BATMAN In the Media, Part 1


BatmanMedia_p1
This year marks The Batman’s 75th anniversary. Most of you will be aware the Batman character first appeared in Detective Comics Number 27, the May 1939 issue. As comic books then and now tend to be dated three months in advance, it probably hit the newsstands about mid-February or March of that year. The cover depicted The Batman swinging across the rooftops carrying a criminal in a decidedly dangerous looking headlock as his stunned accomplices looked on.Detective #27
The character looked different in the early days: darker, sinister — more bat-like, with exaggerated ears and a stiff winged cape. He was the product of a young cartoonist from the Bronx named Bob Kane (Robert Kahn), who created the masked avenger with the help of  Bill Finger.
Kane had been doing gag cartoons and a Terry and the Pirates inspired adventure feature for Detective and Adventure Comics when one of the editors (usually identified as Vin Sullivan) asked him if thought he could come up with a costumed hero. DC was interested in duplicating the success they were having with Superman. When told he might make as much as $700 dollars a month by doing so, Bob Kane became very interested. It was a Friday, and Kane said he’d have one ready Monday morning. He was not going to miss out on an opportunity like this.
Kane already had a vague idea of what he wanted to do. The editor had suggested the idea after seeing some Flash Gordon sketches Kane had done to hone his talents, which were more naturally inclined to cartooning rather then realistic figure drawing. The Hawkmen character in the Flash Gordon strip had captured Kane’s imagination, and he first thought of the new character as another concept of a winged man. After toying with the idea of calling the character Birdman, Kane recounted in later years that he went through his old notebooks and verified that in his famous ornithopter sketches, Leonardo DaVinci had intended the wings be shaped like a bat’s. The Bat-Man – now that sounded dramatic.
Kane originally depicted the new hero as wearing bright red leotard, a Zorro-like black mask, and mechanical batwings that he would use to swoop down upon criminals. He contacted his friend Milton ‘Bill’ Finger, part-time shoe salesman and an avid pulp magazine reader who Kane had hired as a ghost writer to help plot and write his Rusty and His Pals stories for Adventure Comics. Finger suggested Kane replace the cumbersome mechanical wings with a bat-winged cape, like the villain in the movie The Bat Whispers. He also urged him to make the tights a more somber gray, and to make the mask a cowl that covered the head. The eyes would be left blank like Lee Falk’s Phantom to give The Batman an extra touch of mystery. Kane agreed with Finger’s ideas, and added long pointed ears and a long-nosed mask that suggested the features of a bat. They added a belt that could carry gas vials and other equipment, as well as gloves, so that he would leave no identifying fingerprints.
DETECTIVE #31Despite some misgivings about his sinister appearance, DC decided to try out the character. Some there had originally thought Superman was too outlandish to succeed, but he’d been a tremendous hit. Perhaps lighting would strike twice. So Bob Kane and Bill Finger went to work. As noted, Finger was pulp fan, and the then-inexperienced writer based the first story; The Case of the Chemical Syndicate on a Shadow novel, Partners in Peril (written by Theodore Tinsley under the Maxwell Grant house name).
Elements of pulp Zorro, the Shadow, and the Spider influenced The Batman, as did the origin of the pulp hero The Bat (likely written by Johnston McCulley, creator of Zorro). Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip would also have an influence as the series progressed.
Bruce Wayne’s name supposedly came from the Scots hero Robert the Bruce and Revolutionary War general Mad Anthony Wayne — but it also sounds a lot like Bob Kane! For Batman was Kane’s alter ego of sorts, a mysterious, romantic figure who was rich and athletic, virtuous yet not bound by laws or convention. He would be a hero made superhuman not by powers beyond those of mortal men, but by an incredible will and unceasing effort. He was the flip side of Superman, the dark contrast to his bright colors, not quite as unique perhaps, but all the more compelling because he was just within the bounds of possibility.

RADIO AND FILM

It seems odd that Batman never had a radio show of his own. He did appear on The Adventures of Superman, but not until 1945. On March 1st of that year, Superman rescued a boy adrift in a rowboat who proved to be Robin, the boy wonder. He tracked down and rescued the missing Batman, forming an enduring partnership. Batman and Robin became recurring characters on the show, largely so that Bud Collyer could take time off from playing Superman. Robin was always portrayed by Ronald Liss, but the part of Batman would be played by a number of actors, including Stacy Harris, Matt Crowely (the majority of appearances), and Garry Merrill. Superman radio announcer and character actor Jackson Beck (voice of Bluto in many Popeye cartoons) would play Alfred when needed, using a cockney accent to humorous effect.

Radio_Batman
L-R: Matt Crowley, Ronald Liss, Jackson Beck

An odd conceit of the radio series is that Bruce Wayne seemed to live in an upscale suburb of Metropolis, rather than a distant city. At first, Superman knows the true identities of Batman and Robin, but they don’t know his. When Clark Kent has to approach Bruce Wayne for Batman’s help, Wayne is hostile and suspicious, and Kent reluctantly reveals his Superman identity. It’s not clear if Robin is entrusted with the secret at that time.

What many people don’t know is that Batman had been suggested as a radio show before then. A script was written for a pilot Batman program entitled The Case of the Drowning Seal, and an audition disk was  made in 1943. This was a wartime script ; the villains were Nazi agents and the destroyed towns of Lidice and Coventry are pointedly mentioned. It’s been a number of years since I read the material, but it was a rather different idea of Batman.
To differentiate Bruce Wayne from the Batman, the masked hero spoke with a British accent. The character’s costume was described as being simply a “horned” black mask and bat-like cape. Apparently( from the context of the script) this simply was worn over Bruce Wayne’s street clothes, and Batman seemed not to bother with gloves, since he identifies one of the Nazi agents previously encountered in darkness because he has oil on his face — the same black oil that the Batman got on his fist when he socked one of the villains on the jaw. Not too worried about the secret identity, it seems. This was perhaps because the Batman was something along the lines of a secret agent, known to the U.S. government.
This lack of concern about secrecy is also shown by the fact that Bruce Wayne is also dealing with the orphaned son of Bruce’s friends the Graysons, undercover FBI agents who have been murdered by the spies. The boy is named Robin Grayson, not Dick — which kind of makes the team of Batman and Robin a bit too obvious even for the most dim-witted of criminals. Radio historian Jack French informed me that Scott Douglas portrayed Batman in this version. The actor had also played the pulp and comic book character The Black Hood in a 1943 series on the Mutual Network, which carried Superman as well.

Batman43_Tunl_Tint
BATMAN (1943) An atmospheric shot.

Batman may have struck out on Radio but he had leapt  from the comic book pages and onto the silver screen with greater success. 1943 also saw the release of the Columbia serial BATMAN.
It was 15 chapters of low-budget slam-bang thrills, directed by Lambert Hillyer; primarily an action specialist who also directed atmospheric horror thrillers such as Dracula’s Daughter and The Invisible Ray. Batman was played by Lewis Wilson. (Crime fighting must run in the family, because his son Michael Wilson now produces the James Bond films). Robin was portrayed by juvenile actor Douglas Croft, who also appeared in a number of “A” features, most notably playing the young George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Douglas Croft, Lewis Wilson, William Austin
Douglas Croft, Lewis Wilson, William Austin

The part of Alfred the butler was played by William Austin, who was tall and slim, and wore a mustache –- quite the opposite of the comic book Alfred who was at that time depicted as short, chubby and clean-shaven.
None of the other comic book regulars appeared in the serial. There’s no Commissioner Gordon, instead the Batman enjoys teasing Captain Arnold (Charles C. Wilson, This Gun For Hire). Phased-out comic book girlfriend socialite-turned actress Julie Madison is replaced by medical secretary Linda Page, played by Shirley Patterson — who would later change her screen name to Shawn Smith and appear in 50’s faves such as The Land Unknown and It! The Terror from Beyond Space.
Bat43_Linda2
Shirley Patterson / Shawn Smith

The serial must have impressed Bob Kane, who permanently changed the appearance of the Alfred character to resemble the actor. Linda Page (now a nurse) was introduced in the new Batman newspaper strip, and Captain Arnold would also make a few appearances. Other long-lasting  adaptations included the Bat’s Cave of the movie, which became the Batcave, along with the idea of entering it through a grandfather clock, which the serial writers had cribbed from Zorro. It’s interesting to note that like the radio pilot, Bruce Wayne/Batman’s identity seems to be known to the government, and he is willing to undertake missions for them. (Likely this was a case of the film serial inspiring the radio series.)
There is no Batmobile, with the crimefighters getting around in Bruce Wayne’s sleek black Cadillac convertible. Alfred often serves as wheelman, and nervously dons disguises when needed to aid the caped crime-fighters.
The serial is a lot of fun, and rather well done by the standards of Columbia chapterplays. Actually, BATMAN was produced outside the studio by Rudolph Flothow (Ramar of The Jungle TV series) for Larry Darmour Productions, who handled Columbia’s serials and a number of  their ‘series films’, such as Ellery Queen, Lone Wolf and Crime Doctor at the time — acting as an essentially independent B-Unit with their own off-lot soundstage facilities. When needed, they could rent the Columbia Ranch or the Warner Brother’s backlot.
Bat43DrDaka
J. Caroll Naish as 'Prince Tito Daka' aka Dr. Daka

BATMAN has a nice visual look to it for the budget, using fluid camera work and creative lighting by Director of Photography James S. Brown Jr. (Strangler of the Swamp 1946.). The villainous Dr. Daka’s (J. Caroll Naish House of Frankenstein) laboratory features a nice array of equipment, including Frankenstein electrical apparatus rented from Kenneth Strickfadden. With this, he can create human ‘zombies’; mind-controlled slaves to further his campaigns of sabotage and subversion. There’s also a nifty radium-powered ray pistol (which would show up years later in 1960’s Cape Canaveral Monsters), though it’s quickly captured by Batman and rendered moot, though the bad guys continue to hunt for radium to buld a larger version. Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless, Charles Middleton gets a rare good-guy role as a prospector friend of Bruce Wayne.
Lee Zahler provides a effective, if strident score, basing his main themes on darker motifs from Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, and likely other classic influences.
However, despite the positive things in its favor, there are some puzzling editing errors — such as keeping in a portion of a fight scene wherein Batman looses his cape, only have it back on following a cut-away to Alfred waiting in the car below. Logically, the place to put the edit would have been at the point where the hero begins to have cape trouble, rather than continuing to show the fighting sans cloak. A letter to Bruce Wayne from the government asking him to look into a aircaft plant is shown with a Los Angeles address, although the film is indeed set in Gotham City. The recent DVD release seems to have added an editing slip-up or two, possibly attempts at covering for missing or damaged footage. (Several of the chapters show damage or wear that has not been restored, digitally or otherwise. There’s a least one collector’s 16mm print that has a better copy of Chapter One.)
The film has run into trouble in  recent decades due to its blatant wartime anti-Japanese fervor, but it’s still interesting viewing, and J. Carroll Naish’s gleefully depraved faux-Japanese Prince/Dr. Daka is a delight for fans of hammy screen villainy. At one time the only commercially available version of the serial had been redubbed to remove the many racial slurs, with announcer Gary Owens (Laugh-In) redoing the original narration by sportscaster Knox Manning. The Sony/Columbia DVD release restores the original, warts and all.
BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949) Lyle Talbot, Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan
BATMAN AND ROBIN (1949) Lyle Talbot, Robert Lowery, Johnny Duncan

In 1949, after the success of their Superman serial, Columbia released BATMAN AND ROBIN (also as New Adventures of Batman and Robin) . This 15-chapter serial is not nearly as good as the ’43 version and is a poor successor to 48’s Superman, though director Spencer Gordon Bennett directed both. Much of the chapterplay’s failure is likely due to the low budget producer Sam Katzman allowed. Columbia would give serial producers a flat rate, how much of that wound up onscreen is another matter. The film seems rushed and haphazard, and its lead actors worn out by the frantic pace.
Johnny Duncan, Robert Lowery in the Batcave
Johnny Duncan, Robert Lowery in the Batcave

Actor Robert Lowery (The Mummy’s Ghost) was reportedly (in accounts by co-star Duncan) not too thrilled to be playing the tights-wearing comic book character. Johnny Duncan, who was in his twenties (and looked it) when he portrayed Robin the Boy Wonder, also related that he had to secretly help Lowery lace up a girdle in order to fit in his leotard. The eyes in the cowled mask were too small and didn’t line up well for Lowery; you can see him adjust the cowl several times onscreen. The ‘bat-ears/devil’s horns’ were floppy, leading Lowery to stuff them with cotton.  Batman’s gloves give out early in the serial, and heavy work gloves are substituted –not matching the much darker finned gauntlets.
Robin wears a dark colored cape, possibly influenced by the green cape the character sported on the cover of Batman #1 (or not, it’s anybody’s guess). Lowery and Duncan gamely did their best to enliven the proceedings, and there are a few good moments, but the results are still pretty dire from today’s standpoint.
One pathetically amusing bit is that Batman and Robin usually drive around in Bruce Wayne’s gray `49 Mercury convertible, which is noted and draws a barbed on-screen comment by the comic book’s press photographer Vicki Vale, played by Jane Adams (House of Dracula). “Does Bruce Wayne know you’re driving his car?” This and other obvious tip-offs only make her mildly suspicious of her nominal boyfriend’s dual identity. Perhaps she was distracted by her never before seen brother  Jimmy Vale (George Offerman, Jr.), a pilot with feet of clay who gets mixed up with the villains.
Top: Jame Adams as Vicki Vale, Below: The Wizard
Top: Jane Adams as Vicki Vale, Below: The Wizard

Hollywood veteran Lyle Talbot introduced the part of Commissioner Gordon to the screen, and a partially disassembled television set in his office was used as a “high-tech” electronic Bat Signal that could miraculously project out the window a bat insignia onto the clouds… in broad daylight.
In later years, Bob Kane reported visiting the production, when he asked to see the Batmobile (apparently in the script), had the convertible pointed out to him. His heart sank; apparently the producer had made a deal with the auto manufacturer, and they supplied the car for free — several times. John Duncan said the cars were used roughly by the actors and stunt men, and the local Ford dealer would just give them a new (or repaired) one to use when they broke down.
Showing the rushed and seemingly lackadaisical nature of the film, despite there being a Batcave set, Batman and Robin are shown at least once getting into the car in Bruce Wayne’s driveway. No Wayne Manor, the place looks like a junior exec’s nicely appointed but unpretentious suburban home, complete with neighbors walking by on the sidewalk. Instead, the wheel-chair bound inventor suspect gets the mansion.
With its reliance on the masked mystery villain The Wizard’s super-science Remote Control Ray, and other gadgetry, the film has something of the feel of Batman’s 1950’s daylight sci-fi adventures. On that basis, or for low-budget laughs, the serial can be enjoyed. Completists should be aware that Chapter One of the Sony/Columbia VHS tape is incomplete by several minutes, due to the tape being assembled from 16mm prints edited to make Super 8mm reduction prints for sale to collectors. I’m told the DVD release continues this omission, though I have not viewed it myself.
Where's the Batmobile? Whadda mean you made a deal?
Where's the Batmobile? Whadda mean you made a deal?

If the BATMAN AND ROBIN chapterplay might have been a disappointment to comic book fans, it appears to have done fairly well at the box office. Perhaps this is why another attempt at a Batman Radio show was made in1950.
The Batman Mystery Club was an audition disc made in September of that year. The story was called The Monster of Dumphrey’s Hall, and was written by Don Cameron, who wrote for the comics and the Batman newspaper strip. It was rediscovered by Fred Shay, of the National Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. The series’ premise reflected Cameron’s interest in disproving superstitions, and opened with Robin addressing a group of kids, and introducing Bruce Wayne, the Batman to show them that the seemingly supernatural adventures they would encounter had purely natural explanations. Writer Cameron had been researching and writing a book about occultism, which might explain his motivations somewhat.
1950's Argentine Radio Series
1950's Argentine Radio Series

However, it’s kind of an odd and dry idea for an kid’s superhero show (hey kids, this whole spooky story we made you sit through is pure bunk), and it’s not too surprising that the pilot did not become a series. Ronald Liss reprised his role of Robin (just Robin, not Dick Grayson) from the Adventures of Superman, and Batman was played by John Emery, who had also portrayed Philo Vance on radio.
Reportedly, there was a Batman radio series in Argentina in the 1950’s starring Carlos Carella as the caped crusader. They only documentation I’ve found of this is an intriguing publicity still.
Though it might have seemed a natural spin-off, there was no Batman series to mirror the 1950’s Adventures of Superman TV show (although former Batman Robert Lowery would guest star in an episode, The Deadly Rock). Batman would have to wait until the 1960’s to hit the airwaves again.
And when he did, it would be a tidal wave.

The Walking Dead's Greg Nicotero – The CFQ Interview

Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.
Greg Nicotero (in glasses and plaid shirt) preps a zombie for his moment in the spotlight on THE WALKING DEAD.

Sometimes doing the job is reward in itself. That’s what it was like for me to talk with Greg Nicotero. From DAWN OF THE DEAD to BREAKING BAD, from ARMY OF DARKNESS to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, from HOSTEL to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, his vivid and creative makeup effects work has brought the fantastic, the grotesque, and the sometimes-just-plain-realistic to a dazzling kaleidoscope of film and TV projects.
That includes THE WALKING DEAD, the blockbuster TV series which scooped up a couple of primetime Emmy awards for Nicotero’s work in bringing the flesh-hungry walkers to gruesome… uh, life? Death? Anyway, in honor of the release of the complete fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, we got some time with Greg to talk about the finer points of zombie nurturing and care. Click on the player to hear the show.

Rigor Mortis Director Juno Mak – The CFQ Interview

Chin Siu-Ho discovers that urban renewal ain't all it's cracked up to be in RIGOR MORTIS
Chin Siu-Ho discovers that urban renewal ain't all it's cracked up to be in RIGOR MORTIS

Even in the anything-to-get-your-adrenaline-pumping world of Hong Kong cinema, RIGOR MORTIS stands out. The story of a famous actor, Chin Siu-Ho (played by actual famous actor Chin Siu-Ho — your heard us), who has to contend with a seedy apartment building whose walls reverberate with echoes of his most famous film, the hopping vampire horror-comedy MR. VAMPIRE — including mysterious spirits, a mystical warrior-cum-resterateur (played by MR. VAMPIRE cast-mate Anthony “Friend” Chan), and, yes, a hopping vampire — the film plays as both a tribute to, and a dark and dizzyingly intense reimagining of, a beloved sub-genre. Director Juno Mak makes his feature film debut with this visually stunning, shockingly violent, and at times surprisingly moving, effort, and we were eager to discuss the roots of the project in the legendary MR. VAMPIRE franchise, and the challenges of creating this effects-laden feast. Click on the player to hear the show.

THE WALKING DEAD's Dallas Roberts: The CFQ Interview Podcast

Dallas Roberts faces a moral vacuum in THE WALKING DEAD.
Dallas Roberts faces a moral vacuum in THE WALKING DEAD.

For all that the world was going to Hell on the third season of THE WALKING DEAD, viewers had no shortage of reasons for jubilation: Finally the series had found its footing, logging in episodes that managed a sweet mix of zombie-ripping mayhem and post-apocalyptic drama. Two of the prime contributors to the quality boost were the introductions of Woodbury — a cozy little stronghold in Georgia where the residents struggled to maintain a facade of normality while turning a blind eye to the moral rot eating away at their community — and the Governor, Woodbury’s psychotic rotter-in-chief.
Aiding and abetting the Governor’s brutal reign was Milton Mamet, a former scientist who helped carry out the Gov’s dictates, including performing experiments intended to discover glimmers of sentience in walkers. As played by Dallas Roberts, Milton was a prime example of THE WALKING DEAD’s moral ambiguity, a man trying to find his way in a world where the quality of humanity was rapidly yielding to the simple needs of survival.
In connection with the homevid release of THE WALKING DEAD’s third season on Blu-ray and DVD, Roberts sat down with us to talk about his work on the series. The !!!SPOILER-FILLED!!! discussion brings us some insight into Milton’s tortured existence, as well as giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of the show. Click on the player to hear the interview.

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL's Dee Wallace: The CFQ Interview

I Said Pass the #@%*! Potatoes: Dee Wallace lets the witch show through the homey facade in HANSEL AND GRETEL.
I Said Pass the #@%*! Potatoes: Dee Wallace lets the witch show through the homey facade in HANSEL AND GRETEL.

It’s our first Spielberg veteran here at CFQi, and a good one, too. Dee Wallace probably reached her greatest audience as the progressive but put-upon suburban mom of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, but she had previously developed her genre chops in two landmark horror titles: Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING, and most recently took her career in a darkly satirical direction with her work in the Asylum’s gory, fractured fairy tale, HANSEL AND GRETEL. Our conversation with Dee was frank and incisive, taking in a discussion of Spielberg’s personal investment in his films, the emotional complications of doing explicit sex scenes, and what it’s like breaking into the business on a low-budget horror film. Click on the player to hear the show.

[serialposts]

Laserblast: What's Wrong with Redbox Rentals

paranormal activity 4 blu-ray redbox
Forget about getting the unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 at Redbox.

In an era that sees brick-and-mortar video rental stores resembling dinosaurs fated to extinction, the increasingly ubiquitous presence of self-serve Red Box locations in front of convenience stores and even inside some grocery stores is a good sign for those of us who do not want to wait for Netflix to ship us that latest DVD or Blu-ray disc. Redbox also offers other services, dispensing videogames for Wii, PS3, and XBox, and it recently started offering tickets to select events in Los Angeles. With a $1 price for a one-day DVD rental ($1.50 for Blu-ray discs) and a $1 service fee for ticket purchases, Redbox offers great value along with convenience. Unfortunately, it is not quite perfect.
First, Redbox offers only the latest home video releases. I’m not sure what the exact window is, but the standard “shelf life” appears to be about six months, after which a “last chance” warning is flagged on the title in question, which disappears shortly thereafter. Occasionally, an older title returns (e.g. SPIDER-MAN went  back in the box when THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN opened in theatres; PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 is back now that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is out), but generally speaking, if you are interested in anything more than what’s current, you are out of luck.
And by “current,” I mean something with a recent copyright date. New DVDs and Blu-ray discs of older titles do not get into Redbox. If you are hoping to see that new Blu-ray release of Mario Bava’s 1972 neo-Goth BARON BLOOD, you are out of luck, and you might as well forget about the upcoming Blu-ray of Hammer memorable THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970).
Still, these titles appeal to a relatively small slice of today’s homevideo audience, so I cannot blame Redbox too much. However, there is another problem, as I found out this week when I wasted $1.50 on a rental of the new Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4: although the DVDs and Blu-rays available for purchase through other outlets (such as Amazon) contain both the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, the discs available for rent through Redbox contain only the R-rated theatrical version.
To be fair, the Redbox website’s FAQ section clarifies that Redbox does not carry NC-17 titles, but it says nothing about unrated titles. Also, the information on the website mentions the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4’s R-rating and the running time (87 minutes for the theatrical version), and nothing on the artwork suggests you are getting anything else. So I guess it is my fault for not looking more closely before renting the Blu-ray disc.
drag me to hell copyHowever, this is not always the case. Redbox sometimes displays artwork indicating that you are getting something more than an R-rated version. For example, the box art for both DRAG ME TO HELL and LOCKOUT clearly indicate “Unrated Edition,” while the accompanying text shows that the film you rent will actually be rated PG-13. This could certainly be construed as false advertising.
Obviously, there are other ways to view the unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. The extended cut is available for rent and purchase through steaming and download services such as Amazon and iTunes, but you will not get the 30 minutes of additional scenes available as a Blu-ray bonus feature. For that, you have to purchase the disc or rent it through Netflix and await the arrival days later.
Obviously, a short waiting period is not a great burden, but it is strange that Redbox would cede this advantage to a competitor. Presumably, Redbox is leery of accusations that children might get access to unrated movies, but they already have a system in place to validate for age, in order to prevent R-rated movies from getting into the hands of youngsters. If the system is good enough to do that, then there should be no additional onus on unrated material, which should be available to adult renters.
Redbox remains a useful service. In addition to their current a la cart rental service, they plan to offer a subscription service that will include four one-day rental a month, plus unlimited streaming through Verizon wireless. But it is unfortunate that their selection is so limited. This is no doubt due to the size restrictions of the redboxes themselves (approximately equal to a jukebox), but if they have room for every piece of direct-to-video junk that comes out each week, there should be a way to include unrated titles and also older titles given new home video releases.
Although it may not be viable to stock BARON BLOOD, TWINS OF EVIL, VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS at a box in front of every 7-11 store, Redbox does have an online reservation feature and allows you to create accounts listing your order history and movie preferences. Certainly, these features could be tweaked to move discs with specialized appeal into locations convenient for people who want them.

Laserblast 4.4.2: Frankenweenie, John Carter, Iron Sky, Homicidal

laserblastfrankenweeniejoh copy
Welcome back to another edition of the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast, exploring the highways and byways of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Films on Home Video – Blu-ray, DVD, Video on Demand, and Instant Streaming. In Volume 4, Episode 4.2, Steve Biodrowski reviews the Blu-ray discs of FRANKENWEENIE and JOHN CARTER; Dan Persons waxes over the Nazi-on-the-Moon spoof IRON SKY; and Lawrence French offers up William Castle’s HOMICIDAL (1961) as an effective pinch-hitter horror film in place of PSYCHO (1960).
Also on the agenda: a look at FrightPIX, the new free streaming channel of horror films available through Roku; and a rundown of home video releases for the weeks of Tuesday, January 22 & 29.


NOTE: If you prefer reading to listening, details of the week’s home video releases are listed below…

JANUARY 29 HOME VIDEO RELEASES

Click to purchase
Click to purchase

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 sees the release of three titles that have actually been available on Video on Demand for two weeks through the magic of “Early Release.” This is a new strategy, in which films are available through downloading and streaming services before arriving on store shelves in hard copies. The early release price (for purchase only, not rental) is considerably higher; now that the films are on store shelves, the price for streaming and downloading has dropped, and rental options are available. The films in question are:

  • HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, now on single disc DVD; on triple disc Blu-ray and DVD and UltraViolet Digital Copy; and quadruple disc with a 3D Blu-ray.
  • PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, which arrives in two packages: the first includes only DVD; the second includes both DVD and Blu-ray, plus a Digital Copy and Ultra-Violet. Both the Blu-and the DVD include the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut, which runs approximately ten minutes longer. The Blu-ray also offers a half-hour of “recovered files” – basically, deleted scenes – but there are no other bonus features. Amazon.com still has the unrated version available through their Instant Streaming service
  • click to purchase
  • THE AWAKENING: This excellent British ghost story from 2011, which got a small U.S. release last year, is now available on DVD and on Blu-ray; the steaming version is still available here. The latter includes numerous behind-the-scenes bonus features: deleted scenes; behind-the-scenes featurettes; an interview with director Nick Murphy; a look at belief in the supernatural and in spiritualism.

And speaking of “Early Release,” SILENT HILL: REVELATION goes on sale via Video on Demand and download this week. Expect discs to hit store shelves in a couple weeks.
Also out this week:
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS arrives on Blu-ray combo pack and on DVD and on Video on Demand.

click to purchase
click to purchase

WHITE ZOMBIE: The 1932 black-and-white classic, starring Bela Lugosi, reappears in a newly remastered transfer, available on Blu-ray and on DVD. These discs port over some of the bonus features from the Roan Group’s 1999 DVD (including a re-release trailer and an “Intimate Interview” with Lugosi), but not the excellent audio commentary by Gary Don Roades. WHITE ZOMBIE is a public domain title, available in lots of cheap DVD versions, but this new version from Kino Classics has been digitally restored – which you will appreciate if you recall the Roan version, which was good but still had problems. Source material was a 35mm fine grain master; the raw and enhanced versions are included.
Midnight Movies Volume 9 offers a zombie double bill of HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and NIGHTMARE CITY – two Italian gorefests from the 1980, following in the wake of DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) and ZOMBIE (1980). The former is also known as VIRUS and as NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, and reuses music from DAWN OF THE DEAD. The later stars actor Hugo Stiglitz, after whom Quentin Tarantino named a character in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

JANUARY 22, 2013 HOME VIDEO RELEASES

click to purchase
click to purchase

Since we posted no Lasberblast – either column or podcast – for last week, we will make it up to you by listing the titles this week, but rest assured, you did not miss much. The only new titles wer DEATH RACE 3: INFERNO, which made its direct-to-video debut on DVD and Blu-ray, and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, which arrived on store shelves after a pre-theatrical VOD debut last year, followed by brief, limited exposure in theatres.
Older titles resurrected on disc include several 1980s titles and a bunch of 1990s obscurities from Charles Band’s now-defunct Full Moon Productions. The 1980s titles include:

  • Wes Craven’s DEADLY BLESSING in a new Collector’s Edition on Blu-ray and DVD. This 1981 is from a few years before Craven hit big with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. You can also sense Craven inserting some NIGHTMARE style dream scenes toliven up the slasher-style scenario.
  • CUJO, based on the Stephen King novel and starring Dee Wallace (E.T.) sees new life on DVD and on Blu-ray.
  • THE INCUBUS (1982) with John Cassavetes flts into stores on DVD. The film was directed by John Hough, who has a couple of good titles to his name (TWINS OF EVIL and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), but this is nowhere near as good. There is some nice atmosphere, but the script is problematic at best, and one suspects that Cassavetes was earning a pay check to fund one of his own directorial efforts.

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Meanwhile, the Full Moon titles arrive on DVD are: LURKING FEAR (1994), MONSTROID, SEED PEOPLE (1992), and DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT (1994). The last of these is a mildly amusing horror-comedy, featuring a female demon who ventures up from Hell and falls in love with a mortal man. The basic concept (the denizens of Hell are demonic, but they are doing God’s work by punishing sinners) is actually rather interesting.
That’s all for now. Since Captain Sparky has defeated the flying saucers, all is safe.
Or is it?
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Laserblast 4.2.2: The Sorcerer and the White Snake, Paranormal Activity 4 on demand, Dredd 3D TV

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Interested in what new horror, fantasy, and science fiction films are available on home video this week? You have two ways to find out: listen in to this week’s podcast, or read on. In fact, why not do both?

In the Cinefantastique Laserblast Podcast 4.2.2, Dan Persons and Steve Biodrowski run down genre titles coming out on DVD, Blu-ray, and Video on Demand for the week of Tuesday, January 15. Biodrowski reviews THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE – currently available as a “pre-theatrical rental” with a couple of big-screen engagements scheduled for February 8. Persons explores the potential of watching DREDD in 3D without a 3D television set, by way of the 3D Video Wizard Console, which translated the signal from your 3D Blu-ray or streaming service into a picture that can be viewed with blue-and-red 3D glasses.

After that, Biodrowski offers some home video recommendations for the late actor Jon Finch, who passed away last week. Finch starred in Alfred Hitcock’s FRENZY and Roman Polanski’s MACBETH, both of which are available on DVD and through Amazon Instant Viewing (click here for FRENZY and here for MACBETH). Finch also played the young male lead in THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), which is available on both DVD and through Netflix Instant Video. The DVD (which also contains COUNTESS DRACULA and which you can purchase here) features a nice audio commentary by Ingrid Pitt, who starred as the voracious, voluptuous, and yet vulnerable Countess Mircalla Karnstein. A Blu-ray release is scheduled for April 30; you can pre-order now. Sadly, Finch’s most eccentric and interesting science fiction film, THE FINAL PROGRAMME (a.k.a. THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH) is currently out of print, although old copies may be available for purchase at some outlets.

Next up: a new feature titled “Pinch-Hitter Films.” What are Pinch-Hitter Films? As the name implies (a baseball term), Pinch-Hitter Films substitute in a pinch for other films. If you have watched your favorite classic so many times that you never need to see it again, but you still feel a hunger for the sort of entertainment value it used to provide before you exhausted it through repeat viewings, you resort to a Pinch-Hitter Film.

  • Biodrowski offers up MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), directed by Tod Browing and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Mora, as a pinch-hitter for DRACULA (1931), directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is no match for its predecessor, but it is a wonderfully atmospheric example of old-fashioned black-and-white Gothic horror, and it does surpass DRACULA in one or two ways (e.g., it actually shows the man-to-bat transformation only suggested in DRACULA).
  • Persons suggests that SILENT RUNNING (1972) is an adequate substitute for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Although not of the same stature, SILENT RUNNING is a sort of unofficial successor to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, directed by Douglas Trumbull, who provided special effects for SPACE ODYSSEY (in fact, SILENT RUNNING’s sequence of a spaceship passing through the rings of Saturn was originally intended for the earlier film).

EARLY RELEASE STEAMING AND DOWNLOADS

Not mentioned in the podcast but worth noting here, are a handful of “Early Release” home video titles. “Early Release” is the designation being given to films that are made available to be purchased via digital download or cloud streaming prior to arriving on Blu-ray and/or DVD. The general pattern seems to be a two-week window during which titles are priced to sell, followed by release in other home video formats, including rental options.

The most high-profile early release for Tuesday, January 15 is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, which is now available in two versions: the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut that adds ten minutes to the running time. (Note: the theatrical version is available through iTunes but not Amazon.com, which offers only the unrated version.) Blu-ray discs and DVDs of both cuts will arrive on January 29.

Also available for early online viewing and download is HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the computer-animated comedy about the titular establishment where monsters gather to avoid humans, until one stumbles in by accident and falls in love with Dracula’s daughter. The film is currently available for purchase in both high-def and standard-def versions at iTunes; Amazon.com has only the standard-def version. Rental options, along with DVDs and Blu-ray discs, will arrive on January 29.

Lastly, THE AWAKENING – the excellent 2011 British ghost story that arrived in U.S. theatres last year – is also now available for early release purchase. Amazon.com has a standard-def version for $11.99; iTunes has the same offer for the same price, plus a high-def version for $19.99. Again, the DVD and Blu-ray release will occur on January 29, at which time you should also be able to rent the film film through your preferred VOD method, whether digital download or instant streaming.

January 15 Home Video: Paranormal Activity 4, Possession and more

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click to purchase

POSSESSION, which played in U.S. theatres last August, hits video store shelves on Tuesday, January 15. The supernatural thriller, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick arrives in two versions: the first contains a DVD, a digital copy, and UltraViolet; the second contains Blu-ray, Digital Copy, and UltraViolet.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 becomes available for download in two different versions: the original theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut. Blu-ray discs and DVDs will follow two weeks later on January 29.
Other titles arriving on home video this week are:
MERLIN: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON on DVD and on Blu-ray.
BEING HUMAN: SEASON 4 on DVD and on Blu-ray.
30 NIGHTS OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY WITH THE DEVIL on DVD and on Blu-ray.
THE BISHOP’S WIFE, the 1947 classic starring Cary Grant and David Niven, arrives on DVD from Warner Home Video. A previous DVD was released by MGM in 2001. The film is also now available for instant streaming.
Also of interest: Woody Allen’s TO ROME, WITH LOVE arrives on DVD, on Blu-ray, and Video on Demand. Although not, strictly speaking, a genre effort, several of its episodes straddle the borderline, especially the sequences in which Alex Baldwin’s character seems to meet a younger version of himself, reliving events from his past.
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