Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)

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In Rod Hardy’s THIRST (1979) we’re introduced to Kate (Chantal Contouri), an attractive waif-like young fashion designer with a pet cat and a serious problem. Kate’s the last descendent of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, often cited as history’s first and most prolific female serial killer, and she’s been kidnapped by a group of power hungry aristocratic vampires known as ‘The Brotherhood’ who need her blood so they can fulfill their diabolical plan to turn the rest of us into human cattle. Will Kate outwit her sinister captors and survive her ordeal or succumb to her baser instincts? Thanks to a new Blu-ray package from Severin Films you can discover the answer to that question for yourself.

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January 25, 2014
David Kalat
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George C. Scott unwittingly trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States

Mike Nichols was a veteran comedy director of stage and screen, not to mention a comedy performer of no small renown.  He would go on to become of the few people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony (the fabled EGOT)—all but the Emmy being won for his comedy work.

Buck Henry was a prolific comedy writer whose career had taken him from the writing staff of The Steve Allen Show to co-creating Get Smart with Mel Brooks to updating Howard Hawks’ screwball classic Bringing Up Baby for a new generation under the title What’s Up Doc?  In the years to come he would become a recurring host of Saturday Night Live, a contributor to The Daily Show and a guest star on 30 Rock.

Together they had collaborated on The Graduate, and Catch 22.  They had a contractual obligation to producer Joseph E. Levine for a third film—and so in 1973 Mike Nichols and Buck Henry made a paranoid conspiracy thriller about a plot to use talking dolphins to assassinate the President.  This is a not a joke.

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KEYWORDS: Buck Henry, George C. Scott, Mike Nichols, The Day of the Dolphin
COMMENTS: 12
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LIGHTERS OF THE LAMP

Al Pacino & Frank Serpico

Pope Francis may have edged out Eric Snowden as “Person of the Year” at TIME magazine, but the contributions by the latter have had a deep and ongoing impact on our national psyche. A lot of whistleblowers wind up dead, behind bars, labeled traitors, or – like Snowden – on the run. Small wonder they’ve also found their lives dramatized on film. Their actions inevitably wrestle with big moral questions and all kinds of risks. They flirt with danger and sometimes succumb to tragedy. The high drama lends itself to the screen. Surely some 100 movies out there deal with the topic, many well regarded and yet to be seen by me. For example, I must have been asleep all of 2005, because I missed both The Constant Gardener and North County that year, films I still need to watch when time allows. My own short list must therefore be taken with a grain-of-salt. It’s not comprehensive so much as a casual cluster of what comes to mind. The consolation prize is that two of these will screen on TCM next month. [...MORE]

Adults Only: House on Straw Hill (1976)

lhIn the early 1980s British home video stores found themselves in the center of a storm when moral panic swept through the U.K. Religious leaders, parents and politically motivated individuals created what’s now known as the “video nasty” scare after discovering that stores were renting graphic horror films usually reserved for American grindhouses and indiscriminate drive-ins. Most of the objectionable movies were made in the U.S. or Italy where excessive violence and nudity had few problems getting past censors if it was properly rated but in Britain film censorship tended to be much more restrictive. Movies with explicit content and titles that often intended to shock such as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980), THE DRILLER KILLER (1979) and I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978) caused widespread outrage throughout the U.K. that led to them being removed from video stores, criminally prosecuted or cut for British audiences. The only British film that was apparently singled out during the video nasty scare was James Kenelm Clarke’s THE HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (aka Exposé; 1976). For decades this notorious erotic thriller has had the reputation of being one of the sleaziest films ever produced in Britain during the 1970s, which made it difficult to see. Badly cut or edited video copies circulated among the curious but the quality was always questionable. Thanks to the efforts of Severin Films I recently had the opportunity to catch up with this infamous film on DVD but it didn’t exactly live up to its seedy status. Is it an unsung cult classic waiting rediscovery? Or is it one of the most depraved movies ever made? In truth it’s neither of these things but I’m glad that Severin has saved the film from obscurity and given it a new life on DVD.

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The unexpected comedy stylings of Alfred Hitchcock

A while back, when I was preparing the audio commentary for To Be Or Not To Be, I found myself making repeated allusions and references to Foreign Correspondent. The more I made them, the more I found them not just useful but essential–and before long I had started to discover an entire network of deep structure connecting the two films. Not all of that was relevant to a discussion of To Be Or Not To Be, and the commentary track was already overstuffed so I had to jettison some material. This month’s celebration of Hitchcock seems a perfect opportunity to explore Foreign Correspondent‘s secret twinship with To Be Or Not To Be. (Sorry I couldn’t align this with last week’s cablecast of Foreign Correspondent–I wanted to get the Edwin S. Porter post in as close to the start of The Story of Film cycle as possible)

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Someone is Bleeding: Les seins de glace (1974)

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Before Richard Matheson etched out a name for himself as a popular writer of horror and science fiction he dabbled in crime fiction and mysteries. His very first novel was a pulpy noir titled Someone is Bleeding (aka The Frigid Flame or The Untouchable Divorcee) and it features many of the genre’s typical tropes. But Matheson was anything but a typical writer and this psychosexual thriller contains some surprising twists and turns including an ending that would have been right at home in an Edgar Allen Poe story or an EC Comic book from the ‘50s. In fact, after enjoying all the brash and snappy dialogue exchanges in Matheson’s 1953 literary debut you half expect the Crypt Keeper to appear at the end with some kind of funny anecdote to lessen the horror of the book’s final chapter but there’s no simple escape from this grim story. Like many of Matheson’s best tales, Someone is Bleeding leaves readers with an unshakable sense of dread and despair. In Matheson’s imperfect world everyone and everything is suspect. No one is safe and nothing is sacred.

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Derelict Dancers: Gerard Depardieu vs. Roman Polanski

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I’m fond of mysteries that evolve through conversation and unravel in small spaces such as Alfred Hitchcock’s ROPE (1948) and Robert Hosseins DOUBLE AGENTS (1959). The claustrophobia they evoke seems directly linked to our primal fears and primitive suspicions. One of the most interesting films in this vein is Giuseppe Tornatore’s A PURE FORMALITY aka Una Pura Formalita (1994). I recently revisited this opaque thriller after almost 20 years and was surprised by how effective it still was. Even though I was well aware of the surprise twist ending I was mesmerized from start to finish thanks to Tornatore’s deft directing choices, Pascal Quignard’s brilliant dialogue and the masterful performances etched out by two powerhouses of European cinema; Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski.

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Experiment in Terror, Exercise in Style

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Following the gargantuan success of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Blake Edwards acquired the freedom to develop his own projects. Typecast as a director of light comedies, he was eager to explore the stylistic opportunities offered by other genres. Experiment in Terror (1962) is the initial result, a thriller shot in stark B&W,  in which Edwards tries out a dazzling variety of styles, from baroque expressionism to naturalistic location photography of San Francsico. The plot, about a bank teller forced to rob her employer, is a dry procedural that moves from clue to clue with Dragnet terseness. Its main job is to move the protagonists around the city, so Edwards can light them in flamboyant chiaroscuro interiors or at Candlestick Park.   Experiment in Terror has the feel of a preternaturally talented kid playing with toys previously denied him. Twilight Time has released this bewitching oddity in a richly detailed Blu-Ray available through Screen Archives.

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