As well as being an
accomplished novelist and historian, Kim Newman has written a regular column in
Empire magazine for almost twenty
years covering the video (then DVD and eventually Blu-ray) releases no one else
wanted to watch. Rather than serve as an encyclopaedia, Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews is organised, in
a somewhat idiosyncratic style, into thematic rather chapters than simply an
alphabetic or chronological presentation. His identification of recurring
genres or styles has allowed for chapters on “Confinements and Dangerous
games,” “Cryptids and Critters,” “Serial Killers and Cops” and “Weird Hippie
Sh*t,” amongst more recognisable genre descriptions such as “Found Footage,”
“Famous Monsters” and “Secret Agent Men (and Women)” and others.
Spanning almost the
entire breadth of film history and encompassing productions from around the
globe, the reader is presented with hundreds of obscure titles alongside the
occasional classic. From silent film to spoofs and pornography, Kim Newman has
sat through over thirty films featuring Frankenstein and a similar amount
featuring Dracula. The trend for sharksploitation films, which still shows no
sign of abating, is particularly noticeable here as Kim Newman patiently
reviews dozens of films such as Sharkenstein
(2016), SharkExorcist (2015) and the infamous Sharknado series (2013-2016 so far). Refusing to fall into the film
historian’s trap of sneering at anything cheap or new, Kim Newman is fair to
each film he reviews, finding positive elements even in some found footage
films, despite having had to sit through so many.
Being a collection of
reviews of home video releases, there is also the occasional vintage gem in
here, such as Curse of Bigfoot (1975),
LasVampiras (1969) and Confessions
of anOpium Eater (1962). Indeed,
most of the films in the “Weird Hippie Sh*t” section, including Drive, He Said (1971), Toomorrow (1970), Wonderwall (1968) and Permissive
(1970) date from the hippie heyday itself.
Kim Newman’s writing
is distinctive and authoritative, with a gleeful sense of humour for the
absurd, which means that even when the films sound terrible, which they
occasionally do, the reviews are still entertaining to read. It is this skill
which has made his Video Dungeon
column in Empire so enjoyable over
the years, with trusted recommendations as to what to seek out, and what to
avoid. Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The
Collected Reviews is highly recommended, particularly for those who think
they have seen a lot of weird films over the years. The chances are high that
Kim Newman has seen more.
(This is the second and final part of Ernie Magnotta's exclusive interview with Kenneth Johnson, creator of the classic 1970s TV series "The Incredible Hulk", which debuted 40 years ago today.)
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
EM: Nice…I’d like to talk
about Jack Colvin for a sec.
EM: I really loved him as
McGee. I thought he was terrific. Did he enjoy playing the role?
KJ: Yeah, he did. But he was frustrated sometimes
and he would say to me, “How many times can I say that I’m looking for a
hulking, green creature?” So, we tried to really write episodes where he had
meaningful stuff to do.
EM: Yeah, that was
actually my next question because the character changed a bit. He was a little
unlikeable in the first season; like a weasel.
KJ: Yeah, that’s it. I love those yellow rag
journalists. The tabloid type people are just very colorful folks, so I thought
it would be fun. But Jack was so substantive and such a fine actor and a
brilliant acting teacher that we just realized that we had an asset we needed
to develop more and we needed to write more for him. And there are some
episodes, as you know, where he really takes center stage for a good portion of
EM: Yeah, there’s one
that’s just completely about him. I think Bill Bixby only shows up in
KJ: I think you’re right. I think that was near
the time of the death of Bill’s son, although Bill really just wanted to keep on
working through that.
EM: That’s totally
KJ: It was a terrible time and that was Bill’s
way of dealing with it; just getting on the set and doing it. He was terrific
and I still miss him to this day. He was a force of nature. (Laughs) We had
many, many, many knock-down, drag out arguments, but, Ernie, there was never
one that was about bullshit. There was never one that was about nonsense or
“star” stuff. It was always about character and he would come to me and say,
“Dr. David Banner would never say this line!”
EM: That’s so great and
it answers part of my next question which is about how much input he had and
how much he got into the character.
KJ: I would be in bed at night and he would have
finished a day of shooting and gone to the looping stage late at night because
we had added a wild line or two to help clarify something and he would call me
at home, “Dr. David Banner wouldn’t say this line!” And I’d tell him, “Yes, he
would. I wrote it.”
KJ: And we’d go back and forth and our agreement
was whoever was right got to win. And sometimes it would end up with Bill
saying, “All right. I’ll say it, but I don’t think Dr. David Banner would say
it.” (Laughs) But we had a good working relationship and he was a total pro all
EM: I know that, at the
time of the pilot, Lou Ferrigno didn’t have any acting experience, but I
thought he did a fantastic job; especially his final scene with Susan Sullivan.
KJ: Louie grew into the role very quickly and I
gave him time on the set to get there and to find it. I also helped him by
giving him like acting 101, but he picked up on everything very quickly and it
got so we really enjoyed writing those scenes when the Hulk was coming down
from the anger and was a simplistic child in many ways.
EM: Like when he was
confused by something.
VP: Yeah, exactly. I remember Mickey Jones
teaching him how to open a pop top soda can; that kind of thing. Or he’d be
resting under a tree, petting a deer. And Louie really got into those and began
to enjoy it and he did a really fine job. He just progressed so well and so
far. These days, Lou is an inspirational speaker and he’s working for the
Sheriff’s Department as well, so he’s an asset to the community.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic TV series "The Incredible Hulk", Cinema Retro's Ernie Magnotta sat down for an extensive discussion with the show's creator Kenneth Johnson.
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
Banner—physician, scientist…searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans
have. Then, an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry.
And now, when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis
The creature is
driven by rage and is pursued by an investigative reporter. The creature is
wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. David Banner is believed to be dead. And
he must let the world think that he is dead until he can find a way to control
the raging spirit that dwells within him.
Kids who grew up in the 1970s remember that
narration well. Every Friday night at 9pm (until it was later moved to 8pm) we’d
sit in front of our television sets, switch on CBS channel 2 and listen to the
late, great Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The
Addams Family) recite those very words before another exciting, hour-long
episode of The Incredible Hulk TV
series would begin. However, before there was a series, there were two very
successful made-for-TV movies, and before that, a very popular comic book.
The character of the Hulk was created in 1962
by legendary Marvel Comics masterminds Stan Lee (writer) and Jack Kirby
(artist). In the comic book, Dr. Bruce Banner was a nuclear scientist for the
United States Army who, while trying to save a teenager who wandered onto a
test site, was accidently bathed in gamma rays when a bomb he created was
detonated. This forever caused the mild-mannered scientist to change into a
hulking green-skinned creature whenever he became enraged. (The first few
stories had him change whenever the moon was full just like a werewolf. Also,
his skin was originally grey.) Most of the exciting comic book tales revolved
around Army General Thunderbolt Ross’s obsessive need to find and capture the
destructive, but good-hearted Hulk who he felt was a danger to the country he
had sworn to protect.
Flash forward 15 years. After achieving great
success writing and directing episodes of the super-popular cyborg television
series The Six Million Dollar Man as
well as creating and producing its sister show The Bionic Woman, Kenneth Johnson received a call from Universal
Television head Frank Price. Price, who had just acquired the rights to five
Marvel Comics superhero titles, asked Johnson to pick one that he’d like to
develop for TV, but Johnson, who was not a comic book follower, declined.
However, while reading Victor Hugo’s Les
Miserables, Johnson thought about how he could combine the structure of
that book with the characters of Bruce Banner and the Hulk while, at the same
time, going for a more realistic approach than the comic book.
First of all, Johnson knew that he didn’t
want any connection to comic book styles and, so, he immediately eliminated
everything from the comics except for the main character of Banner (which he
renamed David in order to avoid comic book alliteration) and the fact that, due
to radiation poisoning, he metamorphoses into a hulking green creature whenever
he becomes angry or endures great pain. (Johnson originally wanted to change
the Hulk’s skin color to red, but Marvel vetoed the idea due to the already
well-known look of their popular comic book character.) He then eliminated
scientist Banner’s ties to the military and, instead, made him a California
physician who was desperately trying to uncover the secret as to why, while
trying to save another human life, certain people acquired almost superhuman
strength while others did not (like himself when, after a car accident, he
failed to turn over the flaming automobile and save his beloved wife). Also,
Johnson not only eliminated the Hulk’s Tarzan-like
speech and, except for growls, kept the creature mute, but, in order to
maintain as much realism as possible, he made the Hulk less powerful than the
indestructible creature in the comics.
Kenneth Johnson (center) with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.
Banner (played brilliantly by two-time Emmy
Award nominee Bill Bixby who was Johnson’s first and only choice for the role)
soon discovers that the answer is due to having a low Gamma count, so he
immediately takes a higher dose. Unbeknownst to him, the equipment he used was
calibrated incorrectly and he wound up taking a much higher dose than
originally planned. This causes the change into an incredibly powerful, almost
Cro-Magnon-like, green-skinned creature that, although destructive, retains
Banner’s benevolence and does not kill (although, one day, it could
inadvertently kill someone which is Banner’s biggest fear). Johnson added an
Inspector Javert-like character in the form of tabloid reporter Jack McGee
(played by talented character actor and acting teacher Jack Colvin) who becomes
obsessed with learning about and capturing the Hulk (portrayed by legendary
bodybuilding champion Lou Ferrigno). Due to McGee’s zeal as well as Banner’s
burning desire for a cure, the good doctor’s colleague and unrequited love, Dr.
Elaina Marks (played beautifully by Susan Sullivan), is accidentally killed in
a lab explosion. However, McGee believes that Elaina (and Banner) was murdered
by the creature and, after informing the authorities, a warrant for murder is
put out for the Hulk. David Banner (a character with similarities to Jean
Valjean), now believed to be dead, begins to travel the country in search of a
cure while, at the same time, doing his best to avoid transforming into the
green-skinned goliath; for the transformations bring the intrepid Mr. McGee who
is always just one step behind him.
An intriguing, solid and perfect set-up for a
television series (and one that was used several times before in shows like
Quinn Martin’s classic series The
Fugitive starring David Janssen and The
Immortal starring Christopher George; both of which contain the Les Miserables structure of a benevolent
man on the run being pursued by a relentless authority figure). However, before
going to series, there would be a second TV-Movie of the week titled The Return of the Incredible Hulk (aka Death in the Family) which aired on
November 27th, 1977 (just weeks after the amazing (and just discussed)
original pilot, The Incredible Hulk,
which aired on Friday, November 4th, 1977). This entertaining movie
showed exactly how the future series episodes would play out. Banner, under an
assumed surname always beginning with the letter ‘B’, arrives in town looking
for work while simultaneously searching for a cure. He gets involved with other
people’s dilemmas, honestly tries to help them and, before long, is made to
change into his hulking alter ego who ultimately winds up saving the day (and,
many times, Banner’s life). More often than not, Mr. Magee shows up after the
first transformation (in the hour-long episodes, Banner always transforms
twice, but here (in a two-hour movie) he metamorphoses four times) and Banner
has the added headache of staying out of sight while the reporter is around.
After saying his goodbyes to those he’s helped, a usually penniless Banner
takes off alone, hitchhiking his way to a new town where he will continue to
search of a cure, help those in need and avoid contact with McGee and the
“A DASH OF UNUSUAL
BRILLIANCE BEHIND A FACE WITH WHITE GLASSES”
By Raymond Benson
somewhat snobbish critic John Simon has said that the only “great” female film directors are Leni Riefenstahl and Lina
Wertmüller. I’m sure we can all take issue with
such a sexist comment, but he is correct that both women were indeed “great,”
even though the former is known for Nazi propaganda films of the 1930s. Wertmüller,
on the other hand, made different kinds of scandalous pictures—but at least ones
that were, and still are, entertaining. (They also sometimes had whimsically
long titles, such as The End of the World
in Our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain.)
the early to mid-1970s, Wertmüller was the face of
a daring new Italian cinema. When her movies were imported to America and the
U.K, she was dubbed the “Female Fellini.” In fact, she was once an assistant
director for the auteur. But Wertmüller’s
work took Fellini’s extravagance and pushed it to an extreme, creating her own
signatory brand of comedy, theatricality, biting satire, political commentary, and
often shocking truths. Four of her films released between 1972-1975, in which
she collaborated with the brilliant actor Giancarlo Giannini, established Wertmüller
as a powerful force of artistic vision. It is no small feat that she was the
first woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.
Lorber has recently restored and released several Wertmüller
titles on Blu-ray and DVD, along with an excellent documentary on the woman
herself. Cinema Retro received an
assortment of them, all of which will be discussed here.
jewel in the crown of all of Kino Lorber’s Wertmüller disks is Seven Beauties (1975; released in the
U.S. and U.K. in 1976). It was the picture for which she received the Oscar
nomination (she lost to John G. Avildsen, for Rocky). It also received nods for Best Foreign Film, Best Actor
(Giannini), and Original Screenplay. Beauties
is a tour-de-force that features Giannini at his best as the swaggering
Pasqualino, a minor hood in Naples during World War II. He takes great pains to
protect the honor of his seven sisters, even though he isn’t so honorable
himself. When he is captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp,
Pasqualino audaciously figures he can save himself by “seducing” the female
commandant, a monster of a woman played by Shirley Stoler.
has an uncanny ability to combine the horrors of the Holocaust with the
absurdity of Pasqualino’s Chaplin-esque pathetic bravado. You wince and shudder
at the brutality on display—and then you find yourself laughing. Giannini, who
acts more with his eyes than anyone else I can think of, totally engages the
viewer with pathos and ridiculousness. In the end, Seven Beauties is a powerful statement about what man will do to
survive, and how expendable “honor” really is.
Lorber’s Seven Beauties Blu-ray is a
gorgeous 2K restoration with 2.0 stereo audio, in Italian with optional English
subtitles. Supplements include an interview with filmmaker Amy Heckerling about
the film and Wertmüller, an excerpt from the separately-released
documentary, Behind the White Glasses,
and trailers for other releases by the director. The booklet features essays by
director Allison Anders and film historian Claudia Consolati, PhD. Click here to order from Amazon.
Summer Night (or: Summer Night with Greek Profile, Almond Eyes
and Scent of Basil) (1986) stars Mariangela Melato (who co-starred with Giannini
in three of the 70s pictures) and Michele Placido in an obvious attempt to
recreate the magic that was Wertmüller’s crowd-pleaser,
Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the
Blue Sea of August (1974). Summer
Night, like the earlier film, is a bawdy romance between two characters with
fiery dispositions and opposite political stances. While this sexy romp is
somewhat entertaining, and the cinematography of the locales—set around
Sardinia—is breathtaking, the film doesn’t work. Both leads are too unlikable
to fully grasp onto. The Blu-ray, however, is an excellent presentation, also
with a 2K restoration and 2.0 stereo audio. The only supplements are trailers,
and the booklet features an essay by critic John Simon. Click here to order from Amazon
Julie Wardh (Edwige
Fenech) is a woman who needs some time off men: she attempts to escape her
sado-masochistic relationship with Jean (Ivan Rassimov) by marrying Neil Wardh
(Alberto de Mendoza), an ambassador at the Italian embassy in Austria. But
things are not that simple. Julie suffers from erotic nightmares, wherein she
makes love to Jean whilst being showered in broken glass, but continues to
proclaim her hatred for him to anyone that will listen, including jean himself.
At a friend’s party, where women tear paper dresses from each other and wrestle
naked, Julie meets the cool George (George Hilton) a man determined to seduce
Mrs Wardh, regardless of her husband or complicated romantic history. He seems
kind and he rides a motorbike, so it does not take Mrs Wardh long to fall for
Of course, this being
a giallo, in the middle of this menage au quattro there is a psychosexual
killer stalking Vienna, murdering prostitutes and other beautiful women at
random. Could the murderer be the vicious Jean, who seems determined to destroy
Julie’s marriage, if not her life? Or is her sanity in question?
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is an interesting blend of Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and Clouzot’s LesDiaboliques
(1955), with more red herrings and plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film.
Things become even more confusing if you watch this back to back with All the Colours of the Dark (1972, Sergio
Martino), a film made the following year with Fenech, Hilton and Rassimov whose
plot is similarly constructed, right down to the intense dream sequences with
Ivan Rassimov making violent love to Edwige Fenech. Following the rough
template laid out in Mario Bava’s Blood
and Black Lace (1964), where a faceless black-gloved killer murders his way
through a swath of beautiful young women, this film works hard to keep the
audience guessing as to the identity of the sex maniac. Any sense of logic in
the plot is however secondary to the amount of time spent looking at a naked
Edwige Fenech. When she is not baring all for the various men in her life she
is running around looking scared or confused, seemingly to pad out the running
time, the thin script probably only filling fifteen pages.
This is an
entertaining thriller which continues to enthral and fascinate fans. It’s
importance to Italian cinema was confirmed in 2015 when a three-day academic
conference was held at the Austrian Institute in Rome to celebrate the film,
with director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, composer Nora
Orlandi star George Hilton and this CinemaRetro contributor in attendance.
Although dismissed by serious film critics in the 1970s, the giallo is now seen
as a vital element of Italian film, its influence seen in the slasher films
that Hollywood produced in earnest in the 1980s.
This new Shameless Blu-ray
is an excellent upgrade from their earlier DVD release, and is a great addition
to their burgeoning range of cult Italian film releases. Bonus features
include interviews with both Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech as well as a fact
track from genre expert Justin Harris.
UK READERS: Click here to order a
copy of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
on Blu-ray, and check out their other giallo releases whilst you are there.
Fassbender plays a Norwegian detective with the high school bully magnet name
of “Harry Hole” on the icy trail of a serial killer who always leaves a snowman
at his crime scenes. Based on the, um,
Hole literary series by Norwegian writer Jo NesbØ, the thriller also stars
Rebecca Ferguson as a damaged policewoman trying to solve the crimes, Oscar-winner
J.K. Simmons as a creepy industrialist and, curiously, Val Kilmer as an
alcoholic detective who first opens up the case. (Kilmer’s rumored bout with cancer has sadly
taken a toll as the actor looks nothing like the blonde Adonis he was in Top Gun and Batman Forever. It also sounded like he was dubbed throughout.) Although the Nordic scenery looks bleakly majestic
due to Dion Beebe’s stunning cinematography and soaring helicopter shots, the
plot twists and turns into a slushy mess.
by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy), The Snowman
careens along several avenues of investigation in an effort to add layers of
complexity… but promising leads fizzle out and a sex trafficking subplot seems
to die on the vine. (There’s also an
intruder scene in the detective’s shabby apartment that makes no sense.) All
that said, The Snowman is not a total
loss as it has some gripping moments and Fassbender is, as always, a powerful screen
presence.For the gore fans, the shadowy
killer employs a unique and gruesome mechanical device to dispatch his victims.Fassbender must have sacrificed half a lung to
play the heavy-smoking Harry Hole (!), but if that character were the Stage 4
lush portrayed on the screen, how could he function so effectively, noticing
subtle clues and putting the pieces together?That also didn’t quite wash. The Snowman is a big budget, well-made
film with an impressive scope and feel, but somehow it left me a bit… cold.