Saturday, 28 February 2009

Grindhouse - The Japanese DVD

Grindhouse (term)

A grindhouse is an American term for a theater that mainly showed exploitation films. It is named after the defunct burlesque theatres located on 42nd Street in New York City, where 'bump n' grind' dancing and striptease used to be on the bill

Grindhouse (film)

An American anthology film featuring two feature-length segments, Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, bookended with trailers for fake upcoming movies, advertisements and theatre announcements

After Grindhouse spectacularly flopped following its April 2007 release to an indifferent movie-going public who didn't know/care about exploitation movies, the Weinstein Company dumped the original 190-min anthology film, and put out Rodriquez’s Planet Terror and Tarantino's Death Proof as extended stand-alone features. Both films were never re-instated back into Grindhouse, and still today, the original film remains unreleased on home video in the US and Europe. Fortunately, the Japanese were treated to a spectacular 6-disc boxset that contained the original Grindhouse film.

Grindhouse in its original 190-min uncut form is a hugely enjoyable experience. As well as the two films which contrast nicely with one another, the fake trailers are a lot of fun. Rodriguez's Machete trailer, a Mexploitation revenge film genuinely looks like it was cut from a complete movie. Rob Zombie's trailer, Werewolf Women of the SS is a delirious cross between the SS Exploitation films of the 70's, like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, and hybrid trash classics like Rock 'N Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Look out for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Nicholas Cage as Fu Manchu - possibly his best work in years. Edgar Wright’s trailer Don't is a wicked tip of the hat to British exploitation movies of the 70's and the films of Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren. The "Don't" of the title which is repeated in a frenzy as the trailer intensifies is a nice riff on the cycle of mostly 70's horror films with Don't in their title - Don't Answer the Phone, Don't Go In the House, Don't Look in the Basement etc... The final trailer, Thanksgiving by Eli Roth, is an homage to holiday-set slasher films like Halloween, Friday 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Black Christmas etc. and has just the right amount of teens, tits and decapitations.

Whether you consider Grindhouse a throwaway novelty film or a piece of conceptual art is a matter of taste. Personally, I think its the latter - homages are one thing but what Rodriguez and Tarantino have done with the film - artificially adding dirt and debris to the print, adding scuffs and bad splices, was a extraordinary bold move. At one stage of the Rodriguez segment, a love scene appears to grind the movie to a halt only for the film to melt in the projector gate and jump cut into the next scene following a "Missing Reel" announcement card. Perhaps the segments should have been shot full-frame, but its a minor point. Both films photographed by their directors in Cinemascope, look great with appropriately grungy lighting and colors. Tarantino's segment is visually the cleaner of the two but look very fast at the beginning of the front credits, and there is an almost subliminal title card announcing the films as Quentin Tarantino's Thunderbolt, the implication being that the Death Proof title was grafted onto the print at a later date (which was often the case with exploitation films dumped on the re-run circuit) Rodriguez's segment is most faithful to the grindhouse experience - the film could easily have been a New World release from the early 80's, and is loaded with affectionate nods to American films such as The Crazies, I Drink Your Blood and Return of the Living Dead, as well as European zombie films like Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City and Lucio Fulci's Zombie. Tarantino pays respect to the car-snuff genre of the early 70's - Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Gone In Sixty Seconds, and explicitly references the great car chase classic Vanishing Point.

The Region 2 6-DVD set made for the Japanese market is nothing short of dazzling. As well as the original Grindhouse film, the set contains Planet Terror and Death Proof in their extended forms plus copius extras. The set is housed in an appropriately beat-up looking case, and folds out into a large 2 tier digipak holding the 6 discs which look like jukebox 45's. The packaging is illustrated throughout with stills, posters and ad mats of the various trailers and segments. On the discs themselves, the Japanese subtitles are removable. The set is almost the complete Grindhouse experience, almost, because missing from the set is a rare 5th trailer, Hobo with a Shotgun which played with the film on a very select run in Canada. The fake trailer was directed by some first-time film makers who won a Grindhouse trailer competition organised by Rodriguez…

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Scorsese X 4

Scorsese X 4, is a compilation tape of early Martin Scorsese films and consists of What's A Nice Girl Doing In A Place Like This (1963), It's Not Just You Murray! (1964), The Big Shave (1967) and Italianamerican (1974). The PAL tape was released by Connoisseur Video in the UK and Ireland in 2000.

What's A Nice Girl Doing In A Place Like This, Martin Scorsese's first movie made in 1963, is a 9 minute comic surreal short about a neurotic man who becomes obsessed with a picture of a man in a boat on a lake. After talking with his therapist, the man decides to become part of the picture... Scorsese's first film is very much an avant-garde piece, experimenting with different camera angles, lighting and movements; and rapid fire intercutting between live action and still photographs. Looking at the film today, its very likely Scorsese was absorbing a lot of European cinema like the films of Fellini, Truffaut and Godard.

It's Not Just You Murray! made the following year is fascinating in the light of Scorsese's later films. The film is about two small time New York crooks, Murray and Joe, and Murray's admiration for Joe who may be taking advantage of his friend's good nature... It's Not Just You Murray! has some interesting similarities with Who's That Knocking At My Door, and especially Mean Streets. Look out for a scene in Murray which looks very like a dress rehearsal for the pool room dust up in Scorsese's breakthrough film.

The third film on the tape, The Big Shave from 1967 is a mysterious 6 minute piece about a man who repeatedly cuts himself while shaving. Shot in color and in a bright white bathroom, it's a rather grim and surprisingly gory bloodbath.

The final film on the tape, Italianamerican a documentary portrait of his parents is from 1974. Easily the best film in the set, Italianamerican stars Catherine and Charlie Scorsese as they sit around their apartment and over dinner discussing their lives, the neighborhood they grew up in, and their parents who came to America from Sicily. Its a warm and deeply affectionate film, very much a cinéma vérité piece - at one stage Scorsese, who interviews his parents can be seen pausing to read his notes; and is intercut with photo montages and historical newsreel footage. Both parents are immensely charming, but Catherine Scorsese is the real star here, and she would virtually re-create her role some 25 years later in Goodfellas. Incidentally Mrs. Scorsese's recipe for meatballs appears on the credits !

Sunday, 22 February 2009

A Lizard In A Woman's Skin

Lovers of freaky erotic cinema (especially Jess Franco's otherworldly Venus In Furs and Vampyros Lesbos) would do well to check out Lucio Fulci's 1971 film A Lizard In A Woman's Skin, a murder thriller set in Swinging London. The plot concerns the murder of a hippie and the would-be involvement of a woman who has weird nightmares about LSD soaked sex orgies. Fans of Italian giallis will be glad to hear that the film is reassuringly convoluted with enough plot twists and turns to recommend a second viewing of the film to unravel all the various elements.

A Lizard In A Woman's Skin is one of Fulci's most accomplished films. It’s impressively directed and fizzes over with enough visual style to keep you interested long after you’ve abandoned keeping up with the story. There's much to enjoy here - Ennio Morricone's psychedelic tinged score, extraordinary dream imagery and some taunt muscular hand held camera action. Two sequences worth noting - a stunning chase sequence through a dilapidated church, and a notorious sequence where the heroine, played by the very fine Florinda Bolkan stumbles into a room of vivisected dogs. It was this scene which brought some considerable heat down on Fulci when Italian authorities believed the director had used real dogs. Luckily Fulci avoided a two year jail sentence when his effects man Carlo Rambaldi was able to provide one of the puppet dogs used in the sequence. The film is noteworthy for its gore - it’s not terribly blood drenched but it is much stronger than anything the director had previously filmed. One rather shocking breast stabbing scene would return in more explicit fashion for the director's 1982 slasher epic The New York Ripper. Incidentally, Florinda Bolkan would reteam with Fulci the following year for the director’s classic Don’t Torture A Duckling.

The R1 DVD from Shriekshow is a good but far from stellar presentation of the film - the English dub print used suffers from somewhat stale colors, and some scenes are lifted from a different, more worn print. It's nothing that would spoil your enjoyment of the film, and pleasingly the film can now been seen uncut. Shriekshow issued the film in two editions, a 2-disc fullscreen print of the film and later, a single disc widescreen uncut edition. The latter is the version to own.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Long Good Friday

The Long Good Friday is the best British gangster film ever made. The film, directed in 1979 by John MacKenzie almost wasn't seen in its original form when financiers ITC opted to re-edit the film to tone down its violence and remove a key element of the story involving the IRA. Luckily, the film was rescued by Handmade films who put the film out intact to great success.

At the centre of this film is Bob Hoskins playing the London crime lord Harold Shand who's got a serious vendetta on his hands, as he stands on the cusp of legitimizing his business empire with the acquisition of large sections of London dockland. Fans of Guy Richie will eat this up with its wide-boy Cockney slang and violence. The film includes a rather shocking throat slashing by broken bottle, and in perhaps a nod to the title of the film, one character is found nailed to the floor, crucifixion style. The film must be something of a Richie favorite - he would actually cast two members of the film - Alan Ford and P.H. Moriarty (in Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).

For Hoskins who by 1979 was something of a veteran TV actor, The Long Good Friday was his major breakout role, and from his first scene in the film (memorably to the great theme music) owns the movie. Hoskins invests Harold Shand with great pathos as he walks the line between a proud Thatcherite entrepreneur to vicious mob boss; the latter best illustrated by a dazzling sequence in an abattoir as Shand gathers together all the prominent London hoods and reminds them in no uncertain terms of who's the boss. Also, look out for the justifiably famous climax of the film, a long wordless shot of Shand as he realizes that he now is on the wrong side of the meet hook.

My copy of the Anchor Bay R2 DVD features a rather soft transfer of the film, but carries an audio commentary by John MacKenzie. The DVD was later re-issued with largely the same transfer and commentary but with a 50-min feature on the making of the film. It was part of the Criterion collection in the US but has since been re-issed by Anchor Bay.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Multiple Maniacs

“I love You so fucking much I could shit….”

Students of truly mind-boggling trash cinema should keep an eye out for this early John Waters film from 1970 (his second in fact after Mondo Trasho). The film follows Divine and her gang of perverts and freaks as they stage their "Cavalcade of Perversions" show to woo unwary thrill seekers who they rob, kidnap and murder. All the familiar Waters gang is here - Divine, David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pierce, Cookie Mueller and the ever wonderful Edith Massey.

Made for $7,000 and shot in black and white, Multiple Maniacs makes his later films look like Cecil B DeMille productions. The film appears to have been edited with a rusty can opener and check out the delirious needle-dropping soundtrack which features old rock n' roll 45s and Holst's Planets Suite, no less. Fans of Pink Flamingos will be in spasms of ecstasy with scenes of arm-pit licking, puke eating, rape by a bearded man wearing a dress, and an homage to the Manson Family slayings complete with intestine-pulling and cannibalism. Only Waters could stage a scene where Divine has visions of the Stations of the Cross while being sodomized by Mink Stole playing a lesbian hag armed with rosary beads...oh and look out for the scene where Divine, who succumbs to the mania of the title, is ravaged by a 10-foot Z-Grade plastic lobster...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Clive Barker, Coil and Hellraiser

Book lovers in my hometown of Cork will know that Vibes & Scribes is a good place to find an interesting book, and yesterday I picked up a copy of Douglas Winter's biography of Clive Barker, which I had completely missed. It's a weighty tome, the hardback edition has some 500 pages of reading so I'm looking forward to getting into this sometime.

Disappointingly, Coil get only one short mention in the book. Coil, an extraordinary experimental electronic collective (one of my favourite bands) were commissioned by Clive Barker to write the soundtrack for Hellraiser, which they did but New World, who financed the film rejected the score for being "too intense". Hellraiser went on to be released with a very fine Christopher Young score, and Coil released their unused soundtrack as The Unreleased Themes For Hellraiser

Coil interviewed in Compulsion magazine (Issue 1, Winter 1992) spoke about the Hellraiser project...
Regarding Hellraiser, what actually happened? Did Coil pull out or did the financial backers think the music was too weird?
Well we pulled out about 10 minutes before they said we were going to pull out anyway. The thing is we were in right at the very beginning of the project, like Clive Barker was writing a screenplay and he came to our house and took away a load of piercing magazines and things. Which is where they got all the Pinhead stuff from.
Apparently, it was quite S/M orientated
Yeah, we saw some original footage which we unfortunately didn't keep but it was really heavy and good, like a sort of twisted English horror film. And then when the Americans saw this footage they thought it was too extreme and they also gave Clive ten times the original money.

It completely changed then
Yeah, so then Clive sort of felt, because it was his first film and with Hollywood being involved it was his gateway to the stars. So they changed the location to America, dubbed all the actors over and took out a lot of the explicit sex.
Did you feel let down about this? It could have been your gateway as well
Yeah, it would have been brilliant but we wouldn't have carried on because they were changing everything and they weren't being very nice to us the actual film people. They were keeping us in the dark a lot. We said we'd had enough just at the same time they decided they wanted to use Howard Shore (sic). They just wanted normal film music. They didn't want anything too scary which is sad and ridiculous for a horror film.

Mirror - the missing captions

The UK Artificial Eye VHS edition of Tarkovsky's Mirror carried captions to identify segments of newsreel footage scattered throughout the first hour of the film. Curiously, only this VHS edition contains these captions, they do not appear in any other subsequent English-language video releases of the film. Where the captions originated from is something of a mystery, perhaps they were listed in program notes which accompanied screenings of the film. Whether Tarkovsky would have sanctioned these captions is another issue, but I personally find them illuminating and a welcome addition to the film.

The captions are taken exactly as they appear in the Artificial Eye VHS edition released in 1992. However, the timings are an approximation of where the captions would appear had they been in the 2002 Artificial Eye DVD. (The screenshots used are for illustrative purposes only and are not based on where the captions would appear onscreen, although in most cases they're close.)

"Spanish Civil War" (38 minutes 47 seconds)
"Record Breaking ascent to stratosphere by Soviet balloon" (39:46)
"Soviet troops crossing Sivage lagoon, Crimea 1944" (57:04)
"Soviet troops liberate Prague, 1945" (60:44)
"Moscow victory parade" (61:03)
"First atomic bomb, Hiroshima, 1945" (61:07)
"China, 1969" (62:07)
"Soviet border guards confront Chinese demonstrators, Damansky Island, 1969" (62:25)

"Spanish Civil War"

"Record Breaking ascent to stratosphere by Soviet balloon"

"Soviet troops crossing Sivage lagoon, Crimea 1944"

"Soviet troops liberate Prague, 1945"

"Moscow victory parade"

"First atomic bomb, Hiroshima, 1945"

"China, 1969"

"Soviet border guards confront Chinese demonstrators, Damansky Island, 1969"

Update August 2016 - It was my hope that the AE might have re-instated the captions for their Blu-Ray release of Mirror but sadly it wasn't to be, and the captions remain marooned on the AE VHS edition. Worse that that the AE Blu-Ray has some considerable problems with the transfer, which doesn't bode well for the remaining titles in AE's Tarkovsly Blu campaign

Cocksucker Blues

Cocksucker Blues is the legendary suppressed Rolling Stones documentary from 1972. Directed by Robert Frank, this is a fly on the wall cinéma vérité look at the Rolling Stones on the US leg of their Exile on Main Street tour....

The rock n' roll movie as an open sore, capturing the Stones and their entourage in all their excess. The movie shot in raw 16mm black and white (with terrific concert footage in color it must said) features scenes of roadies molesting groupies (egged on by the Stones), groupie fucking, and endless drug taking - smoking, snorting, and injecting - its all here, paraded with wild abandon before Frank's unflinching camera. The flipside of all excess is the way the film chronicles life on the road, the sheer boredom of hanging around back stage or wasting time in hotel rooms which, in at one point results in a TV given a hasty exit through a window. Cocksucker Blues is not an easy film to digest - its rough, made with available sound (dialogue often overlaps into incoherency) and is cut together with a reckless regard for continuity - it sometimes feels like 60's experimental film, so its a fine companion to the Jean-Luc Godard's 1968 film with the Stones, One Plus One/Sympathy for the Devil...

Cocksucker Blues, along with Frederick Wiseman's Titicut Follies is one of the last great underground films. Watching it today, it’s no surprise why the Rolling Stones buried the film so it could never be shown in public. Had the film been released in ’72, it would have destroyed the Stones reputation in America. My copy is sourced from a VHS-rip, so track this one down if you're interested...I would put this up there with Bowie's Cracked Actor, the Monkees’ Head, Zappa's 200 Motels and Metallica's Some Kind of Monster as one of the great rock films. And for Stones fans who need a grungier alternative to Scorsese's Shine A Light concert film, this is required viewing.


Inseminoid, Norman J. Warren's 1981 film is probably the low budget British director's bona fida masterpiece. The film which is a sort of bastardization of Alien and Rosemary's Baby, follows a bunch of Anglo American archaeologists marooned in a subterranean research station. The trouble begins when one of the women on their team is impregnated by an alien, and typical of your average unplanned pregnancy turns into a murderous cannibal. The set up is probably fine tuned to the budgetary constraints of the film - a rampaging woman is a hell of a lot cheaper than a HR Giger/Carlo Rambaldi alien, and perhaps it was just as well as the alien creature itself is rather pathetic looking. In spite of all that, Inseminoid is a rather enjoyable piece of space movie trash and a perfect example of a film that works as a whole - aside from the insemination sequence, you couldn't isolate any one scene as being particularly effective but add the entire thing up, and it does emerge as a surprisingly disquieting picture. It's a gloomy, even depressing film as well I think, and in this regard the low budget works it its favor - the flat lighting, cheap effects, the austere looking sets and what looks like uncomfortable shooting conditions for the cast and crew.

Easily Norman J Warren's best looking film, Inseminoid's major coup was that it was actually shot in a extensive cave network in Kent. The set design is excellent (this is no poverty row Blake's 7 episode) and despite the poverty row budget, Warren shot the whole thing in glorious 2:35 widescreen. Obviously the film is an Alien vehicle, but Polanski influence is there too - the insemination sequence is heavily inspired by the nightmare sequence in Rosemary's Baby. And there's an Argento-esque feel to it as well - Warren acknowledged Suspiria as a major stylistic inspiration, and a times the film has scenes shot with candy-colored lighting. The grim electronic score probably wouldn't sound too out of place nowadays on the Ghostbox label. Inseminoid is worth seeing at least once, so if a cheap copy comes your way, pick it up. My copy is the old (and very good looking) Elite disc. There's a UK Anchor Bay edition with a Norman J. Warren comm. track (meant to be good). For fans of low-budget British schlock, Inseminoid would make a good double bill with Xtro.

Michael Mann's LA Takedown

I had an hour and a half to spare this afternoon, so I had a screening of Michael Mann's 1989 TV film LA Takedown. This would appear to be a minor entry in the director's cannon of films, but in retrospect it’s now seen as the dress rehearsal for the epic undertakings of his crime saga masterpiece Heat. I'm not up to speed on the making of LA Takedown, but it looks like Mann shot this one fast, loose and cheap - it has none of the slickness of the Miami Vice series, and is almost workmanlike compared to Thief and Manhunter. However, this has all the regular Mann elements - tough street dialogue, Jan Hammer-style ambiance, and the poetry of the urban landscape.

What makes the film so enjoyable to watch now is comparing it to Heat. Running for just over 90min, the bulk of LA Takedown was lifted for Heat. Most of the dialogue survived, Mann only made minor revisions to his screenplay. In some cases dialogue is used in different scenes for different characters - but most of the major set pieces in Heat are found in LA Takedown - the opening robbery, Waingro's murder of the prostitute, the botched surveillance job by the cops, the coffee-shop sequence, and the street shootout. The Pacino/De Niro face-off at the coffee shop in Heat is taken word for word from the scene in LA Takedown, so Mann must have really locked down the screenplay - no improvising here.

With HEAT, Mann expanded his tight TV movie into a 3-hour epic and introduces new characters and back stories, like the getaway driver (who only appears at bank robbery in the TV film), or the Roger Van Sant character. The most radical revisions to the script are the expansion of the Val Kilmer character and the introduction of the Ashley Judd character. Also, the ending of Heat at LAX is brand new. In LA Takedown the film ends with a shoot out at Waingro's hotel.

The acting is variable in the TV film - Scott Plank who plays the Vicent Hanna character is fine. Less so is Alex McArthur who plays the De Niro character (here named Patrick McLaren) - he's a little too intense for my liking - De Niro brought much more subtlety to the part. Alex McArthur is recognizable as the serial killer from Friedkin's Rampage. Also, appearing in the film is Michael Rooker some three years after his iconic turn in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Sadly he has nothing to do in this film. If You can find this on DVD, its worth picking up. My copy is the UK MIA edition, released in 2000 and like other MIA DVDs it’s only a minor step up from VHS.

The Trip

A friend of mine, left a little... herbal present with me over Christmas, so armed with that I sat down and watched the Roger Corman directed, Jack Nicholson-penned acid-epic The Trip... In the film a commercials director takes LSD to open his mind to new ideas... And that's about it for the plot, but The Trip is a primiarly a visual film. Corman floods the screen with trippy LSD soaked visions, stroboscopic lighting, and enough rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness editing to rival Natural Born Killers. There's some incredible set pieces here - a love scene shot in strobe lighting with extraordinary color effects, and a stunning sequence where Peter Fonda finds adventure on the Strip - Corman will never be a hero of the Underground like Kenneth Anger or Warhol, but this sequence is one of the few instances where American mainstream cinema has matched the amphetamine rush of Scorpio Rising.

Admittedly Fonda is a little wooden, but he's backed with a good cast - Dennis Hopper, and a bearded Bruce Dern who looks like he just walked out of The Band. The music for the film is provided by the Electric Flag, and is a rather good mix of lounge-y jazz, fuzz guitar and freak out electronics - one piece of music even turns up in Easy Rider. Look out for the copy of Howl lying around Bruce Dern's groovy apartment, and fans of Ministry's Psalm 69 album, listen out for some dialogue lifted for "Just One Fix"...

The US MGM DVD of The Trip looks great, featuring a Making Of... and a fine engaging Roger Corman commentary. Best of all, its on a double bill with another LSD film The Psych-Out, which is essential viewing if only to see Jack Nicholson playing rhythm guitar.

POST-SCRIPT Not a hallucination, I'm glad to say, from the August 1994 issue, Empire's listing for The Trip on the satellite channel Bravo, a rare opportunity for UK audiences to catch what James Ferman once referred to as a "tremendous advertisement for LSD". It was thought that the BBFC had no jurisdiction over television but the screening of The Trip was cancelled at the 11th hour...

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Candy Snatchers

The arrival of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left had inspired film makers to flex their muscles to an even greater degree of cinematic extremes. Craven had taken the roughie genre pioneered by David F. Friedman with The Defilers, and gave it a dark and dangerous post-Manson Family re-fit. Something of the same mood is captured with The Candy Snatchers. Made in 1973, The Candy Snatchers follows a bunch of get-rich-quick criminals (a beautiful but sadistic blonde, her murder-happy brother, and a dysfunctional war veteran) who kidnap schoolgirl Candy in exchange for a booty of diamonds from her father's jewelry store. Except things don't go to plan...

To say anymore about the plot would be unforgivable because part of the fun of The Candy Snatchers is seeing where the film makers take the routine plot. There are twists, turns, and double-crossings as the relationships between Candy and her would-be kidnappers disintegrate as the movie progresses. While the film does not have the same feverish intensity of Last House on the Left, its obvious the film makers had the movie in mind. Craven's decree at the climax of his landmark film that there were no easy answers, that one could not hope for a better world, is evident in The Candy Snatchers. This is a dark and disturbing film, peopled by sleazy characters who are entirely self-centered. Even the minor character of a mortuary attendant is scummy - he sells body parts on the street to the highest bidder. The only two characters in the film who untainted are Candy and a strange little mute boy who may hold the key to Candy's salvation. Sadly, these are the most put-upon victims in the film - Candy is routinely beaten, terrorized and savagely raped; while the little boy is at the mercy of uncaring, abusive parents. Its a subversive device on the part of screenwriter Bryan Gindoff but it adds to the film's grim power.

The Candy Snatchers was directed by the unlikely sounding Guerdon Trueblood whose background was writing for TV shows, so unsurprisingly the film looks pretty slick. Unlike Craven's hard flat style for his debut, The Candy Snatchers has some nice visual touches. Director Trueblood riffs on the "candy" of the title and shoots some dialogues scenes lit with gorgeous striking colors - at once echoing Mario Bava's lighting experimentation, and pre-dates Argento's ultra-stylized color palette for SuspiriaThe Candy Snatchers is by no means a perfect film - a clumsily handled car chase sequence betrays its low budget and there are some weaknesses in the writing, including some of the same knock-about comedy that was so conspicuous in Last House on the Left - thankfully its very brief. Performances are generally good - Susan Sennett who plays Candy looks suitably distressed, while Tiffany Bolling as one of the kidnappers is excellent as the cold-hearted sadistic bitch of the gang. Special mention as well for the little boy (played by the director's pre-school son) who gives a great affecting performance as Candy's only hope. The scene where he tries to contact the police on the phone is truly heart breaking. The sad circumstances of this unwanted little boy's life will resonate long after the film is over.

Subversive's DVD of The Candy Snatchers was one of the best discs of 2007. The movie actually never got a legitimate home video release and was something of a hidden gem known only by grindhouse hipsters who were lucky enough to score bootleg copies on the underground. The transfer taken from the original negative and framed around 1:77 is never less than stunning, with beautiful strong bold colors and an excellent sharp image. Its no exaggeration to say the film could have been shot yesterday. The audio track is fine, and delivers the dialogue and sounds clearly. Extras include a commentary track, a short feature and the usual promotional materials. Special mention for the packaging which comes in a great sleeve, and includes some stills and a fold-out Spanish poster for the film. For fans of grindhouse sleaze and the halcyon days of 70's cinema, this is seriously required viewing. This new Subversive DVD should put this back among the great 70's exploitation classics which it belongs to.

Apocalypse Now - The 5 hour Workprint

My copy of the Apocalypse Now Workprint runs some 5 hours and came as a 2-DVD set. The Workprint is a distillation of the masses of footage Coppola shot for Apocalypse Now, and should be considered a rough draft of the Original Cut of the film. The Workprint features no narration, no dialogue looping, no sound FX and none of the original score. As well as extra footage the Workprint contains alternative takes, alternative dialogue, a temp soundtrack, and in some cases absent scenes that would appear only in the Original Cut. The quality of the Workprint is very poor but watchable.

Note! - the screenshots throughout this post are sourced from the Paramount DVD (not from the Workprint !), and are used simply to break up the text for the ease of reading.

Opening Sequence / Hotel Room

The Opening Sequence and the Hotel Room sequence are largely the same as what ended up in the Original Cut, but scenes are extended - more Jungle explosions and helicopter shots, more shots of Willard's hotel room, Willard violently struggling with a Vietnamese prostitute and more footage of Willard in a drunken stupor, smearing himself with blood. This opening sequence runs almost the entirety of the Doors song "The End" before it cuts out at the point in the Original Cut where Willard says "Saigon... Shit!"

When Willard looks out the hotel window to street below, the film cuts to a montage of Saigon street life. It's surprising that this shot was cut because it looks like it was hugely expensive to replicate a Saigon street in 1969.

In the scene where the two soldiers call to Willard's hotel with his orders, we see a quick shot inside the hotel room of Willard slumped on the floor as the soldiers knock on the door. When the soldiers push Willard under the shower, the scene carries on a little longer, with Willard calling the soldiers "Bastards". The scene is followed by a short scene where the soldiers shave Willard.

Military Base

The military base, where Willard receives his assignment is longer with additional dialogue. The scene opens with a extended shot of Willard walking thru the base. At the dinner table, Willard is asked about the Special Forces. Major Corman promises Willard a promotion for doing the job, and this is riffed on much later in the film where Willard says "They were gonna make me a Major for this..." Also, this sequence must have been shot early in the shoot because Kurtz is referred to as Colonel Lee. Also, there is some alternative dialogue to that in the Original Cut - instead of the line "He has gone insane", in the Workprint its heard as "He has gone savage"

G.D. Spradlin as General Corman, named after Roger Corman who produced Coppola's 1963 film Dementia 13

PBR Boat

This scene is bookended by the Doors' song "I Can't See Your Face". In the Workprint, Willard is introduced to each of the crew, as talking head shots superimposed over a long shot of the boat in the dock. A very strange scene. This sequence is much longer than the Original Cut, there's a montage of scenes of the boat travelling up river, and a dialogue scene where Chef trips over Willard's bags...

Rendezvous with Air Cav.

The sequence where the boat meet with Air Cav is essentially the same as the Original Cut but is much longer. Some scenes were reinstated into the Redux version, but much has been left out. The sequence where Kilgore hands out his "deathcards" is a fragment of a longer scene where he walks thru the conquered village surveying the operations and inspecting dead bodies. It's a shame this scene was not preserved because it shows in greater detail, the devastation the Air Cav have inflicted on the village.

"Just go by like you're fighting, like you're fighting!". Coppola's confessional cameo as a director struggling to orchestrate the chaos around him.

Beach Party

The beach party scene that bridges the two big Air Cav scenes is extended but not much different. In the Workprint, we hear Kilgore crooning a country song. A small leftover of this scene is in the Original Cut. There's some additional dialogue by Mike From San Diego about the surfing at Vin Drin Dop.

Kilgore, one of those guys who had that weird light around him. Kilgore's line "Charlie Don't Surf" is a Charles Manson reference. The phrase came after Manson's arrest and was to do with Manson's sour relationship with the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson.

Air Strike on Vin Drin Dop

Of all the sequences in the Workprint, the air strike has the more filler in terms of footage. Coppola probably shot hundreds of hours of footage of the helicopters laying siege to Vin Drin Dop, but in the Workprint, the footage is whittled down to maybe 30min. The scene opens with the helicopters emerging out of the golden dawn set to what sounds like an early prototype version of the Apocalypse Now synth score. To my ears it sounds like Coppola used a piece of music by Japanese electronic musician Tomita. It does sound very similar to the finished score so its possible Coppola had Tomita in mind to score the film. The Wagner music is in the Workprint, but is much longer.

Among the mass of footage of the helicopter attack, there are some interesting deletions. The shot of the water buffalo pulling the cart along, seen briefly in the Original Cut is extended, and amusingly the buffalo runs right into the camera (destroying the camera I assume).

Kilgore's chopper with the inscription "Death from Above" 

The brief shot of the footbridge being shot up by the helicopters is seen from alternative angle - we see the bridge being destroyed from a head-on point of view. The most interesting part of this whole sequence is the grenade attack on the helicopter. In the Workprint, we see the grenade thrown into the helicopter from inside the helicopter. Then, there is a spectacular shot of the helicopter taking off, exploding and crashing to the ground some 3 or 4 feet. Then we see the soldiers on board tumbling out engulfed in flames. This sequence in the Original Cut is much tighter, but it's far more visceral in the Workprint.

There is some short expanded footage of the soldiers running into the surf, Big Wednesday-style and trying to "break both ways" amidst the bombs and the bullets, much to Kilgore increasing annoyance. The remainder of the scene with the theft of Kilgore's surfboard was incorporated into Apocalypse Now Redux.

Tiger Sequence

The Tiger sequence is booked ended by the Doors' song "Summers Almost Gone". The tiger sequence is largely the same but in the Workprint the sequence is composed with alternative takes and angles. The version in the Original Cut is more refined and works better - in the Workprint, the tiger appears to walk past Willard with disinterest.

The Playboy Show

This sequence features a few alternative shots of the PBR arriving at the Bunny show. Most of the extra scenes are during the show. The Bunnies are seen talking to the soldiers from the stage, and signing autographs. The "Suzi Q" song in played out much longer like a freeform jam. If you listen closely to the song in the Original Cut you'll hear a jarring edit. The shot of an apprehensive Bill Graham sensing trouble from the crowd is missing from the Workprint.

Legendary rock concert promoter Bill Graham. Look out for his Nixon impersonation
as he makes a quick escape with the Bunnies.

Following the Playboy show is a lengthy sequence on the boat. The Doors song used in this sequence is "My Wild Love". There is extended footage of Lance skiing, and interestingly the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" is replaced by the Otis Redding version of the song. Its much funkier and makes more sense of Clean's dancing around the boat. There's also a short dialogue scene with Chief and Willard about Chief reading Revelations

Rendezvous with the Bunnies

This whole section was resurrected for Apocalypse Now Redux, but in the Workprint, the sequence is edited differently. In the Redux version, Lance and Chef's time with the Bunnies is intercut together, but in the Workprint, Lance's scene follows Chef's scene with no intercutting. Also, Lance's scene is longer than what is seen in Redux. His scene opens with him inhaling some kind gas a la Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.

Then follows another boat sequence, leading up to the Sampan Massacre. The music used here The Doors' "People Are Strange". There's some extra footage of Chef arguing with Clean, and a scene where Willard reads a letter aloud (from Kurtz's wife it seems). The most significant scene here is a bizarre sequence where the boat passes a booby trap on the river. The booby trap is fashioned to look ornamental, but Chief shoots at it and it explodes.

The swamped Medivac set destroyed by the typhoon that wreaked havoc on the production. Coppola was so anxious to continue shooting that he incorporated the weather in to this scene.

Sampan Massacre

No major differences here between the Workprint version and the Original Cut, besides some alternative shots and a short scene of Chef interrogating the Sampan crew. After Willard shoots the wounded girl, Chef is overheard saying to Willard "Motherfuckers, come and look at it!"

Do Lung Bridge

The Do Lung Bridge sequence is largely the same as the Original Cut. There is some extended exposition dialogue from Lieutenant Carlson about Do Lung Bridge but this dialogue is absent from the Original Cut and something similar is now spoken by Chief ("We build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again")

The boat scene following Do Lung Bridge appears in both the Workprint and Original Cut but appears to have been reworked for the Original Cut. Clean reads his letter aloud, and Lance burns his letter. Then follows a bizarre scene where Lance guns down a water buffalo (off screen) to the fury of the boat crew. This scene is an interesting intersection of the Workprint and the Original Cut - in the Workprint, the death of Clean is omitted but its Lance's opening fire on the river bank that is the catalyst for the boat coming under attack and Clean's death in the Original Cut.

Colby's letter - "Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. Find someone else. Forget it. I'm never coming back. 
Forget it !!!

Following on from the French plantation sequence, now incorporated into Redux with no changes from how it appears in the Workprint; there is another boat sequence. There is an alternative scene of Chief and Willard arguing about going onward in the fog, but the bulk of the extra footage here are long surreal panning shots of the jungle crowding in on the river. At this point of the Original Cut, we have the death of Chief, but like the death of Clean, it's omitted from the Workprint.

Kurtz Compound

Of all the various sections of the Workprint, almost all the scenes that take place at the Kurtz compound are alternative scenes or footage that would not survive past the Workprint.

Dennis Hopper as the Photo Journalist has a different introduction in the Workprint. In his first scene in the Workprint, the title of the film is clearly visible painted on a wall ("Our Motto, Apocalypse Now"). The Photo Journalist has many more scenes in the Workprint, and much more dialogue with Willard. There's a telling scene in Hearts of Darkness where Coppola bemoans the fact that he has to work with Brando and "a crazy Dennis Hopper", and watching Hopper's scenes in the Workprint, Hopper does seem crazy - his line readings are loose, edgy and have an improvised feel.

Scott Glen as Colby. Only a fragment of his part is retained in the Original Cut

The Workprint also includes a few scenes with Scott Glenn, playing Colby, Willard's predecessor. Colby explains the bodies lying around the compound as the spoils of a raid on the NVA. Later on in the Workprint, there is a scene where Colby shoots the Photo Journalist four times and then is then killed by Willard.

Inside the compound there's a short sequence where Willard looks over the personal effects of Kurtz and examines his writings on the typewriter. The scene where Willard is shoved face down in the mud is extended. The introductory scene of Kurtz in the Workprint is where Kurtz wearing camouflage, throws Chef's severed head at Willard. Before this, Willard has dialogue where he says that his boat came under attack, and he needs rest.

Almost all the dialogue between Kurtz differs in subtle ways from the Original Cut. In the scene where Willard talks about the Ohio river, Kurtz mentions sailing down the river in a raft a la Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. When Kurtz asks Willard if he's an "assassin", Willard replies "I'm a professional soldier like You used to be" Worth mentioning also is how Kurtz appears in the Workprint. In the Original Cut, Kurtz is filmed in shadows but the Workprint he is more visible. In one daytime sequence he has a long dialogue with Willard, imprisoned in a bamboo cage about "master liars in Washington"

Kurtz's library. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, and From Romance to Ritual, a book about the Holy Grail

The Kurtz compound section features a whole 20min set piece that would not survive beyond the Workprint. In the Original Cut, between the scene of the Photo Journalist taunting Willard in the bamboo cage, and Willard moved into Kurtz's living quarters; there is a brilliant sequence where Willard is paraded around in the bamboo cage, poked with rifles and sticks and then set down before the ritual sacrifice of a pig. Interestingly, in this long sequence there are two scenes where Willard makes eye contact with the water buffalo that is sacrificed at the climax of the film.

The scene where Kurtz reads aloud The Hollow Man, the poem is heard in its entirety. The sequence where Willard emerges out of the water to kill Kurtz begins with The Doors' song "When the Music's Over". This entire sequence is an alternative to the way it's presented in the Original Cut. Willard is seen killing one of Kurtz's bodyguards and smearing himself with blood. There's an odd scene here where a bodyguard picks up a native child to deflect Willard's knife, but Willard drives the knife into both of them !

Last will and testament of Walter E. Kurtz - Drop the bomb. Exterminate them all!

And then, as Willard approaches Kurtz, and after some 5 hours of Apocalypse Now madness the Workprint abruptly ends... somewhere down the crazy river.

On the way to the Dark Tower...

I can blame JJ Abrams for this... I came across some news earlier this week that Abrams is looking to produce a series about Stephen King's Dark Tower collection, and with some mild panic, I cleared my books-to-read list, dusted off my poncho, strapped on two six-shooters and set along the path to the Dark Tower3 days later, I've crossed the desert with The Gunslinger (and very much enjoyed the shades of El Topo) and am heading into the second book in the series, The Drawing of the Three. So, the race is now on to get to the end of The Dark Tower saga before JJ Abrams does. But what of the adaptation ? Its unlikely we'll get a multi-picture Lord of the Rings cycle, so I'm guessing Abrams is looking to a long form television series, a la Lost. I remain cautiously optimistic, but memories of Mick Garris' botched adaptation of The Stand are never far away...