Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-Ray Review: Harper (1966).

Directed by Jack Smight
Director: Jack Smight
Producer: Jerry Gershwin, Elliott Kastner
Screenplay by William Goldman,
based on the novel The Moving Target by Ross McDonald
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Film Editor: Stefan Arnsten
Music by Johnny Mandel

Cast: Paul Newman (Lew Harper), Lauren Bacall (Elaine Sampson), Julie Harris (Betty Fraley), Arthur Hill (Albert Graves), Janet Leigh (Susan Harper), Shelley Winters, Robert Wagner


For my money, Harper (1966) is the ultimate Paul Newman movie. He’s cool, funny and tough — and like all of his best films, his character’s got a little loser in him. He’s also got a cool car — a Porsche Speedster with the driver’s door sprayed in brown primer and the hubcaps missing. (Bet Newman had a lot of fun with that thing between takes.)

Harper is also a near-perfect 60s movie, touching on the mounting weirdness of the latter half of the decade, especially in Los Angeles, without going overboard in trying to be hip. Harper (Newman) is hired by a Lauren Bacall to locate her wealthy husband, who disappeared the night before. Harper’s investigation drags him through all sorts of stuff — kidnapping, smuggling illegal immigrants, heroin addiction, torture and crackpot religion. Along the way, he gets beaten up time and time again.

Elaine Sampson (Lauren Bacall): Los Angeles is the big leagues for religious nuts.
Lew Harper (Paul Newman): That’s because there’s nothing to do at night.

And it does all this while carrying on the tradition set by earlier private detective pictures like The Big Sleep (1946). You could say that this vibe was taken to the next level, a logical progression, by Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1971).

Strother Martin is terrific as the weirded out holy man. Shelley Winters is a hoot as the washed up actress involved in the whole mess. Arthur Hill is perfect as Harper’s nerdy lawyer friend. And as I’ve already stated, cool just oozes out of Newman in every frame.

I am deeply indebted to this movie for two things. First, it introduced me to Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer books. I’ve read them all, they’re great. Next, the shot underneath director Jack Smight’s credit — looking over Harper’s shoulder as he approaches Lauren Bacall’s house in his Porsche, it (and The Love Bug) helped kick off my fascination with Ferdinand Porsche and his vehicles.

Director Jack Smight and Paul Newman between takes.

Harper was shot in Technicolor and Panavision by the great Conrad Hall. The Blu-Ray from Warner Archive is near perfect, as good a presentation of original Technicolor as I’ve ever seen. Of course, it’s not the eye candy of something like Singing In The Rain (1950), but it shows us all exactly what the color process looked like in the 60s. Watch those reds — the cars, the waiters’ uniforms, etc. That’s dye transfer Tech — and it’s beautiful. Harper looks better than I’ve ever seen it look (and I’ve seen a 16mm IB Tech Scope print, the letterboxed laserdisc and the DVD). Essential.

At the same time, Warner Archive has brought the second Newman/Harper film, The Drowning Pool (1975), to Blu-Ray. It’s not as good — for one thing, the plot is really complex, but any movie featuring Murray Hamilton, Paul Koslo, Andy Robinson, Linda Haynes and Richard Jaeckel is worth seeing. This time, Harper winds up in Louisiana (the book kept Archer in California) to help out an old flame (Joanne Woodward) and people start winding up dead.

The scene with Newman and Gail Strickland trapped in a flooded hydrotherapy room, where the title comes from, is really cool.

The great Gordon Willis (The Godfather) shot this one, and it’s beautiful — and presently flawlessly on Blu-Ray by Warner Archive. Newman and all those character actors make The Drowning Pool worthwhile. Recommended.



Filed under 1966, 1975, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Janet Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Murray Hamilton, Paul Newman, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray Review: The Maniac (1963).

Directed by Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Director of Photography: Wilkie Cooper
Music by Stanley Black
Film Editor: Tom Simpson

Cast: Kerwin Mathews (Paul Farrell), Nadia Gray (Eve Beynat), Norman Bird (Salon), Liliane Brousse (Annette Beynat), Arnold Diamond (Janiello), Donald Houston (George)


(The) Maniac (1963) contains many of the things I love about 60s movies. It’s black and white ‘Scope, with some really cool camera stuff every once in a while. It wallows in what they could now put on the more-permissive screen — such as death by blowtorch, though they do it without actually putting it on the screen. It’s got a terrific jazzy score by Stanley Black. I could go on.

Being that Maniac is a Hammer film, none of this should come as a big surprise. In their hey-day, they pushed the envelope big time. What is a surprise is just how good this post-Psycho psychological horror picture really is — and how it holds up today. As a kid, I was cheesed off that it had no Frankenstein or Dracula. Now it’s creepy, lurid and downright cool.

So here’s the story. A young woman is assaulted by a man in a small town in the South of France. Her father kills the guy with a blowtorch and is sent to an insane asylum. An American artist (Kerwin Mathews) comes to town and is attracted to the girl, now a pretty young lady (Liliane Brousse), and her mother Eve (Nadia Gray). Mathews begins an affair with Eve, and they devise a plot to spring dad from the nuthouse. He says he’s give Eve a divorce if she’ll help him. From there on, nothing is as it seems.

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what really strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, dumping a body into the bay and pounding gallons of brandy, is a little jarring. The previous year, he’d been in Hammer’s Pirates of Blood River (1962). Of course, Nadia Gray will forever be known for her stripping scene in that Fellini thing La Dolce Vita (1960).

Michael Carreras’ direction tends to be a bit flat, but this is his best picture. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. Jimmy Sangster’s script offers up some unexpected turns here and there. But what the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope photography. He gives the picture real flair, but pours on the shadows when needed. The whole thing is total claptrap, but it’s so well put together, who cares?

Cooper’s work is served very well on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Maniac is paired with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic), and both look like a million bucks. Black and white tends to take on a lot of depth in high definition, and with Mill Creek’s incredible price point on these things, this thing’s a must.

The other Hammer double feature pairs up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960). It’s every bit as nice as this set.

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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: The Night Walker (1964).

Produced & Directed by William Castle
Screenplay by Robert Block
Director Of Photography: Howard E. Stine
Music by Vic Mizzy

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Irene Trent), Robert Taylor (Barry Morland), Hayden Rorke (Howard Trent), Lloyd Bochner (The Dream), Judith Meredith (Joyce), Rochelle Hudson (Hilda), Paul Frees (Narrator)


I love William Castle. There’s something about his movies that’s just Fun. It’s easy to see it in the gimmick-y things like The Tingler (1959) or 13 Ghosts (1960). But it’s there in the noir-ish The Whistler (1944), the whacked-out Biblical “epic” Slaves Of Babylon (1953) — just imagine: Sam Katzman tackles the Old Testament and includes a dance number by Julie Newmar, and everything in-between.

Throughout a Castle movie, it’s like he’s whispering in our ear, “I know this is really ridiculous, but ain’t it great?”

Yes, Mr. Castle, it is great

Robert Taylor, William Castle and Barbara Stanwyck at a party for The Night Walker.

By the time he got to The Night Walker (1964), Castle had stored the gimmick machine in his garage. The ballyhoo was still over the top, with Castle hamming it up in the preview trailer and some sort of monster appearing on the poster, but nowhere in the movie. But that was pretty much it.

If anything, the gimmick to The Night Walker is its cast. Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor had been married from 1939 to 1951, so there was an odd, gossip-y appeal to seeing these two big stars “together again” (as the poster boasted). Then there’s the weirdness of Hayden Rorke,  Dr. Bellows on I Dream Of Jeannie, unrecognizable (to say nothing of hideous and creepy-looking, above) as Stanwyck’s blind, rich, obsessive, jealous and severely-burned husband.

Robert Bloch, who wrote the novel Psycho, cooked up a pretty good murder plot, dressed up in all sorts of psychological dream-interpreting mumbo-jumbo. Like Stanwyck, we aren’t sure what’s real and what’s a dream. A cool prologue, narrated by the great Paul Frees, kicks things off with talk of nightmares and sex and desires and dreams and stuff.

I’m not going to spoil the plot for ya. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense, anyway.

One of the picture’s strongest points is its score by Vic Mizzy, who also did The Munsters and The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966). His work here is slightly reminiscent of those, with a cool guitar riff doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Then there’s the camera work by Howard E. Stein. He shot a staggering amount of TV in the 50s and 60s. His limited feature work includes several of Castle’s later pictures, along with MASH (1970) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He masterfully manages what we can, and can’t, see in the shadows. And that’s crucial to a movie like this.

Which brings us to the new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. It’s beautiful, offering up Stine’s work with stunning clarity. The grain and contrast are perfect. The audio is dead on, giving Mizzy’s score plenty of punch. Then there’s a nice batch of extras: the trailer, a commentary and a hefty still gallery. This is a terrific release, and while The Night Walker isn’t what I consider one of Castle’s best, the presentation easily elevates it to Essential status.

One more thing. The set decorator on The Night Walker was John McCarthy, Jr. He was at Republic for years, working on everything from The Crimson Ghost (1946) to Trigger, Jr. (1950) to The Quiet Man (1952). He stayed at the studio to the bitter end, then worked in TV — Cimarron City, M Squad, Frontier Doctor, etc. McCarthy ended up at Universal, working on features like The Shakiest Gun In The West (1968), Coogan’s Bluff (1968) and The Hellfighters (1969) and TV shows such as Leave It To Beaver, The Munsters and two of my favorites, Dragnet and Adam-12. The fact that he worked with Republic, William Castle and Jack Webb shows he must’ve been good, quick and dependable.



Filed under 1964, Barbara Stanwyck, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International), William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: Return Of The Ape Man (1944).

Directed by Phil Rosen
Produced by Sam Katzman & Jack Dietz
Story & Screenplay by Robert Charles
Cinematography: Marcel Le Picard

Cast: Bela Lugosi (Professor Dexter), John Carradine (Professor John Gilmore), George Zucco (Ape Man – credits only), Frank Moran (Ape Man), Teala Loring (Anne Gilmore), Tod Andrews (Steve Rogers), Mary Currier (Mrs. Hilda Gilmore), Ernie Adams (Willie The Weasel)


The Monogram Nine, a handful of low-budget pictures Bela Lugosi made for Sam Katzman and Monogram Pictures in the mid-40s, are nobody’s idea of quality cinema, but they’re certainly entertaining. Some say Return Of The Ape Man (1944) is one of the worst of the bunch, but so what — it’s a blast.

Bela Lugosi is Professor Dexter, a noted scientist messing around with freezing people. He and his assistant, Professor John Gilmore (John Carradine), thaw out a bum they’ve had frozen in the basement for four months. To prove that people can be kept frozen for extended periods of time, then thawed out safely, Dexter and Gilmore travel to the Arctic in search of a frozen prehistoric man to defrost. They finally find one and bring it back to Lugosi’s basement/laboratory.

They’re able to revive him — after Lugosi thaws him out with a blowtorch, but soon realize he’s an “unmanageable brute” (I’m lifting a Lugosi line from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein). Lugosi’s solution is to transplant a certain portion of a modern man’s brain into the Ape Man’s skull. From here, Lugosi’s plans go completely off the rails and lead to the kind of supreme mayhem the Poverty Row studios were so good at cooking up.

I love Return Of The Ape Man. It’s so ridiculous, so cheap and so short — what’s not to like? Lugosi’s terrific. He always had a way of making the non-logic of these things almost work. Almost. Once John Carradine questions Lugosi’s methods, we just know he’s a goner — but he’s great at doing his John Carradine thing in the meantime. John Moran is a hoot as the Ape Man — bending bars, breaking stuff, choking people, etc. George Zucco was originally given the part, but he got ill and Moran took over. Why Zucco still gets third billing is anybody’s guess. Some say he’s actually in a shot or two (on the table when the Ape Man is first thawed out). Others say it was in his contract. My theory is having three low-budget horror stars in one movie was too good a thing to pass up. Wonder if Zucco was paid for his name on the poster? Philip Rosen’s direction is clunky, for lack of a better word, at least party due to the tight schedule and budget.

I’ve never seen Return Of The Ape Man looking good. And while this Olive Blu-Ray leaves plenty to be desired, this is far and away the nicest version I’ve come across. The contrast and grain are inconsistent, there’s some damage here and there, and it’s a bit soft in places — 16mm, maybe? — but that’s all part of the experience. A movie like this is supposed to look a little ragged, in my opinion, and I’m so glad Olive Films didn’t hold out for better material. It might’ve never happened, and that would be a real shame. This way, every magnificent flaw is preserved in high-definition, which is the way I like it.

Recommended, along with the rest of the Monogram Nine. By this way, this is not a sequel to the previous Lugosi/Monogram picture, The Ape Man (1943).


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Filed under Bela Lugosi, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, George Zucco, John Carradine, Monogram 9, Monogram/Allied Artists, Olive Films, Sam Katzman

Blu-Ray Review: The Green Slime (1968).

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Written by William Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair

Cast: Robert Horton (Commander Jack Rankin), Richard Jaeckel (Commander Vince Elliott), Luciana Paluzzi (Dr. Lisa Benson), Bud Widom (Gen. Jonathan B. Thompson)


A group of intrepid astronauts, lead by Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel, visit an asteroid (and destroy it before it collides with Earth). One of them returns to space station Gamma 3 with some kinda green goo on his spacesuit. The goo soon transforms into dozens of nasty-looking green monsters with tentacles and a single red eye.

Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton): “Wait a minute — are you telling me that this thing reproduced itself inside the decontamination chamber? And, as we stepped up the current, it just… it just grew?”

The men and women (including Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball and Muscle Beach Party) stationed on Gamma 3 soon find themselves in a battle to the death with these wretched things — all in Panavision and Metrocolor. (It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, as a kid, I was genuinely frightened by the scenes on the asteroid, as the titular green slime attached itself to the astronauts and their equipment.)

Filmed in Japan, with a Japanese crew and American cast, The Green Slime is slightly related to the four sci-fi pictures from Italian director Antonio Margheriti about space station Gamma 1 — Wild, Wild PlanetWar Of The Planets, War Between The Planets (all 1966) and Snow Devils (1967). Those films, which share some of the same screenwriters as The Green Slime, were produced by MGM as TV movies but sent to theaters instead. Margheriti made all four in just three months! (Maybe it’s time to cover the entire Gamma 1 saga. Three of the four are available from Warner Archive.)

Thanks to 2001: a space odyssey (1968), The Green Slime oozed into theaters woefully behind in the special effects race. That’s not a complaint, as I’m a big fan of spotty practical effects, rubber monsters and cheesy miniatures. Fact is, everything in this movie is absolutely perfect for what it is. Writing, acting, sets, effects, music — they all suit each other. I love that the lighting rig is clearly reflected in the space helmets as our heroes explore the surface of the asteroid. I would’ve been disappointed if a wire wasn’t visible on a spaceship somewhere along the way. If the monsters were something other than Japanese guys in rubber suits, well, that would’ve ruined it for me. And the terrific theme song — from Richard Delvy of the surf band The Challengers — is the cherry on top of the whole gooey mess.

The green slime doesn’t show up green in this faded old 35mm publicity slide.

Believe it or not, I was a little concerned that the improved detail, contrast, color, etc. of the Warner Archive Blu-Ray would take away from the cheesy enjoyment packed into every frame of The Green Slime. But I was wrong. The silver-painted plywood grain of the space station is clearer than ever. The wires on the space ships are easier to spot. And the colors really pop, though I think the tint was a little truer on the old DVD. The audio’s clean and crisp — and there’s an original trailer to marvel at.

The movie’s a gas, and the Blu-Ray’s a real beauty. Essential to those who dig this kinda stuff.

One last thing. Given the perils of Gamma 3 and considering the giant slug hiding in the asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), there’s an important lesson to be learned: stay the hell away from asteroids.



Filed under 1968, Antonio Margheriti, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: The Stranger (1946).

Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by Sam Spiegel (S.P. Eagle)
Screenplay by Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, Anthony Veiller, Orson Welles (uncredited), John Huston (uncredited)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Ernest J. Nims
Music by Bronislau Kaper

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet Rankin), Orson Welles (Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet)


Folks have a tendency to shrug off The Stranger (1946) as a lesser Orson Welles picture. After all, he took it on in an attempt to show he could make a movie according to the Hollywood rules — with the idea that it would put him back on the studios’ collective good side. There are two things wrong with all this. One, while the movie came in a day early and under budget and was indeed a box-office success, it didn’t boost Welles’ employability. And two, to blow off The Stranger deprives you of a really good movie.

Welles is a teacher at a New England prep school, with the supreme good fortune of being married to Loretta Young. He’s also a notorious Nazi war criminal who fled to the States, somehow managing to remove any evidence that might identify him — except for his unusual hobby/obsession: clocks.

Then one day, Nazi hunter Mr. Wilson (Edgar G. Robinson) arrives in Harper, Connecticut — and learns of a school teacher who’s been working on the old church clock in the town square.

Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler (Orson Welles): “Who would think to look for the notorious Franz Kindler in the sacred precincts of the Harper School, surrounded by the sons of America’s first families? And I’ll stay hidden… till the day when we strike again.”

As much as I appreciate Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), I really love the way Welles handled more lurid material like Touch Of Evil (1958), The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and this one. The trappings here are certainly more upscale than the border town in Touch Of Evil, but the deep shadows, striking camera angles and long takes create a similar sinister mood. (Both films were shot by Russell Metty.) Don’t be misled — this is very much an Orson Welles movie.

The Stranger went into the public domain in the 70s, and fans of the movie have been subjected to all sorts of nasty-looking VHS tapes and DVD over the years. To see Welles and Metty’s incredible visuals run through the video thrashing machine is a heinous thing indeed. I’m happy to report that the Blu-Ray from Olive Films looks fine. It’s not gonna be the thing you throw on when you want to show the neighbors how nice your TV is, but it lets you appreciate the rich contrast and deep focus that make the movie as effective as it is. There are other Blu-Rays of the picture out there, and while this one’s a tiny bit softer than some of the others, it’s a bit darker, too — which seems more in line with how the film should look. The grain’s there, as it should be. The audio is sharp and clear. Extras include an audio commentary by Nora Fiore and the original trailer.

This is a nice package — and a really terrific movie (that made a huge impact on me as a kid). Highly, highly recommended.



Filed under DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films, Orson Welles

Blu-ray Review: Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Or Gammera The Invincible (1966), Or Gamera The Giant Monster.

Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
Starring Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichiro Yamashita
American version stars Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy


Mill Creek’s Blu-ray Gamera sets, Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2, have gotten some lukewarm reviews. They don’t look all that good. The detail’s fine, but things are a bit flat. Same goes for the audio: flat. But what I think folks are forgetting is that this is right in line with the way we’ve always seen these Japanese Daiei monster movies in the States. Growing up in the 70s, I saw them on TV — pan-and-scan and perforated by used car commercials. Later, when they started showing up on videotape, they looked just as bad, only you could stop them to go to the bathroom.

What I’m taking forever to get around to is this: in my mind, these kinds of movies aren’t supposed to look all that good. An iffy transfer? If you insist. Scratches? Yes, please. Splices? A few, just for authenticity. And grain? It’s a must. When these start looking too good, they lose some of their appeal. (Grindhouse didn’t look like that just to be obnoxious.)

And, be honest, did you buy a set of Gamera pictures to demonstrate your swanky TV next time your brother-in-law comes over?

A Brief History Of Giant Flying Turtle Movies, Part One.

Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) was produced by Japan’s Daiei Motion Picture Company, clearly inspired by the callossal worldwide success of Toho’s Godzilla films.

Gamera is a giant prehistoric fire-breathing flying turtle with tusks, who’s released from the North Pole or someplace by a nuclear explosion. Gamera makes his way to Japan, where all hell breaks loose. The first attempt to get rid of him fails (explosives underneath him simply flip him onto his back), and he’s lured into a rocket and sent to Mars.

It’s clearly a Godzilla knock-off, with its meager budget evident in almost every frame. It’s black and white and Scope, which is always a good look, regardless of the picture’s budget (Lippert’s black and white Regalscope pictures were notoriously cheap).

A special version was prepared for the United States, called Gammera The Invincible (note the extra M), with sequences added featuring Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy. This version played theaters in 1966 and was a constant on TV throughout the 70s.

The first volume in the Mill Creek Blu-Ray set includes the original foreign version, in Japanese with English subtitles. It looks nice and sharp — it’s terrific to see it widescreen, and the original Japanese audio tracks give the picture a slightly more sophisticated feel. (Very slightly — remember, this is a movie about a giant flying turtle.)

Personally, I would’ve preferred the Dekker/Donlevy American version I saw countless times on TV as a kid. It adds an extra layer of cheese, and for me, has added nostalgia value. Some of the dubbed voices are cats you’d recognize from Speed Racer and Ultraman.

By the way, there was a theme song, “Gammera The Invincible” by The Moons, released as a single in 1966 (that’s the sleeve to the right). It’s suspiciously similar to Neil Hefti’s Batman TV theme.

The picture was a success in Japan, particularly with kids, and a series was quickly launched, with Gamera taking on one crazy monster after another. The followups were all in color — and in the States, they all went straight to TV. Only Gammera The Invincible played US theaters.

Gamera: The Giant Monster was followed by six additional Gamera films, released between 1966 and 1971 —
Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966; AIP-TV title: War Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967; AIP-TV title: Return Of The Giant Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Viras (1968; AIP-TV title: Destroy All Planets)
Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969; AIP-TV title: Attack Of The Monsters)
Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970; AIP-TV title: Gamera Vs. Monster X)
Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)

Daiei ran into money trouble and went into bankruptcy, leaving an eighth Gamera picture unmade. But just like Gamera busting out of the ice after that long repose, the series was back in theaters in 1980 with Gamera: Super Monster from New Daiei. It includes footage from the seven previous movies. The fiery flying turtle was revived again in 1995 for series of films I have absolutely no interest in.

Mill Creek’s Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 and 2 give these eight Gamera movies in hi-def, looking pretty splendid (as I see em). All are in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, are all in color but the first one, and all feature what seems to be a solid job of subtitling. And, to top it all off, the pricing is terrific.



Filed under 1965, 1966, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kaiju Movies, Mill Creek