Dolls (1986) BluRay Review

DOLLS 001DOLLS (1986) Blu-ray

Review by: Dave Wain

Stars: Stephen Lee, Guy Rolfe, Hilary Mason, Ian Patrick Williams, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Written by: Ed Naha

UK Certification: 18

UK RRP: £14.99

UK DVD Region: 2

Runtime: 77 minutes

Directed by: Stuart Gordon

UK Release Date: 17th February 2014

Dave Jay’s tremendous book ‘Empire of the B’s’ was a joy to behold last month upon its publication (check out our review), but the one downside that accompanied this great work was the fact that many of the films mentioned are strangers to the UK DVD market. After completing the book there was almost a sense of despair that so many of the films detailed were so hard to locate! Some of Empire’s greatest works – Zone Troopers, Robot Jox, Eliminators and Enemy Territory (and many more) have frustratingly never been released on these shores since their 80s VHS heyday. Thankfully though with companies like the awesome 101 Films managing to gauge just what the fans want, we can now cross Stuart Gordon’s excellent Dolls off the list (as well as Cellar Dwellar come May).

Fresh from his worthy success as director of Re-Animator (1985), Charles Band was keen to tie Stuart Gordon down to a multi-picture deal with Empire. Gordon, having had the idea for further Lovecraftian adventures with From Beyond was open to such a deal, but Band insisted that beforehand he must tackle a quickie horror flick entitled ‘The Doll’. As Dave Jay noted in his book, the creation of the movie came from the crazy process that Charlie Band had of designing a poster THEN hiring a screenwriter to pen the film. A visit to the Empire offices from Ed Naha following the success of Troll (1985) soon spiralled into a swiftly knocked up script for what became Dolls, then in late ’85 the relevant parties assembled for the shoot – and considering the pace of production, it turned out exceedingly well.

Narrowly avoiding running down some thumbing hitch-hikers (and by the shouts of “wanker” we presume we’re set the UK!), we’re introduced to the well-to-do couple of David and Rosemary Bower (Ian Patrick Williams and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) who are speeding through the countryside on vacation. After managing to get their car stuck in the mud, they have no alternative but ask the proprietors of a local property if they could spend the night with the intention of getting help in the morning. As they walk towards the luxurious home we learn that the couple’s daughter Judy (Carrie Lorraine) has quite the imagination, as following Rosemary confiscating her teddy bear she vividly imagines her cuddly toy coming back to life, eight feet tall and ripping her father and stepmother to pieces.

DOLLS 002Once inside the lush abode they meet the kindly elderly owners Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason), who agree to offer them a bed for the night along with some food. Gabriel informs his guests that he’s a doll maker, and enquires as to why Judy doesn’t have one for company, to which Rosemary swiftly interjects with an excuse – but not before Gabriel supplies her with a temporary friend for company in the shape of a Punch doll. The five quickly become eight, as also victim to the storm are the two hitch-hikers Enid and Isobel (Bunty Bailey and Cassie Stuart) as well as Ralph (Stephen Lee), the good natured man who gave them a lift.

Gabriel shows everyone to their rooms where we then become party to the true nature of their the guests hidden agendas as we discover David and Rosemary are planning of getting rid of the burden of Judy, while Enid and Isobel plot to steal some of the “antikees” (antiques) that fill the house – “they’ll be dead soon, they’re not gonna miss ‘em”. Thankfully the marionettes, puppets and dolls that feature in every corner of the residence are about to have the last word on these nefarious individuals.

Despite the rushed nature of the movie, I think Dolls turned out pretty darned fine. There’s an interesting blend of philosophies in the film from Ed Naha’s initial ‘old dark house’ leanings, to Stuart Gordon’s Freudian fairy tale influence, to Charles Band’s gore insistence – it manages to utilise elements of the three effectively. For me, the set that would eventually be used in From Beyond is perfect and does echo some classic horror scenarios with lightning relentlessly pouring through the windows, and flickering candles dominating the lighting in a number of scenes. Conversely despite its 1940s origins, this IS an ‘18’ certificate and quite justifiably! Some of the doll attack sequences are gruesome and disturbing while the work of puppeteer David Allen is joyously sinister.

DOLLS 003With any film that is reliant largely on one location the cast are pivotal to its success and here Gordon has assembled an excellent ensemble, the stand out being his own wife as Rosemary who is deliciously spiteful playing the evil stepmother. Elsewhere Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason, who would do further work for Band are perfect as the old-fashioned but knowing proprietors, while Carrie Lorraine is the perfect embodiment of childhood innocence with Stephen Lee her childlike ally. Gordon directs with his usual assuredness and utilises the familiar Band crew of Mac Ahlberg as DP and John Buechler for makeup effects. The picture quality of the 101 Films blu-ray is damned smart indeed, and having only been afforded a VHS edition up to now, watching the movie in such clarity is so far one of the thrills of 2014.

 

 

8 out of 10

Extras:

Commentary with director Stuart Gordon and writer Ed Naha ported from the 2005 MGM release. Sadly the cast commentary track doesn’t make it over, but still listening to Gordon and Naha’s thoughts on the inception of the movie as well as production tales are fascinating to say the least. From the character of Rosemary being based on Cruella Deville, to thoughts on Val Lewton and Charlie Band’s passion for little creatures even stretching to an unsuccessful (thankfully!) attempt shoehorn them in to Pit & the Pendulum!

DeCoteau DeCoded by Matty Budrewicz

dc1DeCoteau DeCoded


Director and producer David DeCoteau has had one helluva career. Whilst even his most ardent supporters would have a hard time describing it as illustrious, the Canadian-American schlock kingpin has certainly been prolific. Hell, a look at his IMDb slate should be enough to tell you that, with well over one hundred directorial credits (under a variety of eclectic pseudonyms) since the mid eighties alone. Factor in his producing, writing and assorted other credits and well… Well I guess it’s safe to say that dissecting his full body of remarkable, money-spinning work would be a meteoric task; a near impossible endeavour, in fact, that’d be better served by a wordsmith far greater than myself.

Now, by and large DeCoteau has been responsible for a fair amount of dreck, something that he himself would probably admit to too. However, for the more liberal, loon-minded cineaste- you know, those of us with a voracious appetite for hootingly good tripe, there is actually a whole lot to savour with ol’ Davey’s hokum. And, what’s more, there’s a surprising amount of artistry and craft behind it all too.

One of the standout directors of the late eighties-early nineties direct-to-video B scene, DeCoteau is certainly one of the strongest visual stylists amongst them. Unlike his contemporaries Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski who prefer a more ‘locked-off’ camera approach, DeCoteau sports a keen eye for staging and pomp-filled composition. Favouring Dutch angles and deep focus, he possesses a strong understanding of how to get a slick, richly photographed film in spite of meagre budgets, schedules and resources. Just check out the sorely undervalued car boot sale classic and discount shop favourite Legend of the Mummy 2 (or Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy as it’s also known)(1999) for the proof: bottom-end it may be, but it’s wickedly photographed, with a look falling somewhere between classic Hammer and the glossy energy of Tony Scott.

dc2It’s perhaps with the late Scott that the best comparison lies. Like Scott was, DeCoteau is a populist filmmaker. Just consider the evidence: both were/are commercially safe and both filled/fill the needs and demands of their paying audience and financiers, churning out profit-making hits in their respective fields in spite of often vicious critical lambastings. Best of all, however, is how they both managed/manage to do so whilst remaining true to their own artistic sensibilities, elevating them far beyond that of a pair of box-ticking journeymen to the status of true pulp auteur’s. Sure, their budgets may be drastically different, but it can’t be denied they’re not a million miles away from each other, especially when one considers that beach volleyball scene from Scott’s ’86 smash Top Gun…

I refer, of course, to homo-eroticism DeCoteau’s defining trope. Openly gay himself, DeCoteau has been the figurehead of the niche homo-horror sub-genre since his minor video success with Voodoo Academy back at the turn of the millennium. A thoroughly enjoyable quickie (DeCoteau shot it all in four days), Voodoo Academy is one of DeCoteau’s finest, the story of six male students at a strange Scientology-tinged Bible School being seduced into kinky black magic by the resident Reverend and house ma’am. It’s effective and surprisingly atmospheric stuff, a sort of low-key hodge-podge of Suspiria (1977), Angel Heart (1987) and a Calvin Klein boxer shorts commercial.

Retrospectively, it’s easy to see DeCoteau’s distinctive blend of histrionic horror and sculpted, shirtless young men implicitly flirting with one another as the next logical step in his filmic evolution. Reworking and inverting the playful, girl-ogling sexiness that characterised his earlier gun-for-hire T&A jobs like Beach Babes From Beyond (1994), and infusing them with the same Queer Cinema sensibility that made his experimental black and white gay art-pic Leather Jacket Love Story (1997) such a festival hit, DeCoteau has turned post-Scream teen-centric terror into a girl and gay-baiting art-form a fact his longevity can attest to. Though perhaps a little too much for some, there’s without doubt a big and demanding market for DeCoteau’s kind of chilling chintz. I mean, just look at the colossal Twilight saga – what are they if not glorified DeCoteau flicks? Angsty teens, topless hunks, supernatural shenanigans…

dc3Ultimately, I think without Dave DeCee and, say, his Brotherhood series (2001-2009), Sparklin’ Edward Cullen et al just wouldn’t have been possible. The only difference is that the six-strong Brotherhood chapters are actually pretty damn good, unlike the god-awful Twilight, and the first three (I’ve Been Watching You, Young Warlocks and Young Demons as they’re known over here) especially so. It would seem even directorial titan Martin Scorsese isn’t above lifting from him either, what with his latest DiCaprio-starring hit bearing a strikingly similar title to DeCoteau’s 2002 lycanthrope romp Wolves of Wall Street. Oh, to see the faces of the people who unexpectedly stumble across that one…

Beginning his film career as a production assistant for the legendary Roger Corman back in the eighties, DeCoteau soon found himself at the attention of another iconic B sultan, Charles Band, with his first mainstream movie proper, Dreamaniac (1986).

The impact Band has had on DeCoteau is gargantuan and it’s often under the Full Moon head honchos auspicious guidance that DeCoteau has made a vast majority of his best stuff, such as the terrific should-have-been-a-series Shrieker (1998) and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988)- his most well-known film. Indeed, a lot of DeCoteau titles I’ve already mentioned have also been Band produced, occasionally – as in the case of Legend of the Mummy 2 – uncredited. However, the real treat of their numerous and fructiferous collaborations is 1991’s Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge. For my money, it’s DeCoteau’s masterpiece.

dc4Retconning the timeline established in the first two instalments of the flagship Full Moon franchise, DeCoteau’s part III is a period-set prequel starring Mr. Sardonicus (1961) himself, Guy Rolfe. It’s Berlin 1941 and the Nazi’s- as they so often do, are unsuccessfully attempting to raise the dead for use as battlefield super-soldiers, via the experiments of the surprisingly well-meaning Dr. Hess. His superiors, the lecherous General Mueller and full-blown S.O.B. Major Kraus, are a different story however, and they take great umbrage when they learn, through Kraus’ driver and spy Lt. Stein, that master puppeteer Andre Toulon has been performing politically subversive shows with his anthropomorphic puppets. After a Kristallnacht-esque raid on his home in an attempt to grab Toulon’s secret life-giving elixir results in the death of his beloved wife Elsa, the heartbroken Toulon swears revenge and, with the help of his deadly puppets, embarks on a swath of bloody retribution against his wrongdoers.

Made whilst DeCoteau was closeted both personally and professionally, and purely because he was the only director willing to travel to the originally planned Romanian locations, Toulon’s Revenge is understandably free of his guy-candy fetishism. It’s for the best really too, as any sort of over the top eroticism would likely be out-of-place in the comic book-y series, lest of all between a gaggle of overly tactile male model types! Even without DeCoteau’s signature auteurist flourish though, Toulon’s Revenge is a far from perfunctory mercenary gig, packed as it is with his usual panache and creative bombast.

Transcending its modest budget, Toulon’s Revenge is a big-feeling picture, without doubt the most ambitious and most handsomely mounted of DeCoteau’s career. It’s part rollicking little horror programmer and part Where Eagles Dare-ish wartime adventure, just as DeCoteau and scripter C. Courtney Joyner envisioned it. This magpie, cherry picking knack is another goodie habitual to cinematica DeCoteau: his utilising of an obvious love of the movies to create interesting and often inter-textual cross-genre product. Take Creepozoids (1987) and Final Stab (2001) for example. On paper, both are nothing more than shameless rip-offs of Aliens (1986) and Scream (1996) respectively, with the latter actually going as far as to be being cheekily retitled Final Scream here in the UK. Now, I’m not going to dispute for one second that that’s not how they came about, but both transcend the usually awful ‘Rubbish Clone’ category by actually being quite inventively referential and self aware.

dc5The excellent Creepozoids, for instance, knows it’s fundamentally man-in-a-rubber-suit tosh and DeCoteau is more than willing to celebrate it, firing a whole manner of archetypal sci-fi and horror motifs at the screen with gleeful abandon: Aliens, a monster baby a la It’s Alive (1974), giant rats, an abandoned research facility, the fall of man, and a future earth thrown into ecological hell… It’s all there, delivered with a fair amount of wit too. Even better is that it’s all capped off by the, erm, ‘double delicacies’, shall we say, of Scream Queen Linnea Quigley.

The twisty-turny Final Stab meanwhile, is DeCoteau’s pleasing contemporary valentine to the golden age of slashers. It’s a wonderfully silly and loving patchwork of retro fun and sly humour, a shining minor gem vastly superior to more famous and truly chunder-some soulless Hollywood slash-arse like the Prom Night (2008) remake. In short, it’s much better than a casual glance would suggest.

Elsewhere, DeCoteau inverts the Death Wish (1974) vigilante formula with a female twist in his self-explanatory Lady Avenger- a cheap and cheerful blast of kinda-gritty action fluff from 1988. It’s an area DeCoteau would explore further with his producer only Steel & Lace (1991), a schlock hybrid of rape-and-revenge and the then blossoming DTV cyborg genre that followed in the wake of RoboCop (1987). Tailored towards what sells they both may be but, like Creepozoids and Final Stab, the glee in which they each embrace and toy with their own conventions is refreshing. Interestingly, Lady Avenger and Steel & Lace link pretty nicely thematically with Toulon’s Revenge, essentially creating a loosely connected ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ well over a decade before Park Chan-wook even began his. What? I’m just saying…

dc6In Toulon’s Revenge, perhaps the most striking moments (other than the ones of puppet carnage, natch) are those which allude to the classic Universal horror of the thirties, Frankenstein (1931) in particular. The similarities between actor Ian Abercrombie’s conflicted Dr. Hess and Colin Clive’s conflicted Victor Frankenstein are just as impossible to ignore as their shared use of stylised lab equipment.

It’s an obvious tip of the hat really, considering how Frankenstein’s director, the openly homosexual James Whale, is the progenitor of ghoulish camp. Fittingly, DeCoteau would later go on to helm his own revisionist version of the classic Mary Shelley tale, the kiddie-friendly Frankenstein Reborn! (1998), and even go as far as to cite Whale’s stupendous Bride of Frankenstein (1935) directly during a scene in 1999’s prequel to the prequel, Retro Puppet Master: “A world of God’s and monsters,” a young Toulon says, echoing the effete Dr. Pretorius.Stuart Gordon, a DeCoteau peer and fellow Band alum, and his debut film Re-Animator (1985) are another key Toulon’s Revenge touchstone.

In a fun visual quote, Toulon’s magical serum looks suspiciously like Herbert West’s glowing green re-agent from the similarly Frankenstein-like saga; who knows what kind of Freddy vs Jason franchise hopping this could’ve yielded too, had Re-Animator just kept the original H.P. Lovecraft stories thirties setting! The DeCoteau-Gordon back and forth doesn’t stop there, however. Exchanging the weird creepiness of William Hickey’s portrayal in the original Puppet Master (1989) for a more human and pathos laden take, the then seventy-nine year old Rolfe gives an excellent dramatic performance as the definitive incarnation of Toulon. It’s a turn cut from the same genial horror hero cloth as his part in an earlier Charles Band exec produced killer toys flick, Dolls (1986), directed by (you’ve guessed it) Stuart Gordon. Rolfe would return to the Toulon role three more times (or four if you count his archival footage appearance in the duff part eight, Puppet Master: The Legacy) before his death in 2003.

dc7Weirdly, and as if to confound even more the already incestuous nature of the eras B movie scene, Brit actress Sarah Douglas- best known as the villainous Kryptonian Ursa in Superman I and II (1978/80)- would later go on to star in Re-Animator and Dolls producer Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). Unlike her part as the angelic Elsa in Toulon’s Revenge, Return finds Douglas as the driven military head of a scientific programme planning to raise the dead for use as battlefield super-soldiers. Just like Mueller, Kraus and Hess. It’s a convoluted web, no? Even more so when you think that Return’s producer, Gary Schmoeller, is the brother of David Schmoeller, the director of the first Puppet Master. Good Lord…

Ironically, just as Toulon’s Revenge stands as DeCoteau’s best, two of his subsequent entries in the series are amongst his worst: 1998’s Curse of the Puppet Master and the aforementioned Retro Puppet Master. Whilst bad scripting and a general air of rushed tackiness are forgivable, that both movies are so painfully dull is not; DeCoteau land is many things, but it’s never boring. It’s a shame too as Curse in particular boasts one of the most nifty but wasted premises of DeCoteau’s filmography; a Tod Browning-tinged tale of a madman attempting to turn one of DeCoteau’s beloved twinks into a human puppet. Thankfully, DeCoteau atoned somewhat with Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010), an interesting, amusing and again World War II-set Toulon’s Revenge companion piece.

Though the old rental medium that allowed someone like DeCoteau to flourish in the first place is now a thing of the past, it’s lovely to see that he remains as productive and as enterprising as ever. By embracing the online streaming platform, DeCoteau and his production company Rapid Heart have certainly proved themselves still relevant in the home entertainment arena, just as his recent 1313 brand shows.

Sure, the films may now be of noticeably lower quality than his giddy heyday (a truly horrifying thought if you’re one of the man’s detractors), but any filmmaker who still manages to regularly belt out gloriously goofy gay-tickling pap like Giant Killer Bees! (2010) and Hercules Unbound! (2012) deserves to be celebrated if you ask me. I mean, the MILF-tastic 1313: Cougar Cult (2012) alone is enough to warrant a look for the B curious, reuniting Quigley with fellow schlock sex sirens Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer, some twenty-four years after their last team up in DeCoteau’s Nightmare Sisters.

dc8A look around your local Tesco’s entertainment aisle will tell you Big Dave is as vital as ever too. Just last week a new DeCoteau joint, Bonnie & Clyde: Justified (2013), stormed into their charts top ten, whilst his endearingly naff Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft (2013) has been one of their bargain zone mainstays since its release back in March last year.

What with that and companies like 88 Films pushing his back catalogue out into the market again, there really is no better time to immerse oneself in DeCoteau’s stuff. You’d do well to give it a go. I think you’d just might like it.

********************************************************
For more ramblings, follow Matty on twitter @mattybudrewicz

 

 

 

 

The Pit and The Pendulum (1991) BluRay Review

pit1THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM – 1991

Dir: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Lance Henrikson, Rona De Ricci, Jonathan Fuller, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles, Oliver Reed.

88 Films

Blu-Ray

There is much talk these days of the death of physical media such as DVD and Blu-Ray. With broadband getting faster and better all the time, and services such as Netflix and Lovefilm offering the average film fan everything at the touch of a button, it is easy to buy into the idea that everything is moving out into ‘the cloud’ as it were. However, there are still plenty of folk out there that prefer their films to come well presented, in cool packaging and with that little bit extra that online entertainment simply can’t provide. 88 Films with their motto “Classic movies treated with respect” are more than willing to step up and offer real fans that little bit more. Like the people over at Arrow their goal seems to be to source and provide us horror and exploitation fans the best possible releases of films that have long been neglected and resigned to bottom shelf VHS releases in the past. In fact, despite the market leaning towards online sales, it has developed into a bit of a golden era for lovers of the obscure, exploitative, and the grotesque.

The Pit and The Pendulum is a loose adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name. Poe’s story was a simple one, tracing one man’s tortuous ordeal with The Inquisition and his date with the titular pit and pendulum. Like a lot of Poe’s stories it delves into the deepening internal madness of his main character, meaning it is open to interpretation where film adaptations are concerned. Somewhat sacrilegiously I have never seen the Roger Corman version, but Stuart Gordon’s movie expands the story and develops elements surrounding The Inquisition, adds characters and a lot more blood-letting. The film follows a young innocent, God-fearing couple (Fuller and De Ricci) who fall foul of the brutal Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Henrikson). The couple find themselves at the mercy of The Inquisition as Torquemada battles with his own attraction to his beautiful young captive.

pit2The Pit and The Pendulum is a strange beast that never seems quite sure what it wants to be. Coming as it does from Charles Band’s Full Moon productions and directed by Stuart Gordon it is sometimes an uneven mix of the outright horrific, ill-advised humour, old-fashioned swashbuckling and strange romanticism. At its best the film is truly horrifying, offering up some of the grittiest and most disturbing examples of medieval torture and punishment ever filmed.

To make this all the more chilling Lance Henrikson gives one of his career best performances as the vile, insidious Torquemada. A character of such vicious conviction, with confused and repressed emotion always threatening to boil to the surface, he gives the film a sense of violent dread whenever he is on-screen. Sadly the film insists on shying away from this too often and attempts to lighten the tone with scenes of humour and heroism that only undermine the tension and terror. This is a real shame because for around half its running time The Pit and the Pendulum is a fantastic horror movie; for the other half it’s a confused adventure film that feels like it belongs somewhere else. However, this is still a very entertaining movie that ranks as one of Gordon’s better efforts and looks a lot more than its low-budget origins would suggest. And it’s never bad to see so many genre favourites such as Henrikson, Jeffrey Combs and Tom Towles all in one film, not to mention a cracking cameo from the late, great Oliver Reed.

88 Films have put together a decent package here with quite a bit for fans to dig in too. The Blu-Ray transfer is decent, not mind-blowing, but good enough to justify the purchase. As for the extras an interview with Gordon is full of great anecdotes and insight, and it was interesting to find that the film was originally intended as a much bigger budget affair to be shot in England with Peter O’Toole as Torquemada.

pit3But the real jewel here is the full length ‘Videozone’ from Full Moon. It’s a fun, nostalgic trip back to the days of VHS video rental, and when you had to join fan clubs by post! It includes behind the scenes stuff from The Pit and the Pendulum, interviews with Henrikson and other members of the cast as well as promo materials from other Full Moon releases of the time. It’s a great little extra that took me back to my childhood and the hours I spent looking for films I wasn’t supposed to see in the 321 video shop. Like most of them now, that particular video shop has long been a pizza takeaway. But the fond memories of a time when these films lurked in the corners and the bottom shelves of the local rental shop still remain.

FILM: 7/10

PACKAGE: 8/10

 

 

 

 

 

Empire of The B’s: The Mad Movie World of Charles Band by Dave Jay – Book Review

CB 001EMPIRE OF THE B’s: THE MAD MOVIE WORLD OF CHARLES BAND

Author: Dave Jay

UK RRP: £21.95

Pages: 377

Publisher: Hemlock Film

Charles Band – the 62 year old mogul with a 40 year career in the movies has managed to attain iconic status within the niche area of low budget genre filmmaking, yet outside of that circle – particularly in somewhere like the United Kingdom, he is barely known. Indeed, a straw poll in my little world of the movie rental store yielded further proof of that assertion, even amongst the more leftfield film fans. However, a quick walk to the 100+ strong section which carries his films soon gives way to child-like realisation from those people with cries of “He made Ghoulies?!… Trancers!… Re-Animator!… Galactic Gigolo!”. Ok, I maybe exaggerated the last one, but fact of the matter is everyone knows his films but few people know the man.

One person who has had an impressive level of access to Charlie is the British author Dave Jay, who over the last ten years or so alongside collaborators Torsten Dewi and Nathan Shumate has worked relentlessly to create Empire of the B’s. To fit all of Charlie’s career into one book soon became a logistical impossibility (he’s produced over 260 films) for Jay and his colleagues, so it was decided to focus on the start of his career before then moving on to perhaps his most well regarded period of creativity – Empire Pictures.

The book begins with a great introduction from Stuart Gordon (Dolls, Re-Animator) who tells of meeting Charlie for the first time and being a little daunted by this young guy who when eavesdropping could only be heard to be speaking in Italian, yet when finally meeting him became instantly intoxicated by his enthusiasm and charisma. This is followed by a further introduction from Dave Jay who sets out the path the book will take, as well as underlining some key aspects about Charles Band such as how much of a pioneer he was (and still is) as well as the crazy way his movies were green-lit – “here’s the poster, now go make the film”.

CB 002Chapter one deals with Charles Band Productions covering the period 1975-1983 which details Band’s sharp learning curve as well as the situations that gave him the determination to set up his own company. Jay manages to extract from Charlie an impressive level of honesty as he admits his naivety during this period along with questioning the quality of some of his own work. Even so, these eight years still produced a number of cool films like Laserblast (1977) which critic Leonard Maltin awarded 2.5 stars – the same as that year’s Oscar winner Amadeus! There was also the excellent Tourist Trap (1978), The Alchemist (1981) in which the late Robert Ginty suggests “they’d have been better off burning it than releasing it” and also Parasite (1983) which featured a young Demi Moore. Each of Band’s films here is given a couple of pages of in-depth analysis along with rare production stills and an incredible amount of trivia which for some of the titles is staggering due to their rarity. Added to this we have interviews interspersed between the films with some notable Band collaborators who offer some great insight into Charlie’s working practices.

As we progress to chapter two we find the bulk of the work as its devoted entirely to the fabled Empire Pictures. Taking in the years 1984 – 1989 it oversees the lifecycle of this ambitious company, their move to Rome and purchase of the legendary Dinocitta studios, their production of 48 films (Band frequently states “2000 films by the year 2000”) as well as their decline and eventual collapse. The early years of Empire were full of ambition and reading the book you find yourself wincing at the lack of measured and sensible decision making. That said though it’s impossible not to punch the air with a “Go Charlie!” as you learn about Ghoulies (1985) and its cinema success through to the company ending failure of Robot Jox (1989) which was Empire’s biggest investment. Despite knowing what happened to Empire by ’89 and seeing all the warning signs laid out, it’s so difficult not to be caught up of Charlie’s wave of irrepressible enthusiasm.

CB 003The scale of this chapter I found to be quite daunting, especially considering the number of films involved and at times the sheer mediocrity that was produced, but credit to the author though as it is kept tightly edited and packed with fascinating stories. Take Transmutations (1985), coming from a Clive Barker screenplay the writer bemoaned the fact that the finished picture only retained seven lines from his original script! Jay also manages to dig up a review of the film by none other than Neil Gaiman, and offers excellent analysis of the film himself. There’s a great section on the criminally underrated Troll (1985), “the quintessential Band flick of the 80s” which revolved around a boy called Harry Potter fighting off denizens of a magical world under the tutelage of a white witch. Ring a bell? While this chapter is a perfect introduction to the uninitiated, it also offers plenty for the hardcore Band fans such as a running joke on the justifiably awful Tim Kincaid films, as well as the funniest line in the book from Jay when discussing David DeCoteau’s longevity with the company. After a screening of Dreamaniac (1986) Charlie held up ten fingers and shouted “10 picture deal!” – “its nine more fingers that I would have been flipping at DeCoteau after suffering through this ham-fisted fiasco” writes Jay. After watching all six Brotherhood movies, I’m inclined to agree with the author.

The end of Empire is easy to predict with hindsight, and as you read through the films of 1988 with things gradually beginning to unravel it comes as no surprise to see its collapse. Credit to Charlie though, he certainly doesn’t go out with a whimper, with the stop-motion spectacular Robot Jox (1989) being the company’s most expensive film and featuring some jaw-dropping work from the late great David Allen. Following on from the end of Empire, the book takes a look the company’s unproduced work with the aid of the brilliant Jeff Burr and takes The Vault as an example of a project that didn’t see the light of day despite having all the pawns in place. Chapter four meanwhile is an insightful look at Wizard Video by John Klyza. The company ran from 1981-1987 and John begins with the vitally important notion that Charles Band ushered in an era in home entertainment that was way ahead of its time. He anticipated a cult market that today has been fully embraced by labels such as Arrow Video and Scream Factory, with Blue Underground before them. It’s a relatively short piece, but still manages to encapsulate the importance of the label, the titles it sought to acquire (often the exact opposite of what Charlie would make himself) and also the eventual decline. The book ends with a brilliant afterword from the screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner who manages in barely a couple of hundred words to ‘get’ Charles Band, and as Dave Jay concludes “it offers a better closure to the book that I could ever hope to provide”.

CB 004I must admit I approached Empire of the B’s with a fair degree of caution. I’ve been a Charles Band fanatic for over twenty years and have noted frequently not only the lack of information on Band but also just how hard some of the films are to track down. Many of the Empire Pictures films are yet to make it to DVD never mind blu-ray so the challenge of the task in hand to me seemed fraught with complications and dead ends. Over a period of ten years though, Dave Jay and his co-authors have somehow managed to compile a meticulously detailed encyclopaedic tome of 14 years of Charles Band films. By speaking to Charlie himself as well as numerous key players in the Empire days, Jay creates a vivid picture of a pioneer at work in his prime.

There’s been a misguided opinion circling for years that’s often questioned the ethics of Charles Band as well as his reputation, so in turn I expected this ‘warts and all’ account to feature a litany of former collaborators with less than complimentary recollections. Granted there are a couple, but where this book really succeeds is in its portrayal of someone with boundless enthusiasm, passion and charisma who seems well respected by his former colleagues yet for some reason isn’t afforded anywhere near the respect and plaudits that his achievements deserve. Dave Jay’s book goes some way in correcting that, and by doing so puts the spotlight on one of the most prolific producers of our time.

9 out of 10

You can purchase the book HERE from Hemlock Books

From Beyond (1986) BluRay Review

 

frombeyondFrom Beyond 1986

Dir. Stuart Gordon – Prod. Brian Yuzna  – 86 Minutes  – 18 Cert  –  Region 2

From Beyond is the 1986 release Directed by Stuart Gordon and Produced by Brian Yuzna. Based on the short story by H P Lovecraft it stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton who are re-united from Gordon’s previous film , another Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator.

The story is that Dr Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) , who is a sexual deviant and a genius is attempting to discover the secrets of the pineal gland (or third eye). He creates a resonator and opens a world of horror which initially kills him and leaves his student Crawford Tillinghast (Combs) incarcerated in a metal institution .

Dr Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) is a pioneering psychiatrist and decides to return Tillinghast to the scene of the experiment so she can study him as he re-creates the experiment. And then all hell breaks loose in a wonderful adaptation.

This is now being released in the UK courtesy of Second Sight Films in a wonderful BluRay presentation. The colours are stark and vivid and look really fresh here and wonderfully lavish.

But what makes this release so fantastic are the stunning extras featured here. It is chock full of interviews with Gordon , Crampton and Dennis Paoli (screenplay). Also full commentary from Gordon, Yuzna & Combs as well as a great FX piece and much more.

 

frombeyond2BONUS FEATURES:
Stuart Gordon on From Beyond
Gothic Adaptation – an interview with writer Dennis Paoli
The Doctor is in – an interview with Barbara Crampton
Monsters & Slime – the FX of From Beyond
Director’s perspective
The Editing Room – Lost and Found
Interview with composer
Commentary with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and Jeffrey Combs
Photo montage
Storyboard to film comparison

Includes English subtitles for hard of hearing.

A fantastic release and really if you have any interest in From Beyond then buy this and you will not be disappointed. Second Sight are putting many classic releases out this year and are definitely a company that are dedicated in putting out quality releases.

The BluRay is released on February 25th from all good stockists.

You can also visit Second Sight Films at http://www.secondsightfilms.co.uk or at their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/SecondSightFilmssecond sight