Now on Home Video: Recent Kino Studio Classics
A spate of recent releases from Kino Studio Classics has left me feeling that continuing to collect physical media is still a good decision. The reason?
Besides the extras featuring crew, cast and noted scholars and historians these discs have done something streaming just can’t, at least not in its present form. While various streaming services are indeed convenient and offer a very large number of titles they just can’t do a good enough job. Name a streaming service that isn’t cluttered with tons of direct to streaming dreck. There are a few.
But I recently looked over my personal collection of about 6,000 discs and realized that fewer than half my collection is available on streaming. Less than half. To that end here are some recommendations cherry-picked from Kino's recent slate.
Arabian Adventure (1974) is a chance to catch up for Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing completists. There are lots of other highly recognizable character actors as well making this sword and sorcery seventies fantasy well worth checking out or collecting for big fans of on the cheap adventure. There’s also a commentary with director Kevin Connor.
Chief among the virtues of The House of Seven Gables (1940) is that it offers the chance to watch a young Vincent Price and in his prime George Saunders chew the scenery in a decidedly melodramatic adaptation of the classic Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. The commentary here is provided by film historian Troy Howarth.
A good double feature with the previous title might be this Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Door (1951). It’s far more over the top than Seven Gables and tells the story of a man obsessed with revenge on his brother. It stars Charles Laughton as the villain and Boris Karloff as his tortured servant and is directed by Joseph Pevney, who genre heads will remember for his work on The Munsters and Star Trek. The disc comes with a great commentary by film historian Tom Weaver, David Schecter, and Dr. Robert J Kiss.
Without the perseverance of film scholar Tim Lucas I likely never would have bothered with Fantomas 3 Film Collection. Now I want to introduce them to others.
Fantomas is a Bond type super-villain that originally appeared in a long series of French pulp novels starting in 1911. As adapted by director André Hunebelle the character took on a far more comedic edge that pitted the brilliant blue-skinned Fantomas against Fandor, an amoral journalist and Juve, a bumbling police inspector. Jean Marais plays both Fantomas and Fandor and it’s a treat to watch the great actor create two completely different characters. Louis de Funes plays Juve to the hilt.
The films are a delightful mix of mistaken identity, Bondian gadgetry and broad, almost slapstick humor that conjure not only famed spy but pre-figure the Batman TV series. Hunebelle made three films in the series. Fantomas (1964), Fantomas Unleashed (1965) and Fantomas VS. Scotland Yard (1967). Tim Lucas provides commentary on Fantomas.
Speaking of Bond, Roger Moore seems doomed to be remembered almost solely for his contribution to that mythos. That’s a genuine pity. When he had the chance to tackle well written more serious material he showed considerable talent. Many consider his performance in The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) to be his finest ever. In the film, he plays a British businessman who discovers he’s being shadowed by a more ruthless and aggressive version of himself.
The film deals with the conceit every bit as powerfully as recent takes on the concept like Enemy (2013) by Denis Villenueve and The Double (2013) by Richard Ayoade. Excellent commentary is ported over from a previous release and features Roger Moore, uncredited writer/producer Bryan Forbes moderated by journalist Jonathan Sothcott. More interesting for those who have that previous disc is an exclusive conversation with Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon about the significance of the film.
I first saw The Land Unknown (1957) on Svengoolie. Legendary horror host Sven is better known for keeping sacred the gold and silver age of Universal Horror. But he occasionally delves into pure schlock like this. The film supposes a mysterious warm water region of Antarctica which in fact hides a prehistoric tropical landscape.
When a team of explorers is trapped there they have to fight for their lives against bad special effects. To make matters worse the only female member of the team is captured by a survivor of a previous expedition who’s been rendered neanderthal in his own fight for survival. The film was directed by Virgil Vogel who directed the ?better? The Mole People (1956). Tom Weaver and David Schecter provide commentary.
Vincent Price shows up again in Kino's recent releases in the, to my mind, slightly underrated Scream and Scream Again (1970). No doubt the movie is too busy for its own good and hard to follow but along the way it generates some pretty disturbing thrills and chills.
Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are also given top billing here but the terror-ific trio never actually share any screen time together making it seem like a bit of stunt casting though they are predictably fun in their roles. I’ve left out any plot description here as the movie is definitely best experienced knowing as little as possible. This is the film's second appearance on Blu-ray. The first was a Twilight Time release a few years ago which had an Isolated Score track, a featurette about director Gordon Hessler, an interview with actress Uta Levka and commentary with historian David Del Valle and Tim Sullivan.
The Kino release features an episode of Trailers From Hell with Mick Garris putting the film in perspective and a commentary by Tim Lucas. Both versions come highly recommended for anybody interested in the careers of all involved or the history of AIP.
A most welcome addition to Blu-ray is Black Moon Rising (1986) which comes from Kino with a plethora of special features. Tommy Lee Jones is hired by the US Government to steal data from a corporation owned by arch criminal corporate kingpin Robert Vaughn. On the run and forced to hide the data in the Black Moon an experimental rocket-car Jones soon has both sides out for his hide. Vaughn’s girlfriend seems willing to help Jones with this one last heist but as in all action movies driving/fighting your way, there is half the fun. \
Developed from a story/screenplay by John Carpenter this is a surprisingly engaging and exciting ride and all the more fun when it seems dated. Film historian Lee Gambin provides commentary. The disc features an interview with director Harley Cokeliss, producer Douglas Curtis, composer, and Lalo Schifrin. Additional featurettes include music historian Daniel Schweiger, a look at John Carpenter’s screenwriting career featuring historian Troy Howarth, and an archival Making Of. Lastly, the disc offers select scenes from the Hong Kong edit of the film, featuring different sound effects and music.
One of the titles I was most excited about in this bunch was Link (1986) 1. It’s directed by Richard Franklin. Want to have a fantastic movie weekend? Watch Road Games (1981), Psycho II (1983), Cloak and Dagger (1984) and Link as a marathon. Franklin was not only a master of suspense but he found ways to elevate what could have been forgettable ideas into highly entertaining cinema that’s still highly regarded today.
Of his movies, none is more outlandish or strange than Link. Terrence Stamp plays a researcher whose experiments in ape intelligence lead him to hire an assistant played by Elisabeth Shue. But what seems like an idyllic opportunity turns deadly when the ape leader orangutan Link goes rogue forcing a showdown.
The biggest assets here besides the excellent cast are Franklin’s imaginative direction and a screenplay that treats its unlikely plotting with enough seriousness to maintain the suspense. Jerry Goldsmith also contributes what has to be one of the strangest scores in all of eighties genre cinema. Lee Gambin and film Critic Jarret Gahan provide commentary, a few deleted workprint scenes are included as is an audio interview with director Franklin and a Goldsmith demo of the main theme.
A 4k restoration of any film depends on the restorer. The restoration of Hannibal (2001) was personally supervised by cinematographer John Mathieson and the end result is far better than the previous Blu-ray release. Hannibal has always been my favorite Hannibal Lecter film. A good argument could be made that the character of Hannibal as he’s portrayed here is simply an exploitive version of the more mysterious entity viewers encountered in Silence of the Lambs (1991).
But I think a better argument can be made that just as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy, and the Wolfman became a larger part of popular culture through their appearances in 1940s sequels Hannibal Lecter to is made larger than life here. It’s not just that the character gets more screen time, it’s what he does with it.
Scenes of him forcing his twisted brand of justice on corrupt characters like Inspector Pazzi, Mason Verger, and Sen Paul Krendler tempt viewers to root for him. His undeniable intellectual gifts and appreciation of the finer things in life almost set him up as a role model. But how many would find any real enlightenment in adopting his dietary habits designed to rid the world of “free range rude.?” A monster he is indeed, more in the vein of Dracula than the tragic Frankenstein’s monster.
Later, when we see him carry Starling out of the hog-pit while wearing his mask and straightjacket, the similarity to the old Universal Monsters is palpable. Lecter is every bit the forties style over the top movie monster and the series of Lecter films is better for having the courage to treat him as one. The disc ports over all the numerous excellent extras from the former Blu-ray release.
Finally, I come to my favorite film of the bunch. Rhinocerous (1974) is a film based on the absurdist stage play by Eugene Ionesco. Put it on a shelf with Little Murders (1971) for its sheer lunatic energy and unforgettable casting. Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, so memorable in their pairing in Mel Brooks, The Producers (1967) are brought together again for a film that tries gamely to test the limits of broad comedy and almost succeeds in being more than a curiosity of its time.
Gene Wilder plays a timid character who lives in a city where everyone is turning into rhinos. At first, he watches with his co-workers from the windows of his office building. But soon his girlfriend played by Karen Black and best friend played by Zero Mostel begin their own transformations.
It's fascinating to watch Wilder and Mostel together again but while Rhinocerus is certainly energetic and very funny at times it loses a lot of the subtext of its source material and, ironically, recreates it as a sort of lumbering slapstick peppered with occasional insights. What's left emerges as a surprisingly simple curiosity of its time given the weirdness of its central premise.
Rhinocerus was produced as part of the American Film Theatre subscription program, a part of its history covered ably covered in an interview with AFT co-founder Edie Landau. It was an amazing experiment that sadly ended in its first year but not until fantastic adaptations of The Iceman Cometh, The Homecoming and eight other previously un-filmed masterpieces were delivered to audiences all over country featuring some of the greatest actors in the history of the stage. Also included is an interview with director Tom O’Horgan and a short promotional film from Ely Landau celebrating AFTs first year.