Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RIP Valerie Gaunt (1932-2016)

It was announced yesterday that former British actress Valerie Gaunt had died in her home on the Isle of Man, at the age of 84. She had not made a film since 1958, when she left acting to marry Gerald Reddington, who has now survived her. To the best of my knowledge, she never agreed to be interviewed about the only two feature films in which she ever appeared: Hammer's THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and DRACULA (US: HORROR OF DRACULA, 1958), both directed by Terence Fisher; however, thanks to them, despite her early retirement, she was never completely out of the public eye.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Gaunt played Justine, the comely housekeeper for Peter Cushing's Baron Frankenstein, who freely gives to this servant what he withholds from the lady of the chateau, Elizabeth (Hazel Court), his cousin and fiancée. Justine is barely in the picture yet her few brief scenes - a clandestine kissing scene with the Baron, a fit of jealous rage that escalates to threats when she discovers his plans for marriage do not include her, and her final entrapment in the lair of the Creature - not only convey all the sides of a well-rounded character but provide the deliberately restrained film with almost all of the emotional dimension it contains.

But it was Gaunt's final performance in DRACULA that was truly revolutionary. Here she was cast as another servant of sorts, a vampire bride of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) who is introduced as an innocent appealing to Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), a visiting librarian, to rescue her from a life of imprisonment. Appearing before him as someone isolated, vulnerable, needful, full-bosomed and available, she deftly navigates a path through Harker's defenses to his bare throat.

    
When Dracula - previously seen as the most urbane of noblemen - bursts into the library with all his undead, animal hatred and bloodlust exposed, he knocks the female predator aside. There are brief shots following such as the one at the top of this tribute, showing the Bride as she really is - and in these short seconds, an entirely new screen archetype was minted: The Technicolor vampiress, unabashedly sexual, fangs protruding over lips of blood - a virus that would subsequently infect the vampire cinema of every other country in the world. It should also be mentioned that, only fifteen days prior to Gaunt's death, we also lost actress Lupita Tovar - the sexy vampire ingenue of Universal's Spanish DRACULA (1931) - whose performance in that film embodies the first step in the direction of what Gaunt achieved.

I've never seen anyone discuss this, but there is a moment in this classic scene when - shortly after Harker is hurled aside by the Count - the camera cuts to Harker as we hear an anguished scream from the Bride, off-camera. The moment reeks of a cut made to appease the film censors of the day, but no photographic evidence of that moment has yet surfaced. The scene ends with Harker seeing Dracula carrying the Bride out of the library seconds before losing consciousness.

 

The Bride seems to fail in her attack on Harker but is actually twice victorious. She succeeds in biting him, as Harker discovers in his shaving mirror the morning after, and the following morning - when he trails his host and his attacker to the crypt they share - she succeeds once again, on the cusp of nightfall, when he makes the mistake of dispatching her before dealing directly with the Count.


Before Harker must deal with his mortal error in strategy, the aftermath of his first staking presents him with an appalling insight into the existence of this woman, as her voluptuous form corrupts into the remains of an elderly crone. Implicit in this simple shock effect are years of enslavement. As in all the film's best moments, a flurry of conflicting emotions is conjured, including an ironic empathy for the hunger that strove for all those years to keep this bitter reality at bay. As Dracula awakens behind his back, Jonathan Harker is shown that what has passed for life has been only illusion.

Valerie Gaunt's entire screen career might amount to less than ten minutes onscreen, but her iconic value cannot be overestimated. Appearing only in the right roles at the right time, she left us with a handful of scenes that advanced the working vocabulary of an entire sub-genre of horror cinema.

(C) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.





Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: BEAT GIRL (1960)

Gillian Hills means business, buster.
The following review was originally written for the unpublished VIDEO WATCHDOG #185.

BEAT GIRL
aka WILD FOR KICKS
1959, BFI Flipside, £19.99, PAL BD-B + DVD-1


BEAT GIRL (1960; US title: WILD FOR KICKS) is probably the quintessential British teensploitation picture - but also a good deal more. Directed by a middle-aged man who reportedly didn't understand the material or his young cast, the film clearly took its spin from James Dean and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, but it moves beyond that film's ken to become something moderately ahead of its time: a very early example of the baleful, insolent, aggressively confrontational films of generational divide that would surface near the end of the decade in films like RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP (1966), PSYCH-OUT (1967) and WILD IN THE STREETS (1968). It's a bit overdone in places, now and then even laughable, but its camp value is proud cover for an historically revealing depiction of post-war British youth - a product of traumatic times, reviling anything and everything proposed by their parents, absolutely hedonistic yet fearful of real human contact because, the way things are going, no one can really be trusted and it could all be over tomorrow. And make no mistake, one of the reasons the film plays so well today is because we can recognize ourselves in it.

BEAT GIRL has been released by BFI Flipside in the UK in a remarkably thorough set that includes no less than three versions of the film, identified as Theatrical, Alternative and Extended , as well as some rather significant extras. The Theatrical version represents the original UK release version, the Extended adds an introductory scene of the film's two mature newlyweds, Paul (David Farrar of BLACK NARCISSUS) and Nichole (Noelle Adam), and the Alternative adds this scene as well as spicier versions of certain scenes intended for continental release.

Despite the film's title and coffee bar milieu, BEAT GIRL is not really about beatniks, nor even mods and rockers; its young characters are becoming something that (as Jefferson Airplane once sang) hasn't got a name yet. Whatever they may be, it is unmistakably rooted in British post-war experience and the knowledge that anything that has happened before can happen again. Take, for example, this exchange, between Paul (a culturally clueless architect who is ironically designing a city of the future for Third World Countries) and his daughter, the film's pouty heroine Jennifer Linden (Gillian Hills, fresh from Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses):

PAUL: Where do you get your kicks from? Sitting around in cafés, listening to gramophone records? Jiving in underground cellars and caves?
JENNIFER: You are a real square, aren't you?
P: This language! These words! What does it mean?
J: It means us! Something that's ours! We didn't get it from our parents. We can express ourselves and they don't know what we're talking about. It makes us different!
P: Why do you need to feel so different?
J: It's all we've got! Next week - voom! Up goes the world in smoke! And what's the score? Zero! So now, while it's now, we'll live it up! Do everything. Feel everything. Strictly for kicks!


Shirley Ann Field, Gillian Hills and Adam Faith huddle in the underground.
Jennifer and her friends are contemptuous of their elders and express themselves in impressionistic slang - showing its origins in comics ("Voom!"), radio ("Over and out!") and television ("Fade out!") - that feels vaguely science-fictional, post-war yet pre-apocalyptic - or is it more accurately post-apocalyptic with its young survivors embodying, John Wyndham-like, England's inheritance by a new mutant strain? To quote the fractured English of Dave (Adam Faith), a musician resting between songs at the Chiselhurst Caves:

DAVE: Some dump, this is. It's like the war, coming down in the underground. There she was, my old lady, snug as a bedbug in the dark on the floor. That's where she had me. She was bombed-out, so that's where we lived. Just scared rats, underground. That was the first home I ever had. When it was over, I played on the bomb sites, amongst the rats. I'm tellin' you, man, this is a home from home for me. We're like rats, we are - the Rat Race Rock!


Such questions are only amplified by the presence in the supporting cast of Oliver Reed (cast in the film as a favor to his uncle, director Carol Reed) and Shirley-Ann Field, whose respectively unnamed/nicknamed characters - Plaid Shirt and Dodo - avoid one another in their shared scenes much as siblings would normally do, which allows BEAT GIRL to play as an accidental yet perfectly plausible prequel to Joseph Losey's THESE ARE THE DAMNED (1961). Indeed, BEAT GIRL concludes as  THESE ARE THE DAMNED begins, with the introduction of Teddy Boys.
 

Much as the young characters are depicted as works-in-progress, mutations in flux, dangerously in-between, the music to which they are shown abandoning themselves is not yet rock 'n' roll. John Barry's breakthrough film score (performed by his band The John Barry Seven) is a kind of hellbound jazz with wicked rockabilly accents - not too far afield from the gnarling guitar landscapes of Howard Shore's music for David Cronenberg's CRASH.

From the outset, Dail Ambler's script trivializes the real causes for pain and displacement among its young, citing parental neglect rather than existential uncertainty. Both the Alternative and Extended cuts open with a scene not found in the Theatrical version, which introduces middle-aged Paul and his new bride Nichole (THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN's Noëlle Adam) - in a shared British Railways compartment, their post-marital flirting observed with conservative disdain by fellow travellers and ticket punchers - implying that youth lives wherever it is felt, and is always resented by someone. Without this scene, the Theatrical cut plays more bluntly, and Nichole - who, like Jennifer (raised by a French nanny), is young, blonde and speaks with a Gallic accent - is felt much more as a sudden affront to our protagonist. Jennifer's petulant resentment of her new stepmother leads her to snoop into her past and unveil an embarrassing history of exotic dancing and prostitution. In the course of these investigations, Jennifer ventures into dangerous territory, namely a strip club operated by the tall, spidery-fingered Kenny King (Christopher Lee), who takes a covetous interest in Little Miss Dynamite that is timed to explode in his own face.

Christopher Lee proposes some intimate travel to the Beat Girl.
The above description may make BEAT GIRL sound like grim viewing, but it's actually hot fun from the very first "What ya got?" close-up of our simmering, sullen-faced heroine, after which it explodes into a main titles dance sequence that's equal parts divine and ridiculous, like the best of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, with Oliver Reed embarrassing himself on a dancefloor. Like the notorious Russ Meyer film, part of the balance is over-the-top melodrama but the only sense of humor here is whatever the viewer brings to it. It is fundamentally a serious film, a product of concern over what was happening to British youth and what might become of all that Britain had fought for, yet at the same time an exaggerated commercial exploitation of these fears that its target audience could dance to, laugh at, and flip off.

Director Edmond T. Gréville - a former journalist and critic who had served as an assistant to both Abel Gance and René Clair - would continue to work with Christopher Lee over the next few years on a couple of surprising continental productions, a 1960 remake of THE HANDS OF ORLAC starring Mel Ferrar (himself hot off another Vadim picture, BLOOD AND ROSES) and Antonio Margheriti's THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG aka HORROR CASTLE (1963), which he had a hand in writing. What all of these ventures share in common is a sensationalist edge, expressed in this film by a series of surprisingly torrid striptease acts, evidently impressed upon it by producer George Willoughby (who subsequently went on to co-produce THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH and WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP for American International).

Gillian again, dancing to the end of the world with Oliver Reed.
BFI Flipside's two-disc BEAT GIRL set offers three distinct cuts of the film: the UK theatrical release (84m 11s PAL DVD/87m 46s BD), an alternate version with two bonus scenes and softer versions of certain scenes (complete on BD, represented on DVD with 3m of alternate scenes), and an extended version previously issued on DVD including the two bonus scenes and the full-strength versions of the softened sequences (88m 55s PAL DVD/92m 42s BD). The three versions of the film are presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, in English with hard-of-hearing English subtitles, with a PCM mono track on BD and a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track on the DVD9 disc. An accompanying booklet collects a brief reminiscence by Gillian Hills, essays by Vic Pratt (on the film, with quotes from co-star Adam Faith), Johnny Trunk (on Barry's score) and Jo Botting (on Gréville) and notes on the various extras, which offer rewarding context for the main feature.

Aside from the bonus cuts, the most exciting of the supplements is "An Interview with Gillian Hills" (24m 25s PAL DVD/25m 27s BD), in which the still-attractive star proves herself articulate and clear in her recollections of the production, its particulars, and her co-stars, most of whom she sketches with remarkable insight and sensitivity. One only wishes that she had remained available to hold court on the rest of her fascinating career, from her bit parts in BLOW-UP and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE to her fuller roles in THE OWL SERVICE mini-series, Hammer's DEMONS OF THE MIND and Georges Franju's La faute de l'abbé Mouret. Some of our readers might be still more impressed by the film short CROSS-ROADS (1955, 18m 31s PAL DVD/19m 18s BD), which relates to BEAT GIRL on two counts: it's about the salacious, exploitative side of show business and features a pre-Hammer top-billed performance by Christopher Lee. Written and directed by John Fitcher, the second half of the film is an extended meeting between Lee and fellow future vampire Ferdy Mayne, which suddenly takes a surprising supernatural twist and delivers the cinema's earliest close-up of Lee's piercing gaze. Also included are a pair of 3m titillation shorts, BEAUTY IN BRIEF (1955) and GOODNIGHT WITH SABRINA ("c.1958" though it looks a bit later to us), in which a couple of busty ladies from our mother or grandmother's generation change clothes and bubble-bathe.

One of the best Blu-ray releases of 2016, BEAT GIRL can be acquired at the other end of this link.

(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved by the author.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932)

Edmund Lowe as Chandu the Magician.
Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall) is like many other middle-aged men: he's happily married to a beautiful wife, Dorothy (Virginia Hammond); he has a comely teenage daughter, Betty Lou (June Lang), and a go-getting pre-teen son, Bobby (Nestor Aber); and he applies himself daily to his great purpose in life - the building of an all-powerful death ray device! Said invention is naturally coveted by the villainous (black turbanned) Roxor, who commandeers the abduction of Robert and his pet project. Fortunately, Robert is the brother-in-law of Frank Chandler, better known as Chandu the Magician, crime-solving (white turbanned) yogi and sworn enemy of evil!

Henry B. Walthall with his death ray machine.
This concise outline of the Fox Film Corporation's CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932), based on a popular radio drama then in its second year, suggests a thick slice of rather dated pulp melodrama. However, the vast resources available to Fox, creative and monetary, invested it with the goods to become one of the enduringly impressive works of 1930s horror and fantasy. Matinee idol Edmund Lowe, whom Fox had most recently cast as the heroic Chatrand the Magician in THE SPIDER (1931), was something of a no-brainer choice to portray Chandu, but the production leaped leagues ahead of its bland predecessor by casting Bela Lugosi as Roxor. One year after his triumph in Universal's DRACULA, Lugosi was primed to give some of his most incandescent performances - in Universal's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, Paramount's ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, United Artists' WHITE ZOMBIE, and in Fox's Charlie Chan opus THE BLACK CAMEL - and here he portrays Roxor's destructive megalomania with a wattage he didn't dare duplicate until 1935's THE RAVEN. His lissome co-star in that later horror fest, Irene Ware, is also on hand, quite wonderful as Chandu's beloved, the "so very, very young" Princess Nadji. But the aces in this already attractive spread are two of Lowe's compatriots from THE SPIDER: the young but already gifted director of photography James Wong Howe, and master art director/special effects designer William Cameron Menzies, a specialist in Eastern exotica since 1924's THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD at least, who had previously co-directed THE SPIDER and co-directed this film with Marcel Varnel. Leaving the mostly feeble dramatic scenes to Varnel, Menzies applied his genius to a parade of trick shots that even now look vastly ahead of their time, as awesome to behold as they are a pleasure to pause and deconstruct. Among the film's many visual pleasures:
Establishing shots with two- and three-dimensional components,
astral projections,
walks across blazing coals,
exotic artificial exteriors,
perilous visits to ancient temples,
(a dizzying shot worthy of BLACK NARCISSUS!),
rifles that are turned into snakes,
alcoholic hallucinations,
deathly chasms below dungeon floors,
a spectacular underwater scene filmed without water,
and Bela Lugosi wielding a death ray
that destroys great cities
and dismantles dams.

The film also contains one particularly baffling effects shot executed by Menzies and Howe, a startling subjective camera move through the labyrinthine interior of an ancient temple. The cobwebby corridors we see are clearly those of a scale model or miniature, but the various camera devices that made such shots like this possible in the 1980s (like the snorkel) didn't exist in 1932. It boggles the mind how these movie magicians could have conceived such imagery, much less got it in the can, so many decades before the technology should have existed to film it. It's hard to convey the sequence without movement, but it begins with a slow approach toward this maquette:

Once inside, we go to the end of this corridor and turn left,
revealing this corridor, and we advance, turning again at the sarcophagus,
which takes us here
and so forth.
In the midst of the sequence, we turn one corner that leads to a patch of darkness, which would have provided opportunity for a cut. Once we reach the two sarcophaghi, the camera tips down to provide us with an optically inserted high angle view into Roxar's headquarters. This brief transitional shot is worth the price of admission in itself.

CHANDU was previously released on DVD by 20th Century Fox Entertainment back in 2008. Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray upgrade ports over the supplementary materials from that release - an audio commentary by biographer Gregory William Mank, a brief but all-star documentary featurette about the Chandu character, and a now-pointless "2008 restoration demonstration" - but in every other way bests it. Granted, there is only so much that can be done with the visual restoration of a film this old, but there must be significant enhancement over the best that was available eight years ago. To wit: when Mank's commentary describes the subject of one establishing shot as a miniature, it's now more obviously a miniature only up to a point, completed with large, two-dimensional piece of artwork done in what appears to be ink-wash. Also, whenever Mank pauses in his talk to let us listen to something being said, the 2008 soundtrack is, more often than not, abuzz with distortion and brittleness, which makes the listener all the more appreciative of the great strides apparent in the silent running of Kino's latest restoration. I'm not sure how much of this is attributable to the restoration, to the makeup department, or to Howe's cinematography but the film's two ingenues, Irene Ware and June Lang (as Betty Lou), are strikingly contemporary in their allure - not at all like the mannered wraiths seen in so many Hollywood features of the early 1930s. (Mank notes that Lang's frankly pre-code apparel in the scene where the abducted Betty Lou is placed on the auction block at a slave market - more transparent than ever in 1080p! - was a target for censorship in Ontario, Canada.) You will see the occasional banjo string scratches but, otherwise, this is a notable HD preservation of some consummate filmmaking.

A selection of shots of June Lang and Irene Ware.

Mank's commentary is brisk, lively and mostly favors the cast members with its attention, appreciating their work onscreen while tracing the fuller details of their overall careers as well as the occasionally tragic details of their private lives. As the author of a book diagramming the careers of Lugosi and Karloff in parallel, he can't resist bringing in some not-entirely-relevant details concerning MGM's THE MASK OF FU MANCHU, because it was Boris Karloff's "death ray" picture of the same year. Actually, there is an even greater relationship between the two pictures: CHANDU was very much inspired by the occult fictions of British author Sax Rohmer, the creator of Fu Manchu. Mank cites another, later source (which I did not jot down) in tracing the origin of Chandu's name, but it goes back still further to Rohmer's popular 1919 novel DOPE - in which the word chandu figures as a synonym for opiates. Meanwhile, an important antecedent of Chandu himself (not to mention King Features' Mandrake the Magician, who debuted in 1934, and Marvel's Doctor Strange, who debuted in 1963) is Moris Klaw, the astral investigator and crime solver of the occult short stories collected in Rohmer's 1920 book THE DREAM DETECTIVE.

Bela Lugosi at his best as Roxor.

Especially given the recent release of DOCTOR STRANGE, the featurette "Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu" now feels dated as its impressive roster of commentators (Ray Harryhausen, Bob Burns, Greg Mank, Paul M. Jensen, Steve Haberman, Stephen Jones, Christopher Wicking, Mark Viera) reach to Indiana Jones and Harry Potter as high profile points of reference.

If you're at all interested in the origins of DOCTOR STRANGE, or mysticism in cinema, or the history of special effects, or the scenery chewing of Bela Lugosi, consider CHANDU THE MAGICIAN an essential chapter in your education. You can find Kino Lorber's region-free Blu-ray here.

(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: Leslie Stevens' PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960)

Among American filmmakers of the 1960s, Leslie Stevens is a name - not unlike Curtis Harrington - that beckons the eyes and ears of a particular niche of cine-cultist. Most of us enshrine his memory as the executive producer and spirit guide behind the acclaimed 1964-65 series THE OUTER LIMITS, which brought the look and feel of nouvelle vague cinema to prime-time science-fiction television for two memorable seasons. Stevens' fertile career as a writer, producer and director seems to stream out in both directions from THE OUTER LIMITS, but only because for many years it was his most accessible product. In fact, it was followed by some very interesting projects, most notably INCUBUS (1966), an art-house horror film starring William Shatner that, to my knowledge, remains the only feature filmed in the proposed universal language of Esperanto.

His later television productions in color - including IT TAKES A THIEF, SEARCH, THE INVISIBLE MAN (starring OUTER LIMITS alumnus David McCallum), GEMINI MAN and BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY - gradually dissolve what we know as the feel of Stevens' work, but what most of us associate with his look is the cinematography of camera legend Conrad Hall, who contributed to virtually all of Stevens' projects through INCUBUS. In addition to the TV-movie FANFARE FOR A DEATH SCENE (1964), their collaborations extend back to the short-lived but essential "intellectual western" series STONEY BURKE (starring Jack Lord and Warren Oates as a pair of itinerant rodeo workers) and a little-known debut feature, PRIVATE PROPERTY (1960), which until recently had not had a public screening in roughly 50 years. Shout! Factory released the complete series of STONEY BURKE as a six-disc DVD set back in 2013, and PRIVATE PROPERTY - the subject of a recent 4K restoration - is now available as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD package from Cinelicious Pics.

Warren Oates and Corey Allen.
PRIVATE PROPERTY, which was shot in and outside the picturesque Los Angeles home of Stevens and his then-wife, actress Kate Manx (who co-stars), tells what is no longer a particularly unusual story of Ann (Manx), a thirty-ish, bourgeois California wife, neglected by her husband, who responds to the attentions of a handy man who appears at her door. Duke (Corey Allen) is, in fact, one of two drifters - the other is the more dim-witted Boots (Warren Oates) - who may or may not be escaped prisoners, roving criminals, or runaway mental patients. They have broken into the presently vacated adjacent property, owned by "the Halls" (a reference to the film's fledgling camera operator), where Ann's sunbathing and laps around the pool have been providing them with afternoon entertainment.

The view from the Halls' window.
A ten-day production, the film was Oates' second feature but the first to receive a theatrical release, which was meager because it failed to secure the approval of the MPPDA Production Code. The set's liner notes by Don Malcolm tell us that it grossed more than $2,000,000 in European bookings. Allen gives the film's most compelling performance, but his Duke is such an unpleasant character that the film feels permeated with the promise of a very unhealthy third act. The trouble is, it only partly materializes; even though some people die as a result of Duke and Boots' consensual home invasion, the drama is staged so obliquely and with such artistic distance as to deny the viewer any sense of purging the darkness evoked by the story. A few people have told me they preferred to turn the film off rather than see where its dark teasings were bound to lead.

Corey Allen and Kate Manx.
Even though the film was clearly made as a vanity vehicle for Manx (who, though attractive, neither compels the camera or acquits herself as lead actress material), PRIVATE PROPERTY nevertheless offers an important sidebar to the careers of (forgive me) Hall and Oates - and thus the story of the rise of American independent cinema of the 1960s. The latter gives what is arguably his first fully-developed performance and his presence provides a through-line from STONY BURKE to the features that Monte Hellman arguably made in that series' image: THE SHOOTING, TWO LANE BLACKTOP and COCKFIGHTER. In the career of Conrad Hall, PRIVATE PROPERTY points the way forward to his 1968 Oscar-winning triumph, IN COLD BLOOD - another highly picturesque film about two deranged men driven toward a poorly-planned and unrewarding criminal culmination by an unresolvable homosexual chemistry.

While I applaud the film's restoration and availability, I was frankly hoping for more from it than it delivers. My initial response was that it felt like Curtis Harrington directing a script that Sam Fuller had left in a drawer. It's like that: a coltish art school noir with flip dialogue and a brazen spirit, with one foot firmly planted in a 1950s Sirkian idea of gracious living, while the other stirs with its toe an ambivalent hope that it might summon up something transgressive, progressive, or moderately dirty before it's through with us. The picture of which it most reminds me is Russ Meyer's THE SEVEN MINUTES (1970): tightly edited, nicely shot, prurient as hell but more tease than treat - a curiosity for sure, but ultimately a misfire. That said, and as with THE SEVEN MINUTES, any real connoisseur of the period or the people involved need to see it.

The imbalance of the main feature might have been adjusted by more generous bonus supplements, but Cinelicious Pics' set is accompanied only by an on-camera interview with still photographer and technical consultant Alexander Singer. The US theatrical trailer promised by the packaging was created for this release and should not be mistaken as archival promotion. There is nothing here to tell us if the film's original release even generated a trailer.

PRIVATE PROPERTY can be obtained here.

(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.



Friday, October 28, 2016

RIP John Zacherle, aka Zacherley (1918-2016)

When John Zacherle was born in 1918, they broke the mold... but it continued to cling to his undertaker's suit no matter what his dry cleaner did to it. I felt my heart snap when I heard last night that he'd passed away in his rent-controlled apartment that afternoon, at the ripe old age of 98, but wherever and whatever he is now, I'm sure he's filling the place with his infectious laughter.

I had the good fortune to meet John on two occasions - that's what I called him, before learning that he preferred to be called Zach. When we met the second time, it was at WonderFest in 2007. He was 87, walked with a cane for short distances, and was sometimes wheeled about by his devoted biographer Richard Scrivani (GOOD NIGHT, WHATEVER YOU ARE: MY JOURNEY WITH ZACHERLEY, THE COOL GHOUL is essential reading to any and all devotees of 1960s pop sociology). He had a courtly way of speaking that belonged to another time. Women, whose hands he sometimes kissed, were "my dear" and men were sometimes called "old boy." Despite these signposts of age, which included hands and fingers badly gnarled by arthritis, you could look at him and swear he was 40. He was Halloween incarnate but he was really from the same school of so-called "sick comedy" as Lenny Bruce, Spike Jones, and Vampira; he just did his stand-up act in the mad laboratory of live television. It's a tragedy that so little of that pioneering work from his prime survives.

For New York area Baby Boomers, he was the guy who actually introduced them to the classic Universal monsters they had only read about in Forrest J Ackerman's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND - on Channel 7's SHOCK THEATRE from 1958 to 1959 (as "Roland" - emphasis on the second syllable, if you please), then on New Jersey's Channel 9 with ZACHERLEY AT 12 from October 1959 for another year or more. He recorded novelty albums that hold up wonderfully well (SPOOK ALONG WITH ZACHERLEY, MONSTER MASH, SCARY TALES, and the much later INTERMENT FOR TWO) and he was a radio personality as well, which led him to host (circa 1966-67) a great sock hop show called Disc-O-Teen, of which only the last two episodes survive. Though already well into his fifties, he was sometimes called upon to introduce bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead when they played the Big Apple. His introduction of "the Grateful goddamn Dead" has been preserved for posterity on their album DICK'S PICKS VOLUME 4 (February 12, 1970 at the Fillmore East), which coincidentally turned out to be one of the Dead's most intense, improvisationally alive performances.

I'm an Ohioan and never got to see Zacherley on live TV until he made a guest appearance on Tom Snyder's TOMORROW program sometime in the 1970s. I had known his face from childhood, thanks to FAMOUS MONSTERS showcasing him on a couple of their early covers, but I was pleasantly surprised not only by his droll, chortling, self-mocking manner but also the extremity of his gags (he proceeded to "mate" two blobs of gelatin encased in cheesecloth, which he called "amoebas") and the range of his cultural references. When Snyder asked Zach what frightened him, he quoted John Cale's PARIS 1919 song "Hanky Panky Nohow": "Nothing frightens me more / Than religion at my door." When I first met him at a Chiller Theater convention in October 1994, we literally bumped into each other in a hall - I was stuck working a table for Barbara Steele and didn't even know he was there! - and we started talking like we'd known each other for years. Indeed, a book he inscribed for me was signed to "old friend Tim." (Did he know something I didn't?)

A privileged and proud moment.
But my favorite personal memory of Zach is of hanging out with him with my wife Donna on a Sunday morning at WonderFest in 2007. He had spent a little time with us over the course of that weekend, and we had won some Rondo Awards the night before, and he suddenly asked us, with that Old World charm of his: "Are the two of you... committed to each other?" We laughed and told him that, yes, we'd been married for some 33 years. (It's 42 now.) He looked like we'd told him the most wonderful surprise and he clapped his hands over our union in merriment. We both felt as if he had given us a special blessing, like we'd been married by him a second time.

He was a very special man, the very embodiment of all that's best in this genre and the wonderful weirdies it attracts. I thought the world of him.

Rest in peace, old friend. 

(c) 2016 by Tim Lucas. All frights reserved by the author.