Wednesday, November 8, 2017


I'm a big fan of 40's Poverty Row mystery, crime and horror films, so I was pleased when Olive Films announced a Blu-ray (and DVD) edition of the 1945 Republic Pictures chiller, THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST.

Set in Colonial Africa, THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST eschews the usual Gothic or contemporary urban trappings of the genre, and sets its action in a European-inhabited African community surrounded by jungle. (Interestingly the map shown at the beginning of the film indicates a decidedly landlocked, mid-Continent location for its fictional city, yet there are numerous sailors present in the film's tavern, and mention of a seaport...). Into this environment comes gawky Webb Fallon (John Abbot), who takes over proprietorship of the local ginmill. Soon, mysterious deaths are occurring both within the European enclave and the surrounding native villages, and the jungle drums soon spread the word: a vampire stalks the jungle.

The story and script are by acclaimed pulp author and Hollywood screenwriter, Leigh Brackett (THE BIG SLEEP, RIO BRAVO), and it's a bit of a departure from her screenplays for Howard Hawks. Brackett's script is surprisingly thoughtful for a B-horror programmer, from its unusual African setting to its imaginative interpretation of the cinematic "rules" of vampirism. Unfortunately, the film is almost completely miscast - John Abbot plays the role of an urbane, 400 year-old bloodsucker reasonably well, but lacks screen presence and bears an unfortunate physical resemblance to a depressed Don Knotts. I'm convinced that if Republic (which were, frankly, much more adept and comfortable making Westerns and action serials) had cast Bela Lugosi or John Carradine - or even someone like Lionel Atwill or Henry Daniell - in the role, the film would be remembered today as a Poverty Row "classic."

Burly Grant Withers - who I know mostly as the first screen Jungle Jim and as Police Detective Bill Street in Monogram's Mr. Wong series - makes an unconvincing Catholic missionary/priest. I suppose they were going for a Pat O'Brien type of cleric, but Withers just didn't pull it off. Fortunately, both of the major female characters come across well, especially sexy Adele Mara as the dancer at Fallon's saloon.

The movie is solid fun, smartly-told, and at a brisk 59 minutes, it never wears out its welcome.

The Blu-ray from Olive Films looks terrific, with a rock-solid 1080p HD transfer from a virtually pristine print. There are fleeting moments of age-related damage - the occasional speck or scratch - but overall, it's a beautiful transfer. Aside from English subtitles, there are no supplemental features.

Olive Film's Blu-ray of THE VAMPIRE'S GHOST comes highly recommended.

Friday, July 1, 2016


From independent genre filmmaker Brett Piper (QUEEN CRAB, SHOCK-O-RAMA) comes another refreshingly old fashioned creature feature romp, TRICLOPS (2016), recently released as a DVD-R by Alpha Video.

An Air Force pilot named Glenn Edwards accidentally crashes his jet into the remote and forbidden Amorak Crater. After appeals to the government for help are ignored, his fiancee, Samantha Katzman (the appealing Erin Waterhouse), decides to stage her own rescue mission, backed by Glenn's brother, Tom (Matthew Crawley). They hire a down-on-his-luck pilot named Denning (Ken VanSant, QUEEN CRAB) to fly them into the restricted crater, and there, along with a tag-along crook (Richard Lounello), they soon discover that the crater interior is a bizarre lost world, populated with a wide variety of strange, mutant creatures... and a thirty-foot tall malformed giant with three eyes.

TRICLOPS is a fun throwback, a homage to classic B-movie Atom Age monster movies of the Fifties. The plot itself is mostly borrowed from the 1957 Bert I. Gordon flick, THE CYCLOPS, but Piper's movie is full of in-jokes and references to dozens of classic creature features, and spotting them is part of the fun. The effects - featuring a plethora of Piper's trademark stop-motion critters - are pretty remarkable for a movie with such a meager budget, and it's all even more impressive when you discover just how much of the film is composed of special effects shots.

The acting by the game cast is stronger than in some of Brett's other recent productions, with a good lead actress in Erin Waterhous and solid character work from the rest of the small cast, with VanSant and Lounello standing out.

Alpha Video's DVD-R presentation of TRICLOPS has some minor authoring issues, but overall it's a decent release, with a 16x9 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a handful of cool extras. First, there's an excellent audio commentary by the cast & director Piper (with Waterhouse joining in by phone) covering virtually every aspect of the production and revealing just how many jobs everyone involved had to handle in order to pull the whole thing together. Special effects secrets are revealed, and anecdotes about everything from location scouting to costume choices are shared. An amusing blooper reel rounds out the package.

For fans of Old School B-movies and unabashed monster mayhem, TRICLOPS is a treat. The disc is available through online retailers or directly from And if you'd rather sample it first, filmmaker Piper has made it available for online streaming through his own Atomic Age Cinema channel on Vimeo.

Monday, June 20, 2016


First of all, Filmation Studios' TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE is one of the best Saturday morning adventure shows of its era (1976-1979). Well-written and extremely respectful to the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs' character and stories, this Tarzan adaptation stands among the best to date. 

Yes, 1970s animation was limited compared to today, and Filmation relied heavily on re-using animation in order to stay within budget and keep the work in the U.S. rather than farming it out to inferior overseas contractors like rival studio Hanna-Barbara. But the show is extremely well-designed, with lush backgrounds, fine character design, and a generous use of rotoscoping, which helps keep our hero's movements realistic and dynamic. Voice actor Robert Ridgley (who also voiced FLASH GORDON and THUNDARR) is perfectly cast as the Lord of the Jungle. The stories are very much in the mold of Burroughs' later Tarzan novels, with the ape man encountering a plethora of lost cities and civilizations in his remote jungle home.

Unfortunately, Warner Brothers has completely messed up this blatant cash-grab release. Presented in their original 4x3 aspect ratio, the prints used for this collection of the series first "season" of 16 episodes are in terrible shape, with an almost unrelenting barrage of scratches, specks, dirt and faded colors. No effort whatsoever appears to have been put into this release. There certainly was no restoration work done, and I can't prove it, because I have nothing to compare against, but it appears that these are syndication prints with a few seconds missing, as evidenced by awkward cuts halfway through each episode.

And I don't want to even discuss that horrid, eye-bleedingly amateurish cover art, which is completely off-model and poorly drawn. Heck, even the logo is wrong.

I'm pleased to finally have these great cartoons on DVD, and hope they'll eventually release the remaining episodes. But this two-disc DVD set is just an embarrassment to Warner Brothers and an insult to the creators of the series... and its fans.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


While I have been a big fan of indie monster movie maestro Brett Piper (SHOCK-O-RAMA, SCREAMING DEAD) for a long time, I kind of lost track of him over the last few years. It turns out that he's still plugging away, making ambitious creature features on microscopic budgets, including his current monsterpiece from Wild Eye Releasing, QUEEN CRAB (2015).

In Crabbe Creek, a small rural community, a young girl named Melissa adopts a precocious crustacean she names PeeWee. As it happens, her distracted dad is a scientist working out of a home laboratory, attempting to increase the size of fruits, vegetables and livestock, in hopes of combating world hunger. Ignored by her bickering parents, little Melissa starts feeding PeeWee some weird berries from her daddy's lab...

Jump ahead about fifteen years, and Melissa's folks are dead, thanks to an unfortunate laboratory explosion. She lives alone in a cabin on her family's property, a virtual hermit. At night, the nubile young woman (Michelle Simone Miller) communes with her pet, now named "Goliath," and about the size of Sherman tank. Unfortunately, Goliath spawns a hungry horde of crawling killer offspring, and it's up to Sheriff Clarke (Ken Van Sant), his obnoxious deputy (Richard Lounell) and an investigator from the state Wildlife Commission (A.J. DeLucia) to save the town from the mighty Goliath and her voracious crablings.

Shot on digital video with a tiny budget, QUEEN CRAB is a fun little monster movie that hearkens back to 50's sci-fi programmers, with a light tone, frequently witty script, and Old School special effects. The crabs are created via the magic of traditional stop-motion animation instead of CGI, executed with skill and style by Piper himself.

The performances from the cast of semi-pros and amateur actors are inconsistent, to say the least, ranging from campy to wooden, but Piper's direction is brisk, and the creature effects are a genuine delight.

Wild Eye Releasing's DVD is terrific, with a flawless, 16x9 widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The sound mix is admittedly underwhelming, with some brief instances where dialogue levels drop sharply, but overall, it's satisfactory. Jon Greathouse's musical score is mixed well, and is quite effective. The generous supplemental features include an audio commentary by Piper and producer Mark Polonia, a gag reel, three behind-the-scenes featurettes, an assortment of Wild Eye trailers, and a preview of Piper's next movie, TRICLOPS.

QUEEN CRAB isn't a movie for everyone - the cheapness of the production is always evident and that can be hard for more cynical viewers to overlook - but it has a "let's put on a show!" earnestness that can be endearing, if approached with an open mind. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

THE BABY (Blu-ray)

One of the weirder mainstream movies from a decade packed with weird mainstream movies, director Ted Post's THE BABY (1973) is an offbeat and often disturbing thriller, released last week on Blu-ray disc from Severin Films. As I reviewed the standard DVD edition a couple years ago, I'll be repeating most of that here, with the new technical specs of this HD upgrade below.

Ann, an  attractive young social worker (Anjanette Comer, NETHERWORLD) is assigned (at her request, as it turns out) to a very unusual case - that of the Wadsworth family. Specifically, the only male member of the Wadsworth clan: Baby, a 25 year-old man with the mental capacity of an infant, who cannot walk, nor talk, and sleeps in an over-sized crib. Baby's mother (Ruth Roman, THE KILLING KIND) and his sisters (Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor) resent the social worker's intrusion into their lives and her insinuations that they are deliberately preventing the manchild from developing mentally and physically (and of course, they are), and before long, decide that she has to go, so they can continue to care for Baby as they see fit. But Ann has plans of her own for Baby.... 

Director Ted Post was an odd choice for THE BABY, as he was best-known as a journeyman contract director, efficient but unimaginative. The sort of guy you'd hire for a Clint Eastwood Western (HANG 'EM HIGH), Chuck Norris potboiler (GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK), franchise sequel (MAGNUM FORCE, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES) or network TV episode. Something like THE BABY, with its emotionally sick and abusive characters, implied incest, graphic violence, and unexpected twist ending, would seem to be far outside his comfort zone. Still, he does a fine job, allowing the cast to breathe life into their character roles, and keeping everything moving at a solid pace. The lack of intrusive directorial "style" actually benefits the film, as everything is shot and edited in a straightforward, natural manner, without swooping, shaky camerawork, dutch angles, flashcuts or slo-mo. Post doesn't need any tricks - he just tells the story.

Ruth Roman as the Wadsworth matriarch, is astounding. With an acting career dating all the way back into Hollywood's Golden Age, and classics like STRANGERS ON A TRAIN on her resume, Roman brings surprising weight to her role as the sinisterly overprotective mother and manages a nuanced, layered performance that makes Ma Wadsworth more than a stock B-movie battleaxe. Hill and Zenor, are also very good as Baby's sexy grown sisters.The script is intelligently structured and culminates in a final twist that I doubt you'll see coming. It's completely logical, though.

The new Blu-ray from Severin Films is a slight upgrade visually from the previously-released DVD. The 1080p HD, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is solid and reasonably sharp, with only minimal evidence of print damage/debris. Overall, a decent presentation, if not spectacular. Likewise, the 2.0 Mono audio. Extras include audio interviews with director Ted Post and actor David "Baby" Mooney, and the theatrical trailer.

For fans of the offbeat and unusual, THE BABY is worth checking out. It's a well-crafted film with great performances (especially by Roman) and a pure early-70s aesthetic. It's not for everyone, though. Recommended.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


With Hollywood's new take on the King of the Monsters still raking in cash at the box office, fans and newbies alike will likely be searching out the earlier, classic Godzilla films on home video. Fortunately, Kraken Releasing has just unleashed three vintage G-flicks on Blu-ray, including 1972's monster mash, GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (a/k/a GODZILLA VS GIGAN).

In this 70s series entry, an aspiring manga cartoonist accidentally uncovers a plot by extraterrestrial villains to conquer the Earth by means of two terrible space monsters: the legendary King Ghidorah and the bizarre, buzzsaw-bellied, hook-handed Gigan. Fortunately, the cartoonist and his friends don't have to battle the aliens alone, as Godzilla and his former foe-turned-ally, Anguirus, arrive from Monster Island in time to tag team the titanic invaders in an epic behemoth beatdown.

Directed by Jun Fukuda (SON OF GODZILLA), GODZILLA VS GIGAN is a return to form (and formula) following the previous year's offbeat and excessive GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER. The story - and budget - is smaller, the tone is lighter, and the movie recycles lots of stock footage destruction from previous films (basically any shot of King Ghidorah attacking Tokyo). There's a lot to enjoy, though: the aliens are hiding out in a children's theme park, complete with a Godzilla-shaped tower, the new monster, Gigan, has a unique and odd design (later entries would establish that Gigan is some sort of cyborg), and the human characters are mostly appealing and intentionally amusing.

Kraken Releasing has brought GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND (it's U.S. title) to HD in America for the first time, with a very pleasing 2.35:1 widescreen transfer from a near-pristine source. Colors are bright and stable, details are good, and there are only a few infrequent speckles and pops on the print. As with the other two Kraken releases, the original Japanese soundtrack and English dub are available in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. The only supplemental feature is the original Japanese theatrical trailer, presented in high-def.

Not the best of the Big G's adventures, MONSTER ISLAND is still a fun kaiju romp, and worth checking out. Definitely recommended for diehard G-fans, who will want to upgrade their standard-definition DVDs to Blu-ray.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Around 1986, animation studio Hanna-Barbara dusted off a couple of their perennial kidvid favorites - THE JETSONS and JONNY QUEST - for a new cartoon syndication package called THE FUNTASTIC WORLD OF HANNA-BARBARA. The classic 1960s episodes were supplemented with newly-created installments to make said package more appealing to station programmers who didn't want to just air more repeats of old shows. For QUEST, H-B produced 13 new, updated episodes, and now the Warner Archive Collection has brought JONNY QUEST: THE COMPLETE EIGHTIES ADVENTURES to manufactured-on-demand DVD.

The premise and characters remain unchanged: young Jonny (voiced by Scott Menville) is the son of world-renowned scientist/inventor/adventurer Dr. Benton Quest (Doug Messick, reprising the role from the original series), and together with their government bodyguard, Race Bannon (Granville Van Dusen), Dr. Quest's ward Hadji (Rob Paulsen) and pet dog, Bandit, they traveled the world investigating scientific anomalies and testing the doctor's latest technological marvels. In these latter-day installments, there's a greater emphasis on fantasy, best exemplified by the addition of an ancient, monolithic "stone man" named Hardrock to the team.

The animation is technically better than the 1960s version, but it lacks the strong graphic style of creator Doug Wildey, with more generic-looking character designs and a distinct lack of mood/atmosphere. The scripts are fast-paced and imaginative, but considerably less violent than the originals, and the characters seem somewhat blander than their earlier incarnations. Still, there are some cool monsters (like "Vikong") and new gadgets/vehicles for the Quest team.

The two-disc MOD set from Warner Archive contains all 13 episodes, presented in their original 4x3, 1.37.1 aspect ratios. The prints used for the transfers are in good shape, with bright colors and minimal evidence of wear or damage. The Dolby Digital Mono audio is clear and relatively crisp. There are no extras included.

Ultimately, the "Eighties Adventures" aren't bad at all, but they do lack the "personality" of the groundbreaking Sixties originals. Nonetheless, I'd definitely recommend them for QUEST fans and animated adventure aficionados.

Buy This Disc at Warner Archive.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Actor James Garner is probably best known for two signature television roles: wandering Old West card shark and conman Bret Maverick, of the 1950's TV program MAVERICK, and as private eye Jim Rockford on the quintessential 70s series, THE ROCKFORD FILES. Both characters were created by writer Roy Huggins, and shared a number of common traits, which Garner embodied perfectly. In fact, after his six season run on ROCKFORD, Garner dug out his old black hat and string tie, and returned to his roots with 1981's sequel series BRET MAVERICK. It only lasted one season, but it was a pretty good show, and is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.

After years of roaming the West, surviving on his wits, his poker skills, and - when necessary - his derringer, gambler Bret Maverick wins a saloon in Sweetwater, Arizona. Deciding to settle in the town (over the objections of many of its solid citizens), Maverick buys a spread and retires to the life of a gentleman rancher. But of course, it's not that easy. His own restless nature and hunger for excitement undermines his life of leisure, and before long he's back to gambling and looking for the big score. But his life is different now, and he has friends and neighbors who don't always appreciate his schemes...

Much more of an ensemble show than the original 50's series, BRET MAVERICK features a fine supporting cast, most notably country singer Ed Bruce as Maverick's best frenemy, Tom Guthrie. As the ex-sheriff of Sweetwater, Guthrie ends up as Maverick's cranky partner in the Red Ox Saloon. Rigid, moralistic and honest to a fault, Guthrie often finds himself in opposition to his roguish friend. Other regulars include Darleen Carr as the local newspaper editor, Ramon Bieri as the town's banker, and Richard Hamilton as Maverick's cantankerous ranch foreman.

The initial scripts were a bit clunky, and it certainly suffered from not having MAVERICK creator Huggins involved, but there was plenty of Garner charm. The show had high production values and excellent performances by both guest stars and regulars, with Ed Bruce really standing out. His skill was especially remarkable, as it was his first acting job. (He also wrote and sang the theme song!) Still, despite decent ratings and steadily improving storylines, the network cancelled the show after a single season.

The newly-released manufacture-on-demand DVDs from Warner Archive collects all 18 episodes on five discs. The episodes are presented in their original, 4x3, 1.37:1 television aspect ratio and feature Dolby Digital mono audio. Overall picture and sound quality is very good, with only the occasional speck evident and clear audio. There are no bonus features included.

BRET MAVERICK is an enjoyable TV Western, with plenty of charm. Garner is his usual charismatic, engaging self, and the show is plenty entertaining. Recommended.

Buy This Disc at Warner Archive.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


After the worldwide success of ENTER THE DRAGON, that film's producer and director (Fred Weintraub and Robert Clouse, respectively) repeatedly tried to catch that lightning in a bottle again. Unfortunately, they no longer had Bruce Lee. So they kept attempting to find a martial arts star who could take his place. After trying and failing with both Jim Kelly (BLACK BELT JONES) and Jackie Chan (THE BIG BRAWL), they decided to showcase multiple stars in their next effort: 1981's FORCE: FIVE.

Long on my "most wanted" list, this early-80s New American Cinema actioner has recently come to DVD courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.

The plot is familiar: a millionaire recruits a team of martial arts experts to infiltrate the island stronghold of a charismatic religious leader, Reverend Rhee (played by legendary kung fu master Bong Soo Han, KILL THE GOLDEN GOOSE), and retrieve the millionaire's wayward daughter (Amanda Wyss,  A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) from the clutches of his cult. The team arrives on the island posing as a part of a U.S. senator's entourage, and much martial arts mayhem ensues. Basically it's ENTER THE DRAGON again (and remarkably similar to the same year's South African actioner, KILL AND KILL AGAIN).

Handsome, blond world karate champion Joe Lewis (JAGUAR LIVES!) plays Jim Martin, leader of the titular quintet. Despite his good looks and karate cred, Lewis was neither particularly charismatic nor much of an actor, and despite a couple of other attempts, never became the film action star he wanted to be. Still, he adequately anchors the flick and executes his fight scenes with aplomb. It helps too that the filmmakers have backed him up with a handful of other genuine fighters, including Richard Norton (EQUALIZER 3000, RAGE AND HONOR), Benny "The Jet" Urquidez (DRAGONS FOREVER), and Sonny Barnes (GYMKATA). Unable to find a female fighter, the producers cast starlet Pam Huntington to portray the distaff member of the team - she couldn't fight worth a damn, but she was certainly pretty.

The script is rather predictable, and lifts its structure - as well as whole sequences - directly from ENTER THE DRAGON. But the fights are reasonably well-staged (at least by 1981 standards), the direction is relatively brisk, and there's even a bit of gratuitous nudity, all making for a perfectly satisfactory drive-in diversion.

The DVD from Scorpion Releasing is well above average for an older cult title, with a very commendable 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from a new HD master. It's a shame they didn't choose to release this on Blu-ray, because the image is very nice, with good detail (even in standard-def), rock-steady colors, and virtually no print wear or damage evident. The mono sound is likewise solid. The only extras are the original theatrical trailer and a slew of trailers for other Scorpion titles.

FORCE: FIVE is, admittedly, a nostalgic favorite - I first saw it at a drive-in on a double bill with CIRCLE OF IRON, and then again, a few years later, on VHS - but it holds up remarkably well. It's derivative, dumb fun, and highly entertaining. Definitely recommended for fans of vintage action flicks.


With the arrival of director Gareth Edwards' new mega-budgeted Hollywood GODZILLA film, Kraken Releasing has  brought three of the Big G's classic Toho Studio adventures to high-definition Blu-ray for the first time in the U.S. Arguably the best-known of the trio is 1971's GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (a/k/a GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH), which is generally considered the most bizarre of the gargantuan reptile's classic cinematic adventures, pitting the mon-star against a grotesque - and deadly - shape-changing adversary spawned from civilization's waste and pollution.

When the monster Hedorah emerges from the polluted sea, spreading its toxicity across Tokyo, the mighty Godzilla appears to battle the inadvertently man-made threat. Unfortunately, the malleable muck creature can take on various forms, including a poison gas-spewing flying configuration, and a trudging, sludge shape that can go toe-to-scaly-toe with our heroic lizard. As the titans clash - leaving toxic devastation in their wake - the Japanese authorities scramble to find a way to help Godzilla defeat the nigh-indestructible Hedorah.

GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER is an offbeat entry in the long-running kaiju series, with a grim, fatalistic tone, and genuinely unsettling and bizarre imagery. Director Yoshimitsu Banno, in his one and only contribution to the series, attempts to bring back the moralistic aspect and serious tone of the original 1954 GODZILLA, but also throws in such oddities as random animated sequences, surrealistic images, and the unexpected spectacle of a flying Godzilla! This is also the first entry since the original to show on-screen deaths of humans, as Hedorah's poison wipes out large portions of the populace. Reportedly, Toho's series producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was hospitalized during filming, and unable to supervise the production. When he saw the final film, he was aghast at Banno's handling of the property and banned him from the franchise!

Still, because of it's unusual approach to the kaiju genre - and specifically, the Godzilla canon - GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER has its share of die-hard fans.

The new Blu-ray edition from Kraken Releasing represents the first time this film has been available in HD in the United States. The 1080p, 2.35.1 widescreen transfer is quite decent, with a reasonably sharp image, good detail, well-saturated colors and a film-like patina of grain. Stock footage shots are noticeably fuzzier and grainier, of course. Print damage is minimal, with only a few errant specks and small scratches.

Both the original Japanese audio and English dub are provided, in DTS-HD Mono. The only extra is the original Japanese trailer in HD.

I wouldn't recommend SMOG MONSTER for Godzilla or kaiju newbies - it's just a little too weird for that - but for fans looking to upgrade their standard DVDs to high def, the Kraken disc is both a reasonable improvement in quality and bargain priced. Recommended.

Monday, August 12, 2013


The fine folks at Warner Archive have recently released the third season of the 1989-1992 syndicated (THE ADVENTURES OF) SUPERBOY television series, as  3-disc manufactured-on-demand DVD set.

This third season was superior to the previous two, with a major change in the premise (and setting) as Shuster College students Clark Kent (Gerard Christopher) and Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk, SEAQUEST DSV) going to work as interns for a government agency known as the Bureau For Extranormal Matters, which investigated strange and unexplainable occurrences and creatures... including a certain caped Kryptonian.

The tone (and cinematography) of the series got a lot darker (probably influenced, like the prime-time FLASH series of the same vintage, by the success of Tim Burton's BATMAN the year before), and the stories were a lot more interesting, including a couple of imaginative two-parters where Superboy travels to alternate Earths and discovers different paths he could have taken - in one, he's killed Lex Luthor (Sherman Howard, DAY OF THE DEAD) and in another, he rules the Earth as the tyrannical "Sovereign." He also encounters an adult version of himself, played by Ron Ely (TV's Tarzan and the big screen's Doc Savage)!  Another memorable episode has a Kryptonite-weakened Superboy and Lex Luthor trapped together in a mine cave-in, forced to work together to survive. The episode was written by actor Sherman Howard, and is a surprisingly effective character piece.

I admit it - I'm a fan of the show. While not every episode is a gem, I dig it's Silver Age-styled stories (the writers understood the character a lot better than his current corporate and creative custodians, that's for sure) - honestly, I'd rather watch this show over SMALLVILLE any day. Several of the better episodes are directed by David Nutter, who would go on to be a regular director on THE X-FILES.

The Warner Archive 3-disc set includes all 26 episodes of the third season, presented in their original 4x3, 1.37.1 television aspect ratio. The picture quality is pretty good, but suffers from the late-80s production method of shooting on film, but then transferring the footage to video for editing and post-production special effects. This results in an unavoidably soft image overall. Audio is a satisfactory Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. There are no extras included.

SUPERBOY is a product of its time, written and produced for a presumed adolescent audience. The stories are unabashedly "comic booky," but I find that refreshing. It's also just great to be able see these shows again, since, due to a bunch of legal wranglings in the 90s, these shows never aired in U.S. after their original run. If you're a fan of the Superman/boy character, and especially if you're a fan of this series, this is the season you've been waiting for. Recommended.

BUYSuperboy: The Complete Third Season

Thursday, August 8, 2013


When he was just eight years old, the ebullient Johnny Sheffield was chosen to portray the adopted son "Boy," of the legendary Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in MGM's jungle adventure TARZAN FINDS A SON (1939). Seven years and eight Tarzan films later, the character of Boy was written out of the series, but Sheffield wasn't done with the jungle quite yet. In order to pay for college, the strapping young actor quickly signed on with Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures to headline a dozen of his own vine-swinging capers as the heroic BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY, loosely based on a children's book series by "Roy Rockwood."

The first six of these - BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY (1949), BOMBA ON PANTHER ISLAND (1949), THE LOST VOLCANO (1950), THE HIDDEN CITY (1950), THE LION HUNTERS (1951) and ELEPHANT STAMPEDE (1951) - all directed by Ford Beebe, have recently been released on manufactured-to-order DVD by the fine folks at Warner Archive.

The plots of these low budget, backlot epics are all pretty similar: orphan jungle boy Bomba, who was raised by a misanthropic old naturalist (now deceased) beyond "The Great Rift," deep in the heart of the African jungle, encounters various groups of explorers or hunters hoping to exploit some native resource, be it diamonds, gold, or wild animals. These groups usually include one young, unattached female about Bomba's age as a romantic interest. The "civilized" intruders get greedy, and Bomba fights to maintain peace in his wilderness home.

Although made quickly and on a shoestring, these short (average running time of 70 minutes) B-movie adventures move briskly and are reasonably entertaining, if formulaic and predictable. Monogram's production values were admittedly low, with lots of stock animal footage of varying quality and plenty of fake foliage, but not much worse than some of the RKO Tarzan films produced around the same time.The earnest Sheffield is appealing and athletic, even if the writers tend to make him a little dim, and the supporting casts are filled out with an array of talented character actors of the time.

The Warner Archive set is quite decent, with the six movies spread out across three discs. All are presented in their original, 4x3, 1.33:7 aspect ratio, and are sourced from very decent prints. There are some specks and scratches, and a little age-related wear/damage, but overall, they're quite watchable. Audio is a satisfactory 2.0 Dolby Mono. There are no bonus features in this set.

Though not as slick as the Tarzan films he appeared in for MGM (and RKO), Johnny Sheffield's tenure as jungle boy Bomba is still a lot of undemanding fun, perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon or insomniac late show. If you enjoy old B-movie jungle capers, this set comes highly recommended.

BUYBomba The Jungle Boy Volume 1

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


"He was . . . a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan. . . . A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things. . . . Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect—he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.”

Created in the late 1920s by pulp magazine scribe Robert E. Howard (a talented, if troubled, author best known for another of his sword-wielding protagonists, Conan The Barbarian), the dour Puritan monster hunter SOLOMON KANE finally made his way to the motion picture screen in 2009... in Europe, anyway. Unfortunately, Michael J. Bassett's dark fantasy failed to garner a U.S. theatrical distribution deal, finally getting a belated Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray release from Anchor Bay Entertainment only about a month ago.

The film is an "origin story," that chronicles events that took place before those related in Howard's original pulp tales. Solomon Kane (James Purefoy, ROME, JOHN CARTER) is a savage mercenary and pirate who renounces his life of violence after discovering that his eternal soul is forfeit and he is doomed to eternity in Hell. When a young Puritan girl is kidnapped and her family murdered by the followers of the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng, PRIMEVAL), he once again takes up arms and seeks redemption by battling evil.

Although not strictly faithful to the Word, SOLOMON KANE nonetheless captures the spirit of the Bob Howard pulp adventures in a way that no other REH adaptation has yet approached. The screenplay is a bit too Hollywood boilerplate - and, thus, predictable - but the film as a whole rises above its script's over-familiar conventions and is, ultimately, a superior entertainment. Production design, casting, photography and musical score are well above par.

James Purefoy is note-perfect as the grim swordsman, and writer/director Michael Bassett keeps the film moving at a fair clip while still allowing the characters time to earn the audience's sympathy/empathy. Also notable is the terrific musical score by Klaus Badelt and the gorgeous cinematography by Dan Lausten.

As for the special effects, yeah, there are a few dodgy CGI bits in the beginning and some cartoon demons in the mix, but it is a sword & sorcery saga, after all. I've heard more than a few complaints about the end of the film, too, but it mostly worked for me. Compared to every big budget Hollywood fantasy film I've seen in the last 5+ years, the climactic scene of SOLOMON KANE was positively restrained in its use of CGI; it was hardly the sort of pixelated overkill/cartoon orgy that's become de rigueur these days.

Anchor Bay's Blu-ray presentation is technically excellent, with a stunning 2.35:1 1080p HD widescreen transfer. SOLOMON KANE is a very dark film visually, as well as in tone, and Anchor Bay's high-definition transfer handles the copious blacks and subdued color palette with aplomb, and still provides remarkable detail and texture. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally excellent; clear and rich. Extras include an audio commentary by Bassett and Purefoy, a "Making Of" featurette, a special effects featurette, seperate interviews with Bassett and Purefoy, original concept art, and a deleted action scene.

In the end, though SOLOMON KANE is not a perfect film, nor a literal adaptation of Howard's prose, I loved the movie. It is the best sword & sorcery flick I've seen in ages, and far better than the most recent CONAN film. And though some fans would disagree, I suspect that Kane's creator, the two-fisted pulp author from Cross Plains, Texas, would have gotten a kick out of it, too. Recommended.

BUYSolomon Kane [Blu-ray]

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


It's been about three years since the last DVD release, but four more late-period Charlie Chan mysteries from Monogram Studios are coming to DVD today, courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment's latest CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION

I had never seen any of these four particular crime capers - SHADOWS OVER CHINATOWN, DOCKS OF NEW ORLEANS, SHANGHAI CHEST and THE GOLDEN EYE - which were produced on a shoestring by the legendary Poverty Row studio, before receiving this attractively-boxed four disc set, but as an unrepentant B-mystery & Chan fan, I enjoyed them all.

SHADOWS OVER CHINATOWN (1946) is the best of  this particular lot, and marks the last of the Sidney Toler Chan films to make it to DVD. Directed by Terry Morse, it's a nicely convoluted tale of missing persons, multiple identities and murder, set in San Francisco. Toler is his usual sly self, and with the help of #2 son, Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung), and chauffeur Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland), the famed Asian-American sleuth soon has the web of deception untangled.

DOCKS OF NEW ORLEANS (1948), like the remainder of the films in this collection, stars Roland Winters as Chan. In this one, directed by Derwin Abrahams, Chan and his aides attempt to solve the murder of the head of a chemical syndicate. The script for this movie is recycled from Monogram Studios' earlier "Mr. Wong" film series, and doesn't quite feel like a proper Charlie Chan mystery. 

SHANGHAI CHEST (1948) is a slight improvement, as Chan attempts to solve a series of murders that, according to the fingerprints found at the scenes of the crimes, appears to have been committed by a dead man. Directed by the notoriously quick William "One Take" Beaudine.

THE GOLDEN EYE (1948) is better still, with Chan and company heading to Arizona to investigate strange happenings in and around a gold mine, the titular "Golden Eye." This Beaudine-helmed entry actually has some outdoor location shooting and slightly less-formulaic plot, and makes a nice change from the other, often claustrophobic, set-bound entries.

All of these flicks are from the final days of the franchise and were shot on very low budgets, with limited sets, very few exteriors, and hastily composed scripts. The pacing in most of them is too leisurely for their brief running times, and they generally lack the snappy dialogue and challenging puzzles of the earlier, Fox-produced Chan films. 

I also don't care much for Roland Winters' portrayal of the detective. It's not that he's notably taller & younger than his predecessors, although both factors hinder my acceptance of him in the role. It's more that while Warner Oland and Sidney Toler each played the Honolulu detective differently, they were both playing Charlie Chan. Winters acts like he's doing a Chan "impression" rather than creating a character of his own. (It also irks me that, for some unknown reason, in Winters' films, Victor Sen Yung's #2 son character is called "Tommy," rather than "Jimmy." Everyone knows that Tommy is #3 son!)

Warners' CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION features all four movies in their own Amray cases, tucked into a sturdy, colorful, cardboard box. Each movie is presented in their original 4x3, 1.33:7 Academy aspect ratio, and are transferred from astoundingly clean prints. Picture quality is generally excellent, with good contrast, solid blacks, and virtually no distracting scratches, specks or other print damage. Audio is equally satisfactory, presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono with nary a pop or hiss to be heard. There are no supplements or bonus material provided.

For Charlie Chan completists, the set is an essential purchase, and fans of Forties B-movie mysteries should enjoy it too. As I said, these are from the late period of the long-running series and do not measure up to many of the earlier installments in terms of production value or story. But they're still entertaining, and the impoversished productions do have their own simple charms. Recommended.

BUYCharlie Chan: Collection

Friday, May 3, 2013


VCI Entertainment strikes again with the CREEPY CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE VOL 2, an enjoyably awful Z-movie double bill consisting of a couple of drive-in classics from 1963: THE CRAWLING HAND and THE SLIME PEOPLE!

In THE CRAWLING HAND, an American astronaut is possessed by a malevolent alien force while returning from a moon mission, and ground controllers are forced to destroy his ship on re-entry. But one of the spaceman's arms (and hand, 'natch) survives the blast and washes up on a beach, where it is found by a young medical student  named Paul (Rod Lauren). He stashes the dismembered appendage in his landlady's pantry, only to discover too late that it has an evil will of its own! Soon, his landlady's dead, and the local sheriff (Alan Hale, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) wants to hang Paul for it. Can a couple of investigating NASA scientists find the creepy Crawling Hand and clear poor Paul of the crime?

Directed by Herbert L. Strock (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, GOG), THE CRAWLING HAND is a surprisingly entertaining 88 minutes of cinematic schlock. The special effects are ludicrous, the script is banal and there's nary a thrill or chill to be had - but it's somehow compelling. Maybe it's the earnest performances of its cast, or maybe its the sweetshop jukebox constantly playing the Rivington's hit, "The Bird." Who knows? But I enjoyed it.

In THE SLIME PEOPLE, Los Angeles is overrun and conquered (before the movie starts) by the titular subterranean reptile men, who have enclosed the city in a bubble of impenetrable "hard fog." The film chronicles the harrowing adventures of a small group of survivors as they attempt to evade the slow-moving, spear-carrying invaders from beneath the Earth's crust, and somehow make their escape from the City of Angels.

While the plot makes little sense - it's never really satisfactorily explained just how the awkward Slime People defeated the city's better-armed U.S. military defenders, for example - and the shoestring budget is always evident, the movie somehow manages to work... if just barely. There's a palpable sense of dread and menace throughout the film (aided, in no small part, by the omnipresent fog), the Slime People suits are surprisingly well-designed and executed, and there are some excellent stunts during the film's infrequent action scenes. The cast is pretty good, too.

VCI presents both of these exploitation favorites in 1.78: 1/16x9 anamorphic widescreen, with solid transfers culled from remarkably nice prints. There's a little bit of speckling and other minor defects in evidence throughout, but nothing particularly distracting. Contrast and detail is very good, too - both films were previously released on VHS and DVD by Rhino Home Video, and VCI's transfers are much superior. As with the first CREEPY CREATURE DOUBLE FEATURE volume, VCI has secured the participation of genre film historian Tom Weaver, who provides an interesting audio interview with SLIME CREATURES star Susan Hart. The original theatrical trailers of both films are also included.

As with Volume 1, the CREEPY CREATURES DOUBLE FEATURE VOL. 2 is a terrific addition to any monster movie fan's DVD library. Both movies are nostalgic gems and are presented in fine form by VCI Entertainment. Highly recommended.

BUYVol. 2-Crawling Hand/Slime People

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


The comedy team known as THE BOWERY BOYS began their long film career as the "Dead End Kids" in 1937's eponymous DEAD END, famed producer Samuel Goldwyn's hard look at how poverty, social neglect, and the mythologizing of gangsters could turn urban kids into delinquents hellbent down a sordid path of desperation, crime and inevitably violent ends. The "Kids" would eventually star in a handful of very serious, socially conscious Warner Brothers crime films.

Over the next decade, the Kids evolved into the comic "Little Tough Guys" and the "East Side Kids," before finally settling into the "Bowery Boys" identity at Poverty Row studio Monogram in 1946. By this time, the serious social commentary had been replaced by purely lowbrow, slapstick comedy.
Anchored by two of the original stars from DEAD END - Leo Gorcey as bossy "Slip" Mahoney, and Huntz Hall as his  idiotic sidekick "Satch" - the Bowery Boys parlayed their juvenile antics into a successful comic formula that packed the kids in for Saturday matinees for twelve years and a record 48 feature films!

Warner Archive has recently released a dozen of the team's films in the BOWERY BOYS VOLUME 2 collection. This 4-disc set includes the titles SPOOK BUSTERS, HARD BOILED MAHONEY, BOWERY BUCKAROOS, SMUGGLER'S COVE, GHOST CHASERS, LET'S GO NAVY!, HOLD THAT LINE, LOOSE IN LONDON, CLIPPED WINGS, PRIVATE EYES, THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS and HIGH SOCIETY. The titles alone give you pretty much all you need to know about the respective plots.

Directed by efficient, low-budget veterans like William "One-Shot" Beaudine (BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA) and Three Stooges ringmaster Edward Bernds (HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS, THE QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE), these brief comedies (averaging about 70 minutes apiece), are briskly-paced romps, packed with slapstick humor, unrelenting sight gags, and goofy verbal byplay between the two stars (spiced up by Gorcey's trademark malapropisms, uttered in exaggerated Brooklynese). It's formula stuff, but it's also reliably entertaining.

The 4-disc, Manufactured-On-Demand set from Warner Archive is surprisingly nice, with solid, good-looking B&W transfers from very well-preserved source prints, presented in their original, 1.37:1/4x3 aspect ratio (except for MEET THE MONSTERS and HIGH SOCIETY, which are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen). Audio is a clear and robust Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. There are no bonus features.

If you grew up watching these movies on television in the Sixties and Seventies (as many of my friends did), and you're a fan of the team, then these DVDs are well worth adding to your home video library. The technical presentation is excellent, and the nostalgia value is high. Recommended.

BUYThe Bowery Boys: Volume Two