Category Archives: Mill Creek

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

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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.

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

Blu-Ray News #125: The Rockford Files – The Complete Series.

“Hello, this is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you.”

Mill Creek has announced a Blu-Ray set of the complete run of The Rockford Files (1974-80), coming in June. To me, this is one of the greatest things to ever turn up on TV. Jame Garner was perfect for this show, or maybe it’s the other way around — the perfect show was put together around him.

There isn’t anything about this show that isn’t cool — Rockford’s trailer and Firebird; his dad, Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.), and his GMC pickup; the answering machine and theme song.

The LA locations are always a lot of fun to study, so it’ll be great to see em in high definition. Not that I (or you) really need a reason to go through this show yet again. Essential.

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Filed under James Garner, James Stewart, Mill Creek, Television

DVD News #116: Man On A String (1960).

Directed by Andre de Toth
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Matthews, Colleen Dewhurst

Ernest Borgnine stars in this 1960 spy picture based on the life (and autobiography, Ten Years A Counterspy) of Boris Morros, a Russian-born musical director in Hollywood (John Ford’s Stagecoach, 1939) who was first a Russian spy, then a counterspy for the FBI.

Man On A String is given a gritty, documentary-style treatment by director Andre de Toth, who focuses on the double-crosses that stack up like cordwood. It’s coming to DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment in a four-picture “Soviet Spies” set that also includes Anthony Mann’s last film, A Dandy In Aspic (1968). These two films are well worth the $14.98 price tag. It’s great to see de Toth’s work show up on DVD or Blu-Ray. Recommended.

 

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Filed under 1950, Andre de Toth, Anthony Mann, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ernest Borgnine, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #105: The Creeping Flesh (1973).

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Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Lorna Heilbron, Michael Ripper

Mill Creek Entertainment has announced a three-picture Blu-Ray set for April called Psycho Circus. It consists of three features: Torture Garden (1967), The Creeping Flesh (1973) and Brotherhood Of Satan (1971).

For me, The Creeping Flesh is the cream of the crop. It’s a Tigon picture with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, directed by Freddie Francis. What’s not to like? A scientist comes back from Papua New Guinea with some bones. They get wet and flesh forms around them again — with slimy, murderous results.

Torture Garden (1967) is an Amicus anthology film from Freddie Francis again. It stars Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith and Peter Cushing, based on stories by Robert Bloch.  Then there’s Brotherhood Of Satan which I’ve never seen, but am eager to see — it stars Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones, just a couple years after they played Coffer and T.C. in Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). The recent Mill Creek Hammer Blu-Ray twin bills were terrific, so I’m really looking forward to this set.

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Filed under 1967, 1971, 1973, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Freddie Francis, Mill Creek, Peter Cushing, Sam Peckinpah

DVD News #95: Gappa: The Triphibian Monster (1967).

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Directed by Haruyasu Noguchi
Starring Tamio Kawaji, Yoko Yamamoto, Yuji Okada

Why am I writing about Gappa: The Triphibian Monster (1967), which under its American TV title, Monster From A Prehistoric Planet, is already available from just about every public doman video company there is? Mainly because I get a real kick out of typing the phrase “giant reptilian chicken monster.” Ah, life’s simple pleasures.

The deal with Gappa is this. It’s a Japanese Kaiju film, from Mikkatsu Studios instead of the usual Toho, that never saw theatrical release in the US. American International sent it straight to TV in 1968 as Monster From A Prehistoric Planet. It’s more or less a remake/ripoff of the British (fake Kaiju) monster movie, Gorgo (1961). In it, a sea monster is discovered and brought to London, only to have its angry mother trash the city to get her kid back. In Gappa, the monster is a “bird-lizard” — a giant reptilian chicken with green scales, and both cheesed-off parents come to Japan in search of their offspring.

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As a kid, I had the 200′ Super 8mm version from Ken Films. Since it focused on the monster stuff, I was very happy with it. Mill Creek Entertainment has brought it to DVD before, and it’s bringing it around again as part of a five-picture set called “Freak Fest.” Not sure what the source is — hopefully, they used something that preserved the original Scope photography rather than AIP’s panned and scanned TV material. The other films are Killers From Space (1954) with Peter Graves, the Gamera movies Destroy All Planets (1968) and Attack Of The Monsters (1969), and Sound Of Horror (1964).

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Filed under 1967, AIP, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kaiju Movies, Ken Films, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2 — The Revenge Of Frankenstein/The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 a 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.

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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).

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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.

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Filed under 1958, 1964, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray Review: Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 1 — The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll/The Gorgon.

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With a string of terrific Blu-ray releases, this Fall is really turning into a hi-def trip down Memory Lane — so much of the stuff that rotted my brain when I was a kid has been announced for release on Blu-ray. One of the first to make its way to my mailbox and Blu-ray player is Mill Creeks’ Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 1.

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The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960; US Titles: House Of Fright)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher, David Kossoff, Oliver Reed

Hammer always put their own spin on the horror standards they tackled, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. Their Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) is rather boring, but his potion transforms him into the suave, yet lecherous and murderous Mr. Hyde. Minus the murder part, this seems like a precursor to Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963). This framework provides ample opportunity for everything from rape and murder to snake-charming — the kind of stuff censors pounced on, resulting in a cut-up American release from American International. This has never been held up as a prime Hammer picture, but it’s well made and Christopher Lee’s in it.

Shot in MegaScope, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll was released in the UK in Technicolor. No such luck in the States — AIP went with crappy Eastmancolor prints. Lucky for us all, Mill Creek offers up a gorgeous transfer from original, longer British material, with the proper title and the kind of eye-popping color these films are known for.

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The Gorgon (1964)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe, Barbara Shelley, Prudence Hyman

The Gorgon (1964) was the first Hammer film I remember seeing (during one of those local-station all-night Halloween marathons), and it had a huge impact on me. From the Technicolor to the blood to Cushing and Lee to the Gorgon herself, I absolutely loved this thing. And I still have a soft spot for it, even though the studio certainly made better films.

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It still has one of my favorite Hammer moments, as Professor Heltz (Michael Goodliffe) writes the letter while turning to stone. (That’d be a fun poll, wouldn’t it — “What’s your favorite single scene in a Hammer horror movie?”)

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On Blu-Ray, The Gorgon won’t turn anybody to stone. It’s beautiful. The color’s appropriately saturated, the 1.66 is spot-on and James Bernard’s score sounds great (and as eerie as ever). Some folks have been harsh on these Mill Creek Hammers, but I don’t get it. There are no complaints here. I’d love to have every horror movie the studio ever made looking as good as The Gorgon does here.

gorgonmummy-adBy the way, The Gorgon played theaters in a twin bill with The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964), which is is included in Mill Creek’s Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2, which we’ll get around to soon.

With these Blu-Rays in your collection, you might end up with some duplication from some of your other Hammer sets. But the improved picture quality and terrific price make it worth the double dip. For Hammer fans out there, this set (and Number 2) is highly recommended. Thanks, Mill Creek, and keep ’em coming!

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Filed under 1960, 1964, AIP, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Jerry Lewis, Mill Creek, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher