Category Archives: Olive Films

DVD/Blu-Ray News #101: Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1955).

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Directed by Franklin Adreon
Starring Phyllis Coates, Myron Healey, Arthur Space, John Day

The next-to-last Republic serial, Panther Girl Of The Kongo (1955), is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

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Stock footage was the order of the day in the final years of Republic serials, and this one lifts liberally from Jungle Girl (1941) starring Frances Gifford. What really sets Panther Girl Of The Kongo apart are the always-terrific Phyllis Coates and the really cool giant crayfish (here in North Carolina, we call them crawdads). I guess Hollywood’s big bug trend (Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, The Black Scorpion) infested the Republic lot — and it’s all brought to life by the genius of Howard and Theodore Lydecker. They built scale jungle “sets” and turned real crayfish loose on them.

It all makes for a really fun serial that comes highly recommended.

UPDATE 2/10/17: Amazon has this available for pre-order at just $12.99!

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lydecker Brothers, Olive Films, Phyllis Coates, Republic Pictures

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists

Blu-ray Review: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1958).

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Directed by Irvin Berwick
Produced by Jack Kevan
Screenplay by C. Haile Chace
Director Of Photography: Philip Lathrop
Film Editor: George Gittens, ACE

Cast: Jeanne Carmen (Lucille Sturges), Les Tremayne (Dr. Sam Jorgenson), John Harmon (Sturges, the Lighthouse Keeper), Don Sullivan (Fred), Forrest Lewis (Constable George Matson), Pete Dunn (Eddie/The Monster)

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In 1958, what could you do with a couple weeks and $29,000? Well, you could put together an ultra-cheap riff on The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) called The Monster Of Piedras Blancas. To help stretch that budget a bit, you could borrow the hands from Universal’s The Mole People (1956) and some Metaluna mutant feet from This Island Earth (1955) — especially if your producer used to work in the makeup department at Universal.

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That’s pretty much the story of how The Monster Of Piedras Blancas came together. Producer Jack Kevan had indeed been one of the monster makers at Universal — and early in his career did makeup work on The Wizard Of Oz (1939) at MGM. He teamed up with another ex-Universal employee, Irvin Berwick, to start making pictures. This was their first.

For years, Sturges (John Harmon) the lighthouse keeper has been leaving food out for the monster of Piedras Blancas for years (much like you would for the feral cat in the vacant lot down the street). The monster eventually tires of the menu, or decides it wants larger portions, and starts preying upon the citizens of the coastal town nearby. There are beheadings and mutilations along the way, before the monster threatens the lighthouse keeper’s lovely daughter Lucille (Jean Carmen) and is eventually killed a group of townspeople led by Lucille’s boyfriend Fred (Don Sullivan) and a doctor (Les Tremayne).

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It sounds like a pretty typical 50s monster movie, doesn’t it? Well, it is — and an especially cheap one at that. But it has a few things going for it. First, the cast is quite good — Les Tremayne was always good. Next, it’s surprisingly graphic for its time, which is one reason it made an impression on the many kids who’ve seen it over the years. And finally, it makes great use of its unique setting. Point Piedras Blancas is a real place, about five miles from San Simeon, California. It has a lighthouse. But the one you see in the movie is at Point Conception.

The Monster Of Piedras Blancas was one of those pictures all the monster kids wanted to see, thanks to lurid stills (like the one up top) in magazines like Famous Monsters. All you had were late night TV airings and an eventual VHS copy from Republic Home Video — till it made it to DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films. The transfer is absolutely flawless — any problems you see are with the original material. Me, I like seeing a little dust and dirt or inconsistencies that come from low-budget filmmaking. They’re all here in glistening high definition, presented in 1.78 (it would’ve been 1.85 back in 1959).

The movie it was it is — if you’re into this kind of stuff, this one’s a must. And we can all feel good about minor, obscure films getting the kind of attention that clearly went into this one. Recommended.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Olive Films

DVD/Blu-ray News #70: The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959).

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Directed by Irvin Berwick
Starring Jeanne Carmen, Les Tremayne, John Harmon, Don Sullivan, Forrest Lewis, Pete Dunn

This horror picture was completed for less than $30,000. But when it comes to 50s monster movies, it’s often the cheaper, the better. Maybe better isn’t quite the word for it.

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The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959) is cheap, somewhat gory and a whole lotta fun. It was clearly inspired by The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). And Olive Films is bringing it to Blu-ray in September. Can’t wait.

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Filed under 1959, DVD/Blu-ray News, Olive Films

Blu-ray News #67: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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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.

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Filed under 1958, DVD/Blu-ray News, Olive Films, Paul Landres

The Allied Artists Blogathon: Cry Vengeance (1954) By Guest Blogger John Knight.

Cry Vengeance OSDirected by Mark Stevens
Written by Warren Douglas and George Bricker
Starring Mark Stevens, Martha Hyer, Skip Homeier, Joan Vohs, Douglas Kennedy, Don Haggerty, Cheryl Callaway, Warren Douglas, Mort Mills, John Doucette

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This is an entry in The Allied Artists Blogathon, a celebration of the studio’s rich and varied output.

The writer/producer team of Warren Douglas and Lindsley Parsons made some interesting Westerns and Noirs for Allied Artists in the Fifties. Their impressive roster includes Jack Slade (1953), Loophole (1954), Finger Man (1955), The Come On (1956) and Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957).

Douglas was a B Movie lead actor who became a screenwriter, later working on many classic TV Western series. Cry Vengeance is a follow up to the stark Jack Slade, which was a surprise hit for Allied Artists. This time, Jack Slade’s leading man, Mark Stevens, also directs.

s-l1600-2Stevens plays ex-cop Vic Barron, just released after three years in San Quentin, having been framed by the mob with a hoard of “dirty money.” Worse still, the car bomb intended for Stevens killed his wife and daughter — and left Stevens with half his face blown away.

Upon release, Stevens buys a gun and heads for Ketchikan, Alaska, where his intended quarry (Douglas Kennedy) now resides. Ex-mobster Kennedy is now a respected member of the small Alaskan community.

In an unexpected plot twist Stevens actually bonds with Kennedy’s young daughter (Cheryl Callaway). On their first encounter, the child asks, “Does your face hurt?” “Sometimes,” is Stevens’ terse reply. In a chilling scene Stevens gives the child a bullet — a present for her father. Stevens clearly intends to make Kennedy sweat before he moves in for the kill.

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Stevens plays his part with unblinking intensity and gets great performances from his cast. Standouts are Skip Homeier as a sadistic hit man and Joan Vohs as his abused, alcoholic girlfriend. There’s a great scene where an already-sozzled Vohs enters a bar and asks for a tumbler full of whiskey.

imageLovers of the work of Don Siegel will find much to enjoy in this film. The way it’s shot and cut, the feel for the location and sense of community — these are constant reminders of elements in Siegel’s later work. The scene where Homeier casually skims a stone across a lake after dispatching one of his victims is a pure “Siegel” moment. I’m not saying anyone influenced anyone — these are merely observations or miscellaneous musings (thanks, Laura :)), if you will. Homeier’s Roxey seems to prefigure the bad guys in later Siegel films who are by turns florid, psychotic or misogynistic — or in the case of Homeier and Joe Don Baker in Charley Varrick (1973), all three!

It’s great fun to compare Homeier’s performance to those in Siegel’s wonderful version of The Killers (1964), in which Siegel artfully contrasts Lee Marvin’s hardboiled stoicism with Clu Gulager’s fidgety scene-stealing antics.

This abrasive revenge thriller is available on DVD or Blu Ray from Olive Films.

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Filed under 1954, Don Siegel, Olive Films

Blu-ray News #38: Flying Disc Man From Mars (1950).

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Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Starring Walter Reed, Lois Collier, Gregory Gay, James Craven

This 12-chapter Republic serial somehow was made for around $155,ooo — and that was going over budget! Flying Disc Man From Mars (1950) will make it to Blu-ray in October from Olive Films, following their September release of The Invisible Monster (1950). You know things aren’t so bad in the world when you can get a Republic serial in high definition.

We’ve seen some exciting new release announcements over the last couple months. So much good stuff.

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Filed under 1950, DVD/Blu-ray News, Lydecker Brothers, Olive Films, Republic Pictures