DVD/Blu-Ray News #155: The Night Stalker (1972) And The Night Strangler (1973).

Here’s a couple things I’ve been waiting for — the two Carl Kolchak TV movies coming to DVD and Blu-Ray from 4K scans!

The Night Stalker
Directed byJohn Llewellyn Moxey
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Elisha Cook Jr., Larry Linville

Both Kolchak films come for that Golden Age of TV movies, when ABC was offering up masterpieces like these, Spielberg’s Duel (1971) or The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1974). But, really, when you have Darren McGavin spouting words from Richard Matheson, how could they be less than terrific? And look at the rest of these casts?

This Night Stalker (1972) — with newsman Carl Kolchak tracking down a vampire in Las Vegas while writing a story on a series of mysterious killings — scared me as a kid. Bad. But I loved every second of it.

The Night Strangler
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Al Lewis, Richard Anderson

For me, The Night Strangler (1973) — with a doctor killing to create another batch of his immortality elixir — was less scary, but more creepy. I loved it, too.

Next came the series, with the episode “The Zombie” being one of the scariest things I ever experienced growing up. Remember the zombie sleeping in the back of the hearse in the junkyard? And while the quality of the shows was pretty hit or miss, Darren McGavin is so perfect, he carries the show on his back every week without even trying. It was such a drag when it wasn’t renewed.

The old twin-bill DVDs of these things, from Anchor Bay and MGM, were fine. But new 4K transfers, and stand-alone releases, are gonna be terrific. (Would love to have both the original broadcast (74 minutes each) and extended versions.) My porkpie hat, tape recorder and I cannot wait!

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Filed under 1972, 1973, Charles McGraw, Darren McGavin, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elisha Cook, Jr., John Carradine, Richard Matheson, Television

RIP, Peggy Cummins.

Peggy Cummins (Augusta Margaret Diane Fuller)
(December 18, 1925 – December 29, 2017)

Peggy Cummins, who is absolutely incredible in one of my favorite films, Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy (1949), has passed away at 92. She’s in a couple other favorites — Jacques Tourneur’s Night Of The Demon (1957, Curse Of The Demon in the States) and Cy Enfield’s Hell Drivers (1957).

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John Dall, Peggy Cummins and Joseph H. Lewis on the Gun Crazy set.

Was just thinking the other day that Gun Crazy would be a great candidate for a Warner Archive Blu-ray. If it happens, it’s a shame she won’t be around for it.

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Filed under 1957, Jacques Tourneur, Joseph H. Lewis

Merry Christmas Again.

My daughter’s taken to Star Wars in a big way. She came across this.

Bet the pine needles fall off long before they hit hyperspace.

Here’s wishing you and yours a stellar holiday — and safe travels no matter how far, far away you have to go.

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Filed under 1977

Merry Christmas.

Here’s Christ’s birth as staged by the great Nicholas Ray for King Of Kings (1961), a movie I find really moving in places.  It’s also got some of the most breathtaking widescreen photography you’re ever likely to see. Ray’s mastery of the Scope-shaped image is unmatched.

I’d like to wish you all a 70mm Super Technirama holiday. Toby

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Filed under 1961, Jeffrey Hunter, Nicholas Ray

Blu-Ray News #154: Two More Hammer Double Features From Mill Creek.

A couple years ago, Mill Creek Entertainment treated us all to a couple of twin-bill Blu-Rays of some Hammer horror pictures. While some folks had problems with the transfers — I thought they were terrific, you sure couldn’t complain about the price. My hope was that those titles would sell enough to warrant more, and it looks like they did. The next two double features pair up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960) and The Maniac (1963) with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). All four of these were originally released by Columbia in the States.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

These four films come from Hammer’s string of often Psycho-inspired thrillers of the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch. This is a good one.

Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Starring Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

In a way, it’s hard to believe this story of an old man praying on young children even exists. But it does, Hammer made it, and while it’s hard to take (especially is you have a teenage daughter), by implying what’s happening rather than showing it, it becomes all the more effective. That’s a lesson I wish all filmmakers would learn. Not for everyone, for sure, but it’s excellent.

Oh, it was called Never Take Candy From A Stranger in the UK.

(The) Maniac (1963)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Kerwin Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, as he pounds gallons of brandy, is a little jarring.

Michael Carreras’ direction is a bit flat, and the movie suffers for it. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. What the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope — love those B&W ‘Scope pictures!

For some reason, Columbia dropped the The from its title in the US.

Richard Burton (center) is about to kick Donald Houston’s teeth out in Where Eagles Dare (1969)

Donald Houston, the picture’s maniac, would go on to appear in my all-time favorite movie — he’s the Nazi agent Richard Burton kicks in the face during the cablecar fight in Where Eagles Dare (1969). In Maniac, he’s appropriately over the top, and stills of him with his torch and goggles fascinated me as a kid.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

This time, Hammer aimed for something more in the vein of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). They wisely got the great Richard Matheson to write it and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead to star. Good, creepy stuff. This would be Bankhead’s last role, aside from her turn as Black Widow on Batman.

Mill Creek has these scheduled for a March release. I’m eternally grateful for their ongoing efforts to bring movies like these to hi-def at such low cost.

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Filed under 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Richard Burton, Richard Matheson, Robert Aldrich

Blu-Ray News #153: Harper (1966) And The Drowning Pool (1975).

Directed by Jack Smight
Starring Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Janet Leigh, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Wagner, Shelley Winters, Strother Martin

Warner Archive has announced the upcoming Blu-Ray release of the two Lew Harper movies, Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975), that featured Paul Newman as the (renamed) Lew Archer of Ross Macdonald’s terrific series of novels.

Harper was based on Macdonald’s first Archer novel, The Moving Target (the film’s title in the UK). It’s terrific, bringing the private detective into 1960s LA with ease and putting Newman’s wiseass detective Lew Harper up against an array of cheaters, crooks, losers and weirdos. William Goldman wrote the script.

Lew Harper (Paul Newman): “Your husband keeps lousy company, Mrs. Sampson, as bad as there is in LA. And that’s as bad as there is.”

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Murray Hamilton, Gail Strickland, Melanie Griffith, Linda Haynes, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Koslo

William Goldman made an attempt to adapt another Archer novel, The Chill. Newman backed out and Sam Peckinpah was attached to it for a while. Nothing happened. In 1975, Newman and Harper were back in The Drowning Pool, with things heading to New Orleans.

Paul Newman: “It’s great fun to get up in the morning and play Harper.”

And that’s exactly what makes The Drowning Pool as good as it is. Newman as Harper is a hoot, and that’s enough. Consider that Gordon Willis shot it and it features the great character actors like Murray Hamilton, Richard Jaeckel and Paul Koslo, and you’re set.

There’s no way for me to recommend Harper enough. It’s one of my favorite movies, from one of my favorite authors, and I’d love to drive a Porsche Speedstar with the driver’s door sprayed in brown primer. And while The Drowning Pool isn’t as good, the character fits Newman so well, he’s a blast to watch. Who cares if it’s any good.

A key attraction for these Blu-Rays will be the hi-def treatment given to cinematographer Conrad Hall’s work on Harper and Willis’ on The Drowning Pool. These are choice releases, folks!

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Filed under 1966, 1975, Andy Robinson, DVD/Blu-ray News, Janet Leigh, Murray Hamilton, Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Warner Archive

RIP, Bruce Brown.

Bruce Brown 
(December 1, 1937 – December 10, 2017)

The great Bruce Brown, whose surfing documentary The Endless Summer (1966) is one of the just plain coolest movies ever made, has passed away at 80.

The sport of surfing and documentary filmmaking owe Bruce Brown a tremendous debt. He was the Ultimate Thing.

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Filed under 1966, Bruce Brown