Blu-ray review: Voodoo Man (1944)

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Voodoo Man (1944)
Fabulous Films; certificate 12 (out 24 June)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The last of Bela Lugosi’s films for “Poverty Row” studio Monogram, Voodoo Man reunited the fading horror legend with William Beaudine, who’d directed him in the previous year’s The Ape Man. Shot over seven days during the autumn of 1943, this rather lack-lustre resurrection drama also features intermittent support from George Zucco and John Carradine, although only Zucco seems to be enjoying himself.

Lugosi plays the latest in a long line of deranged scientists, Dr Richard Marlowe, who’s been kidnapping lone women motorists in a bizarre attempt to rejuvenate his deceased wife (who looks darned fresh for someone who apparently died in 1912). Marlowe’s inventions include an EMP device capable of stalling car engines and some form of remote viewer linked to a television screen, but it doesn’t seem to occur to him that both might prove useful to the US war effort, such is his obsession with the voodoo ceremonies conducted by Zucco.

This is a very slight affair, a bundle of deranged sorcery, police incompetence and unlikely coincidences which is wrapped up within sixty-two minutes. Lugosi deserved better, and makes little effort to hide his own knowledge of just how far he’d fallen since 1931’s Dracula.

Extras: none

Blu-ray review: The Running Man (1987)

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The Running Man (1987)
Fabulous Films, certificate 18 (out 24 June)
Originally written for Infinity magazine

Despite earning Arnie Schwarzenegger his first $5m paycheck, The Running Man is a film he still regards as a missed opportunity and a relative failure.

Based upon a pseudonymous novel by Stephen King (optioned before the secret came out, the real identity of book’s author “Richard Bachman” was well known by the movie’s release, although King blocked an on-screen credit), the main drama is set in a dystopian United States where the economy has collapsed, civil rights have been flushed down the toilet and the masses are kept subdued with a mix of reality television and the titular gladitorial contest. The unimaginable future of 2019.

Executive producer Rob Cohen initially wanted Miami Vice star Don Johnson to play the novel’s hero, Ben Richards, but the studio went for action hero Arnie, a choice which also disappointed King. Cohen also approached actor Paul Michael Glaser to direct, but the former Starsky and Hutch hearthrob considered he had insufficient time for pre-production, only changing his mind (unwisely in the opinion of many, particularly Schwarzenegger) when Andrew Davis (The Final Terror) reportedly ran four days behind schedule and $8m over-budget (of an estimated $27m) by the start of his second week behind the camera.

Davis’ replacement by Glaser both unsettled and angered the film’s star, who thought the latter ill-prepared and too fixed on a small screen aesthetic. The Running Man grossed $38m domestically, earning a small but tidy profit, but Arnie remained certain it could have hit $150m with more experienced handling.

That said, it’s a lot of undemanding fun. Richard Dawson (fresh off hosting the popular quiz show Family Feud) sleazes and snarls in equal measure as the contest’s ratings-hungry presenter and puppet master, and there’s solid support from Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2), Yaphet Kotto (Alien) and Marvin McIntyre (Short Circuit) as the other ‘runners’. Steven E Souza had worked with Schwarzenegger on Commando two years earlier, so knew how to balance the comic book violence and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, although the movie might have benefited from a larger injection of socio-political satire.

Print-wise, the Blu-ray retains the original grain and texture, whilst Fabulous is to be commended for encoding the DVD version without PAL speed-up.

Extras: Trailer; commentary track by director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnermann; commentary track by executive producer Rob Cohen; two short 2003 documentaries, Lockdown on Main Street (exploring the theme of US civil liberties post-9/11) and Game Theory (an examination of the growth of reality television).

Blu-ray review: Vampira (1974)

[This film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by Fabulous Films on 14 August 2017.]

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Reportedly squeezed out by sitcom sausage machine Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served?; ‘Allo ‘Allo) as a favour for his friend David Niven (never better than in A Matter of Life and Death) when the latter revealed a yen to portray Count Dracula, Vampira is fatally undermined by the inability of Lloyd and director Clive Donner (1978’s small-screen rehash of The Thief of Baghdad; Get Smart revival The Nude Bomb) to decide what genre they’re aiming for. Spoof? Sophisticated comedy? Softcore farce? Woefully vague in both conception and delivery, this anaemic yarn offers a Dracula with little bite and jokes far too long in the tooth to raise more than a groan.

Niven tries to paste over the cracks with his career-winning bonhomie, but even he can’t save a scenario which sees his beloved wife transformed into a cross between Elizabeth Bathory and Foxy Brown following a ill-fated blood transfusion from a group of visiting Playboy models (don’t ask, it’s just one of numerous oddities in this screenplay). Lloyd was apparently instrumental in getting his former Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In colleague Teresa Graves the title role, her only movie lead, but his storyline is less kind to Linda Hayden (dispatched with absurd haste), Jennie Linden (wasted as an imperilled literary agent) and Freddie Jones (whose demise shows every sign of having been heavily cut to avoid a higher certificate). Only Nicky Henson emerges relatively unscathed, playing a horror writer bent to the Count’s will (no sniggering at the back, though that would be a novelty with this film), but the material he’s working with feels like remnants from one of his mate Robin Askwith’s Confessions romps.

Hammering another nail into Vampira‘s coffin, this is by no means an optimal print, and the final scenes (in which Niven’s usual tan appears to have been coated in boot polish) are particularly washed out. Appropriate, really: playing up the ‘debonair aristocrat’ angle might have clicked with 1970s audiences (after all, aren’t most members of the nobility bloodsuckers of a kind?), but this vampire vehicle never really came into focus.