Hammer SD: Cash on Demand

Available in Sony’s The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films 3-disc DVD set, along with ManiacStop Me Before I Kill!The SnorkelNever Take Candy From A Stranger, and These Are the Damned. Order now through Amazon.com

Hammer may be best known for their horror productions, which would become their dominant stock and trade by the beginning of the 1970s and continues to be in their more recently revived form, but horror is by no means the only thing to have emerged from beneath the studio’s banner. In the early decades of its career Hammer proved itself quite a versatile film production outfit, turning out everything from pirate-themed action adventures and light comedies to science fiction and films noir. Proof positive of this versatility is 1962′s compact suspense vehicle / parable Cash on Demand, a real-time character driven piece that offers an answer to a question no one seems to have been asking  - what might Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have been like had it been about a bank heist instead?

True to its Dickensian roots Cash on Demand takes place around Christmastime, as the good employees of the Haversham branch of City and Colonial Bank prepare for both the holiday and the annual office party that comes along with it. Spirits are high, but Scrooge surrogate Mr. Fordyce (the esteemed Peter Cushing), manager of the branch, seems singularly determined to dampen them. He finds ink wells too dirty, pen tips corroded, and lo, Christmas cards as well? “Do you feel it really necessary to make such a display of your popularity?” he intones, with quiet disgust, upon finding one employee’s desk covered with the things. “Banking is one of the few dignified businesses left in the world. Do you mind terribly if we keep it that way?” Humbug, indeed.

Then there’s the matter of bank clerk Mr. Pearson (Richard Vernon, The Tomb of Ligeia), Cash on Demand‘s answer to Bob Cratchit and the predominant recipient of Mr. Fordyce’s abusive criticism. Two days before Christmas the business at hand is a botched transaction from some days prior in which a customer was overpaid to the tune of a ten pound note. The money was returned and everything seemingly set in order, but Mr. Fordyce is unconvinced. In the balance sheets he sees not a single errant transaction, but a whole conspiracy of falsification and embezzlement. As such Mr. Pearson’s takeaway for the holidays is not a bonus or even a pat on the back for a year’s work well done, but the threat of termination and a black mark on his record so severe as to prevent him from ever finding employment in the industry again.

On that cheerful note the tills are filled and the doors are opened. Unfortunately (or perhaps not) for Mr. Fordyce the first customer of the day is a real doozy – Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future all rolled into one. Col. Gore-Hepburn (Andre Morell, ) reads his card, and though he soon proves not to be from the home office of the bank’s insurer, an alleged unannounced inspection by which Gore-Hepburn uses as his cover, he remains an important man indeed. Dealing only with Mr. Fordyce directly, and careful not to invite the suspicions of the bank’s staff, not-Gore-Hepburn reveals his true intentions. The bank is loaded with Haversham’s Christmas Eve payroll, some £90,000 in all. Gore-Hepburn wants it, and has insured Mr. Fordyce’s cooperation in the most fiendish of ways. The banker’s wife and child have been taken as collateral, and unless Mr. Fordyce does precisely as instructed a grim fate is assured for both. The stage set, Gore-Hepburn puts the screws to Mr. Fordyce, along the way revealing a curious relish for teaching him the importance of Good Will Toward Men.

Like a number of other Hammer Film productions of the time, most notably The Abominable Snowman and the Quatermass trilogy, Cash on Demand was adapted from a previously successful teleplay – in this case The Gold Inside, a 70 minute program penned by teleplaywrite and novelist Jacques Gillies and produced and directed by Quentin Lawrence (The Crawling Eye) for ITV’s weekly Theatre 70. Though rewritten (and expanded from its network timeslot) by Lewis Greifer and David T. Chandler (Hammer’s SHE), Hammer were kind enough to retain two important elements from the previous television production – producer / director Quentin Lawrence, who served as director for Cash on Demand, and star Andre Morell, here reprising the role of the fallacious Col. Gore-Hepburn. Now paired with ace director of photography Arthur Grant (The Reptile, Quatermass and the Pit) director Lawrence, a fixture of English television but rarely of film, can do no wrong, and his star players certainly don’t hurt. Morell seems to relish the opportunity to set Peter Cushing (taking over for Richard Vernon from the teleplay) squirming all over again, having already done so once before as the sinister O’Brien (against Cushing’s Winston) in Rudolph Cartier and Nigel Kneale’s lauded adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The contributions of original teleplay writer Jacques Gillies should not be understated here, however, and the picture’s all-important suspense builds effortlessly from his premise. Amusingly the greatest anxiety is generated not during the heist itself but afterwards, when the safety of Fordyce’s family is left wholly dependent on the success of Gore-Hepburn’s getaway. A suspicious co-worker’s call to the police ratchets the level of dread still further, and just how close to being licked by Perdition’s flames Fordyce comes I’ll not say (the Dickinsian influence goes a fair way towards giving things up as it is). I must admit, though, that the film had me right where it wanted all the while. Jaded as I am it’s damned hard for any picture to manipulate me as such anymore, and if for that success alone Cash on Demand is deserving of praise.

Cash on Demand received its domestic (and perhaps worldwide) DVD debut courtesy of Sony’s seemingly abandoned Icons line, and aside from the dreadful packaging (like the earlier Toho Collection all three discs are stacked, one atop the other, on a central hub) it’s difficult to find a fault with the presentation. Cash on Demand is offered in an 80 minute cut at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and for a standard definition release it looks damned good. Detail and contrast are tight in the black and white image, which retains an appropriate hint of filmic texture and presents with very little in the way of damage. For a low budget production of so long ago (50 years now) it looks very nice indeed, and I’ve no complaints. Audio is serviceable, accurate DD2.0 monophonic, and is accompanied by optional English SDH subtitles. A theatrical trailer is the only supplement.

While the same logical conundrum that weighs against recent efforts like Phone Booth applies (just why does the robber care whether or not his mark has the proper social graces?) in general I found myself very pleased with Cash on Demand. It certainly delivers the suspenseful goods, and practically anything with Cushing or Morell attached is worth watching. The film looks great in its latest (and thus far only) iteration, and lamentable disc-stacking abuses aside Sony’s collection is a real steal. Highly recommended!

Order Cash on Demand  from Amazon.com

Screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in VLC Media Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Order Cash on Demand  from Amazon.com

The Lost World

dir. Irwin Allen
1960 / 20th Century Fox / 96′
written by Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett
from the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
director of photography Winton C. Hoch
music by
 Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter
starring Claude Raines, David Hedison, Jill St. John, Michael Rennie, Fernando Lamas, Richard Haydn and Vitina Marcus
The Lost World is available on both standalone 2-disc DVD and as part of a budget-priced 75th anniversary four-film DVD set (the latter version omits the second disc, which features the George Eastman House restoration of the 1925 The Lost World, as well as a trailer fragment and several minutes of effects outtakes, but pairs the feature with three others – Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Fantastic Voyage and The Towering Inferno).

Playing as a sort of matinee-ready follow-up to 20th Century Fox’s successful Journey to the Center of the Earth from the year before, 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 / abuse of large lizards and others of their ilk. It’s really a dreadful show by most measures, a fact 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 the challenge are Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie!), 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 the 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 identified by Challenger without him having had an opportunity to see 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 native wildlife far more interesting 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, besides the inclusion of Frosty the poodle in the character roster, is a love triangle revolving around the dull Jennifer Holmes and the backwards sexual politics that come with it. The Lost World, like From Hell It Came, 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 any of that is that Allen and Bennet have populated their The Lost World with such 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 (spoiler: the death of his beloved brother due to Roxton’s negligence) 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 a single and double-file lines to fill the frame. Winton Hoch’s vivid CinemaScope photography helps to distract from 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 work – convincing an audience that a Nile monitor topped off with a 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 hurling the participants over a ledge. These scenes were enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth even as a child, and certainly hasn’t grown on me since then. Allen trotted out this dinosaur footage at every opportunity during his television career, from The Time Tunnel to Land of the Giants, and even re-cast Vitina Marcus in her familiar cave-girl role in 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.

 
 
 

Whether you’ve picked it up on its own or as part of the company’s recent spate of 75th anniversary DVD multipacks (as I did, netting The Lost World and 3 co-features, each on their own disc, for just under $10), 20th Century Fox’s DVD edition of Irwin Allen’s The Lost World is certainly a looker – if I’m not mistaken this is the first time the film has been available on home video in its original CinemaScope 2.35:1 ratio.

Aside from some modest edge enhancement, a bit of minor damage (just some speckling, light scratching and dirt – nothing unexpected for a film of this vintage) and the odd errant reel change marker, there’s very little that can be held against Fox’s presentation of Irwin Allen’s schlockterpiece. From dense green foliage punctuated with brilliant blue and red flowers to the glowing reds of a lava chamber to the ridiculous jungle attire of Jill St. John (and her salmon pink luggage), the DeLuxe color is surprisingly bold, only falling flat during the occasional optical work (as when the Challenger expedition spots their first… ehem… dinosaur). To that end DVD Savant wrote of some anomalous color timing, but I didn’t notice anything untoward – note that I’ve only ever seen the film on VHS previously, and never theatrically, so make of that what you will. Contrast is at healthy levels throughout and detail is quite strong, particularly during the miniature photography. Even with a bit of obvious haloing this gave a strong presentation upscaled on my HD set, and the technical specs are unexpectedly robust – the Mpeg-2 encode clocks in with a high average bitrate of just over 8 Mbps.

 
 

 

Audio is less impressive, but gets the job done. The feature is accompanied by two stereo tracks in the original English – the original 4-track stereo mixed as Dolby Digital 3.1 surround as well as a standard Dolby Digital 2.0. There’s some strange directional stuff going on with the 3.1 option at times, with dialogue occasionally feeling as though it’s coming through on the wrong channel, but this didn’t bother me so much as how frail it sounded overall. Paul Sawtell and Bert Schefter’s strong score comes through well enough, as do the dinosaur roars (mostly recycled from Fox’s earlier Journey to the Center of the Earth) and other effects, but the dialogue can sound quite thin and weak. The 2.0 track does nothing to improve on that front, and I assume it’s just a fault of the original recording. Monophonic dubs in Spanish and French are also included, as are optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Film-specific supplements are light, but appreciated. A three-minute vintage featurette – Footprints on the Sands of Time - and a brief excerpt from Fox Movietone News (just under a minute) round out the documentary material, with an original theatrical trailer rounding out the video supplements as a whole. The best extras of the bunch are a set of comprehensive image galleries that cover pre-production artwork and film stills as well as ad art, an “interactive” press book, and Dell’s tie-in comic adaptation. There’s some terrific stuff here, especially with regards to the pre-production illustrations, though Fox impairs itself needlessly in making the galleries practically unmaneuverable. Those with the 2-disc standalone edition will also be treated to the George Eastman House restoration of the classic 1925 The Lost World, which runs 76 minutes, as well as some outtake footage and a trailer fragment for that (vastly superior) version of the story.

The $20 retail price attached to the stand-alone 2-disc DVD of Irwin Allen’s The Lost World seems a little steep to this bean counter, but you really can’t go wrong with the Studio Classics four-pack (unless you’re just after the GEH restoration of the 1925 film). This makes for a decent brain-off double bill played back to back with the much better Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and its demonstrable awfulness lends it some unexpected charm. Whichever edition you choose the Fox DVD is good stuff, a few caveats aside, and fans will definitely want to indulge.

No Blade of Grass

dir. Cornel Wilde
1970 / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / 97′
written by Sean Forestal and Cornel Wilde
from the novel by John Christopher
director of phogoraphy H.A.R. Thomson
music arranged and conducted by Burnell Whibley
starring Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederick, Jean Wallace, John Hamill, Patrick Holt and Anthony May
now available on dvd-r through the Warner Archive Collection and Amazon.com

How would so-called civilized men react were the first world to find itself in the midst of devastating famine? This is the question posed by No Blade of Grass, the penultimate directorial effort of eccentric talent Cornel Wilde, here adapting John Christopher’s monumentally successful freshman novel The Death of Grass (which had been re-titled for its Stateside publication). One of the first films of its kind, Wilde’s No Blade of Grass is a tale of social collapse in a time of ecological catastrophe – a virus has crippled worldwide grain production, plunging the developed nations into third-world anarchy.

Caught in the resulting upheaval are well-to-do architect John Custance (Nigel Davenport), his wife (Wilde’s then wife Jean Wallace), his teenaged daughter (Lynne Frederick in her film debut) and younger son. Working with advance information from a lab-tech friend (John Hamill) the family escape a nightmarish London, patrolled by machine gun-toting bobbies and barricaded by trigger-happy military forces, just as chaos descends upon it. The plan from there is simple enough – seek the safety of brother David Custance’s isolated, easily defended farm in Westmoreland – but with every individual in England suddenly fighting to survive the veneer of civility soon wears thin, and the Custances find themselves adopting unexpectedly vicious practices to preserve themselves.

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MST3K: “Manos” The Hands of Fate Special Edition

includes: ep 424 “Manos” The Hands of Fate  Year: 1993  Company: Best Brains   Runtime: 97′
Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Jim Mallon, Michael J. Nelson, Mary Jo Phel
Disc company: Shout! Factory   Video: 480i 4:3    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9 (2)   Release Date: 09/13/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory LLC. Thanks guys!

Here it is, folks – the most legendary episode of the cult television hit Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back, and the experiment is every bit as stupid as ever.  I suspect that I need not espouse the comedic virtues of series episode 424 “Manos” The Hands of Fate to anyone reading this article, and I won’t.  Frankly, I wouldn’t even know where to start, but those not in the know should rest assured that this episode has certainly earned its reputation for being the defining moment of the series.  Previously available in decade-old VHS and DVD editions from Rhino Video, cult video wunderkinds Shout! Factory have now seen fit to give “Manos” The Hands of Fate the duluxe DVD treatment.  God help us all.

Evidently sourced from the original broadcast master, episode 424 “Manos” The Hands of Fate is presented interlaced in its original 4:3 aspect ratio on disc one of this 2-disc set.  As has been the case with past Shout! Factory MST3K offerings, I suspect this presentation looks just about as good as it ever will.  Colors are vibrant and well saturated, and contrast and detail are at as high a level as one could ever expect from a television show produced on video in the early ’90s.  The audio, presented in the standard Dolby Digital 2.0 format, sounds just fine, and my only complaint with the presentation is the lack of subtitles.

  
  

Disc one continues with a slight but appreciated smattering of supplemental material.  First up is Group Therapy (18 minutes), in which the several of those involved in episode 424 (Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Trace Beaulieu and Mary Jo Phel)  gather for a friendly backyard chat about the episode’s production and the film itself.  The conversation is very laid back and informal compared to the standard interview format for such things, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  A collection of Mystery Science Theater Hour wraps for the episode (5 minutes) round out disc one, which just nudges into dual layer territory at 4.8 GB.  The disc menus are, as ever, hilarious, with an animated Crow and Tom Servo wisecracking as characters from the film make appearances.  Good stuff.

Disc two of the MST3K: “Manos” The Hands of Fate Special Edition plunges viewers into the deepest depths of cinematic awfulness, presenting the unvarnished original “Manos” The Hands of Fate for all to suffer.  A brief word of caution – “Manos” The Hands of Fate is every bit as dreadful as you could possibly imagine, and quite probably worse.  Produced, written, directed by and starring ego-centric insurance and fertilizer salesman Harold P. Warren, who purportedly began the project as reaction to a bet with acclaimed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, this is undeniably some of the worst of worst that American cinema has to offer.  Thanks to Shout! Factory you can now witness the shock, the horror, and one of film’s greatest abuses of leitmotif on your own – if you dare.

I had relatively high hopes for the untouched “Manos” The Hands of Fate on this disc, having seen over and over what kind of transfers Shout! are capable of through their tremendous line of Roger Corman titles, but no dice.  “Manos” looks positively horrid here, sourced from an aged tape master of what looks to have itself been sourced from an already terrible 16mm television print.  Interlaced, soft, dark and muddy, “Manos” appears worse for wear here than it does in the complementing episode, a monumental feat in and of itself.  If looking for something abysmal with which to torment your friends, this may well be the best thing out there.  Audio, presented in grubby Dolby Digital 2.0 English, sounds every bit as painful as it has in the past, and possibly a little worse.  There are no subtitles.

  

Where disc two really takes off is in its own supplemental department.  First up is the excellent documentary and interview piece Hotel Torgo (27 minutes), in which a handful of documentarians descend upon El Paso, TX to try and piece together just what transpired there and why some 40 years before.  Interviewed are “Manos” historian Richard Brandt and Bernie Rosenblum, photographer, co-star and stunt coordinator for the film.  The brief documentary also revisits various shooting locations, most notably the rundown remains of the hotel that serves as the setting, and a revival screening of the film.  I thought this was an exceptional piece, and while I’m unsure of whether it has ever been released before I am happy to see it here.

The remainder of the supplements pertain to those frequent secondary targets of MST3K - bizarre educational shorts.  First up is Hired! (Parts 1 and 2 together again) (18 minutes), which combines the MST3K treatment of the Jam Handy Organization short that was originally spread across two episodes.  The short follows the troubles of a Chevy salesman whose under-staff just aren’t performing as well as they should.  Humorous montages, strange conversation and head towels ensue.  Not included is the original un-mocked version of the short, which can be found quite readily at Archive.org.  Next up is My (Educational) Short Life (8 minutes), in which Joel Hodgson is interviewed with regards to the shorts that frequently appeared on MST3K, and the Jam Handy Organization films in particular.

 

The strangest supplement of the bunch is Jam Handy to the Rescue! (23 minutes), a co-production between Shout! Factory and featurette producer Ballyhoo Pictures that brings alleged writer, comedian and actor Larry Blamire together with ephemeral film history.  Half parody, half documentary, Jam Handy to the Rescue mixes archival footage and newly produced faux-educational short trappings to present details of the life and times of former Olympic athlete and commercial film pioneer Henry Jamison “Jam” Handy in a manner that, while awkward, seems rather appropriate.  I’m still not a Blamire convert, but I found this far more watchable than any of his own films and informative to boot.  Bloopers from the production (2 minutes) as well as a fake television spot for the film-within-a-film Look Over round out disc two.

Shout! Factory’s MST3K: “Manos” The Hands of Fate Special Edition packs nearly three hours of supplemental material in addition to one of the series’ very best episodes, making it one of the company’s most attractive television releases to date.  Though I suspect that no true MSTie is without “Manos” in their collection already, the wealth of material here coupled with a decent price tag ($24.97, but far less through most retailers) may render an upgrade irresistible.  Recommended!

in conclusion
Show: Excellent  Video: Very Good   Audio: Very Good   Supplements: Excellent
Harrumphs: No subtitles
Packaging: Clear 2-disc DVD case, with mini-poster recreation of cover art.
Final Words: The irresistible force of MST3K met the immovable awfulness of “Manos” The Hands of Fate nearly 20 years ago, but the end result is still a blast.  This Shout! Factory special edition packs a considerable supplemental wallop, and comes highly recommended to fans.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 XXI: MST3K vs. Gamera

includes: ep 302 Gamera, ep 304 Gamera vs. Barugon, ep 308 Gamera vs. Gaos,
ep 312 Gamera vs. Guiron, and ep 316 Gamera vs. Zigra   Year: 1991  Company: Best Brains   Runtime: 97′
Writers: Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, Kevin Murphy, Paul Chaplin,
Bridget Jones, Jim Mallon, Colleen Henjum, Lisa Sheretz, Jef Maynard   Cast: Joel Hodgson,
Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Jim Mallon, Michael J. Nelson, Bridget Jones, Jef Maynard
Disc company: Shout! Factory   Video: 480i 4:3    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9 (3) DVD5 (2)   Release Date: 08/02/2011   Product link: Amazon.com
Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory LLC. Thanks guys!

Across ten years and nearly two hundred episodes, it is hard for me to imagine any partnership between man and material more monumental than that between the crew of the Satellite of Love and the unstoppable syndication megalith Sandy Frank.  The masterminds of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 took aim at his package of English-dubbed import programs early and often, much to Frank’s chagrin, first discovering his handiwork in the available properties of Twin Cities area UHF station KTMA and subsequently re-discovering it during their years on Comedy Central.   From Humanoid Woman to Mighty Jack to Fugitive Alien I and II, there were few features with Frank’s name on them that weren’t square in the SOL’s sights at one time or another, and with good reason.

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Women in Cages Collection (The Big Doll House / The Big Bird Cage / Women in Cages)

Disc company: Shout! Factory   Video: 480p / 1.78:1    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: 2x DVD9   Release Date: 06/28/2011   Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory LLC (Thanks Mitzye!)  DVD available now at Amazon.comBlu-ray available for pre-order.

Shout! Factory are at it again, with the latest in their continuing line of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics turning up the heat just in time for summer to hit its stride.  The Women in Cages Collection brings together a course trio of Philippines-produced ‘women in prison’ exploitationers from the early years of Corman’s New World Pictures, all of which center around blaxploitation megastar Pam Grier (Foxy Brown) and her considerable assets, professional and otherwise.  The Women in Cages collection offers just about everything fans of Corman productions could ever ask for – plenty of exposed flesh and wanton depravity balanced by a hefty dose of blistering woman-scorned revenge.

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Trailers From Hell Volume 2

Disc company: Shout! Factory   Video: 480p / 4:3    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9   Release Date: 07/05/2011   Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory LLC (Thanks Mitzye!)  Available for purchase at Amazon.com

One of the more exciting developments in the cult film community over the past few years has been the advent of Trailers From Hell, a site that brings together obscure (and occasionally not so obscure) films and the Hollywood personalities who love them for rock-em sock-em two to four minute trailer commentaries that are accessible, free of charge, to the public.  Since its founding in October of 2007 Trailers From Hell has dabbled only infrequently in commercial territory, once with a Best from… compilation DVD last year and now (through distributor Shout! Factory) with Trailers From Hell Volume 2.  While Best from… offered just what it sounds like, Volume 2 boasts 20 newly-produced commentaries and a hell of a bonus – a new widescreen transfer of Roger Corman’s grim comedy opus The Little Shop of Horrors.

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Things

Year: 1989   Company: Left Field Productions   Runtime: 84′
Director: Andrew Jordan, Barry J. Gillis   Writers: Andrew Jones, Barry J. Gillis   Cinematography: Dan Riggs
Music: Stryk-9, Familiar Strangers, Jack Procher, Barry J. Gillis   Cast: Barry J. Gillis, Amber Lynn, Bruce Roach,
Doug Bunston, Jan W. Pachul, Patricia Sadler, Gordon Lucas, Bruce Hamilton, Daryn Gillis, Jessica Stewarte
Disc company: Intervision Pictures Corp.   Video: 480i / 4:3    Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: DVD9   Release Date: 07/12/2011   Reviewed from a screener provided by Intervision Pictures Corp.  Available for purchase at Amazon.com

Motivated by the uptick in straight-to-video productions originating from the United States and itching to honor their favorite horror directors with a gruesome tale of their own, a handful of Canadians with no discernible talent for production, writing, special effects, direction or performance scrounged together a budget and some Super 8mm shooting equipment and went to work.  The end result, released directly to rental VHS in 1989, was Things, 84 minutes of graphic violence and unbridled stupidity that feels more like an acid trip interrupting a drunken stupor than a film.  To say that Things is dreadful is to understate its case to a degree that borders on the criminal, and while it may not be the worst film yet produced on this Earth it certainly earns points for trying.

So.  What is Things about?  I honestly haven’t the faintest idea.  Though purported to have been written (the stilted line readings would seem to bear this out) there is absolutely no story to speak of here.  Things is, instead, a collection of continuity-defying sequences that amount to precisely nothing in the end.  For instance, the film’s only name attraction, porn star Amber Lynn in one of her few non-sex roles, is limited to a handful of abysmal newsroom scenes (photographed in 16mm on a tiny set, with Amber reading all of her lines in the most obvious manner possible) that have little, if any, connection to the rest of the material.  In this regard the title seems most appropriate – this isn’t a film about anything, it’s a film about Things.

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Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Year: 2009   Company: I & I Productions   Runtime: 84′
Director: Jessica Oreck   Writers: Jessica Oreck   Videography: Sean Price Williams
Music: Paul Grimstead, J. C. Morrison, Nate Shaw   Disc company: Factory 25   Video: 480i / 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese   Subtitles: English   Disc: DVD5   Release Date: 05/17/2011
Reviewed from a screener provided by Factory 25.  Available for purchase through the official film site and Amazon.com.

As I get older my memory grows worse, but if I’m not mistaken Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is the first documentary feature ever to be reviewed here at Wtf-Film.  For you outsiders, a documentary is just like a regular film, only it’s about real stuff.  I know, I know.  What will the kids think of next?

All joking aside, the sudden realization that I’ve never, in nearly a decade of writing about film, covered a documentary was quite surprising.  I watch a lot of them, after all – generally at least two a week.  It’s not enough to keep pace with the dozen or so feature films I gorge myself with on a weekly basis, but more than enough to warrant pondering how I’ve never happened to write about one before.  Better late than never, I suppose, and Jessica Oreck’s Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is as fine a place to start as I can think of.

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Ron Howard Action Pack (Eat My Dust / Grand Theft Auto)

Eat My Dust – Year: 1976   Company: New World Pictures   Runtime: 88′
Director: Charles B. Griffith   Writer: Charles B. Griffith   Music: David Grisman   Cinematography: Eric Saarinen  Cast: Ron Howard, Christopher Norris, Warren J. Kemmerling, Dave Madden, Brad David, Kathy O’Dare, Clint Howard, Peter Isacksen, Jessica Potter, Charles Howerton, Kedric Wolfe, Rance Howard
Grand Theft Auto – Year: 1977   Company: New World Pictures   Runtime: 84′
Director: Ron Howard   Writers: Ron Howard, Rance Howard   Music: Peter Ivers   Cinematography: Gary Graver   Cast: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan, Elizabeth Rogers, Barry Cahill, Rance Howard, Paul Linke, Marion Ross, Don Steele, Peter Isacksen, Clint Howard, James Ritz, Hoke Howell, Lew Brown, Ken Lemer
Disc company: Shout! Factory   Video: 480p (1.78:1)   Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English   Subtitles: None
Disc: 2 x DVD 9   Release Date: 05/24/2011   Reviewed from a screener provided by Shout! Factory LLC.  Available for pre-order through Amazon.com

It’s finally warming up here in Minneapolis, and Shout! Factory is gearing up for another busy Summer of cult cinema releases.  Leading the charge is The Ron Howard Action Pack – a one-two punch of youthful car chase mayhem due out on the 24th that represents actor, writer and director Ron Howard’s brief but formative career under independent producer extraordinaire Roger Corman.  Shout!’s package is sound, from the new anamorphic film transfers (each occupying its own dual layer DVD) to an extensive collection of supplements, both new and appropriated from earlier editions, but before we get into the details let’s discuss the films themselves.

Made on the heals of more adult car-chase classics like Vanishing Point and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, 1976′s Eat My Dust is a decidedly juvenile affair, and as concerned with broad and goofy humor as it is high-speed action.  The young trouble-making son (Ron Howard) of a small-town sheriff (Warren J. Kemmerling) bites off more than he can chew when, in a desperate bid to woo local hottie Darlene (Christopher Norris), he steals a championship-winning stock car and takes it for a ride.  Darlene and an ever-increasing bundle of friends and passers by join in on the illegal shenanigans, while dear old dad sends out a fleet of incompetent patrolmen to round up his law-defying son.

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