Sunday, July 31, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 305

The Date: July 31

The Movie: Kill, Baby, Kill (1965)

What Is It?: In an 18th century Carpathian village, a doctor investigates the death of a woman who leaped from a ledge onto a spiked fence. Suicide? Not exactly. The mystery deepens as a giggling, sallow-eyed girl appears whenever a villager is compelled to take his or her own life. The horror heightens as director Mario Bava piles on the startling images: creepy dolls, a swing-set mounted camera swooping over a graveyard, an op-art staircase,and a bounty of cobwebs, crypts, and corpses. There’s also a good witch and a living, breathing dead ringer for the grimacing corpse from Black Sabbath.

Why Today?: On this day in 1914, Mario Bava is born.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 304

The Date: July 30
The Movie: Thief of Bagdad (1924)
What Is It?: Raoul Walsh’s fantasy is one of the most dazzling and exciting products of the silent era. Douglas Fairbanks swash buckles his way across sumptuous sets and tools around on a flying carpet and a Pegasus. Everyone wears the most gorgeous costumes you’ve ever seen and the celestial special effects are the stuff dreams are made of.
Why Today?: On this day in 762, Baghdad is founded.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Farewell, Jack Davis

Sad news in the comics world today, as we lost the man who was quite possibly the greatest comics artist who ever lived, quite likely the greatest artist in E.C.'s classic horror comics staff, and quite certainly the last surviving artist on that staff. Jack Davis brought a delightfully gross twist of humor to his unmistakable illustrations, which would also serve him well when controversial titles such as Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear folded and he moved along to MAD Magazine. His character-crowded movie posters for flicks such as BananasIt’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; and American Graffiti were just as immediately identifiable as his work. And with all due respect to that puppet, Davis's Crypt Keeper remains the definitive one as far as I'm concerned. 
Jack Davis died following a stroke at age 91. I'd like to think that he'd appreciate my wish for him to crawl from the grave covered in muck and ooze and draw one last gleefully grisly comic for us.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 303

The Date: July 29

The Movie: Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

What Is It?: Meditative cult drama about a phony medium who makes her husband kidnap a kid so she can prove her “abilities” by helping the cops solve the case. Gerry Turpin’s B&W photography captures the moody atmosphere exquisitely.

Why Today?: Today is Rain Day, and lo and behold, it is raining today (at least it is where I live).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: 'Zelig' Blu-Ray

Woody Allen’s “funny” films often blossomed from a broad concept. He might parody Tolstoy (Love and Death), sci-fi (Sleeper), or convict documentaries (Take the Money and Run) and find many avenues of humor to travel from those central destinations. Occasionally, his concepts feel a bit more like gimmicks, such as the intentionally badly dubbed spy-movie What’s Up, Tiger Lily? or the weightless musical Everyone Says I Love You. Zelig falls somewhere in the middle ground between brilliant parody and gimmick flick.

Its concept—Woody plays a guy who physically and philosophically takes on the characteristics of the people surrounding him while having no true identity or ideology of his own—is definitely gimmicky, and the film is not nearly as funny as Love and Death, Sleeper, or Take the Money and Run (its funniest scenes find Zelig believing himself to be the doctor during psychoanalytic sessions), but Allen does find more to work with than he did with his other gimmick pictures. His attack on conformity and the way a lack of ideals can abet the rise of fascism ensures his film is no ideology-deprived Leonard Zelig, though the neat trick of transforming his features in make up and placing him in historical photographs ultimately devolves into a repetitive device that carries too much of the picture. Things also get dicey when he starts morphing into a black jazz musician, a feather-capped Native American, a robed Asian, and a Mexican in a mariachi band. Fortunately, he cannot transform into a woman. Whether or not he can transform into a chicken is left unanswered.

As is often the case in Allen’s eighties films, it’s up to Mia Farrow to infuse the film with some heart, and she does so as a psychologist determined to find the man inside the chameleon. Of course, she ends up falling in love with him, which is almost as confounding as the real Farrow falling in love with the real Allen. Conforming with both romantic comedy clichés and Woody Allen-movie clichés, I guess there is a little bit of Zelig in Zelig, after all.

Zelig presents a particular challenge in terms of high-definition presentation as it is a mixed bag of scratchy "vintage" stock and "contemporary" color footage. The vintage footage that dominates the movie is deliberately aged with scratches, blemishes, and off-focus photography, so it is not the best test of presentation. The color footage looks good, although white speckles appear throughout. The heavy grain of these shots is very much in keeping with the Allen aesthetic. Bonus content is limited to an isolated score/effects track and a trailer. Get it on Screen Archives here.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 302

The Date: July 28

The Movie: Batman & Robin (1997)

What Is It?: Hush, foolish critics! Stop preventing curious batfans from seeing the Showgirls of superhero movies! From the opening shots that zoom in on Batman and Robin’s dicks and butts to the idiotic sequence in which they skate from outer space down to Earth on conveniently located debris to Mr. Freeze’s non-stop spew of phrases from the “cold” chapter of the Big Book of Boring Cliches to Uma Thurman’s full-force portrayal of Poison Ivy to her bizarrely offhand “death” scene to that shot of Alfred gagging to the trapped-in-a-Christmas-Tree aesthetic, this movie is terribly fun and fun in its terrible-ness. Of all the nineties Batman films, this is the one that most disdains the modern yen for darkness-for-the-sake-of-darkness and almost recaptures the camp glory of the sixties TV series. No, it is not nearly as good as West and Ward’s adventures, but it’s never boring, and unlike Halle Berry’s just plain bad Catwoman, Batman & Robin truly is so bad it’s good.

Why Today?: On this day in 1915, 1950s Batmobile designer Dick Sprang is born with the greatest name in the history of non-porn-star boner names.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review: 'Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks' (New Edition)

Prince’s genius made him the most exciting and original artist of the eighties, but his mystique is what made him such a fascinating star. In his 2011 biography, Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks, Ronin Ro struck the right balance by giving readers enough information to lead us through the timeline of Prince’s life without removing the mask completely. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by the author. Perhaps Ro simply couldn’t crack that deliberately veiled persona, leaving quite a bit of Prince’s behavior—particularly during his apparently one-sided war with Warner Brothers during his Love Symbol/Slave phase or when he skipped out on the U.S.A. for Africa recording session to go to a Mexican restaurant—seeming random and impulsive. The author sprints through the artist’s early life. By page eleven, Prince has already quit his first band and is prepping his solo career. That may be frustrating for some readers, but fans who understand what a private person Prince was will appreciate the distance.

Yet, Inside the Music and the Masks isn’t at all unsatisfying, offering the broad strokes of Prince’s career peppered with enough odd anecdotes to make the trip as fun as a ride on the back of that purple Prince cycle. We learn of his friendly rivalry with Michael Jackson that climaxed with the Purple One bonking the Prince of Pop in the nuts with a ping-pong ball. We learn of Prince’s calamitous impromptu appearance on stage with Jackson and James Brown and his hilarious mockery of Bruce Springsteen during a shared performance. Less humorously, we learn that Prince had suffered an overdose on drink and pills (aspirin,of all things) as long ago as 1996, though the author typically offers no real insight into what exactly went wrong. In the wake of Prince’s death, this will be something a lot of readers need.

The latest edition of Inside the Music and the Masks adds a new afterword to address the end of Prince’s career, but this new chapter is even more fast-paced than the rest of the book. Ro covers the last six years of Prince’s life in as many pages, focusing more on the negative media reaction to the artist’s death than on how or why it happened. This new chapter offers a bit of a skewed version of the aftermath of April’s tragic events. I read quite a bit about Prince’s death, and the majority of it was respectful and not overly speculative. I certainly hadn’t read any of the rumors that he had been dying of AIDS or that he’d been reduced to a “pauper” that Ro read. I’m sure such crackpot theories are out there, but by mainly focusing on the rumors, Ro gives the impression that such theories were in the majority. Consequently, the tone of his afterword is much more bitter than the evenhanded book he’d published five years ago, reserving sharp words for fans and journalists alike. A new introductory chapter is similarly off-putting as Ro chides those who criticized the first edition of his book, mocks Prince’s fashion sense, crows about how the fact that he isn’t a big Prince fan makes him a worthy biographer, and really tests his readers’ gag reflexes by signing off as “Hardcore King.” Readers who purchase the latest edition of Inside the Music and the Masks would do well to skip the arrogant and unnecessary introductory chapter and manage their expectations when reading the new final one. Otherwise, Ronin Ro’s book is still a very, very good Prince biography.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 301

The Date: July 27
The Movie: The Song Remains the Same (1976)
What Is It?: Led Zeppelin’s concert film is packaged in all the pretentiousness and bloat one could hope for from one of the most over-the-top Rock & Roll bands of the seventies. The guys reveal themselves in their absurd fantasy sequences. Jimmy Page scales a mountain to retrieve a mystical sword. John Paul Jones attends a lavish, medieval banquet. Robert Plant swash buckles to rescue a damsel in distress. And John Bonham? Well, he races cars. The musical performances are actually much better than the film’s rep suggests, and I for one love all seventeen hours of “Dazed and Confused”. However, Bonham’s track skills are the only thing that might prevent you from fast-forwarding through his year-long drum solo.
Why Today?: On this day in 1973, the filming begins.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 300

The Date: July 26

The Movie: Do the Right Thing (1989)

What Is It?: On the hottest day of the year, racial tensions in Bed-Stuy boil through the thermostat. Spike Lee bravely refuses to offer pat answers to serious questions about the right thing to do in the face of gross injustice and he never flinches from showing the ugly face behind the mask of “racial tolerance.” He’s also great as our hero Mookie, but the most uncomfortably convincing performance comes from Danny Aiello, who has admitted to being more like his character than you might want to believe.

Why Today?: According to the New York Times, this was the hottest day of 1989 to date.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: 3 Vinyl Reissues from R.E.M.

R.E.M. made some of the very best albums of the eighties, but they were also a fabulous singles band in a decade when gimmicky one-hit wonders often dominated radio and MTV. The totally organic jangle of “Talk About the Passion”, “Fall on Me”, “Driver 8”, and “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” provided a nice contrast (some may say “antidote”) to all of the new romantics, hair bands, and MOR popsters. R.E.M. didn’t just make the most of their short-players to put forth their top-shelf material; they also took advantage of the B-sides to slip out their quirkiest ideas. On the flipside of the brooding “So. Central Rain” you’d find a shambling version of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”. Behind the topical “Fall on Me” is the jazzy noodling of “Rotary Ten”. Under the cape of “Superman” is the surf-movie rush “White Tornado”. On the other side of “Can’t Get There from Here” is the wacko heavy metal pastiche “Burning Hell”. These B’s weren’t all goofs either. The original flips “Ages of You” and “Burning Down” are even more top-shelf than the A-side they support (“Wendell Gee”). The version of “Crazy” that supports “Driver 8” is even better than Pylon’s original, and dare I say, R.E.M.’s breathless, totally sincere, totally killer, totally unexpected cover of “Toys in the Attic” slays Aerosmith’s original. I dared.

A new trio of vinyl reissues showcases all sides of eighties-R.E.M. nicely. Representing their 45 A-sides is the marvelous 1988 compilation Eponymous, a must-have even if you already own all of the albums because of its superior versions of “Radio Free Europe” and “Gardening at Night” and the really good “Romance”, a song much more enduring than the movie for which it was recorded (has anyone actually seen Made in Heaven?). The B-sides are collected on Dead Letter Office, which may not be the most essential R.E.M. album but does contain a lot of essential tracks as described above. Finally, R.E.M.’s long-playing prowess is present on the classic Life’s Rich Pageant, which does double-duty by filling out the R.E.M.-on-45 story with the inclusion of the band’s elating cover of The Clique’s “Superman”, an A-side that was not included on Eponymous for some reason.

The vinyl is standard thickness, which means it isn’t top-of-the-line quality but authentic to the way I.R.S. Records originally issued R.E.M.’s albums (for whatever that’s worth). A bonus of Chronic Town would have been a great supplement to Dead Letter Office since R.E.M.’s debut E.P. is appended to the CD release of Dead Letter Office and quite possibly the best thing they ever did. Lack of mastering details suggests that digital masters were used for these reissues, but they still sound excellent when compared with the original I.R.S. release of Document (the only R.E.M. record I had on hand for comparison purposes). Compared to their original CD equivalents, Life’s Rich Pageant is less muddy and Eponymous and Dead Letter Office are both considerably warmer (the bass solo at the end of Finest Work Songis shockingly present), so there are sonic improvements from CD to vinyl all around.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 299

The Date: July 25

The Movie: Parents (1989)

What Is It?: A brilliant fusion of period piece (take note of the family’s last name, Laemmle, and recall the return of Universal’s classic monster movies to late-night T.V. in the fifties), surrealism, and live-action comic book. Parents also motors on a frightening concept: the creeping realization that one's parents are actually monsters. Bob Balaban uses this concept as a metaphor for the sexual secrets parents withhold from their kids and the culture of gluttonous consumerism and consumption born in the fifties.

Why Today?: Today is Parent’s Day.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 298

The Date: July 24

The Movie: Batman (1966)

What Is It?: Forget your mumbly, grumbly, brooding, twenty-first century Dark Knights. The real Batman would prefer that you drink your milk, help old ladies cross the street, and pack plenty of shark repellent spray whenever you go swimming. The feature-length spin off of Bill Dozier’s pop-art spoof TV series is like a glorious four-part episode with four times the usual villainy. Joker! Penguin! Riddler! Catwoman! Too bad Julie Newmar couldn’t make the party, since she’s the most purrfect Catwoman and Bat-villain, but Lee Meriwether does do a smashing job in the cat suit.

Why Today?: D.C. Comics declared today Batman Day.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 297

The Date: July 23

The Movie: The Mummy (1959)

What Is It?: This is not one of Jimmy Sangster’s cleverest scripts, but Christopher Lee gets to upstage costar Peter Cushing for the first time. Spending much of the movie wrapped in dirty bandages, his face caked in Egyptian mud, Lee is still more sympathetic as lovelorn Kharis than he was in his earlier monster roles. He also gets some quality face time and dialogue during a lavish, 13-minute sequence reimagining the mummification scene from the original Mummy, though without reaching similar heights of claustrophobia-inducing terror and all of the brown-face makeup the white actors play while impersonating Egyptians is pretty off-putting. The greatest triumph of The Mummy is that of director Terence Fisher, cinematographer Jack Asher, and their brilliant art department. The team’s use of colored lights, painted backdrops, spectacular costumes and props, and sets cluttered with detail make the whole picture look like a canvass thick with rich oils.

Why Today?: On this day in 1952, the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 begins.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: 'The Turtles: All the Singles'

The Turtles’ albums were good enough that it’s more than a little dismissive to stripe them as nothing but a singles band, but the band really did have a unique life on 45. It was not just a medium for them to rack up hits with the likes of “Happy Together”, “You Baby”, “She’d Rather Be With Me”, “Elenore”, and “You Showed Me”. It also allowed them to totally unfurl their freak flags as they took advantage of the B-sides to get really weird with things like the jungle movie tone poem “Umbassa the Dragon”, the asininely crooned “Rugs of Woods and Flowers”, and “Can’t You Hear the Cows?” Some of their less bizarre flips—“Chicken Little Was Right”, “Almost There”, “Come Over”—were every bit as good as the hits.

Since a lot of these songs did not appear on the LPs, a collection like The Turtles: All the Singles is necessary. Remember that some of The Turtles’ very best A-sides, such as the seething and jangling “Outside Chance”, the eerie and seductive “She’s My Girl”, and the unbelievably lovely “Lady-O”, weren’t on LPs. Sure, these songs appear on any “Greatest Hits” package worth its salt, but such collections won’t contain those bizarre flip-sides or such delectable oddities as the holiday single “Christmas Is My Time of Year” (covered by the reunited Monkees in 1976), the posthumous single “Why Would You Ever Think That I Would Marry Margaret?”, or a wealth of Turtle Soup tracks in mono. Plus, the liner notes with ample comments from the band are fab.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 296

The Date: July 22

The Movie: The Old Dark House (1932)

What Is It?: Possibly the first horror/comedy to play to a more sophisticated audience than sillier old dark house pictures such as The Cat and the Canary and The Bat Whispers. American Lilian Bond is particularly hilarious as Charles Laughton’s hot footed, flapper gal pal Gladys. James Whale’s The Old Dark House is not merely good for a laugh; in one absolutely chilling sequence, Eva Moore’s haggard face is reflected in various surfaces, growing more and more distorted as she rants at negligee-clad Gloria Stuart. The reveal of Moore and Ernest Thesiger’s insane 102-year old brother, played by actress Elspeth Dudgeon, is just as unsettling.

Why Today?: On this day in 1889, James Whale is born.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 295

The Date: July 21

The Movie: The Stuff (1985)

What Is It?: Tasty white gunk called The Stuff is the latest culinary craze. Corporations dispatch spies to learn the recipe. Families stockpile containers of it. Swimsuit models hawk it in neon-lit T.V. commercials. The only problem is The Stuff is a sentient monster: part Blob, part body snatcher. Writer/director/genius Larry Cohen takes on corporate immorality, our junk food-addicted culture, advertising, and the military. His satirical script is funny and clever and gives Michael Moriarty lots of great things to say (“No one is as dumb as I appear to be”).

Why Today?: Today is Junk Food Day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 294

The Date: July 20

The Movie: A Trip to the Moon (1902)

What Is It?: Georges Méliès’s magic trick bag is bottomless in one of the first and most timeless explosions of cinematic special effects. There is not a frame of this tale of wizard scientists who crash into the moon’s eye and meet all manner of weird creatures that isn’t enchanting and iconic.

Why Today?: On this day in 1969, people land on the moon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 293

The Date: July 19

The Movie: Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves (1937)

What Is It?: A short one today, but a stunning piece of animation from the Brothers Fleischer. They use their patented multiplane camera set up to create a 3-D effect that does not require those goofy (yet groovy) blue-red lenses. And Popeye is hilarious, always mumbling something bizarre under his breath.

Why Today?: On this day in 1883, producer Max Fleischer is born.

Monday, July 18, 2016

10 Reasons Marvel’s ‘Star Wars’ Comic Is The Most

A long time ago, right in the galaxy that you and I babble and drool in every day, there were no prequels. There were no CGI animated cartoons. There was no J.J. Abrams (at least not one who made movies or possibly even had gotten his first zit yet). There was no Timothy Zahn, no “Ewok Adventures”, “Droids” cartoons, or even a Return of the Jedi, Empire Strikes Back, or Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Way back in 1977, there were only two ways you were going to get “Star Wars” stories: by seeing the movie or by reading Marvel’s brand-new line of Star Wars comics.

It all started on April 12, 1977, with writer Roy Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin’s faithful six-issue adaptation of the first film. The successful comic was not going to end there, though, and since George Lucas’s proper sequel was still more than two years away, Marvel’s writers had to get a bit creative with the “Star Warriors,” as they christened Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and C-3PO (interestingly, without any muscle to throw around or vocabulary, the ever-popular R2-D2 was very rarely given much to do in the comics’ ten-year run). Before Star Geeks debated endlessly and exasperatingly about what was and wasn’t “canon,” these illustrated adventures could get pretty daffy, but that was a big part of the fun. At times, Marvel’s Star Wars comics could even be genuinely thoughtful and dramatic. Fans who don’t take a trio of children’s films about wookiees and jawas too seriously will find plenty of reasons to agree that those old Marvel comics were the most. Here are ten of them.

1. Deleted Scenes

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 292

The Date: July 18

The Movie: Robocop (1987)

What Is It?: Paul Verhoeven’s satire imagines a future in which the police department is privatized and a dead cop gets a second lease on his law enforcement life with the help of a freshly minted robot body. This movie has it all: pointed criticisms of capitalism, a bunch of future “Twin Peaks” stars, and a recurring gag in which everyone watches an idiotic, “Benny Hill”-esque TV show with the classic capitalist catch-phrase “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

Why Today?: On this day in 1938, Paul Verhoeven is born.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 291

The Date: July 17

The Movie: The Seventh Seal (1957)

What Is It?: During the black plague, the knight Antonius (Max von Sydow) sits down to a game of chess against Death with his life at stake. Ingmar Bergman never gets so bogged down in existential philosophizing that he doesn’t take the time to construct sympathetic, interesting, and eccentric characters. The cinematography, emphasizing desolately grey skies and a roiling, foreboding sea, is as rich and haunting as the constantly looming specter of Death is both sinister and oddly soothing.

Why Today?: Today is 7/17. That’s plenty of sevens.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 290

The Date: July 16

The Movie: Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

What Is It?: The idea that a nation would annihilate another, guaranteeing itself annihilation, is so monumentally moronic that it is hard to believe anyone would conceive of such a thing in the first place. The total absurdity of all this hit Stanley Kubrick with a massive wallop while he was trying to decide how to adapt Peter George’s novel Red Alert for the screen. Not only did Kubrick decide to adapt it as a comedy, but he decided to make it one as over-the-top as a Three Stooges short. However, the themes and agenda are so immensely dark (and the finale so exhilaratingly nihilistic) that Dr. Strangelove is almost as much of a horror movie as it is a comedy.

Why Today?: On this day in 1945, the first atomic bomb test takes place.

Friday, July 15, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 289

The Date: July 15

The Movie: Blazing Saddles (1974)

What Is It?: Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor barbecue racism, and transform Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, and Alex Karras into Western heroes for the seventies, but what does everyone remember most fondly? A bunch of cowboys eating beans and farting. I think you boys have had enough.

Why Today?: On this day in 1935, Alex Karras is born.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 288

The Date: July 14

The Movie: Open Water (2003)

What Is It?: A couple of workaholic yuppies take a scuba-diving trip to relax and reconnect. Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis don’t find much relaxation but are forced to communicate in the most primal manner when they’re stranded in shark-ridden waters miles from the shore. Like The Blair Witch Project, Open Water derives its terror from starkness and verisimilitude but without the “found footage” conceit. And whereas Blair Witch depicts nature as almost predatory, Susan and Daniel are the intruders in Open Water. While venturing in a place humans are not meant to be, they are left to suffer the consequences of their lighthearted trespass.

Why Today?: Today is Shark Awareness Day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 287

The Date: July 13

The Movie: Welcome to the Doll House (1995)

What Is It?: Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Doll House imagines teen-life as a sometimes-cartoony nightmare of sibling jealousy, idiotic adults, sadistic classmates, and violent threats. Sounds about right. Dawn “Weiner Dog” Weiner is the target of abuse, and her life is a rough ride from start to finish (anyone who has seen Solondz’s Palindromes knows it doesn’t end happily), so Welcome to the Dollhouse is a movie that leaves a very bad taste in a lot of viewers’ mouths. The cult who love it, though, are able to find some uncomfortable solace in the film’s many moments of dark humor. After all, there is a little Wiener Dog in all of us.

Why Today?: Today is Embrace Your Geekiness Day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: 'Dementia 13' Blu-ray

Like most low-budget horror producers, Roger Corman wanted his very own Psycho when Hitchcock’s 1960 filmed became a genre-spawning mega-hit. Corman handed the assignment to a basically untried aspiring writer/director named Francis Coppola. Yes, the Francis Coppola who would soon squeeze a Ford between his first and last names. The resulting product, Dementia 13, is not at the level of Corman’s own lush Poe-inspired horrors, but it most certainly rises above the cheesiness of the assignment. Psycho’s beats are easy to spot. There’s a scheming blonde (Luana Anders) who gets a violent surprise halfway through the picture (with a pond subbing for Hitch’s shower). There are grotesque family secrets hidden in a Gothic residence that involve a demented Mom and a weedy young man, and there is a series of nasty murders (with an axe subbing for Hitch’s kitchen knife), though a surprising lack of blood. Ronald Stein’s score is pure Herrmann.

However, Coppola makes his picture stand out with some original and very effective flourishes. Most striking is the horrifying sight of a little girl’s corpse that keeps popping up all over the place. Subtler is the most effectively eerie use of underwater photography since The Night of the Hunter. Plus, there’s the ever-delicious hunk of ham Patrick Magee as the family doctor who leads the investigation at the Haloran family’s Irish castle and there’s Anders. Always memorable in cult classics like Easy Rider, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Last Detail, Anders’s presence is a handy indicator that you’re watching something pretty cool.

Like a lot of Roger Corman movies, Dementia 13 is in the public domain and has appeared on a lot of bad DVDs cheapies. The Film Detective’s new Blu-ray scrubs up the film pretty well. The picture is very soft and short on detail, but it’s agreeably clean. White specks flit in and out throughout the picture, but never become overwhelming. Contrast is a bit inconsistent, but it’s strong for the majority of the film. The sound isn’t great, but the faulty for that most likely lies with the way it was recorded back in 1963 and not The Film Detective, which has done a good job with a very underrated little horror flick.
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