Cronenberg, Marilyn Chambers, Deborah Harry, Michael Ironside, Peter Weller and others
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nat Marsh
  • Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, reprinted excerpts of Cronenberg on Cronenberg and more, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.

  • Monday, February 23, 2015

    Out of the Unknown

    I never saw any of Out of the Unknown, the BBC's somewhat trailblazing science fiction anthology series when it was first transmitted. It started in 1965 and presented a series of one-off plays, all with a science fiction theme, and written by some of the great writers of the time. Thus there is material by John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov, William Tenn, Frederick Pohl and John Brunner all being adapted by playwrites like Stanley Miller, Jeremy Paul, Paul Erikson and J B Priestly ... such a thing does not exist on television these days, with all genre shows being series based and written by a small cabal of writers. But these are marvellous and magnificent achievements.

    For a Doctor Who fan like myself, the delight is also in spotting the re-use of sound effects and music, plus many of the same actors as from the good Doctor's adventures ... and perhaps the best example of this in this set is the 1969 episode 'The Last Lonely Man' which is directed by Douglas Camfield, stars Peter Halliday, and has music by Don Harper - all the same as the Doctor Who story 'The Invasion' from 1968. A treat indeed.
    Robots from 'The Prophet' which were later used in the
    Doctor Who story 'The Mind Robber'.

    This boxed set, produced by the BFI, is both a work of great passion, and at the same time, great disappointment. As was typical with BBC shows of the time, a great many of them have been wiped and destroyed, and thus we have a fairly limited selection to enjoy today. The four seasons break down as follows in terms of what exists and what has  been destroyed:

    SEASON 1 - 10 Exist; 2 Destroyed
    SEASON 2 - 4 Exist; 9 Destroyed
    SEASON 3 - 1 Exists; 12 Destroyed
    SEASON 4 - 5 Exist; 6 Destroyed

    As you can see, it's a depressing showing. But the DVD release makes the most of what material does exist, with it being cleaned up and remastered. There are also several 'reconstructions', using the original soundtracks matched to stills from the episodes, but these make for hard viewing. A better approach is the one used for 'The Uninvited' where the soundtrack is matched with the camera script so you can read what is happening on screen. This one seems easier to follow than the others and could simply be down to a better quality soundtrack - some of the others are a little 'muddy'.

    'The Machine Stops' one of the more famous episodes.
    It is a shame though that seasons 3 and 4 are so underrepresented as the series underwent a major shift in direction with the move to colour. This coincided with creator Irene Shubik moving off and Alan Bromly taking over, and I'm not sure I like the results. Wheras the black and white science fiction of series 1 and 2 was all alien worlds, spacecraft, strange blonde young men, futuristic ideas and concepts and great effects and visualisation in studio, the colour series 4 episodes tend towards present day location work, and psychological dramas, household terrors and more mundane horrors. In fact the final season is closer to Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected and the Hammer House of Horror series than to anything science fiction or 'unknown' - but again this might be more because of what remains to be viewed than what the series was actually trying to achieve as a whole.

    The comprehensive booklet of notes explains that Shubik was taken off after Series 2, but that she had commissioned all the scripts for Series 3 before her departure, and that it was Series 4 which had a darker more psychological remit. This seems to tally as the sole series 3 episode ('The Last Lonely Man') is one of the most enjoyable episodes on the collection, while the Series 4 episodes all seem strangely downbeat and samey.
    George Cole and Peter Halliday in 'The Last Lonely Man'.

    Whatever observations might be made of the content, the presentation of this set is brilliant. The episodes have been remastered and for the most part cleaned up and improved. There are reconstructions of several missing episodes, and party of one missing episode is included ('The Little Black Bag', half of which was found on an Engineering Training tape at BBC Glasgow!). There is a special documentary which interviews many surviving cast and crew members, and which also contains footage from other missing episodes, some of which have been colour-recovered. There are commentaries on many of the episodes too, and extensive stills galleries, so we can marvel and wonder at just what the lost episodes might have been like ... Just about every surviving element of Out of the Unknown is contained on the disk ... it's a labour of love for those involved in compiling it.

    For fans of vintage television, and especially of the science fiction and horror genres, this is a must-have purchase. Enjoyable and thought provoking, even today, Out of the Unknown stands the test of time. It's just such a shame that so much has been lost.
    The aliens from 'Beach Head' one of the missing episodes.

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    The Bradbury Building

    Following on from my last blog about The Outer Limits, one of my favourite episodes from that show, and possibly my favourite slice of sixties television, is 'Demon with a Glass Hand'. Scripted by Harlan Ellison from his own story, it tells the tale of Trent, a man who holds the future of Humanity but he can't remember how or why. He has been sent back in time to avoid the alien Kyben, but they follow him through a time mirror. One of his hands has been replaced by a computer, and this advises him to locate the remaining fingers of his hand so that it can help him better. He is trapped in an old office building, and therein meets a girl. And together they have to avoid the Kyben, repair his hand, and save Humanity.

    It's a brilliant idea, and it is executed perfectly. The cinematography is brilliant: the black and white photography perfectly capturing the story, and the use of light and dark and shadow is also masterful. Everything about the teleplay is, to my mind, perfect, and one of the main elements which works so well is the office building, an art deco monstrosity of walkways, railings and stairs, with metal lifts and bags of personality.

    The building has been used several times in film and television. The most well known usage was in the film Blade Runner where it is used for where J F Sebastian has his robot/doll making shop. It was also used in The Artist and many, many more.

    Amazingly, it still exists in Downtown LA (304 Broadway at West 3rd Street) and is called The Bradbury Building - not after the famous science fiction writer, but after it's funder Lewis L Bradbury.  When we visited LA this year, we met with our friend Dean Haglund, who lives on Broadway, and he kindly took us down to the Bradbury for a look.

    It was built in 1893 and more information about the building and it's history and use in film and television can be found on the Wiki entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradbury_Building

    Unfortunately, while you can freely visit the lobby and lower stairs, all the upper floors and walkways are out of bounds as the building is currently being used by the LAPD's Internal Affairs division ... but you can still see them. The lifts are still there, the railings, the walkways, and it all looks the same as on that Outer Limits episode.  Here's a pile of black and white photographs from the episode and my own colour shots taken this year ... it's a magnificent piece of architecture, beautiful and imposing, and I am so glad that it hasn't been torn down or changed to make way for some modernist mall or office block.