Category Archives: Columbia

Blu-Ray Review: The Stone Killer (1973).

Directed by Michael Winner
Screenplay by Gerald Wilson
Based on a book by John Gardner
Cinematography: Robert Moore
Music by Roy Budd

Cast: Charles Bronson (Lou Torrey), Martin Balsam (Al Vescari), David Sheiner (Guido Lorenz), Norman Fell (Daniels), Ralph Waite (Mathews), Paul Koslo (Langley), Stuart Margolin (Lawrence), Jack Colvin (Jumper), John Ritter (Hart)

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Mill Creek’s recent Blu-Ray release, Charles Bronson: 4 Movie Collection, offers up The Valachi Papers (1972), The Stone Killer (1973), Hard Times (1974) and Breakout (1975). There’s some good stuff there, especially Walter Hill’s Hard Times, and they all look terrific on Blu-Ray. It’s a nice set at a great price.

Michael Winner, Charles Bronson and Dino De Laurentis

Charles Bronson made quite a few movies with Italian producer Dino De Laurentis in the 70s. It seems to have been a successful relationship for all concerned. Michael Winner first directed Bronson in Chato’s Land (1972), and they’d go on to do Death Wish (1974), which would send both of their careers in a certain direction. At this point in his career, Bronson was really on a roll.

The Stone Killer has Bronson as Lou Torrey, an undercover cop who comes upon a Mafia revenge plot — with a squad of Vietnam vets assembled by the Mob to pull off a number of hits. That provides a framework upon which shootings, torture, car crashes and other stuff can be hung. Bronson’s cool in this one, and he’s been surrounded by a top-notch cast — Martin Balsam, Norman Fell, Ralph Waite, and a couple of my 70s favorites: Paul Koslo and Stuart Margolin (Angel on The Rockford Files). The action’s very well done, they make great use of New York and LA locations, and there’s that 70s-film-stock look that’s so perfect for things like this.

Speaking of locations, there’s a scene near the middle of the picture, with Bronson visiting a hippie commune, that was shot at Moonfire Ranch outside LA. Built for Harper (1966) — it was the temple where the whacked-out holy man Strother Martin hung out. It’s still there today (the photo above is recent). The Doors and Jimi Hendrix played concerts there in the late 60s.

The Stone Killer looks great on Blu-Ray from Mill Creek. All four pictures in the set do. Columbia’s transfers are typically outstanding, and these are no exception. And these movies are Charles Bronson in his prime. And if the increased definition isn’t enough for ya, this will even save you some shelf space. Charles Bronson: 4 Movie Collection is a winner however you wanna look at it. Recommended.

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Filed under 1973, Charles Bronson, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Michael Winner, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #167: An Evening With Joan Crawford.

Mill Creek Entertainment has announced an upcoming twin-bill Blu-Ray of two Joan Crawford horror pictures, Strait-Jacket (1964) from William Castle and Berserk (1967), produced by Herman Cohen.

Strait-Jacket
Directed by William Castle
Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson

William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) has Joan Crawford as an axe murderer who’s released from the nuthouse. Oddly enough, as soon as she gets out, people start getting chopped up.

Berserk!
Directed by Jim O’Connolly
Starring Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Michael Gough, Diana Dors, Judy Geeson

This time, Miss Crawford runs a circus where people keep winding up dead — in the most grisly ways. Berserk‘s in Technicolor, shot by Desmond Dickinson. Herman Cohen, Michael Gough and Dickinson had already enriched our lives with Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959).

Mill Creek’s double features like this are terrific — they’ve already treated us to a number of Castle and Hammer films. All are a great deal and come highly recommended.

Strait-Jacket is also on its way as a stand-alone Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, which will come with some supplemental stuff. All of a sudden, there’s more Joan Crawford than you can shake an axe handle at.

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Filed under 1964, 1967, Columbia, Desmond Dickinson, DVD/Blu-ray News, Herman Cohen, Joan Crawford, Mill Creek, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #166: Hammer Vol. 3 – Blood And Terror.

Indicator has announced their upcoming boxed set Hammer Volume 3 Blood and Terror. It gathers up four non-horror pictures from Hammer’s glorious do-no-wrong period. The set includes —

The Camp On Blood Island (1958)
Directed by Val Guest
​S​tarring Carl Möhner, André Morell, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgeral​d, Barbara Shelley, Michael Ripper

Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
Directed by Val Guest
Starring Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, Gordon Jackson

The Stranglers Of Bombay (1959)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Guy Rolfe, Jan Holden

The Terror Of The Tongs (1961)
Directed by Anthony Bushell
Starring Geoffrey Toone, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur

POWs, firing squads, Thuggee cults, Chinese crime families — this set’s got something for everyone.

Chung King (Christopher Lee): “Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain? It is painful in the extreme I can assure you.”

As a kid, The Terror Of The Tongs haunted me for days after catching it on TV. Yesterday’s Enemy is one of the best films Hammer ever did. The Camp On Blood Island and The Stranglers Of Bombay (in Strangloscope!) are both wonderfully exploitive. Coming in July. It’s gonna be great.

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Filed under 1958, 1959, 1961, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Terence Fisher, Val Guest

Blu-Ray Review: A Study In Terror (1965).

Directed by James Hill
Screenplay by Donald and Derek Ford
Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Music by John Scott
Film Editor: Henry Richardson

Cast: John Neville (Sherlock Holmes), Donald Houston (Doctor John Watson), John Fraser (Lord Carfax), Anthony Quayle (Doctor Murray), Barbara Windsor (Annie Chapman), Adrienne Corri (Angela Osborne), Frank Finlay (Inspector Lestrade), Judi Dench (Sally Young), Charles Regnier (Joseph Beck), Cecil Parker (Prime Minister), Robert Morley (Mycroft Holmes)

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Who knows who thought of it first, but pitting the brilliant Sherlock Holmes against the insidious Jack The Ripper was an inspired idea. Just scratching the surface, the two have squared off in several books, a video game — and two movies I like quite a bit: A Study In Terror (1965) and Murder By Decree (1979). A Study In Terror has recently been released on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Seemed like a good time to revisit it.

The premise is really simple. Jack The Ripper is doing his thing in Whitechapel, and someone decides Sherlock Holmes is the one man who bring the murderous fiend to justice. And indeed he does. Along the way, we get dense fog and plenty of Hammer-inspired bloodletting. (The influence of Hammer and James Bond really made for some cool movies in the mid-60s.)

The victims bear the actual names, but they look more like runway models than streetwalkers. (That kind of historical inaccuracy I can live with.) John Neville makes a fine Holmes — intense, aloof and entirely logical. David Houston, who appears in Hammer’s The Maniac (1962) and my all-time favorite film, Where Eagles Dare (1969), makes a good, typically-bewildered Watson. Frank Finlay makes a great Inspector Lestrade (though I wish he had more screen time), and Robert Morely is fun as Holmes’ brother Mycroft. And Dame Judi Dench has an early role in this thing.

The picture’s executive producer was Herman Cohen, who’d made a lot of great movies at AIP, before heading over to England to produce the wonderful Horrors Of The Black Museum (1959). Cohen hated the ad campaign put together by Columbia for A Study In Terror, which leaned on the camp approach of the Batman TV show — “The Original Caped Crusader!” — completely missing the bloody, lurid Hammer-ish-ness of the whole thing. I’m sure it had a big impact on the film’s disappointing box-office.

Mill Creek has done us a huge favor with this Blu-Ray, featuring a superb-looking 1.85 transfer at a rock-bottom price. Desmond Dickinson’s color photography is well-presented, and the sound nicely preserves every scream and police whistle. It even comes in a slipcover bearing the original UK post art. Very nice.

James Mason and Christopher Plummer in Murder By Decree (1979).

While we’re on the subject, the Holmes/Ripper thing spawned another film. the terrific Murder By Decree. This time, Christopher Plummer plays the great detective and James Mason is wonderful as his trusted friend Watson. Interestingly, Frank Finlay is back as Inspector Lestrade. This one needs a US Blu-Ray release.

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Filed under 1965, Columbia, Desmond Dickinson, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Herman Cohen

Blu-Ray News #163: The Tingler (1959).

Directed by William Castle
Written by Robb White
Starring Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn,  Philip Coolidge, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln

There’s about to be an open slot on my Blu-Ray Want List — The Tingler (1959) is coming from Scream Factory in August.

It’s maybe William Castle’s most whacked-out and outrageous movie of all. And that’s sayin’ something. A slug-like creature lives in our spines and grows when we’re scared; only screaming will keep it from killing us. And when one of these things (removed from a dead lady’s back by researcher Vincent Price) gets loose in a movie theater, the real audience got buzzed by little whirring motors attached to their seats. That, my friends, is why William Castle is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers.

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Castle with some of his Tingler cast.

Scream Factory has done a masterful job with all the old horror pictures they’ve put out, and I’m sure this one will be a real beauty — with all sorts of cool extras. God, I can’t wait!

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William Castle and Joan Crawford plugging Strait-Jacket.

Strait-Jacket
Directed by William Castle
Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, George Kennedy, Leif Erickson

And if that’s not enough, Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) has Joan Crawford as an axe murderer who’s released from the nuthouse. Oddly enough, as soon as she gets out, people start getting chopped up. Scream Factory’s bringing the Psycho-inspired Castle masterpiece out at the same time as The Tingler.

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Filed under 1959, 1964, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Joan Crawford, Shout/Scream Factory, Vincent Price, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #156: A Study In Terror (1966).

Directed by James Hill
Starring John Neville, Donald Houston, John Fraser, Anthony Quayle, Robert Morley, Frank Finlay, Barbara Windsor, Cecil Parker, Judi Dench

Mill Creek has announced that they have the terrific Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack The Ripper movie, A Study In Terror (1966), in the works for Blu-Ray release. While I might prefer Murder By Decree (1978), John Neville makes a great Holmes in this one.

Mill Creek has an April 10 date for this one. I’m sure the price will be great. (There’s a four-movie Charles Bronson Blu-Ray coming at the same time.)

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Filed under 1966, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Mill Creek, Sherlock Holmes

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