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Olive Films November Reviews

Roar


Hank (Noel Marshall) is a doctor and an outspoken naturalist in Africa who allows lions, tigers, cheetahs, and other big cats to roam freely around his remote estate. While away protecting animals from poachers, Hank’s family arrive at his home and are stalked by the massive lions that have overrun the house. (From Olive’s official synopsis)

Technically speaking, Noel Marshall’s Roar is a fictional thriller about a family that is attacked by the giant African cats they let into their home. But the analogous behind-the-scenes story, about Marshall’s actual family being attacked by the giant African that cats he let onto his set, has overshadowed any cinematic value the film has to offer. The fact that the finished product was barely screened when released and had been practically ‘lost’ (outside of hard to find European DVD editions) only expanded the notion that Roar wasn’t a movie, but a harrowing production tale and a back-story for star Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve (a sanctuary established to house the wild animals that have been foolishly imported/bred to keep as pets). I personally came to the story while watching a Biography Channel special about Hedren. I had hoped to learn dirty secrets about her contentious relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, but, instead, I was treated to a different kind of horror story – one that landed over 70 cast and crew members, including her own daughter (Melanie Griffith), in the hospital. From that point, I was fascinated by the legend of Roar, yet never had a chance to view the movie in question...until now.

Roar is every bit as disjointed, unfocused, and tonally random as you’d expect from a movie that took eleven years to make (in fairness, some of those years were spent raising the cats from babies, so that they would be more docile). The already thin story is shredded by abprubt cuts and the forced improvisation. Every attempt at narrative structure is undone by an army of impatient animals and inappropriate jokes are sprung in the middle of harrowing set-pieces; as if any attempt at levity could override the real-life peril. In other words, this is a proper exploitation film, complete with a unique hook – the director coaxed his loved ones into life-threatening situations with a mirade of exotic man-eating cats. The behind-the-scenes stories paint Marshall as much of an utter madman and his onscreen counterpart – with his wild hair, flailing arms, sincere discussions with wild animals, and an occasional lack of pants – matches every expectation. At a certain point, you can’t help but laugh at the absurdly unsafe situations. What I found particularly fascinating was the fact that I have no idea what moral or message Marshall was trying to convey. Given Hedren’s history with Shambala, I had assumed that there would be some kind of blatant conservation theme, but, despite an easily-ignored subplot about a vaguely-defined villain hell-bent on killing Hank’s animals, there’s little indication that these creatures (including a particularly pissy elephant) are anything more than a perpetual and concentrated threat. That is, until the gloriously tone-deaf, eleventh-hour happy ending.

A note on the film’s running time: Imdb.com and Wikipedia both claim that Roar runs 102 minutes, yet this Blu-ray release (and its theatrical counterpart) totals only 95 minutes (specifically 94:16, including the Olive and Drafthouse logos). Brief research tells me that NTSC VHS releases ran 97 minutes, but I can’t find any indication of multiple cuts. My best assumption I can make is that Roar premiered at 102 minutes, then was trimmed for distribution, which isn’t at all unusual for the era.

Roar was rescued from obscurity by Austin-based Drafthouse Films, who, in conjunction with Olive Films, digitally mastered it for theatrical and HD home video distribution. Either that or both companies have reused the ‘HD Remastered’ Platinum Cult Blu-ray from Digi-Dreams Studios in Germany (the release date for that one is listed as June 2014). I can’t find any specific information on what exactly went into the restoration, but, given the artefacts seen on this 2.35:1 (perhaps closer to 2.30:1?), 1080p transfer, I imagine there was a lot of digital cleanup. The good news is that it doesn’t look like a movie that spent nearly 35 years in an Italian closet, gathering dust (note: I just made this up and have no idea what condition the footage was in or where it was found). There is very little notable print damage, aside from inconsistent gamma levels, which can fluctuate between camera angles within the same sequence. This leads me to believe material was culled from multiple sources. Unfortunately, the cleanup efforts are overdone and the prevalent DNR scrubs out a whole lot of natural texture. In place of film grain, we get either clumpy noise-caked wide-shots or overly smoothed close-ups/medium shots. These distracting artefacts are magnified by flattened background texture, motion blur, and edge halos. Assuming the damage to the material was extensive, I would’ve greatly preferred a dirty, untouched ‘grindhouse’ look to something so scoured and over-polished. Obviously, this release is better than no release and future Hollywood cinematographic superstar/director Jan de Bont’s photography is strong enough to overcome many of the not-so-great mastering choices. The colour quality is pretty vivid and striking, despite appearing a bit more amber-tinged than I expected (based on the clips I’d seen years ago).

Roar’s original stereo soundtrack is presented here in uncompressed, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The audio is just as patchy as the video, often due to the composite quality of the footage being used. The majority of the track is pretty clean, but there are a number of muffled sequences, loads of ADR dialogue, and a basic lack of consistency in terms of clarity and volume. Sometimes, sound drops out, due to what I assume are issues with missing footage and I’m more than willing to forgive the discrepancy, because, again, I imagine the materials were in dire condition. Terrence P. Minogue’s music is often lost in the bustle of growling lions and shouting cast. There are moments that I didn’t realize there was underscore at all until I realized that what I thought was sound effects was actually score. Robert Hawk Florczak’s pop/folk tunes fare better and were likely borrowed from a different source.

Most Olive releases are barebones, but Drafthouse’s participation has ensured that this Blu-ray comes loaded with a nice collection of supplements, including:
  • Commentary with camera operator/actor/son of the director John Marshall and Drafthouse Film’s CEO Tim League – I expected a relatively amusing tone from this track, given League’s enthusiastic writings on the film (these have been reproduced on this disc’s extras), but it’s a pretty serious endeavor. with League grilling Marshall for behind-the-scenes information, including lots of nice anecdotes about the family. Marshall actually does a decent job of diffusing some of the shock and insanity by pointing out instances of fake blood and staged injuries, while also tip-toeing around some of the ethical issues (not just putting people in danger, but skipping paychecks, et cetera). Still, it’s impossible for this particular production story not to be a little amusing, especially when Marshall breaks down some of the brutal injuries audiences might have missed or when he eventually admits that ‘in hindsight, this movie shouldn’t have been made.’
  • The Making of Roar (33:20, SD) – This is the same vintage featurette that I hunted down years ago (copyright 2004). I believe it was made specifically for the film’s newish website and is put together sort of like an infomercial. It includes a nice rundown of all the horrible stuff that happened on set. There’s not a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, but there are some photos and interviews with Hedren, John & Jerry Hedren, surviving crew members, and Shambala Reserve staff. Marshall appears briefly at the end.
  • Q&A with cast & crew (39:50, HD) – This post-screening interview with John Marshall was recorded at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles in April 2015. It was conducted by Cinefamily’s Hadrian Belove and Drafthouse’s Christian Parkes.
  • The Grandeur of Roar – A text-based essay by League
  • Trailer
  • Photo gallery


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Olive Films November Reviews

Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

(1965)
After briefly collaborating on John Llewellyn Moxey’s City of the Dead (1960) and struggling to break into the teen musical market, American-born producers Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg re-entered the British horror market under the Amicus Studios banner. They distinguished themselves from the looming shadow of genre champions Hammer, by not recycling their formula. Instead of making more period-pieces based on gothic mainstays, Amicus produced a series contemporary-set anthology movies, beginning with Freddie Francis’ Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors. Written by Subotsky himself, Dr. Terror set the template with wraparound segment that features five strangers boarding a train, where a mysterious figure (known here as Dr. Schreck and portrayed by Peter Cushing) tells each of them a prophetic story with the help of tarot cards. Similar bookending devices cropped up in other Amicus movies, such as Francis’   Tales from the Crypt (1972), where five strangers arrive at a catacombs (via bus, instead of train) where a mysterious ‘Crypt Keeper’ (Ralph Richardson) reveals their sins. Dr. Terror and Tales from the Crypt share the same twist as well (Sergio Stivaletti’s The Three Faces of Terror, 2004, actually ripped off every aspect of Dr. Terror's’ framing device).

The first story, Werewolf, follows an architect named Jim (Neil McCallum), who travels to make alterations to his old home at the request of the new owner (Ursula Howells). While investigating the foundation, he discovers a mysterious coffin that has been plastered into the wall. Werewolf is arguably the most Hammer-esque of the shorts and offers Francis, a graduate of the Hammer brand of movie making ( Paranoiac, 1963; The Evil of Frankenstein, 1964), plenty of excuses to recreate the Technicolor gothic of his recent past. In part two, Creeping Vine, a family (Alan Freeman, Ann Bell, and Sarah Nicholls) returns from vacation to find a malicious vine has grown in their garden. This section could’ve easily sustained a longer run-time with its cheeky corruptions of domestic bliss, deadpan pseudo-science, and charming evil vine effects. Its lack of closure is disappointing. Part three, Voodoo, is the comedic tale of jazz musician (Roy Castle) who steals his latest song from a local voodoo ceremony. This hyper-colourful and slapstick-driven middle section really separates the Amicus model from Hammer’s and gets extra points for not going overboard with ethnic stereotypes. Part four, Disembodied Hand, concerns an art critic (Christopher Lee) who is menaced by the disembodied hand of a dead painter (Michael Gough), who he ‘drove’ to suicide (after running him over with his car). Lee’s nebbish and ultimately hysterical performance (a far cry from his more famous straight villain roles), Gough’s doleful presence, and the innovative absurdity of the situation secure Disembodied Hand’s place as the highlight of the movie. Evil Dead II fans should take notice. The film ends with The Vampire, in which a doctor (a very young Donald Sutherland) discovers his new French bride (Jennifer Jayne) might be a vampire. Like Creeping Vine, the finale has the makings of a feature-length movie. Its modern treatment of familiar vampire lore and bleak ending was a half-step ahead of its time.

As far as I can ascertain, Dr. Terror’s House of Horror has never been released on North American DVD. This 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray debut from Olive is being released about two weeks before a UK limited edition BD from Odeon Entertainment, which was reviewed by the Wilson Bros here (see the link for a more in-depth look at the film itself). The Odeon disc was reportedly colour-timed to match the initial release prints Francis himself signed-off on. From what the Wilsons and I understand, the palettes of the two BDs are significantly different, but they were not equipped to snag me some comparison screen caps. Minus the benefit of comparison, I can say that Olive’s disc looks pretty good all on its own. The image might be a touch darker than Francis and cinematographer Alan Hume intended, but it is a horror movie, so the dim lighting and occasionally aggressive black shadows aren’t out of place. Details are tight and patterns are complex, though not quite as sharp as some similar period releases. This softness, as well as minor posterisation effects and some noisy edges, are likely the effect of Francis and Hume’s focus choices, not a sign of telecine problems. Despite a bit of clumping, grain structure is steady and pretty natural (some of the scenes have some discoloured blips in place of black grain). The colours may be inaccurate (skin-tones and neutral hues, like wood, are a bit orange, I suppose) , but they certainly are bright, consistent, and just generally attractive. There are some minor bleeding issues along the edges, but I believe this can be blamed on either the soft focus or slightly misaligned Technicolor strips.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack meets the basic expectations of a ‘60s horror movie from Britain. The sound quality is shallow without being flat. The dialogue and incidental sound effects are rarely muddled and volume levels are consistent throughout (if not a bit on the low side). Elisabeth Lutyens’ score stands out with its higher fidelity and more complex aural layering. I assume she composed both the more traditionally spooky motifs as well as the bombastic jazz tunes that show up in Voodoo, since bossa nova rhythms pop-up even during scare cues.

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A Black Veil for Lisa

(1968)
Police inspector Franz Bulon (John Mill) is intent on bringing down a major drug ring operating in Hamburg. Thwarted at every turn by an assassin who is systematically killing informants, jealous of his beautiful, younger wife Lisa (Luciana Paluzzi) and suspecting her of having an affair (is it real or imagined?), Bulon can scarcely focus on his work. With jealousy nearing the boiling point, Bulon hires Alex (Robert Hoffman), the assassin he’s arrested for the recent informant murders, to kill his wife. (From Olive’s official synopsis)

Massimo Dallamano’s A Black Veil for Lisa was made on the cusp of giallo’s big boom. Dario Argento’s first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), was so popular that the subgenre switched gears from spaghetti-flavoured film noir to mimicking Argento’s formula. Like Mario Bava ( Blood and Black Lace, 1965), Antonio Margheriti ( Naked...You Die!, 1968), Umberto Lenzi ( Orgasmo, 1968), and other pre- Crystal Plumage filmmakers, Dallamano spent his energy injecting chic fashion, sex, and violence into more standard thriller and detective concepts. The screenplay (credited to Dallamano, Vittoriano Petrilli, and Giuseppe Belli) is closer to a traditional post-WWII film noir in that it focuses on the police’s side of the story, unlike the post-Argento movies and their amatuer detective protagonists. The investigation here concerns gangsters and violent criminals, instead of tortured psychosexual maniacs, which recalls Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool French cop thrillers. Even the presence of an antagonistic femme fatale (Luciana Paluzzi) falls more in line with the Hollywood noir tradition. However, Dallamano and his cohorts introduce macabre and gothic elements to their otherwise typified murder mystery and, in doing so, they pay a considerable debt to the works of Hitchcock (there are shades of Vertigo blended into the plot), Fritz Lang (certain scenes are direct homages to M), and, most of all, Bava. Between relatively blaisé scenes of cops arguing and gangsters shaking people down, the director plays with the familiar imagery of Bava’s black-gloved, black-hatted killer. In the end, Black Veil’s major appeal lies in the fact that its attempts to imitate Hollywood and French counterparts is so at odds with its inherent Italian identity. There really are two different and conflicting movies here and I find myself enjoying the duality, even if it is a bit sloppy.

Dallamano is an undervalued figure in ‘60s/’70s Italian cinema. He began his career as a cinematographer and his work on Sergio Leone’s transformative first two spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars (co-credited with Federico G. Larraya, 1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), led him to make his (non-documentary) directorial debut, Banditos (aka: You Die... But I Live, 1967). A Black Veil for Lisa was only his second movie as director and much closer to the type of thing you’d expect from a former cinematographer. Following Black Veil, Dallamano found greater success with flashy sexploitation exercises ( Venus in Furs, 1969 and Dorian Gray, 1970) and a reasonably popular straight horror movie called Night Child (aka: The Cursed Medallion, 1975), but, besides his contributions to Leone’s westerns, he’s probably best-known for his second giallo, What Have You Done to Solange? (1972), which is scheduled to make its Blu-ray debut in December from Arrow Video.

It appears that Black Veil for Lisa hasn’t been released on digital media home video in any country, at least not officially (an internet search revealed bootleg versions of an Italian TV rip only). For giallo fans, Olive’s new 1.78:1 (slightly reframed from the 1.85:1 OAR), 1080p Blu-ray release is a pleasant and unexpected surprise. The fact that it looks pretty good is definitely a plus. In broad terms, details are above SD standards, elements are well-separated, and the mostly neutral colour palette looks natural. Print damage artefacts crop up with relative regularity, including scratches, dirt, and a fair bit of pulsing. Contrast is even-handed and black levels are strong without a lot of crush or pooling. But there are also a number of avoidable problems peppered in between easily ignored issues with the original material. Theoretically, this transfer came from Paramount, but it has the same sheen of telecine noise and over-cranked white levels seen on a number of Italian-scanned genre titles from other studios, like Blue Underground and Shout Factory. The issue isn’t particularly distracting in this case, but the telecine noise definitely causes some odd-looking artefacts, as well as banding effects. Fortunately, these are more obvious in still frames and no one has tried to counteract the problems by applying excessive DNR or over-sharpening the occasionally rough background textures. The blooming, detail-eating whites are a bigger problem, albeit one that only affects a handful of scenes. In other good news, the lack of extras and brief run-time leave plenty of room for the video file, so there are very few compression artefacts.

The only audio option here is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono English dub. Now, to reiterate what I always say in regards to Italian titles from this era, there is no non-dubbed track. Black Veil for Lisa was shot without sound, so every language version had ADR dialogue and foley sound effects. In this case (like many), most of the cast was speaking English on set as well (though they have international origins – John Mills is British, Robert Hoffmann is Austrian, Luciana Paluzzi is Italian, and so on). The lip-sync is solid and the fidelity of the performances is very natural for a ‘60s ADR dub. The sound effects are expectedly minimal, but more well-integrated and better layered than your typical post-dub Italian thriller – especially the super noisy ‘fun fair’ sequence. Giovanni Fusco & Gianfranco Reverberi’s music is a bit too generic for a giallo, but sounds clean on this uncompressed track. Olive is working from Paramount’s US cut of the movie, which runs 88 minutes. The uncut Italian version runs 95 minutes. I’m going to assume that those Italian-only minutes were never dubbed into English.

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Olive Films November Reviews

Breeders

(1986)
Fearing that their city is the target of a serial rapist, Manhattan detective Dale Androtti (Lance Lewman) finds an unlikely ally in Dr. Gamble Pace (Teresa Farley) when they are teamed up to investigate the brutal crimes. Their suspicions, unbelievable as they may seem, will lead them to a terrifying discovery that an alien life form is impregnating women to reproduce his species. (From Olive’s official synopsis)

Tim Kincaid’s Breeders is a special brand of exploitation film in that its concepts are utterly abhorrent, yet its execution is too goofy and amateurish to be considered truly offensive. From the childlike admiration for icky transformation affects (the alien basically possesses the bodies of human men to copulate) to Kincaid’s habit of cutting away from the sexual assaults, there is an almost adorable innocence in this particular alien rapist movie. Despite the clumsy pacing and awkward dialogue (there are a number of well-meaning scenes where cast ‘get real’ about rape), this amateurism is, ultimately, pretty charming – at least in small doses. Thankfully, Breeders runs a shockingly short 77 minutes, including credits. The comparatively chaste tone (don’t worry, there’s plenty of nudity – even a nude aerobics routine!) is especially strange, given the fact that, before Breeders, Kincaid directed porn – albeit well-received, culturally relevant, stereotype-subverting gay porn. His other non-porn output includes three enjoyable, but mostly crappy sci-fi films for producer Charles Band (who distributed Breeders under his Empire Pictures banner) – the relatively family-friendly Robot Holocaust (1986), Mutant Hunt (1987), which donned an inaccurate ‘too gory for the silver screen’ sticker, and the semi-creative The Occultist (1988). All three of these movies are ultimately more entertaining than Breeders and I know that there are HD transfers for Robot Holocaust and Mutant Hunt floating around, so perhaps Olive, Kino, or Scream Factory will end up releasing them on Blu-ray someday. More recently (2001), Kincaid picked up the porn mantle again and continues working in the industry to this day (his latest film is entitled American Bukkake 2 - Business Edition: Joe Gage Private Stock).

Tales of extra terrestrial or otherwise otherworldly creatures raping human women (for fun and/or to propagate their species) are surprisingly common. Of course, the most creative version of this trope would be the Alien movies. Following the success of Ridley Scott’s classic, B-movie rip-offs ignored the intricacies of non-gender specific alien insemination practices. This led to Breeders, naturally, but also more objectionable flicks, including Barbara Peeters’ Humanoids from the Deep (with uncredited rape scenes by Jimmy T. Murakami, 1980), Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror (1981), Thierry Notz’ The Terror Within (1989), and Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid (aka: Horror Planet, 1981). Kincaid’s one advantage over his competition is his setting – the dirty streets of 1979/80 New York City. And the New Yorkness of the situation almost saves the film from itself. In a different universe, Breeders would successfully convince its audience that they were watching a gritty NYC cop thriller about unsolvable rape cases and the reveal that the major suspect was an alien would come as a genuine shock. Because he fails to do this by introducing the creature feature elements very early (as in the first scene), the basic idea is ripe for revisitation. Coincidentally, there was remake in 1997 by Paul Matthews. It was actually a significantly worse movie, though and it was difficult to tell the two releases apart on VHS, because there were multiple release versions of each with different cover art. My most vivid memory of either film is accidentally renting Matthews’ version twice.

Breeders was released a few times on anamorphic DVD in the US and Europe, but I believe this is its official Blu-ray debut. Despite being a silly little trash bag of a movie, this 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is the strongest of the four Olive releases I’m covering. Kincaid and cinematographer Arthur D. Marks make a few poor choices in terms of lighting, leading to some really dark sequences that looked like pure blackness on VHS and these scenes are still grainy and difficult to discern, but HD certainly helps punch up the minor highlights. Most of the movie is brightly lit, though (flatly so in many cases), and these are quite clear, if not a bit ‘pulsy.’ Details are very sharp, especially in close-up (which does no favours for the shoestring special effects), basic grain levels appear fine and accurate, and there’s little notable posterisation or blocking. The fundamental colour palette is disappointingly neutral and a bit blown-out, but nicely recreated, especially the acrylic wardrobe items. The climax is a vivid exception to the rest of the film, including some vivid purple and red colour schemes and higher contrast lighting. These sequences look fabulous and shockingly clean, considering the fact that Paramount and Olive probably didn’t do any digital restoration.

The original mono sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix is at the mercy of some very bad on-set recording. Dialogue levels are unpredictable and the boom mic picks up a lot of outside noise that fuzzes out some of the more important aural elements. Still, based on the material, it’s difficult to complain about the results. The foley work is pretty overstated, too, but, despite the loud breeze and machinery noise, this is what Breeders was meant to sound like. Don Great & Tom Milano’s music is a satisfying mix of old-fashioned sci-fi motifs (some of which really sound like copyright-free catalogue music) and electro-pop cues that are surprisingly melancholy. The catchy title sequence is reminiscent of John Harrison’s Day of the Dead (1985). All of the music, including the nude aerobics pop tunes, sounds CD quality, despite the single-channel treatment.

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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