Ho Meng Hua’s THE OILY MANIAC「 油鬼子」to Blu-ray in July from 88 Films

Today in “things I never thought I’d live to see”, 88 Films have announced via their facebook page that director Ho Meng Hua’s deliciously bizarre action-horror-revenge fantasy The Oily Maniac 「 油鬼子」, from Shaw Brothers in 1976, will see its high definition video debut in July.

From the 88 Films FB:

Danny Lee (THE KILLER) played one of cinema’s most unlikely superheroes in THE OILY MANIAC (1976) – a Shaw Brothers creature-feature classic that is only now gaining a much-deserved premiere in the UK! In this gooey gem of a monster-mash, Lee plays a Hong Kong everyman who has been crippled and is down-on-his-luck – that is, until he learns of a spell that can turn him into a transformative and transmorphing pile of ferocious but malevolent mush. Yes, he is THE OILY MANIAC – and in this Cantonese predecessor to Troma’s THE TOXIC AVENGER, he is able to appear and re-appear at will, making it all the more tricky for his arch-enemies to dillute his delirious brilliance. Directed by the prolific Meng Hua Ho (THE FLYING GULLOTINE), this is one Far Eastern B-movie masterpiece that deserves to be seen and appreciated in full HD!

Full details have yet to be made available, but The Oily Maniac is expected to release on the 24th of July. The disc is already available for pre-order through Amazon.co.uk. We can hardly wait!

Flying Beast out of Prehistoric Skies! Fred F. Sears’ THE GIANT CLAW to Blu-ray in April from Anolis Entertainment

Addition (03/31): Anolis Entertainment’s The Giant Claw (Angriff der Riesenkralle) is up for pre-order now, through Amazon.de and other outlets.


It’s been less than two weeks since German label Anolis Entertainment’s excellent Blu-ray issue of Ishiro Honda’s The H-Man, but they’re already at it again, expanding upon their Gallery of Horrors with an oddball monster yarn that’s near and dear to ExB’s cold little heart.

Fred F. Sears’ The Giant Claw was made on the fast and cheap under the auspices of prolific penny-pinching producer Sam Katzman and distributed through Columbia in the Summer of 1957, and though it superficially resembles the classic Charles H. Schneer-produced Ray Harryhausen effects ventures which preceded it (the first two of which, It Came From Beneath the Sea and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers were also made under Katzman) it’s the details that make all the difference. Starring sci-fi regular Jeff Morrow (KronosThis Island Earth, The Creature Walks Among Us) and actress and pin-up sensation Mara Corday (Tarantula!, Raw Edge)The Giant Claw is a more or less competent mid-century genre quickie with one tremendous exception: It’s special effects production.

To my child eyes the feature’s eponymous creature; an impossibly gigantic buzzard from intergalactic space; was the single best monster I had ever seen. These days I still love it, though it’s impossible to deny the overwhelming silliness of a giant space vulture with sharp, pointy teeth, flaring nostrils, bulging veiny eyes, and a billowing scraggle of a mohawk. With Harryhausen having followed faithful producer Charles H. Schneer as he exited from under Katzman’s supervision to pursue his own film enterprises The Giant Claw was forced to improvise, and Katzman, as was typical of him, spared most expenses.

The results were a noted embarrassment to the film’s cast, and well below the standards set by the Schneer / Harryhausen classic 20 Million Miles to Earth (which was in release through Columbia that same Summer), but have helped to make The Giant Claw a sort of classic in its own right. Sixty years on the film remains a relevant cult item, salvaged from the obscurity suffered by so many other (and sometimes better) films by its own iconic shortcomings.

Gif shamelessly snagged from Tumblr user SwampThingy

The Giant Claw will receive its high definition home video debut on April 13th, in a dual format Blu-ray / DVD edition as part of Anolis’ ongoing Die Rache der Galerie des Grauens series. The film will be presented with both English and German audio options, presumably through Sony’s own master of the title (a la The H-Man), and will likely be Region B / Region 2 locked. The full details, quoted from Anolis’ Facebook page, follow below.

Ja, ich weiß, ihr alle wartet auf unsere nächsten Hammer-VÖs. Und keine Sorge: Dieses Jahr wird es davon reichlich geben. Nur eben noch nicht im April. Dafür gibt es in dem Monat, der nicht weiß, was er will, eine weitere GALERIE Veröffentlichung. Und diese bietet das wohl abstruseste Filmmonster, das die Welt je gesehen hat. Einen übergroßen Vogel Strauss mit Punkfrisur. Ganz klar, dabei kann es sich nur um ANGRIFF DER RIESENKRALLE (orig. THE GIANT CLAW) handeln.

Für diejenigen unter euch, die dieses grandiose Meisterwerk noch nicht kennen, hier mal ein paar Sätze zum Inhalt bzw. zur Einordnung in die Filmgeschichte:

Als über dem amerikanischen Luftraum ein seltsames Wesen von der Größe eines Schlachtschiffes auftaucht, will keiner der Aussage des Wissenschaftlers Mitch MacAfee Glauben schenken. Dann attackiert das Wesen, ein gigantischer hässlicher Raubvogel aus dem All, die Zivilisation. Er schleppt Züge fort und frisst Teenager. Konventionelle Waffen prallen am Energieschild des Monsters ab. Als sei das nicht genug, hat die Bestie bereits ein Nest gebaut und brütet weitere Ungetüme aus. Ist die Menschheit noch zu retten oder endet sie womöglich als Vogelfutter für eine Schar fliegender Monster?

Sam Katzman produzierte diesen berühmt-berüchtigten Monsterfilm, in dem die bekannten Genrestars Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday und Morris Ankrum die Welt vor dem mit Abstand verrücktesten und ungewöhnlichsten Monster der 1950er Jahre retten müssen. Der Riesenvogel mit seinem vollkommen grotesken Design begeisterte schon Generationen von Fans und ließ die Darsteller des Films seinerzeit vor Scham im Boden versinken.

Nicht vor Scham im Boden versinken müssen wir was die Präsentation dieses Films angeht, bieten wir euch doch schon wieder eine Blu-ray/DVD-Kombo an:

Verpackung: Standard Amaray Hülle (mit Flügel für 2. Disc)
Bestell-Nr: 31077
EAN-Code: 404 1036 31077 6

FSK: 12
Bildformat: 1:1,79 (16:9)
Tonformat: Deutsch/Englisch DTS MA 2.0 Mono
Untertitel: deutsch (ausblendbar)

2-Disc-Edition (Blu-ray & DVD)

Extras: Audiokommentar mit Ingo Strecker und Thomas Kerpen / Audiokommentar mit Dr. Rolf Giesen, Uwe Sommerlad und Ivo Scheloske / Einleitung von Dr. Rolf Giesen über die Spezialeffekte / Amerikanische Titelsequenz / Spanische Titelsequenz / Amerikanischer Kinotrailer / Super-8-Fassung / Bildergalerie

16-seitiges Booklet geschrieben von Ingo Strecker

Als VÖ-Termin haben wir den 13. April 2017 festgelegt, damit die Edition noch rechtzeitig in euren Osterkörbchen landen kann.

The Giant Claw (as Angriff der Riesenkralle) should be available through Amazon.de and other outlets soon. The film is already out in an excellent DVD domestically from Sony, as part of the Icons of Horror: Sam Katzman Collection. The film’s original double-bill co-feature Night the World Exploded is also available, through Sony’s MOD DVD program or as part of Mill Creek’s questionably mastered (yet excruciatingly affordable) Vintage Sci-Fi 6 Movie Collection.

Val Guest’s WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH headed to uncut Blu-ray from Warner Archive

Hammer’s 1970 follow-up to the creature classic One Million Years B.C. (itself arriving on Blu-ray from Kino later this year) will reach Blu-ray from Warner Archive in February. A new master of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth‘s international theatrical version has been minted just for the occasion, which should please fans of the film’s kitchy blend of Academy Award-nominated special effects and anachronistic prehistoric cheesecake.

From Warner’s announcement:

After Raquel Welch conquered the screen in One Million Years B.C., Hammer Studios followed up with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, written and directed by Val Guest (The Quatermass Xperiment) and based on a story by J.G. Ballard (Crash). Victoria Vetri stars as Sanna, rescued from ritual sacrifice by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a member of a rival tribe. Her survival coincides with the mysterious formation of a new “fire” in the sky: the moon! Sanna’s old tribe blames her for this affront to the sun; Sanna flees their wrath and Tara follows. Their shared adventures loom as large as the giants who once ruled the earth!

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth will receive a BD50 treatment with DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio and English SDH subtitles. The film’s theatrical trailer is the only slated extra.

Disc Love: Lone Wolf and Cub (Rapid Eye Movies Blu-ray Collection, 2014)

Note: This collection is effectively obsolete, at least for customers in English-speaking territories. The Criterion Collection have released the complete series on Blu-ray in both the United States and United Kingdom, and those interested in seeing the films in HD are encouraged to seek out that superior set instead.


While I intend to (eventually) get around to each of the films in this collection in individual reviews, it’s disc-only coverage for today, kids, as there’s a good bit to talk about. Animeigo caught a fair bit of well-earned flack for their initial Blu-ray release of the Lone Wolf and Cub saga from 2012, a dual-disc offering marred by an over-zealous approach to image processing that largely undermined the benefits of releasing in the Blu-ray format to begin with. Whatever its troubles, the Animeigo Lone Wolf and Cub collection is now soundly out of print, and fetching ludicrous prices from third party sellers ($235 and up at Amazon as of this writing). Those looking for better may finally have an option, however. It’s certainly cheaper at the very least.

Alive GmbH subsidiary Rapid Eye Movies have seen fit to grant the Lone Wolf and Cub series a second chance on high-definition video, by way of a 3-disc offering of all six films which was issued in Germany in December of last year. Alive / REM’s Lone Wolf and Cub collection is soundly locked to Region B and offers no English language options to speak of, but has the benefit of being damned affordable – I paid a little less than $30, shipping included, or around $5 per film. It’s also a handsome little release, decked out with an attractive slipcase and packed with a 15-page booklet of notes (by Tom Mes, in German translation) and still images. In a nifty move, the pesky FSK 18 rating sticker was attached to the outer shrinkwrap as opposed to the slipcase – no reversible sleeve necessary.

LWACBlu-rayPackage001 LWACBlu-rayPackage002 LWACBlu-rayPackage003

Nice shelf presence and acute affordability are both winning features to be sure, you say, but how does it stack up to the Animeigo release? While the images below will reveal a certain elephant in the room, to be discussed very shortly, they also soundly answer that question. The first capture below represents perhaps the most egregious example of Animeigo’s image processing that I could find, courtesy of Ian Jane’s review, and the shot which follows is its frame-accurate counterpart from the German Blu-ray collection:

LWACAnimeigoBlu-ray LWACAnimeigoBlu-ray_ComparisonREM

Alive / REM have sourced from the same masters made available to Animeigo for their release with one important difference – they have wisely opted not to assail them with noise reduction filters. The result is an image that is understandably grittier, but also crisper and more detailed. Unfortunately that added clarity has revealed a rather glaring fault as well, the elephant of which I spoke earlier.

Upscale may be something of a dirty word, but that’s precisely what the “HD” materials for Lone Wolf and Cub films 3 through 5 are. Baby Cart to HadesBaby Cart in Peril, and Baby Cart in the Land of Demons are all 1080p blow-ups from previous standard definition masters (the same Eureka! used for their UK DVD release if I’m not mistaken, albeit sans PAL speed-up), and fare about as well as you’d expect for the trouble. While Alive / REM’s set advertises itself as having been newly remastered in HD, at best this is only half accurate.

Baby Cart to Hades

Baby Cart in Peril

Baby Cart in the Land of the Demons

Visuals improve, if not so dramatically as might have been hoped, for the other films in the series – Sword of VengeanceBaby Cart at the River Styx, and White Heaven in Hell are all represented by native HD masters, and while this leaves me pondering why the rest of the pictures could not also have been transferred in HD, I’ll definitely take it. Quality reminds of the Hi-Vision masters Toho had prepared for the ’60s and ’70s Godzilla films (perhaps a little worse, as these can be quite noisy in places), and while detail is not exceptional the transfers play relatively well overall. As with the upscale materials, the grit and noise inherent in these native HD masters goes blessedly unperturbed in the German edition, which opts to present the imperfect materials as-is instead of introducing a whole crop of other issues through excessive manipulation. Again, I’ll take it.

Sword of Vengeance

Baby Cart at the River Styx

White Heaven in Hell

Technical specifications are quite modest for all 6 films, here distributed two-each across a trio of single layer BD25. The Mpeg-4 AVC encodes only run an average of 15.0 Mbps, but seem good enough for the modest video masters provided (upscale and HD alike – some artifacts are present, but I found them unobtrusive in playback). Audio for the six features is presented in lossless 16-bit / 48 kHz LPCM 2.0 Japanese monophonic (the packaging incorrectly lists DTS-HD MA encoding), with optional (via remote) German subtitles for those so inclined. Supplements are limited to hard-subbed original trailers for the full Lone Wolf and Cub series (I think these may be native HD, but an overall softness and the state of the film sources involved makes it difficult to tell – shots are included below) and a handful of other Alive / REM releases, and are duplicated on each of the three discs.

Trailers

And that’s about it, I think. Alive / REM’s Lone Wolf and Cub Blu-ray collection is certainly not without issue, but it offers enough of an improvement over the disappointing Animeigo collection that I may just give it a pass. It’s cheap, it looks good on the shelf, and it offers the best presentation of this indelible exploitation franchise presently available (for shame!). One can always hope for improvements, and I’ll be amazed if Lone Wolf and Cub doesn’t eventually get the HD treatment it justly deserves, but for now this works well enough for my needs. The Lone Wolf and Cub collection is readily available through Amazon Germany and the other usual outlets.

Saturday Monster Matinee:
Irwin Allen’s ‘The Lost World’

French Blu-ray cover - THE LOST WORLD - 1960Playing as a sort of matinee ready follow-up to 20th Century Fox’s successful production of Journey to the Center of the Earth from 1959, Irwin Allen’s The Lost World is big, colorful, and dumb in more or less equal measure. The screenplay by Allen and frequent collaborator Charles Bennett (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), freely adapted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel with some allusions to First National’s classic silent version thrown in for good measure, may propel Doyle’s early-century action into more modern times, but the film’s effects production remains positively prehistoric. This is perhaps the slurpasaur epic, second only to Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. in its wholesale embarrassment and abuse of large lizards and others of their ilk. It really is a dreadful show by most measures, a fact only compounded by a stirringly awful turn from Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever), but Winton C. Hoch’s vivid CinemaScope photography and Allen’s own sense for pure stupid spectacle (this may be the genesis of his go-to suspense setup – the ledge) keep it from being a total bore.

The tale begins in London where, shortly after bopping bothersome American newsman Ed Malone (David Hedison) over the head with an umbrella, the imminent and irascible Professor Challenger (the wonderful Claude Rains, horribly miscast) heads to a meeting of the resident Zoological Society to make a shocking announcement: He has discovered an unscalable plateau hidden deep within the forests of the Amazon, a plateau populated by the living descendants of animals thought extinct since the Jurassic Age. In other words, “Live dinosaurs!”

With nothing to show for himself, his photographs and journals having been lost in an accident on the return voyage, Challenger proposes that a new expedition be mounted to his lost world, to be manned by himself, the ZSL’s own Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn, well chosen as Challenger’s condescending professional rival), and two unbiased volunteers. Stepping up to that challenge are Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie!), a renowned big game hunter, explorer, and philanderer and, much to Challenger’s chagrin, reporter Ed Malone, whose boss immediately fronts $100,000 for the expedition’s expenses. With the money and team in order the trip into the Amazon begins, where its roster of personnel quickly bloats beyond all recognition. Aside from the necessary addition of helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas!) the expedition takes on useless and slimy local profiteer Costa (character player Jay Novello, wasted in his role) as well as Roxton’s headstrong love interest Jennifer Holmes (a dreadful Jill St. John) and her brother David, the two children of Malone’s wealthy news-baron employer.

Gorged on superfluous humanity, the Challenger expedition hobbles its way to the isolated plateau and, with its helicopter destroyed by a wandering brontosaurus (amusingly, it’s identified by Challenger regardless of his never seeing it), quickly becomes stranded there. Taking refuge in a spacious cave, the team members set out to investigate their surroundings and happen upon an example of the native wildlife of rather a different sort than dinosaurs – the beautiful Vitina Marcus as a mini-dressed tribeswoman. Unfortunately her existence suggests that more of her kind are living on the plateau, and soon the expedition finds itself contending not only with dinosaurs and other giant flora and fauna, but a tribe of monster-worshiping cannibal natives as well…

While several oft-omitted elements of the original novel found their way into this The Lost World in heavily adapted forms, including subplots involving diamonds, capture by natives, and even a dramatic conflict between Roxton and Gomez (in the novel this was the method by which the expedition was stranded, and was replaced by a brontosaurus in the 1925 film – this The Lost World keeps both), those hoping that Allen and Bennet’s writing might stick close to the source should look elsewhere. Indeed, the closest Allen’s production comes to honoring the author’s intentions is to put his name above the title card, which summarily bursts into flames. Perhaps the most grievous wound inflicted upon the material, the inclusion of Frosty the poodle in the character roster excepted, is a love triangle revolving around the dull Jennifer Holmes and the backwards sexual politics that come with it. The Lost World, like many before and since, is another of those films in which a woman tries to prove herself in “a man’s world” only to be happily put in her place by the final reel. The overtly objectified Vitina Marcus doesn’t escape either, being so much eye-candy that the film neglects to even name her. After an attempted rape by the sleazy Costa is thwarted young David pulls Marcus aside. “We’re not all like that,” he assures, before losing all credibility with his follow-up. “You know, you’re kinda nice!”

Ultimately more problematic than their politics is the fact that Allen and Bennet have chosen to populate their The Lost World with a full cast of unlikable characters (not to mention that damned dog). It’s impossible not to like Claude Rains’ as Professor Challenger, miscast though he is in the role of the boorish and confrontational zoologist, and at least Gomez is granted a justifiable reason for being such a jerk. Otherwise this is pretty rough going, compounded by the lackluster quality of the writing itself and Allen’s own uninspired direction. Seemingly at a loss for blocking the action in any interesting way, Allen resorts time and again to having his cast wander into single and double-file lines to fill out the frame. Winton Hoch’s vivid CinemaScope photography helps to distract from at least some of the deficiencies – Hoch had worked with Allen previously on The Big Circus, and would go on to photograph Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Five Weeks in a Balloon as well as episodes of several of Allen’s television series. More than just an award-winning director of photography, Hoch had helped to develop the three-strip Technicolor process as a lab tech in the 1930s. When it came to color on film he obviously knew his stuff.

Like the majority of Irwin Allen productions the issues of writing and characterization are all secondary to the spectacle of the thing, and The Lost World has spectacle to spare. Aside from the expected encounters with dinosaurs and cave-people Allen also treated audiences to one of his first daring ledge-walks (watch out for those obvious fall-away rocks!) as well as a climactic volcanic eruption and a gaggle of man-eating plants. Though Willis O’Brien receives credit as an effects technician (just what he contributed, if anything, is unclear – sadly this appears to have been his final on-screen credit) his time-consuming stop motion animation process went unused here, and the dinosaurs were instead brought to life through the dubious slurpasaur technique. Used to reasonably good effect in Fox’s earlier Journey to the Center of the Earth and here managed by the same studio effects techs (L.B. Abbott, James B. Gordon, and Emil Kosa Jr.), The Lost World features monitor lizards, iguanas, alligators, and geckos in a variety of rubber appliances. Though close inspection reveals the detail with which the technique was carried out (a lot of work went into matching colors, scale patterns and so forth) it never goes so far as to actually work. Convincing an audience that a Nile monitor topped off with a floppy triceratops’ frill and a stegosaurus’ back plates is anything other than what it looks to be is a losing battle.

The dependence on slurpasaur effects is perhaps the show’s greatest handicap, particularly for modern viewers with higher sensitivity to animal cruelty. There’s little doubt that at least some of the costumed reptiles were outright killed for the production. One is sunk into a bubbling pool and doused with smoldering lava-substitute, while an homage to the star dinosaur battle from One Million B.C. concludes with technicians lobbing the participants over a cliff. These scenes were enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth even as a child, and certainly haven’t grown on me since then. Allen either thought differently or was too much the penny pincher to care, and trotted out this dinosaur footage at every opportunity during his television career. It appeared in everything from The Time Tunnel to Land of the Giants, and Allen even re-cast Vitina Marcus in her familiar cave-girl role for Turn Back the Clock, a season one episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea that replays the events of The Lost World wholesale.

So what are we left with after all this? A well-shot but poorly conceived adaptation of a classic novel that’s loaded with unlikable characters and largely dependent on animal abuse for its thrills. This is one of those cases where I should by all rights hate the film, big and stupid and reprehensible as it can be, but for some intangible reason I don’t hate Irwin Allen’s The Lost World at all. Contemporary audiences apparently agreed. Though it received only middling critical attention the modestly budgeted The Lost World made a mint for both Allen and 20th Century Fox upon its release, fast-tracking Allen’s far more substantial (if no less dumb) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and setting the stage for his successful stint as a producer of 60s fantasy television.


The screenshots for this review were gleaned from the Rimini Editions Blu-ray of The Lost World, which was released in France in November of 2014. Aside from a few dupe shots and occasional damage the transfer offered looks quite nice indeed, with robust color, a natural filmic texture, and a decent level of detail besides (for those curious, the disc is sourced from the same HD transfer which is available domestically through Vudu). The single-layer BD25 encode (Mpeg-4 AVC at middling average bitrate of 19.6 Mbps) supports the ‘Scope image surprisingly well, and I noted no artifacts – Allen’s premiere camp opus has never looked better. Note: Per the usual at ExB, these Blu-ray screenshots were captured as uncompressed .png in VLC Media Player and converted to .jpg at a quality setting of 93% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Audio is available in French DTS-HD MA 2.0 monophonic or original English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereophonic (the film’s alternate 4-track mix is unaccounted for here), with optional French subtitles (they play by default for the English track, but can be deselected via your remote control). The French dub is pretty dull and flat all around, with the film’s score sounding especially lifeless. The original English track expands significantly in comparison, again, particularly with regards to the score – Sawtell and Shefter’s accompaniment for the Challenger expedition’s approach to the plateau is absolutely lush. Supplements include a pair of French-only video featurettes (the 16′ Dinosauria!, an interview with paleontologist Jean Le Loeuff, and the 22′ Le Monde Fantastique de Conan Doyle, which has cinema historian Christophe Champclaux discussing the author’s impact on film, but with only a late token nod to the Allen production) as well as a rough 52′ presentation of the 1925 silent version of The Lost World (SD, looking much like the public domain copies I grew up on) and an original theatrical trailer (SD again). While more with regards to the Allen production would have been nice (like an HD upgrade of the production sketches included on the American DVD) I can’t argue that it honestly deserves it, and that anything at all was included is much appreciated.

Irwin Allen’s The Lost World is as big, dumb, and wonderful as ever on this latest revisitation, and those looking to see the film in the best of possible presentations (I’d ask why, but this is my fourth copy of it…) need look no further than the Rimini Editions Blu-ray. Though marked with an ominous B, this appears to be all region compatible, and played just fine (feature, menu, supplements and all) on my Region A-locked Playstation 3. The disc is readily available from Amazon France and elsewhere, though I’d recommend shopping around – Amazon.it and Amazon.es often have it for less.

The Land of OOP: Fright Night (30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray)

“What would you do if you accidentally discovered the house next door was occupied by something not human… something horrifying… something unspeakably evil? No one believes you – not your mom, not your girlfriend, not even the police. It knows that you know. You’ll do anything to protect yourself, but it’ll do anything to protect it’s secret…”

It’s not often that one can rely on a theatrical trailer to give an honest description of the film it represents, but in the case of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror opus Fright Night the advertising makes such excellent work of it that I feel no remorse in letting it do that part of my job for me. With inspirations ranging from Hammer to Hitchcock, a smart script, and a superb cast of players, Fright Night ranks as one of the very best of the ’80s genre revivals and a damn fine film in its own right. In theme it recalls the distinct brand of sci-fi terrors Universal’s B-picture department specialized in some thirty years before, in which all manner of fantastic horrors were visited upon small-town America, though in practice it’s a different beast all together. Standing in for the Cold War paranoia of then is a sexual anxiety fitting of Fright Night‘s teen leads, while the usual atom-born menace is lost in favor of one of the oldest fantasy threats of all – the vampire.

Taking place in an anonymous slice of Reagan-era suburbia, Fright Night follows the exploits of veritable every-teen Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), a high school kid with a beer light in his room, porno mags shoved between his encyclopedias, a doting single mother, and a girlfriend named Amy (Amanda Bearse) who loves him to bits even if she’s horrified to go “all the way“. Charley idolizes his local horror icon Peter Vincent, washed-up host of the late-night schlock marathons from which the film takes its name, stumbles through his trigonometry homework, and oh yeah – he has a vampire living next door who knows Charley knows about him and wants to kill him for his troubles. With no one believing his story, not even Vincent, Charley rightfully fears for his life, but things get even more personal when the suave bloodsucker next door takes a shine to his virginal girlfriend.

It is with that last point that Fright Night, a terrific horror film on its surface merits alone, reveals what’s really on its mind – sex. Some (including Julie Kirgo, who contributes the excellent liner notes for this release) have read homosexual undertones into the vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon as the ultimate in sensual and be-sweatered yuppie menace) and his relationships with troubled young outsider “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, who made a career of gay porn in the ’90s) and his live-in familiar Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark), but the most overt of the film’s sexual substance is of the straight variety. Indeed, Holland pushes the subject from the very start, opening with a bit of fumbling non-intercourse between Charley and his beloved. The vampire attack witnessed by Charley that starts all the trouble is an overtly sexualized affair and a later encounter between Dandridge and Amy (the spitting image of Jerry’s long-dead lover, natch) is even more so, with Amy cooing in orgasmic bliss as blood trickles down her back. In this context the growing conflict between Charley and the dastardly Dandridge becomes less about survival than about who will collect the sexy spoils and control the fate of Amy’s freshly-awakened sexuality.

Fright Night may have sex on the brain, but it’s top priority is still thrills and chills. Holland and company don’t disappoint. Though bolstered by terrific practical effects and creature design from Randall William Cook and Richard Edlund (Oscar-winning alumni of Ghostbusters and Raiders of the Lost ArkFright Night‘s most effective moments remain its simplest – Charley investigating suspicious noises in the night, Dandridge suddenly appearing in the corner of a darkened bedroom, or “Evil” Ed running into the stalking menace in a misty alleyway. Holland shows a keen understanding for the genre throughout, both in his taught direction (this, his debut as director, remains his best work in that regard) and in the intelligence of his screenwriting, and never neglects the horror of the situation. Much more importantly, he never neglects the characters who make that horror tick.

To that end it’s impossible to discuss Fright Night without also discussing its cast, perhaps the best in practice of any of the decade’s revival horrors. Roddy McDowall gives the performance of his later career (one he would reprise in Fright Night Part 2 three years later) as down on his luck horror icon Peter Vincent, whose career as cinema’s preeminent vampire killer has collapsed into a low-pay hosting gig on a late night film show. Initially paid to help cure Charley of his vampire delusions, Vincent soon finds himself the unlikely ally of the child, and forced to summon the courage of a role he’d played so many times before to combat an evil all too real. McDowall balances Vincent’s tremendous charm and ego (his reaction upon discovering Charley and his friends don’t want his autograph is priceless) with underlying insecurity and, ultimately, courage, and practically owns the picture in the process.

At the more malignant end of the spectrum lies Chris Sarandon as the devilish Jerry Dandridge who, along with Kinski, Schreck, Lugosi, and Lee, exists as one of film’s most memorable vampires. Dandridge – who eschews the traditional cape for snazzy cable knit sweaters and hankers just as much for fresh fruit (fruit bat?) as for the supple necks of prostitutes – is every bit a product of the decade in which the film was made, an upper crust yuppie bloodsucker with a penchant for remodeling homes and antiquing. He keeps up with the pop music scene and looks perfectly placed in the neon haze of a discotheque, and the dark, wry sense of humor he cultivates only makes him seem all the more dangerous (“What’s the matter Charley? Afraid I’d never come over without being invited first?”). But Dandridge is more than just yuppie trappings and a handsome smirk, whistling “Strangers in the Night” as he stalks his prey. Sarandon’s ace performance lends the character an attractive outsider mystique and a feral magnetism that’s difficult to ignore. He’s a perfect villain, made all the more effective by just how tempting he makes the evil he represents appear.

Like Dandridge, Fright Night itself is very much a product of its time, though it’s no less successful a picture today for the polka dotted linoleum on its floors or the Ian Hunter on its soundtrack. It remains the best film of writer and director Tom Holland’s career (is that really The Langoliers I see in your filmography?), and easily makes my short list of the most satisfying genre efforts of the ’80s. Among its too often lamentable brethren Fright Night manages to be something different, something special, and for those keen on quality horror it’s an absolute must-see.


Twilight Time’s initial limited release of Fright Night didn’t last very long when it went up for sale in late 2011, and I suppose it should really come as no surprise that their new Fright Night: 30th Anniversary Edition has received much the same reception. Even with its boosted production run of 5000 units this improved reissue has already become a bona fide collector’s item, selling out well before its release date ever arrived. (It’s worth noting, for those keen on just owning the film in HD, that an affordable barebones Blu-ray edition has been issued by Sony in Germany, Japan and elsewhere) I’ll not linger too much on the transfer itself – if I’m not mistaken the same HD master was used for both this and the older Twilight Time edition of Fright Night, though the 30th Anniversary Blu-ray does offer improved technical specs. The 106 minute feature expands comfortably into dual layer territory on the new release, courtesy of a healthy Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 29.4 Mbps (original disc was single layered, 21.5 Mbps average bitrate). I noticed no significant issues aside from some infrequent blocking, and the screenshots in this article should give you an idea of what to expect writ large. Audio options expand a bit as well. The 30th Anniversary Blu-ray package offers the same 5.1 DTS-HD MA remix as before (with optional English SDH subtitles), but also includes the film’s original 2.0 stereo mix (also in lossless DTS-HD MA) – a nice addition for the purists out there.

While the technical advancements are pretty modest (though appreciated none-the-less), the supplemental additions are substantial to say the least. A pair of audio commentaries from IconsofFright are now conveniently available on disc (they were mentioned in the booklet for the first release, but not included on disc), and Twilight Time’s usual isolated score track is present and accounted for. With regards to video content the new release provides a trio of Schock till you Drop “Choice Cuts” interviews with Tom Holland (totaling around half an hour), as well as the lengthy original Electronic Press Kit (contemporaneous interviews, clips, and behind-the-scenes footage cut into a variety of television-ready segments, ~90 minutes), a 54 minute recording of the Fear Fest Fright Night reunion panel from 2008, a pair of theatrical trailers (G-rated and R-rated), and a collection of still photos and memorabilia images provided by director Tom Holland. It’s a nice mix of stuff all in all, sure to give Fright Night fans a few solid hours of substantive distraction, and even if some of it is already available free of charge online (the Choice Cuts interviews, the commentaries) its inclusion here is certainly preferable to the alternative. The Fright Night: 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray looks to be all region compatible, and played just fine in my Region B secondary deck.

Example of the blocking that occasionally shows itself - the discotheque scene seems the most problematic in this regard.
Example of the blocking that occasionally shows itself – the discotheque scene is particularly problematic in this regard.

There isn’t much more to say. The Fright Night: 30th Anniversary  Blu-ray is a welcome upgrade to the editions the film has received in the past, and a pretty solid release of an ’80s cult favorite besides. Unfortunately it’s also well out-of-print, and the hysterical prices it’s already going for at eBay and elsewhere make a straight-up recommendation difficult. I’m more inclined to suggest one of the import editions – barebones though they may be, at $15 or less at least they won’t break the bank. Otherwise, the crucible of third party pricing awaits.

Tremendous! Stupendous! Fun! HERCULES IN NEW YORK to Blu-ray in February

And the strange title announcements continue to roll in from abroad. That’s right folks, Arnie’s first feature film outing is getting the Blu-ray treatment in February courtesy of Austria’s NSM Records. Hercules in New York will be arriving via three dual-format Mediabook options, each of which is limited to just 333 copies. The cover options are shared below:

I suspect the transfer here will be the same as the HD option domestic distributor Lionsgate have up for streaming on Amazon, for better or worse. I’ve not seen it, so I can’t really comment. According to bluray-disc.de, the NSM Records blu-ray is supposed to be a single layer BD-25, with German and English audio options (DTS-HD MA 2.0 for each) and optional German subtitles. The disc is advertised as being locked to region B. Expected supplements are as follows:

  • Original Schwarzenegger voice recording
  • Ein Österreicher in Hollywood (45 minute documentary)
  • Original Trailer
  • Filmography
  • 12-page Mediabook packaging with text by Nando Rohner

Hercules in New York streets February 27th 2015 and, typical for limited edition Mediabooks, the price point here is pretty steep – the three editions are each going for EUR 39.99 (nearly $50 USD) currently at Amazon.de (DTM have it for less, but I’ve no idea what they charge for shipping these days). Still, I am powerless to resist. Let the Central Park bear fighting begin!

HNY_Italian_Blu-ray

(1/14/2015) Edit to Add:  Hercules in New York is already available on Blu-ray, and at a significantly lower price (around EUR 10 compared to EUR 40), from Italian label Pulp Video. I’ve no idea what if any supplemental content to expect, but audio options are listed as 2.0 Italian or English, and 5.1 Italian (Italian subtitles, presumably removable, are also included) on the back cover artwork provided at Amazon.it. I should note that I’ve cancelled my order of the German Mediabook in favor of this more affordable edition, and will update this page with the on-disc specs as soon as I have it in hand. The front cover artwork is shared above.

(1/28/2015) A Few Thoughts on the Italian Blu-ray: So this is pretty disappointing, and I’ve my doubts that the German edition will fare much better. The Italian release is all region compatible (plays fine on my PS3), but is single layered and features lossy Dolby Digital audio only (all tracks, Italian 5.1 and 2.0 and English 2.0, the latter featuring Arnie’s original voice work). More distressing is the transfer, licensed from Lionsgate. The 1.78:1 framing plays fine, and the source scanned is in better shape than one might anticipate (fairly clean, with little overt damage and some punchiness in the color department), but that’s where the good ends. The entire film has some utterly awkward noise reduction applied, rendering whatever might have been film texture in a past life a weird and noisy mess. Most of the potential for fine detail is lost, and while it doesn’t play terribly in motion I wouldn’t recommend looking too closely. I’ve included some screenshots below (uncompressed .png even), which should illustrate the issue well enough. Supplements are limited to a still image gallery, and that’s it. The best thing this has going for it is the cover, which is pretty sharp stuff, but even at EUR 10 or so it’s a tough sell. Those keen on seeing the film in HD are encouraged to stick to the streaming copies available on Amazon, Vudu (4:3 open matte) and elsewhere. I have the latter, and it plays at least as well as this Blu-ray does.


 

Disc Love: The X From Outer Space
「宇宙大怪獣ギララ」 (Shochiku Blu-ray)

My thoughts on director Kazui Nihonmatsu’s oddball kaiju opus Space Monster Guilala The X From Outer Space haven’t changed all that much since I reviewed it a couple of years back in conjunction with the it’s domestic DVD premiere. remains a gigantic mess of a picture, an awkward mix of swinging space travel, lethargic romance, and ludicrous giant monster action that appears as though it were edited together by someone with no knowledge as to what story it’s various bits were supposed to be telling. I would be remiss, however, in saying that I hadn’t softened a bit more to the film over those ensuing years. There’s a definite charm to be found in its propulsive sort of pointlessness, a euphoric brand of utter silliness that could only have been born in the space-crazed ’60s, with the Apollo program on the rise. This is the antithesis of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the recent Interstellar – post-Kubrick science fiction has about as much interest in lunar surface bounce-party diversions and impromptu astronaut cocktail shindigs as X does in actual science, but then that’s the greater part of X‘s appeal.

Astronauts

I suspect there will be plenty of reappraisal of X‘s willfully goofy space-age charms in the wake of its latest video edition, a fine blu-ray offering from Shochiku in Japan which presents the film in its first new transfer in more than a decade (from Shochiku’s ‘Collector’s Edition’ in 2001 to Criterion / Eclipse’s release in 2012, X‘s DVD editions have all regurgitated the same lackluster SD master). Released as part of the company’s new The Best of Films in Those Days Shochiku Blu-ray Collection (あの頃映画 the BEST 松竹ブルーレイ・コレクション), X and its minimal supportive content receive a well-encoded single layer BD25 treatment at the bargain price (by Japanese standards) of ¥3,300 plus tax. Better yet, the disc looks to be all region compatible (it played fine on my Region B secondary deck), and while English subtitle support has not been included an English dub for the film has. I suspect this one will turn up on many a tokusatsu fan’s shopping list this holiday season, and with good reason.

Shochiku’s new HD master for The X From Outer Space presents the film in full 1080p at the proper Shochiku GrandScope ratio of 2.39:1, and adeptly corrects the many weaknesses of the DVD master that preceded it. Framing is now consistent and stable (the old master was fond of showing ragged frame edges), mid-range contrast is no longer boosted beyond the pale, and the finer detail of the 35mm photography finally shines through. The image here is darker and richer overall than has been evidenced in the past, and the more balanced color still packs plenty of pop. The image loses trace amounts of information at the edges in comparison to the DVDs, but most of this was never intended to be seen by viewers – the jagged extremities of the 35mm frame should never have been allowed onscreen in the first place, and their loss here is a positive. has also been digitally restored, albeit only to a point. The image is still afflicted by traces of splice gunk and dust and specks crop up from time to time, but the major damage (particularly during the film’s frequent optical effects) has been corrected, leaving X looking better than it would’ve when new in many instances. Detail advances as much as one might hope in comparison to the old DVD master (the comparisons below will tell more in that regard than I ever could), and there’s a subtle layer of grain tinkering about attractively in the background. Technical specs provide more than ample support – X receives an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 29.3 Mbps (with peaks to 40.0 Mbps), and I noted nothing in the way of significant artifacts. It all adds up to a fine looking video presentation, and fans should be very pleased indeed.

Criterion / Eclipse DVD (L) vs. Shochiku Blu-ray (R)
Frame matches are not exact in all cases.

Audio isn’t likely to wow anyone with regards to The X From Outer Space, but Shochiku have done quite well given the limitations of the film’s original mix. There are no artificial bumps to contend with, just the original Japanese monophonic recording presented in lossless 2.0 LPCM (48kHz / 24-bit). I noticed no significant wear and tear (pops, hiss and the like) and aside from some shrillness at the high end the track sounds very nice. A set of optional Japanese SDH subtitles are offered in support. Included as a bonus is Shochiku’s own English dubbed track for the film, which is in a bit rougher shape than its Japanese counterpart, but still perfectly presentable. The English track, too, is given a lossless encode, albeit at a lower bit depth – 2.0 monophonic LPCM (48kHz / 16-bit). A second set of optional Japanese subtitles is offered in support of the English dub track.

City

As with all of the titles in Shochiku’s …the Best blu-ray line, supplements are extremely limited. The original theatrical trailer (4 minutes) for The X From Outer Space is included, as is a short theatrical dispatch (~40 seconds) announcing the production (this was a treat, as I’d never seen it before). Though unrestored, each is presented in native 1080p HD with lossless 48kHz / 24-bit audio – one can’t ask for much more in that regard. Strangely absent is a second, longer dispatch for the film that was included on the original Shochiku DVD, which featured Guilala’s fanciful naming ceremony. The first pressing of the blu-ray also includes a miniature lobby card replica, in this case a familiar shot of Guilala on the lunar surface with the FAFC moon base and Astro-Boat AAB Gamma tooling about in the background.

There’s not much else to say, really. While a bit more supplemental heft would have been appreciated (isn’t that always the case?), it’s tough to argue against Shochiku’s efforts here. This is an excellent and affordable presentation of a real oddball of a film, and I’ve got no complaints. The X From Outer Space was released December 3rd, and is readily available for purchase through Amazon.co.jp, HMV, and the other usual outlets.

Cover (w/ OBI):

Cover

More Blu-ray Shots: 

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Disc Love: Godzilla Raids Again
「ゴジラの逆襲」 (2014 Toho Blu-ray)

While the oft-lamented Godzilla’s Revenge may come close, it’s difficult to imagine another film in the series’ initial run that has been more regularly criticized, derided, and generally disliked than 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again. Produced swiftly in the wake of the 1954 original’s considerable success (it was playing cinemas just six months later), Godzilla Raids Again bucks the first film’s overt politicizing and potent allusion to Japan’s recent wartime experience and plays instead as a straight entertainment. I suspect that this is, in large part, why the film has become such a source of discontent. Sans the allegory of the first and made in a time before the studio’s unique fantasy tradition had become established, Godzilla Raids Again‘s overall competence as monster entertainment has been utterly overshadowed by the greater Toho daikaiju canon. With the following year’s Rodan jump-starting a golden age of tokusatsu production in color, Godzilla Raids Again‘s comparatively modest and apolitical black-and-white thrills just can’t compete.

More’s the pity, as judged by its own merits Godzilla Raids Again isn’t a bad little film at all. With Tokyo still in ruin following the first Godzilla’s appearance the 1955 film shifts its attentions to the heavily industrialized Osaka, and to the every-men therein. Studio scribes Takeo Murata (Rodan) and Shigeaki Hidaka (soon to be a director at Toei, where he would devise the grim The Final War) center the action around the workings of an Osaka tuna fishery, and on tuna spotters Tsukioka (relative newcomer Hiroshi Koizumi, Mothra) and Kobayashi (established star Minoru Chiaki, The Seven Samurai) in particular. When engine trouble strands Kobayashi on a remote deserted island Tsukioka comes to the rescue, but the pilots’ relief is cut short by the appearance on the island of two horrible monsters; a second Godzilla locked in ferocious combat with a new threat, the gigantic ankylosaur Angilas.

When the beasts’ battle plunges them into the depths of the sea the two pilots escape and make their way to the mainland, where they report the event to shocked authorities. When Godzilla is spotted, his course leading him dangerously close to Osaka, defensive plans are swiftly put into effect. A blackout is instituted city-wide while Self-Defense forces roll into position around Osaka Bay. Meanwhile JASDF aircraft drop flares in the direction of open sea, hoping that the light (reminiscent of the flash of the H-bomb, which forced the beast from his deep-sea niche) will lure Godzilla from populated areas. Just as the plan seems poised to work disaster strikes. A blaze erupts in a nearby fuel refinery, and Godzilla once more sets his sights on Osaka. Events take a still more dreadful turn when the pursuing Angilas also appears, intent on resuming its battle with Godzilla…

Resident Toho program picture director Motoyoshi Oda keeps Godzilla Raids Again‘s rather sparse drama (dominated by a spare romance between Koizumi’s pilot and fishery radio operator Setsuko Wakayama, Battle of Roses) moving at a decent pace, and the picture’s special effects highlight – the razing of Osaka by Godzilla and Angilas – arrives less than half an hour after the monsters’ first appear. In the interim the film builds a potent sense of doom-and-gloom, with Koizumi and Wakayama pondering their future as squads JASDF jets patrol the suddenly militarized Osaka (writer Hidaka would utilize this juxtaposition of human drama and heightened military activity to even better effect for 1960’s The Final War). Masaru Sato’s occasionally brilliant score packs the final disquieting punch, punctuating Godzilla’s initial appearance in Osaka Bay with a rumbling blend of cymbals, gong, and harp.

With the landfall of Godzilla and Angilas the special effects, directed again by Eiji Tsuburaya with photographic direction by Sadamasa Arikawa (The Mighty Peking Man), take center stage. The miniatures of Osaka are as intricate and detailed as any devised by Tsuburaya and company, and Arikawa adds depth to some of the wider shots with in-camera mattes of clouded skies. Process photography is more frequent and more ambitious than in the first film, allowing the monsters to duel behind live action of of fleeing civilians or location shots of certain landmarks (a precursor to the monster travelogues that crop up so frequently in the ’90s films), though the lack of a proper optical printer among Toho’s assets lends the shots a rather unstable quality. Military efforts against the two monsters are managed largely through trick photography as well, with footage of exploding ordnance and inbound rockets composited over shots of Godzilla and Angilas brawling (this method would be refined for the following year’s Rodan).

Then, of course, there are the monsters themselves. The second Godzilla suit improved heavily upon the first with regards to mobility, if not necessarily in its aesthetics. The spiky quadruped Angilas makes for an interesting visual counterpoint to the film’s slender, bipedal Godzilla, and their combat choreography is more consistently direct and physical than what would be seen in most of the later series entries. The swift progression of the battle, from Osaka Bay and the city’s industrial districts to iconic Osaka Castle, ups the pace of destruction considerably – Godzilla and Angilas absolutely steamroll the miniature Osaka on their way to a climactic final showdown by the city’s most famous landmark. Augmenting all this is one of Godzilla Raids Again‘s more maligned aspects – a wealth of footage of hand-operated Godzilla and Angilas puppets, which Tsuburaya and company utilize whenever close-ups of the monsters are called for. The puppets themselves are of love-’em or hate-’em stuff (love ’em!), and the overall effectiveness of the technique will depend purely on your willingness to look beyond the transparency of the method and buy into the action portrayed (and there is a lot of it). For his part Tsuburaya seems to have been quite enamored with the process, and puppets of his various giant critters made frequent appearances through 1964’s Ghidrah the Three Headed Monster.

While Godzilla Raids Again is to be commended for getting to the action early, the film missteps a bit in running its monster conflict concept through to its logical conclusion (spoiler: Godzilla wins) with three full reels yet to play. After the siege of Osaka it is left to the human drama to keep pace until Godzilla inevitably re-emerges and is ultimately dealt with, and while there’s nothing objectively wrong with Murata and Hidaka’s low-key distractions here one would be forgiven for finding them less melodramatic than might have been hoped for in such a case. While his home fishery picks up the pieces and limps back to operation spotter Kobayashi takes a job with a Hokkaido operation, where he finds personal fulfillment and perhaps even a first love (he keeps coy through to the bitter end). Quaint, but not exactly thrilling. It can’t last, however, and when word arrives that Godzilla has resurfaced, sinking one of the Hokkaido fishery’s ships in the process, Tsukioka and Kobayashi join the Self-Defense Forces’ search for the beast and eventually track him to an isolated and icebound island. There the stage is set for a final confrontation in which modern military might and no small sum of human sacrifice will be pit against one giant monster’s nigh-irrevocable might.

The finale of Godzilla Raids Again is practically a celebration of Japan’s nationalist spirit, and quite the change of pace from the elegiac underwater conclusion of the first film. Tsukioka joins ranks with friends from the time of the Imperial Navy, now with the JASDF, and flies bravely into battle against a seemingly insurmountable foe while Kobayashi’s self-sacrificial actions (scored with a brassy tragic-heroic sting from Sato) evoke the suicide pilots of a decade prior. The sensibility is doubtless comparable to that of the many war films produced by Toho around the same time, and geared to play at the same audience sympathies. It’s a good, if transparent, trick – nationalism as escapism has always been bankable (put a Transformer(c)(r)(tm)(etc) in front of an American flag and watch the millions roll in). Nationalism or no I find the sequence itself quite exciting, and there’s a delicious sort of justice to the JASDF’s plan to dispense with Godzilla – burying him, a monster born of atomic fire, under a mountain of ice. The montage here can be overpowering in its repetition (rockets firing, explosions, a torrent of falling ice, repeat), as though Godzilla is to be defeated through sheer force of editing alone. Tsuburaya’s effects direction is typically excellent, as is Arikawa’s effects photography (the mattes that expand the icy island sets are lovely), and production of the sequence doubtless proved informative for the pair, who would engineer a very similar setup (with regards to its effects at least) for the finale of Rodan the following year.

Lesser than the first and well overshadowed by what was to come, Godzilla Raids Again has the dubious honor of being “the second one” in what would improbably become one of cinema’s most indomitable franchises. Indeed, it’s doubtful anyone at Toho would have or could have seen Godzilla’s potential as a series player at the time of Godzilla Raids Again‘s production, though King Kong vs. Godzilla‘s monumental box office take would convince them otherwise soon enough. Still, as second ones go Godzilla Raids Again isn’t half bad. The effects can still thrill even if the drama barely simmers, and though the novelty of the daikaiju throw-down has been worn down to its atoms through decades of reiteration Godzilla’s first monster battle remains good mean fun. Besides, I dig those groovy puppets.


Nearly four and a half years since their last round of tokusatsu blu-rays made it to market, Toho Visual Entertainment are finally back in the game. Godzilla Raids Again was just one of the sixteen new Godzilla blu-rays to see release last month as part of the company’s celebration of the monster’s 60th anniversary, and a title long awaited by… well, me at least. (…And plenty of others, I’m sure – I don’t pretend to be the only one out there who enjoys Godzilla Raids Again. It just feels that way sometimes.)

Cover 003

Aesthetically Godzilla Raids Again is in keeping with Toho Visual’s past genre Blu-ray releases, and arrives with an attractive slipcase that duplicates the blu-ray sleeve art. The first edition pressing also comes with a 60th anniversary obi wrap advertising both that celebration and the Japanese release of this year’s Godzilla. The disc itself is an all-region compatible dual layer BD50. The main menu boots immediately after the Toho Visual Entertainment bumper and rights notices (both skippable), and while it looks precisely in keeping with the menus on the company’s past discs the functions have been subtly improved upon. Aside from being smoother in action the menu also loads more swiftly than in the past, with no dedicated “loading” screen intruding, and the gruesome and useless two-option selection screens which preceded the main menus on past Toho Visual releases have blessedly been done away with.

Godzilla Raids Again was released on July 16 of this year and retails for ¥4,700 (plus tax, where applicable). Those interested in the film should note that Splendid Film in Germany have also released a Blu-ray of this title, and while it is bereft of extras (the German version of the film included on the earlier DVD edition is absent) and very likely region B locked, it also carries a significantly lower price tag (around EUR 10.00 at Amazon.de).


For better or worse Godzilla Raids Again is sourced from the same Hi-Vision restoration that first premiered on Japanese television in 2008, and while I’m pleased overall with the results they are certainly far from perfect. Like many of Toho’s high definition transfers Godzilla Raids Again is fairly soft, and while textures and detail (particularly in the monster designs) show up well they aren’t as clearly defined as they perhaps could or should be. The overall softness of the image prevents the texture of the film itself from ever really showing through as well, though I suspect no overzealous application of smoothing or noise reduction filters. I think this transfer was likely soft from the outset, and zooming in reveals noise lurking in the darker portions of the image (quite minor and unobtrusive in practice, but it is there).

One wonders at the state of the perforations on the surviving elements for Godzilla Raids Again, as the only stable and consistent aspect of the high definition master is how consistently unstable it is. While a handful of opticals fare the worst, with added judder baked right in, there is considerable motion to the frame elsewhere as well. How much of this could have been fixed digitally and how much at the frame edges would be compromised in the process is beyond me. Otherwise Godzilla Raids Again can appear a touch foggy (a result of the elements used, dupes well removed from the presumably non-extant OCN, as SD masters have had this issue as well), and contrast is quite flat throughout. Minor damage in the form of speckles and light scratches is present throughout, along with a few instances of heavier damage, and there is some overall instability in the elements that lends the image a sort of blotchiness in playback.

It may sound as though I’m giving Godzilla Raids Again a tough shake, but given the preservation status of so many classic Japanese films of this period (most of which now exist only in degraded 35mm elements) it is always best to keep expectations soundly in check. I don’t think Godzilla Raids Again looks bad at all in practice, but it is quite rough overall and certainly not up to any sort of digital restoration standard. A more robust 2K or 4K attempt could result in better, and likely considerably so (see my comments in the extras section), but the likelihood of this is who-knows-what. Until then, the new Blu-ray offers a decent if not especially spectacular presentation of the film that improves upon the SD iterations of the past, even if only in a limited fashion. Technical specifications are robust, with even this brief feature (82 minutes) creeping into dual layer territory. Godzilla Raids Again is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.34:1 by way of an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at a sky-high average bitrate of 38.3 Mbps. The transfer undoubtedly has its issues, but encoding deficiencies are not among them.


Godzilla Raids Again has never sounded particularly fresh in its various home video iterations, and the Blu-ray continues that trend with an honest presentation of meddlesome elements. The film’s original Japanese track is presented in 2 channel monophonic LPCM (16 bit, 48 kHz) and can sound quite strong in patches and quite weak in others. Whether due to limitations in the original recording or deterioration of the source elements or both, Godzilla Raids Again has some distortion at the high end (notable during some of Sato’s cues) as well as a bit of persistent background hiss and crackle. Dialogue generally comes through clearly enough, and the monster roars can sound unexpectedly robust in places (particularly Godzilla’s). None of this is really a change from how the film has sounded in the past, but I can’t complain. As is their norm, Toho Visual offer no English audio options and no English subtitles, though a set of optional Japanese SDH subtitles are accessible if needed.

With no artificial surround bumps up for consideration (I imagine they’d be pretty lousy given the elements at hand anyway), Godzilla Raids Again‘s second listening option is instead an isolated track of Masaru Sato’s alternately inspired and mundane score for the film. While the sources here still have some limitations (some background hiss here and there, the occasional pop) the overall sound is very nice indeed in 2 channel monophonic DTS-HD MA (16 bit, 48 kHz, 1.7 Mbps). Sato’s more generic cues come through nice and clear, but the stand-out tracks are his more experimental ones – like the mix of modulated cymbals, gong, and harp, so bizarre as to be nearly alienated from their instruments of origin, and the meandering of breathy strings and low reeds that heralds Godzilla’s arrival in Osaka Bay. At its worst, as during Koizumi and Wakayama’s romantic chit-chats or Kobayashi’s sacrificial end, the score here is bland and overstated, but in its best moments Sato crafts beautifully, almost profoundly understated material the likes of which the Godzilla series, with its overtones of horror on the wane, would never hear again. It’s a fascinating if occasionally underwhelming score, and it was wonderful to be able to revisit it in this way, lossless and in context with the scenes for which it was composed.


Toho Visual have offered up an unexpected wealth of material on their latest Godzilla blu-rays, providing a wide array of new stuff to consider instead of just rehashing the content of their older DVDs. Godzilla Raids Again is no exception, and while it loses the vast still galleries present on Toho’s R2 DVD it also gains a lot of valuable content all its own.

First up is an item as aggravating as it is interesting – a dispatch trailer (HD, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 1:18) hitherto unseen, featuring both finished dramatic shots and previously unseen B-roll effects footage, including a few alternate takes from those seen in the film and a few shots utterly unrepresented in the finished product. The original audio appears to have been lost in so far as this brief dispatch is concerned, and as such Toho have (rather carelessly) tracked in sound effects, dialogue, and music from the finished film. This is avoided easily enough with the mute button if one so chooses, and is no big deal. The point of frustration is the transfer which, though un-restored and littered with damage and image instabilities, still manages to look a good deal better than the feature presentation does. Godzilla Raids Again was never going to be a tack-sharp production on the order of those seen today, and to expect such would be unrealistic to the point of absurdity, but the trailer (obviously sourced from a newer scan than the film itself) still improves quite drastically with regards to clarity and finer detail, and the fine patina of grain finally shines through. I doubt the surviving elements for the feature could ever look quite this good, further removed as they are from the OCN, but oh what could have been if this quality of scan had been done of them! Toho Visual present the trailer at the proper Academy ratio of 1.37:1 with a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a high average bitrate of 35.8 Mbps. Screenshots below.

Next up is Movie Theater Broadcast SP (standard play) Record: Godzilla Raids Again / Godzilla (HD, Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, 6 minutes), which presents a pair of rare dramatic advertisements (one each for the 1954 and 1955 films respectively) sourced, as you would expect, from studio-issued SP records. These make for a neat listen, particularly the more heavily dramatized (and far rougher sounding) 1954 advertisement. Video accompaniment includes still shots of the records from which the audio was sourced with informative notations in Japanese.

Snapshot View: Special Technique of Godzilla Raids Again (HD, Dolby Digital sound, 12 minutes) is as close as the new Toho Visual Blu-ray comes to emulating the comprehensive image galleries of the original Toho DVD, and features a good deal of behind-the-scenes still photos (with Japanese subtitle notation) showing the design and eventual construction of Angilas and Godzilla in their myriad forms, as well as the construction and summary demolition of the miniature sets of Osaka (including the stunningly realized build of Osaka Castle) by the rampaging monsters, a few publicity shots of the cast visiting the effects and of the monsters horsing around on the Toho lot, and some documentation of the on-location shooting. The stills are all gorgeously re-scanned in HD, even if they are less numerous than on the past DVD, and make for a great watch.

Next up is Godzilla’s Creation! Yoshio Suzuki (HD, Dolby Digital sound, 20 minutes), a lengthy new discussion about Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again with the one-time Toho bit actor and regular director of Tsuburaya effects television (including Ultraseven, Ultraman Ace, and non-Tsuburaya projects like The Super Robot Red Baron). Rounding out the new material on disc is an HD image gallery of the original theater brochure for the film, which prominently features a good deal of illustrated key art that might have made its way into newspapers around the time of release. A feature audio commentary (Dolby Digital encoded) with late effects cinematographer Sadamasa Arikawa and his assistant Tomioka Motoyoshi rounds out the Blu-ray’s supplemental content, and is the only item (the aforementioned isolated score excepted) to have been ported from the earlier R2 DVD.


Toho have a 4k restoration of the original Godzilla that’s been playing cinemas recently, and one sincerely hopes that the rest of the series eventually gets that kind of attention – or at the very least fresh 2K scans, restored or no. Godzilla Raids Again could certainly use another pass, but if this is the best it ever gets I think I may just live. Despite the issues enumerated in the Video section above the film plays well enough, and Toho certainly haven’t skimped on the supplements. Fans with more than a passing interest in the picture (and the expendable income to blow on Japanese imports) are encouraged to indulge, but to keep their expectations for the feature presentation firmly in check. Otherwise the lower priced and bare-bones German Blu-ray may be the way to go.
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In den Klauen der Tiefe:
The Mole People (1956)

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The Mole People is reviewed from Anolis Entertainment’s region B-locked Blu-ray, released on April 17 of this year. The disc is limited to 1000 copies and can be found at Amazon.de and elsewhere.

From over-achieving B’s like Tarantula! and The Monolith Monsters to outright classics like The Incredible Shrinking Man and It Came From Outer Space, there were an awful lot of very good sci-fi thrillers produced under the banner of Universal International through the late 1950s. One would be hard-pressed to cite 1956’s The Mole People as one of them. Produced on the fast and cheap, The Mole People‘s limp tale of lost world misadventure has exactly one ace up its sleeve – its eponymous monsters, the memorable work of make-up artists Bud Westmore and Jack Kevan (The Creature From the Black Lagoon). Wisely trumped up to the nth degree by the company’s keen advertising department, which churned out some terrific art for the cause, the fantastic critter design should have been enough in its own right to hook the intended crowds of teenagers and grade-schoolers. Universal must have turned a small fortune on The Mole People‘s slim pickings.

And slim they are indeed. Penned by Laszlo Gorog (Earth vs. The Spider) and helmed by veteran editor turned freshman director Virgil W. Vogel (whose résumé boasts such disparate works as Touch of Evil and Invasion of the Animal People), The Mole People distills an already rote exercise in fantasy action and adventure to a torpid lump of patience-defying essentials. The yarn begins in an anonymous gravel pit in Asia (specifics are overrated), site of an archaeological dig to uncover the the long-lost secrets of the Sharu dynasty, unheard of since the time of the Biblical flood (established historical fact in so far as The Mole People is concerned). Leading the effort is one Dr. Bentley (John Agar, The Brain From Planet Arous), who has unearthed evidence of something hitherto unheard of – a post-flood history of Sharu and his civilization!

Doc Bentley and a cadre of co-archaeologists (including an excitable Nestor Paiva, an expendable Phil Chambers, and a very bored Hugh Beaumont) follow their new evidence to the last known location of their lost kingdom, the summit of an inhospitable mountain nearby. There they find the remnants of an ancient temple, but before any meaningful research can be done tragedy strikes! Chambers slips through a hole in the temple’s unstable floor and plummets into the untold depths below, leaving the rest of the team no recourse but to don their climbing gear and descend through the darkness after him. What they find is more or less predicable – hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth Chambers has reached the end of his contract. A rock slide traps the rest in the abyss, but their desperate search for an alternate means of exit instead leads them right into the heart of the Sharu dynasty, paler for all their millennia underground and still partying like it’s 3000 B.C. Now numbering just 150, the kingdom subsists wholly on mushrooms cultivated and harvested by their subhuman slave race (guess who!) and sacrifices any superfluous citizenry in the “fire of Ishtar”. Bentley and associates aren’t exactly welcome in Sharu’s domain, with the high priest Elinu (Alan Napier!) taking particular exception to their threat to his (very) narrow world view. But the archaeologists carry with them a god-like power – the very fire of Ishtar itself! – a power the scheming Elinu will stop at nothing to possess!

SidePoster1The Mole People owes a substantial debt to the wealth of lost world fiction that had come before it (certain elements are lifted straight from the work of H. Rider Haggard, such as the archaeologists presenting themselves as gods a la King Solomon’s Mines), though it lives up to almost none of them. One might complain about the overall lack of production punch, with some anonymous darkened tunnels, a handful of sparse sets, and a couple of tremendously unconvincing matte paintings comprising the sum total of the lost Sharu empire, but The Mole People‘s low budget trappings are only amplified by the impoverished writing. Laszlo Gorog’s script must have run a dozen or so pages too short, as the finished film feels remarkably padded even at a brief 77 minutes. A dubious scientific lecture eats up half of the first reel, and the later descent to find Chambers’ fallen archaeologist seems to run almost in real time. Inaction remains the order of the day throughout. The film’s few horror moments are legitimately good – a shock close-up of Westmore and Kevan’s mole man design, a monster attack on one of the explorers, and several shots of men dragged beneath the earth – but there’s just nothing for them to punctuate. Bentley and company sit around and talk or wander aimlessly through tunnels, and high priest Elinu’s evil scheming amounts to a minor effort to steal John Agar’s flashlight (the fire of Ishtar!). The eventual uprising of the inhuman slaves against their masters feels less of a climax than an inevitability, and with so little of worth backing it up any significant impact it may have had is woefully undermined.

With so much of the script working against them it’s a wonder that any among The Mole People‘s generally good cast is able to shine at all. Alan Napier is the most radiant of the lot as the requisite villain type, and his performance is the only from the main cast that might be called passionate. His careful, curious handling of the flashlight, and the forbidden power Elinu thinks it contains, is the performance highlight of the film, an inspired take on an insipid plot development and a fine testament to the professionalism of Napier as an actor. Nestor Paiva is one of those rare talents the nature of whose performance quality seems to forever elude me. His turn here as the dubiously ethnic, sweaty, uncomfortable, and flighty LaFarge is all of the above and with un-traceable accent to spare – I honestly can’t tell if it works or not. As for the rest, passable seems the operative word. One can’t help but pity career also-ran Hugh Beaumont, whose indifference towards the production appears equal to the production’s indifference towards him. With few lines and only scraps of action, one can hardly blame him for standing around looking bored. Star John Agar always seemed to get the short end of the critical stick, but his turn as archaeologist Bentley offers nothing to sway his detractors. Agar dutifully recites Gorog’s goofy and utilitarian prose (“In archaeology all things are possible!“), but there’s no sign of the charismatic, promising young actor who can be glimpsed elsewhere. His delivery here is ill-paced and as dull as the proverbial dishwater, and only serves to bog down a production already awash with mediocrity. Most unfortunate of all may be second-billed Cynthia Patrick, who received the biggest role of her brief film career with The Mole People. Patrick makes her appearance half way in, the resident freak in Sharu’s court (flesh tone, how ghastly!), and is shuffled through a painful by-the-numbers romance with Agar’s archaeologist before falling in with the mole man crowd. Universal gave the actress precious little to do in her brief stint as a contract player, and one doubts this felt like much of a step up, or even a step in the right direction. After leaving the studio Patrick went on to freelance a bit in television, but soon abandoned show business all together in favor of a more reasonable profession – real estate.

SidePoster2I hate to sound overly critical of The Mole People, a film I’m genuinely quite fond of (honest!), but its more lamentable qualities are just part and parcel of what it is, and quite impossible to ignore. Still, out of all that rough more appreciable moments do arise. The opening titles are some of the best of their kind, rising from a smouldering pit as Heinz Roemheld and Herman Stein’s evocative theme blasts, and are worth seeking out the film for in and of themselves. The film’s horror moments are sparse, but are very well handled when they do appear (kudos to Westmore and Kevak’s convincingly grotesque creature design). Even the generally underwhelming production design has successful moments. The Sharu slave grounds are atmospheric and unsettling in their design, and their first wide reveal makes for one of The Mole People‘s most indelible moments. Then there is the film’s oddball opening, half a reel of padding by way of a some laughable “scientific” exposition. The eccentric mini-lecture entreats audiences to consider, of all things, a variety of hollow earth theories, notably those forwarded by John Cleves Symmes, Jr. and self-proclaimed messiah and Koreshanity founder Cyrus Teed (a fascinating character in his own right), and is delivered by The Mole People‘s most unlikely cast member – Dr. Frank C. Baxter, a PhD in English here appearing as himself. Though doubtless lost on most modern viewers, Baxter was himself something of a celebrity at the time The Mole People was produced. His Shakespeare on TV program was a popular success in the early ’50s and netted several Emmys, but his greatest public exposure arrived via a recurring role as Dr. Research, the host of a series of pseudo-religious science documentaries produced by Frank Capra and Bell Laboratories (AT&T). If his The Mole People appearance is any indication then Baxter must have been quite a character – his enthusiastic and strangely expressive approach to the film’s hollow earth babble is far more interesting than than any of the information espoused. It’s all rather compelling in its own odd way, and the sequence makes for one of the film’s more bizarre assets.

The Mole People will never be remembered as a good film, or even as a good example of the Universal brand of sci-fi / horror. While there are certainly a few captivating moments that emerge from the rough, one will have to weed through a good deal of dull, lethargic mess to appreciate them. Even from one who genuinely likes the picture, The Mole People makes for a tough recommendation. Though obviously a must for classic monster fans, who should find Westmore and Kevak’s work more than worth the price of admission, others should perhaps prepare themselves for just how tiresome 77 minutes can be.


The Mole People, under the title In den Klauen der Tiefe, is the second of Universal’s golden age sci-fi thrillers to see blu-ray release from Anolis Entertainment (The Monolith Monsters was released in March, with The Land Unknown to follow later in the year), and while it’s far from the top-list of desirable Blu-ray titles even in its own genre I’m still damned happy to have it.

Those familiar with Anolis’ earlier release of The Monolith Monsters will know what to expect here. The single-layer disc presents a robust progressive Mpeg-4 AVC encode of the film, average bitrate 30.7 Mbps, which dutifully supports The Mole People‘s modest visual charms. The Universal-supplied master presents the film at a ratio of 2.00:1, and while the image can appear a little too tight in places (a more open 1.85:1 framing would have been preferable in this case) I can’t say it detracted from my viewing experience in the least. The Mole People progresses well beyond past editions in its HD debut, adding significantly to the left and right of the frame and making impressive gains with regards to contrast and detail. There is a heavy grain structure throughout (the elements look a good few steps down from the OCN) that is well supported by the HD encode, and there is significant minor damage in evidence – speckling, scratches, even reel change markers. A perfect scan from pristine elements it certainly isn’t, but improvements are quite substantial over past SD editions, and one doubts if The Mole People will ever appear on home video in a superior condition. One point worth noting: The title card on the master sourced reads In den Klauen der Tiefe as opposed to The Mole People, though the rest of the credits remain in their usual English.

Anolis provides audio in two flavors – original English and German dub, each presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 (mono for English, stereo for German). The tracks sound quite flat in both instances, but sound perfectly faithful to the original recordings. Optional German subtitles are also available. Supplements are limited to a pair of trailers (a digitally-created German one, and the original American, both in SD) and an HD image gallery. Anolis Entertainment’s blu-ray of In den Klauen der Tiefe / The Mole People is locked to Region B, comes packaged in a slick black case, and is limited to a run of just 1000 copies. While a swift sell out is unlikely for such a marginal title I recommend those interested pick it up sooner rather than later – another blu-ray release seems unlikely in the near future.

DVD / Blu-ray comparison shots
DVD shots appear first, and have been upscaled to 1920×1440 for ease of comparison. Blu-ray shots were taken as uncompressed .png in Totem Movie Player and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 93% using the ImageMagick command line tool. No filtering has been applied.

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More Blu-ray shots:

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