There are hundreds, probably thousands, of movies sitting on our collective DVD and Blu-Ray Want Lists. But coming across this pressbook for a twin bill of Machine Gun Kelly and The Bonnie Parker Story (both 1958) — while doing some research on William Witney — got me thinking what a fun widescreen, hi-def package this would be.
Category Archives: 1958
Directed by Alex Nicol
Starring John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway, Alex Nicol
American International’s posters are often better than the films they promote. Make that much better. The Screaming Skull (1958) was one of their masterpieces, complete with the promise to bury you for free if you died of fright while watching the movie (there’s a prologue covering it on the front of the picture). Pure genius. Of course, William Castle used a similar gimmick the same year with his Macabre.
Scream Factory has announced an April release for The Screaming Skull on Blu-Ray. For those of us who can’t get enough of these AIP pictures in hi-def, that’s good news indeed.
Directed by Joe Kane
Starring Rod Cameron, Vera Ralston, Mike Mazurki, Don Hagggerty, Paul Picerni, Luana Anders
Naturama was Republic’s widescreen process, and Vera Ralston was the figure-skater girlfriend/wife of Republic’s president, Herbert J. Yates. Guys like Rod Cameron, Sterling Hayden and even John Wayne appeared with her, grudgingly. And when Republic shut down, do did Ralston’s career.
That said, she made some pretty cool movies, and The Man Who Died Twice (1958) is one of them. In fact, it was her last — the studio tanked that year (it’s also the last Republic Joe Kane directed). It’s a low-budget crime/noir thing. Rod Cameron’s cool in it, Luana Anders plays a heroin addict, and Jack Marta shot it in black & white widescreen. Sounds terrific, don’t it?
Kino Lorber has announced The Man Who Died Twice as an upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release. Seeing these widescreen Republic movies in their original aspect ratio has been almost impossible, so this will be a real treat. I can’t wait.
Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE
Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)
The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).
What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.
The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.
Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.
Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.
But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.
Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.
For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.
Blu-Ray Review: Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2 — The Revenge Of Frankenstein/The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb.
Mill Creek’s Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2 presents a couple more hi-def Hammer horror films — one a classic, one not so much, but both looking great.
The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Eunice Grayson, Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn
The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) is the second entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, coming after The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957). Hammer went a different route than Universal — they follow the Doctor, not the Monster, which lets the stories go in all sorts of different directions. And more important, it established Peter Cushing as a leading horror star through the 70s (then he went and did a little thing called Star Wars).
Revenge picks up where Curse left off. Frankenstein escapes the guillotine, flees to Carlsbruck and builds a successful practice under the name Stein. Of course, he’s conducting his usual experiments on the side — and they go horribly wrong. Frankenstein transplants the brain of a willing assistant into the newly constructed monster, giving the crippled young man a stronger, straighter body. Or that’s the idea anyway.
This, for my money, is one of Hammer’s finest films. Cushing is terrific as the brilliant doctor completely taken over by arrogance and misguided ambition (making it quite appropriate during this Presidential election). Eunice Grayson and Francis Matthews are good as the nurse and young doctor caught up in Frankenstein’s mayhem. Michael Gwynn is really superb as the monster, perfectly balancing the sympathy and horror the part requires. His performance is what makes the movie work as well as it does. Jimmy Sangster’s script is more disciplined than usual, free of the diversions that can lead his films astray. And Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever.
One thing: why didn’t Hammer put the tattoo on Cushing’s right arm in the later films? What a cool touch that would’ve been throughout the series.
For some reason, The Revenge Of Frankenstein has never looked very good on video. Shot in Technicolor and 1.66:1 by John Asher, it should really pop off the screen, the way The Gorgon (1964) does in Volume 1. But it’s always seemed grainy and a bit blown out, with the color too muted to match the typical late-50s Hammer esthetic. Though not a thing of great beauty, Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray is a huge improvement over the old Columbia DVD. The grain is there to remind you this was once on film, but it’s not a distraction; the color is a lot closer to what it must’ve looked like in theaters back in ’58.
This, folks, is a really good movie.
The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland
While Hammer knocked Dracula and Frankenstein out of the park, they had a harder time with the Mummy. The Mummy’s an difficult monster on the whole — cool-looking and creepy for sure, but not all that scary. In the Universal Mummy pictures, women have to trip and fall for the Mummy to catch them. Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) was pretty solid, but they seemed to have a hard time figuring out how to work the Mummy into the plots of the later movies. All that said, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964) still works pretty well.
A group of Egyptologists bring an exhibit to London, backed by an American showman named Alexander King (Fred Clark). King is determined to exploit the artifacts for maximum profits, which doesn’t sit too well with the revived Mummy. The usual havoc follows.
This is an odd Hammer film. It wasn’t shot at Bray Studios, and there are very few of the regulars among the cast and crew. And while it suffers from the same limitations other Mummy films have (What do you do with this guy?), it has some nice atmospherics here and there. And it’s a thousand times better than the next one, The Mummy’s Shroud (1967).
It’s easy to sing the praises of how The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb fares on Blu-Ray. It looks fantastic. The Technicolor is nicely presented and the Techniscope framing’s perfect. A big improvement over the DVD. And as with the first volume, you can’t beat the price.
The Revenge Of Frankenstein alone is worth the price of admission — it’s one of Hammer’s best, and it looks far better than previous releases. Think of The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb as a bonus. Recommended. And I hope Volume 3 isn’t too far behind.
Directed by Paul Landres
Starring Francis Lederer, Norman Eberhardt, Ray Strickland
Paul Landres directed three cool little horror pictures for Gramercy Pictures in 1957-58: The Vampire, The Return Of Dracula and The Flame Barrier. Each was done in week on a shoestring budget.
Olive Films has announced an October Blu-ray release for The Return Of Dracula (1958). Jack MacKenzie’s moody photography will be a real treat in high definition.
Directed by Gene Fowler, Jr.
Starring Charles Bronson, Kent Taylor, Jennifer Holden, John Doucette, Gloria Henry, Whit Bissell
Since I haven’t gotten any sort of verification on the aspect ratio of this Fox Archives DVD, I’m a little hesitant to mention Gang War (1958). But it’s another Regalscope picture, and it stars Charles Bronson — who’s also in one of the better Regalscope Westerns, Showdown At Boot Hill (also 1958) — so it’s way up there on my Want List.
It’s a cool movie, and it should be anamorphic widescreen to preserve the picture’s 2.35 Scope photography. Fox has released some of these early Scope films in terrible 1.33 pan-and-scan transfers. If you hear anything on this one, please let me know. It’s available now.