Blu-Ray Review: Ultra Q (1966).

Until this Mill Creek set turned up in my mailbox, I hadn’t seen an episode of Ultra Q (1966-67) in its entirety. Now, about halfway through the show’s 28 episodes, I’m having a blast.

If I had seen Ultra Q when I was 10 (and could understand Japanese), it might’ve been my favorite TV show.

It goes like this. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects maestro behind Toho’s Godzilla movies, started his own production company and kicked things off with Ultra Q. It’s about a team of investigators who look into different mysterious goings from episode to episode — similar to the setup of, say, The Night Stalker orThe X Files. But this being Japan in the mid-60s, that premise (inspired by The Outer Limits) becomes a showcase for a giant monster every week. Toho was an investor in Tsuburaya’s new production company and gave the show access to their prop warehouse, filled with monster suits waiting to be unleashed on another miniature Tokyo. Part of the fun is spotting disguised monsters from the Kaiju movies, such as Godzilla dressed up to play Gomess in the first episode.

It’s a pretty whacked-out affair. All sorts of things come from space or out of the ground, an our intrepid team — a scientist, a young reporter and a pilot — take them on as the Japanese countryside and infrastructure gets stomped. That’s pretty much it. The half-hour format really works in its favor, as time is never wasted — they get right to the monster.

Ultra Q only lasted one season. Tsuburaya Productions moved on to the first Ultraman series (in color) in 1967, and that franchise is still going.

Mill Creek has done a terrific job on this set, available in regular or steelbook packaging, and on their first Ultraman set (released the same day).

Ultra Q‘s gorgeous black and white is perfectly presented on Blu-Ray, with the contrast masterfully dialed in. Everything’s sharp as a tack, allowing for some grainy stock footage from time to time. The sound is clear as a bell (it’s got a great Surf-y theme song), and the English subtitles (it’s in Japanese only) are nicely done. (There was evidently an English version prepared that never aired. It’d be cool to see some of those.)

Ultra Q was quite a discovery for me, and I’m sure fans of the show will be overjoyed by this set. If only every TV show got this kind of attention.

Mill Creek is to be commended for this one. Highly recommended for fans of this sort of thing.

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Filed under 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Eiji Tsuburaya, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek, Toho

Blake Lucas On Psycho (1960) For MUBI.

Blake Lucas recently completed a terrific piece on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) that might make you look at the movie a little differently.

Click on Hitch and Anthony Perkins to read it.

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Filed under 1960, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh

Blu-Ray News #260: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967).

Directed by John Gilling
Starring André Morell, David Buck, John Phillips, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper, Eddie Powell

What is it about The Mummy? Both Universal and Hammer created masterpieces with their first Mummy movies, but had trouble keeping things going with the sequels.

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) was the third of Hammer’s four Mummy films, though it’s the last one to actually feature a resuscitated mummy walking around. Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971) wisely did not wrap Valerie Leon in bandages.

Director John Gilling had just done The Plague Of The Zombies and The Reptile (both 1966) for Hammer and stepped right into this one. He also wrote the script. Gilling and cinematographer Arthur Grant came up with a great-looking movie, which makes the upcoming Blu-Ray (early 2020) from Scream Factory so exciting. That and the sarcophagus full of extras we’ve come to expect from Scream Factory’s Hammer series. Looking forward to this one!

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Filed under 1967, Arthur Grant, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Michael Ripper, Shout/Scream Factory, Valerie Leon

Bob Dylan In In Harm’s Way?

From an interview posted on BobDylan.com —

Bill Flanagan: You met John Wayne in 1966. How did you two hit it off?

Bob Dylan: Pretty good, actually. The Duke, I met him on a battleship in Hawaii where he was filming a movie, he and Burgess Meredith. One of my former girlfriends was in the movie, too, and she told me to come over there. She introduced me to him and he asked me to play some folk songs. I played him “Buffalo Skinners,” “Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” and I think “I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler.” He told me if I wanted to, I could stick around and be in the movie. He was friendly to me.

Love that poster art by Saul Bass!

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Filed under 1965, Bob Dylan, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Paramount, Saul Bass, Slim Pickens

Blu-Ray Review: The Shooting And Ride In The Whirlwind (Both 1966).

This was a post I really wanted to get right. There were two previous attempts, which I hated and discarded (to say too much about these movies, in a way, takes away from them). Hope the third time’s the charm.

The backstory. Monte Hellman and Jack Nicholson did a couple of pictures in the Philippines for Roger Corman (Back Door To Hell and Flight To Fury, both 1964). When there was talk of doing something else, Corman asked them to make a Western. That became two Westerns to be shot back-to-back — similar to their Filipino arrangement. The budgets were $75,000 apiece, with  three weeks scheduled for each.

Nicholson wrote Ride In The Whirlwind and The Shooting came from Carole Eastman (as Adrian Joyce). Both films were shot in Utah by Gregory Sandor, with Nicholson serving as producer. They share the same tiny crew and Nicholson and Millie Perkins in the casts. The Shooting was done first, with a period of about a week before Ride In The Whirlwind started. The finished films played a few festivals (Montreal, Cannes) and some foreign bookings, but were sold straight to TV in the States (though Variety reviewed Ride In The Whirlwind back in ’66).

There were plenty of ugly VHS releases before VCI brought them to DVD. That was a great day indeed, and these terrific little Westerns started to find an audience. They’ve been given the red-carpet treatment by The Criterion Collection, with an incredible batch of extras. It took quite a while, but they’re finally getting their due.

The Shooting
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Adrian Joyce (Carole Eastman)
Director Of Photography: Gregory Sandor

Cast: Warren Oates (Willett Gashade), Will Hutchins (Coley), Millie Perkins (The Woman), Jack Nicholson (Billy Spear)

The Shooting was shot first (and I saw it first), so we’ll begin with it. Warren Oates returns to his mining camp to learn that his brother killed a boy in town and fled. Then a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) appears and pays Oates to lead her to the town of Kingsley, for reasons she won’t share. They begin their trip through the desert, trailed by a lone gunman dressed in black (Nicholson).

Ride In The Whirlwind
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Jack Nicholson
Director Of Photography: Gregory Sandor

Cast: Cameron Mitchell (Vern), Millie Perkins (Abigail), Jack Nicholson (Wes), Harry Dean Stanton (Blind Dick), Katherine Squire (Catherine), George Mitchell (Evan), Rupert Crosse (Indian Joe), Tom Filer (Otis)

A group of cowboys (Cameron Mitchell, Jack Nicholson and Tom Filer) stumble upon a cabin where Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton) and his gang invite them in. The next morning, the cabin’s surrounded by a posse — and the three innocents are instantly wanted men.

The idea in The Shooting of the gunman after someone, we don’t know who, is the backbone of Jack Arnold’s No Name On The Bullet (1959) with Audie Murphy. When it comes to Ride In The Whirlwind, there are plenty of innocent men on the run movies. There’s a fatalist, noir-ish feel to some of both films’ dialogue, but that comparison falls apart, too. These were unlike any Western that came before them — or after them, for that matter.

While most of Roger Corman’s young directors showed promise under his leadership, then went on to do great things, Monte Hellman managed to make two great films while still in the Corman camp. These seem to share the same basic approach as his Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) — a deceptively simple, and purposefully vague, situation is established, and for the rest of the picture, we watch the characters react to that situation. In The Shooting, like Oates, we don’t know what the hell is going on, but we’re pretty sure it’s not going to be good. Ride In The Whirlwind lets us share the desperation of Mitchell and Nicholson. And we don’t get to know the characters of Two-Lane Blacktop because there really isn’t anything to know — they just keep going.

There have been complaints over the years that some of the performances in these Westerns are wooden. The leads seem pitch-perfect to me. Millie Perkins and Jack Nicholson are fine in both. Cameron Mitchell was always dependable, no matter what kind of junk he was in. Will Hutchins is terrific. And Warren Oates was simply one of the best film actors ever, incapable of being less than stellar (and Hellman seemed to draw his best work out of him).

The camerawork from Gregory Sandor is stunning. There was no time or money or crew for lights, so everything was done with natural light. The frame of Oates with the coffee cup, above, from a long take in the first few minutes of The Shooting, sums up these movies for me. The lighting seems real, not Hollywood, and the oddball composition is perfectly imperfect. For some reason, that image has stuck with me for over 20 years.

The new 4K masters done for the Criterion release are some of the best I’ve ever seen, for any movie. Both The Shooting and Ride In The Whirlwind really look like film here, and the color seems rich even though everything is brown and dusty. Just as there was no time or money for lights, there wasn’t much for makeup, either. Millie Perkins didn’t feel she was presented very well in either film, though I disagree. She looks exactly how she ought to look.

While the merits of every film on video should hinge on the film itself, Criterion put together a series of extras that really add to your appreciation of these gems. The commentaries by Monte Hellman, Blake Lucas and Bill Krohn are some of the best I’ve ever heard. They cover everything you’d ever want to know about how these pictures came to be. Even if the films were terrible, their combined production history would be fascinating stuff. The fact that they’re absolutely brilliant makes it all the more special. Adding the package are interviews and short documentaries.

Back when these Westerns looked awful on VHS, they were something to be tracked down and studied, especially for those with a thing for Monte Hellman. This Criterion set, presenting both in stunning quality and with a serious stack of extras, is nothing short of essential. My highest recommendation.

A big thanks to Blake Lucas.

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Filed under 1966, Criterion Collection, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman, Morris Ankrum, Roger Corman, Warren Oates

Blu-Ray News #259: From Beyond The Grave (1974).

Directed by Kevin Connor
Starring Ian Bannen, Ian Carmichael, Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Margaret Leighton, Nyree Dawn Porter, David Warner, Ian Ogilvym Lesley-Anne Down

Amicus Productions specialized in anthology horror pictures like Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965) and Tales From The Crypt (1972) — and From Beyond The Grave (1974) was the last one. It gave Kevin Connor his first directing assignment, and he’d go on to do pictures like The Land That Time Forgot (1975) and At The Earth’s Core (1976), both with Peter Cushing and Doug McClure.

Warner Archive has announced From Beyond The Grave for an October Blu-Ray release. The great Peter Cushing in high definition is always a good thing. Recommended.

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Filed under 1974, Amicus Productions, Diana Dors, Donald Pleasence, DVD/Blu-ray News, Peter Cushing, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #258: The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).

Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jack McGowran, Sharon Tate, Alfie Bass, Ferdy Mayne, Roman Polanski

I first caught Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) on the CBS late show. Even though it was the butchered version (further butchered for TV), it made me laugh out loud while really creeping me out. I loved it.

This is a movie that’s been well served on video over the years. There was the letterboxed laserdisc of the original cut, then a similar presentation on DVD. I can’t wait to see the Blu-Ray, and get the chance to really study the sets, Douglas Slocombe’s camerawork, that terrific score by Krzysztof Komeda and all that fake snow. Coming in October.

Click on the Frank Frazetta poster art up top. It gets bigger.

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Filed under 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Warner Archive