Over the last year and a half, Kino Lorber has been unleashing an impressive collection of well-known and lesser-known studio fare from the Forties through the Eighties. Among this deluge of titles are some nice creepshows that many horror aficionados have been awaiting in HD for quite some time now.
One of these gems is House Of Long Shadows, a tongue-in-cheek chiller from 1983 in which a cocky bestselling author (Desi Arnaz Jr.) bets his publisher that he can write a novel worthy of Wuthering Heights acclaim while staying overnight in a spooky old house. The publisher sends his secretary to scare him off, but it turns out a creepy family reunion of the former longtime residents is transpiring that night. Then things get really weird. What makes this early Cannon flick fun is the fact that four genre icons (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine) all get the chance to play off of one another, and they are clearly having a ball.
Italian horror maestro Mario Bava directed many highly influential horror films in the 1960s and 1970s, and Kino has been restoring and reissuing them. Black Sunday (1960) is one of his most famous, the tale of a witch (the beguiling Barbara Steele) whose face is encased in a spiked mask and her body burned, along with that of her lover, only to rise from the dead two centuries later to mete out vengeance on the family members that condemned her. It may be slow moving for younger audiences today, but this early Bava classic is dripping with atmosphere. Steele has some of the most magnetic eyes ever.
A low budget fang fest that could serve as a good film school tutorial is Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires (1965), a sci-fi saga in which two spaceships answer a distress call and end up on a world where disembodied beings possess some crew members and kill off others. There is a charm and appeal to this film given its industrial space design and giant skeletons (pre-Alien) and swanky leather outfits (pre-Matrix). Just forgive the terrible flying spaceship shots. Bava later admitted that he had almost no sets for the film, and many scenes were created using trick photography, in camera effects, and judicious use of fog machines. Knowing that makes watching the film more fun. Even today it remains rather suspenseful and has a nice twist ending that you will not see coming.
The ’80s produced some seriously wacked out television, and some of us liked it that way. Looking back, you wonder how these shows got greenlit, but it was a different era with plenty of ambition but lacking the technological advancement to really get things done as they would have liked. Shout! Factory got their hands of two short-lived Glen A. Larson shows from 1983 that make a fun complement.
Featuring visual effects from the team behind Tron, which came out a year earlier, Automan stars Desi Arnaz Jr. as Walter Nebicher, a desk bound cop who has created and programmed the titular character, a living hologram who pops out of his computer when summoned and whose Tinkerbell-like companion Cursor can create all manner of objects and vehicles to aid them in their fight against crime. Naturally no one questions Walter’s mysterious “federal agent” friend who helps them get out of plenty of messes, including his work love interest. Yeah, it’s super silly, but Chuck Wagner brings the right blend of good looks, naivety, and sincerity to the Automan role, and Robert Lansing as Lt. Jack Curtis treats the work earnestly. Ridiculous fun.
An apropos cheesy TV companion is Manimal, the 1983 series starring Simon MacCorkindale (The Sword And The Sorcerer) as Dr. Jonathan Chase, a shape shifting, bon vivant professor, and Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon) as the detective who uses his special skills to solve cases. The rather goofy visual effects were done by future FX wizard Stan Winston (Jurassic Park). They were pretty good for TV at the time, but have not aged as well. Still, MacCorkindale and Anderson have a fun repartee, and hey, there are lots of cool animals to look at. Manimal is not quite as entertaining as Automan—although the fact that he always changes back into his clothed self is hilarious—but it has a devoted cult following.
A fun trivia note: Both episode 7 of Manimal and one episode of Automan evidently feature a surreptitious crossover element. Both Walter and Dr. Chase can alternately be seen in the background of a scene in each show as they were shot at the same diner. Too bad the duo didn’t get to team up. Funnily enough, the late ‘90s Glen Larson series Night Man featured a guest appearance by Dr. Jonathan Chase as they battled a time travelling Jack the Ripper.
Eagle Rock Entertainment are well known for their long line of concert DVDs from top artists, and the end of 2015 has seen a plethora of releases from them.
The Who Live In Hyde Park set captures their June 26th concert in London’s famed Hyde Park before 65,000 fans. It’s amazing to think that this band has been rocking for over 50 years. When I saw Daltrey and Townshend play a benefit show earlier this year, they put out some good energy onstage. This release will come out in different DVD/CD configurations, with the Deluxe Edition including an exclusive, 60-page hardback photobook which contains the DVD, Blu-ray, and 2 CDs.
Given that guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore has announced the end to his retirement from rock with the return of Rainbow next year, it seems like a good time to check out the documentary The Ritchie Blackmore Story, which explores his life in Deep Purple and Rainbow through to this recent years in the Renaissance-flavored Blackmore’s Night. Both the film and bonus features include interviews with rock luminaries like Brian May, Glenn Hughes, Lars Ulrich, Joe Satriani, the late Jon Lord, David Coverdale, Joe Lynn Turner, and Steve Vai. The deluxe edition includes the Live In Tokyo DVD and 2-CD set in a 60 page 12” x 12” hardback photobook. Live In Tokyo is the first official release of Rainbow’s final 1984 concert before Blackmore and bassist Roger Glover reformed with Deep Purple.
Speaking of guitar whizzes, the July 2011 concert featuring Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin at the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival is being released. Invitation To Illumination – Live At Montreux 2011 captures their six-string magic as they play most of their classic 1973 album Love Devotion Surrender, as well as songs by Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and John Lee Hooker that influenced their careers. Santana is already beloved by rock fans, and McLaughlin has many fans in the rock realm thanks to his compelling jazz fusion work with Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Big budget extravaganzas always get the most attention this time of the year, but there are smaller, more intimate pictures worthy of your attention. In an era of ginormous explosions, endless car chases and action sequences, and paper thin plots, it’s nice when character-driven vehicles command our attention.
The End Of The Tour pits Rolling Stone writer/struggling novelist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) against best-selling author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) for an interview about the latter’s hermetic life in the face of massive success. Based on a true story, it chronicles their near two-week repartee as Lipsky tries to dig deeper into the very private life of Wallace, whom we learn at the start of the story has committed suicide, precipitating Lipsky’s look back at their time together in rural Illinois and Minnesota. Eisenberg and Segal are perfectly cast as two opposite sides of the same writer coin, one man envious of the success that another man is uncomfortable with.
Mr. Holmes is a period film (1947 specifically) inspired by a famed fictional character, but the twist here is it focuses on the twilight years of the super sleuth (Ian McKellan), now 93 years old and starting to suffer from memory loss. Befriending the young son (Milo Parker) of his housekeeper (Laura Linney), Holmes seeks to solve the mystery of his tragic final case, which has always haunted and eluded him. The film includes a trip he makes to recently bombed Hiroshima, which is surreal and unexpected. Bill Condon’s mystery movie is beautifully and elegantly rendered, and McKellan lives and breathes the title role.