Thursday, September 18, 2014

Movie Review: LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET



LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET
aka THE FUN HOUSE
1973/77, Barrel Entertainment, DD-2.0/MA/+, $34.95, 77m 25s, DVD-0

By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #94

Few films in the annals of horror have a history quite like this no-budget cult legend from writer/producer/director/star Roger Watkins. Shot MOS on 16mm as THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL for about $850, the picture was first cut together into a preliminary ver­sion running 175m. Watkins and the other actors dubbed-in their dialogue, and musical cues from the Ross-Gaffney post­ production studio were dropped in. The director then shortened the running time by an hour, in the hopes of getting the film screened at Cannes. However, a lawsuit filed by a person briefly associated with the production resulted in a three-year delay, after which time Watkins struck a deal with a company called Cin­ematic to finally get the movie into theaters. However, these individuals took Watkins’ origi­nal cut and chopped out an additional 38m, blowing up to 35mm only the footage they wanted and then (apparently) discarding the rest. Evidently feeling that the first half lacked sufficient shock value to hold viewers’ attention, the company added flash-forward gore shots from later in the picture over dialogue scenes in the opening reel. They also proceeded to shoddily re-dub all of the dialogue, utilizing other actors, and tacked on a “square up” voiceover during the final moments that re­moved any ambiguity about the villains’ fate. Greatly disheartened by these drastic changes (over which he had no say), Watkins washed his hands of the movie and ordered that his name not be used. For reasons unknown, Cinematic went one step further by creat­ing a cast and crew listing con­sisting entirely of fake names. Under the new handle THE FUN HOUSE, their truncated 77m version played regionally in the American South, doing respectable business. The dis­tributor then decided to cash in on Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT by appro­priating that picture’s infamous “ It’s Only a Movie” ad campaign and adopting the new title LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, the name by which Watkins’ movie is best known today.

While a video release often helps to clear up an obscure movie’s history, this was not the case with Watkins’ film, which debuted on the format, circa 1982. The distributor, a short-lived outfit called Sun Video, proceeded to issue it under both the FUN HOUSE and LAST HOUSE monikers. If that were not confusing enough, some copies of each edition contained the “com­plete” 77m version of the pic­ture, while others were missing a 1m 31s gore sequence that was dropped from the theat­rical release to secure an “R” rating. Around the same time, the complete cut was issued in Canada as LAST HOUSE (the title quite obviously video burned onto a blue screen) by Marquis Video, in an oversized clamshell case that trumpeted the movie’s rejection by the Ontario Censor Board. Com­ing in the early days of home video, the Sun and Marquis tapes were duplicated in small numbers and never very widely stocked. As the picture’s cult cachet grew, bootleggers began offering dupes of these ver­sions. Pirates also started hawking an especially bad Venezuelan video release that was burdened by both Span­ish subtitles and an incorrect projection speed, the latter prompting claims of it being a “longer uncut version.” (Well, it was longer...) Cin­ematic had closed up shop by this point and the few 35mm prints that were struck began to disappear. Unable to locate the negative, Barrel Entertain­ment utilized what is appar­ently the last surviving 35mm print (belonging to Canadian collector Mitch Davis) for their transfer. A good amount of digital post-production was re­quired to correct the picture’s color (which had turned pink and red) and an attempt was made to heighten the clarity of the images and clean up some of the scratches and speckles. Colors are pale and wear is still very much evident but the transfer (which pre­sents the film in its original 1.33:1 ratio) is a noticeable improvement over previous video releases. In actuality, most champions of the film be­lieve that THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (onscreen title) derives much of its effect from the fact that it is not pris­tine or even up to the techni­cal standards of your average low-budget release, looking little better than the horrific Super 8 movies created by the film’s antagonists.

Released after a one year stretch in the pen for drug deal­ing, small-time pimp/pom film­ maker Terry Hawkins (Watkins, billed as “Steven Morrison”) de­cides that is he ready to give the world “something that nobody ever dreamed of before.” He looks up his old buddy, Ken (Ken Fisher/“Dennis Crawford”), a slaughterhouse worker fired for committing bestiality, and cam­eraman Bill (Bill Schlageter/ “Lawrence Bornman”), detailing plans to make some weird mov­ies in a nearby abandoned building. For “actors,” they plan to use the Palmers (a pair of upper class deviants who stage S&M shows in their home), fey pom broker Steve Randall (Steve Sweet/“Alex Kregar”), and adult film actress Suzie Knowles (Suzie Neumeyer/ “Geraldine Saunders”). As a warm-up for the main attraction, Terry and his followers (who now also include two bored girls look­ing for new thrills) murder the building’s blind caretaker (film historian Paul M. Jensen/“Paul Phillips”), capturing his death on film. However, their first victim’s demise is almost a mercy killing compared to what awaits the others.

It is difficult to think of an­other American film quite like this. Produced completely out­side the system by a director who admits to speeding on crystal meth for most of the shoot, LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET operates free from the bonds of any moral, civic, or commercial responsibility. Where other films might pull back, cut away or, at the very least, introduce a posi­tive character, comment, image or humorous aside (however dark), this one simply keeps going down a macabre road with the single-minded determination of a lunatic trying to claw his way through a concrete wall. (The spell is broken only in the final seconds by the aforementioned voiceover.) Similarly, this is not a film with a “point” in the tradi­tional sense, unless one were to try and offer it up as a cinematic screed about the depths of de­pravity to which human beings are capable of descending. While we will probably never know whether Watkins intended to make some kind of statement in his original cut (although he is happy to discuss what has been lost, Watkins never really elabo­rates on this in interviews), the 77m fragment that survives teems with such unrelenting ug­liness, some viewers will dismiss the movie as lurid junk for mind­less gore fans (as was our reac­tion, upon first encountering it 20 years ago). All of the main characters here have done time or committed some act that mainstream society would find reprehensible (even the blind caretaker is characterized as someone who will happily sell out, if offered “a piece of ass” ) and the acts of horror and deg­radation committed here are dis­tinguished not only by their repugnancy but by sheer per­versity; in addition to the “tra­ditional” slit throat and a dismembering/disembowelment, a woman in blackface at a party is whipped by a hunch­back, Steve is forced to fellate a severed deer’s hoof, etc. Thankfully, amidst all of this overwhelming depravity and seediness is some genu­inely admirable craftsmanship.

Although LAST HOUSE was produced practically on the fly, the camerawork is not nearly as haphazard as one might expect. Several of the compositions are striking in their use of light and shapes, and Watkins’ decision to have the spotlights used by the “production” shining directly at the viewer during the kill­ings heightens the voyeuris­tic atmosphere. The masks worn by the killers (inspired by the director’s love for Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE) lend a surreal edge to the horror and, by starring in his own film as a maniacal director, Watkins also earns points for anticipating the re­cursive horror trend of that followed twenty years later (“I’m directing this fucking movie!”).

Barrel has really gone all-out here with a terrific double disc special edition that covers every aspect of the production, while also supplying some surprising bonuses. An audio commentary features Watkins and the ever- incorrigible Chas Balun (the evil brain behind DEEP RED and THE GORE SCORE) discussing the pic­ture and its history. Watkins (who turns out to be an intelligent, well-read man with streaks of narcissism and intensity that sur­face periodically) states from the get-go that he hates watching this version of the movie and may not have anything interesting to say about it. However, Balun quickly puts him at ease and the director clearly enjoys himself throughout much of the talk. In between wry quips (“It’s almost Kubrickian in its monolithic sim­plicity!”), Balun coaxes a num­ber of interesting anecdotes from Watkins about the hardships he endured during and after produc­tion. The latter also provides the real names of the participants and displays genuine pride for some of the set-ups, previously impossible to appreciate due to poor release prints and uncor­rected video transfers. The in­creased clarity also makes the gore more potent (as Balun notes, “this is far bloodier...and the blood is red, too!”). The di­rector (who apprenticed with Freddie Francis, Otto Preminger, and Nicholas Ray) also mentions that his cut opened with a great deal of genuine slaughterhouse footage (only one brief bit sur­vives in this edition) and that some of the Manson Family crimes were in the back of his mind when coming up with the story. It is an informative and entertaining track that does “deflate the myth” somewhat, but fans will find it gratifying nonetheless.

Also included on Disc 1 are the opening and closing title se­quences for THE FUN HOUSE (taken from the Sun Video re­lease), the theatrical trailer (which only runs 20s, consists entirely of footage from another of Watkins’ films, and looks suspi­ciously like an ancient off-air re­cording of a TV spot), and “They Dwell Beneath” (4m 51s), a mu­sic video for the dreadful heavy metal band, Necrophagia, that includes some clips from LAST HOUSE. An especially rare extra is a 1975 appearance by Watkins and Jensen on THE JOE FRANKLIN SHOW (9m 40s). The latter was promoting his book BORIS KARLOFF AND HIS FILMS and gets the lion’s share of the spotlight here, but Watkins does speak about his plans for the picture, none of which came to pass, unfortunately (the bit ap­pears to have been recorded on an ancient U-Matic player, so it is in B&W and features frequent visual distortion but is likely all that still exists of the program). Watkins and Ken Fisher are heard in a radio interview (54m 36s) from February 1973. The program’s host is utterly clueless but the cocksure, not entirely coherent Watkins is amusingly outspoken, saying potentially li­belous things about Roman Polanski, Nicholas Ray, Dennis Hopper, and Jean-Luc Godard (“Sloppy, with a minimum of tal­ent”). He also calls EASY RIDER “a terrible film,” THE LAST MOVIE “one of the worst movies ever made,” and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD “pretty bad.” The equally headstrong Fisher, meanwhile, states that the rushes of their project are twenty times bet­ter than THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (“a piece of junk that’s making a fortune”). However, the pair do have some interesting observations about the films and audiences of the day and those who like the movie will find it worthwhile to struggle through the bad recording. Rounding out the disc is a photo gallery (which includes shots of Watkins with the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on the sets of THE SCARS OF DRACULA and THE CREEPING FLESH, plus posters and video box covers) and the existing 16mm outtakes from the film. Running 18m 46s, the si­lent footage is only moderately interesting but does serve to show how much better the movie looked before it was subjected to its sub-standard 35mm blow-up.

Normally, this bounty would be more than enough to consti­tute a “Special Edition” but there is still another entire disc of supplementary material to pe­ruse. Four films Watkins made (three in 8mm color and one in 16mm) are included, starting with MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, which he shot in his parents’ basement at age ten. None are presented with the original au­dio, due to the impossibility of clearing the music used in them. The director does provide com­mentary over each (and is joined by Balun on BLACK SNOW) and we get a glimpse of some themes and images that would crop up in LAST HOUSE (a fifth short, AMPUTEE GRAND PRIX, had to be dropped at the last minute for legal reasons). “At Home With Terry Hawkins” is a collection of secretly recorded telephone calls (grouped into 40 chapters) Watkins made during the film­ing that detail the trials and tribu­lations he faced (everything from trying to secure locations to han­dling mundane inconveniences like a stalled car), how he dealt with his actors, etc. It is a unique document of the production that is worth the listen. 05-23-88 (27m 32s) is the surviving fragment of an aborted video documentary featuring the absolute worst camerawork you can imagine. Coming off of an ugly divorce and depressed by the fact that he has been forced to work primarily in the porn in­dustry, Watkins is not entirely able to hide his bitterness and sheepishly acknowledges the misogyny that creeps up in his work and his conversations here. Engaging and a bit macabre, he discusses everything from Carson McCullers (and visits her grave) to loneliness to death. Using your “up” arrow on the menu page for 05-23-88 reveals a finger print in the upper right hand corner. Clicking on it provides a look at Watkins and Balun recording the commentary, as well as the former having drinks with David Szulkin (author of WES CRAVEN’S LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT: THE MAKING OF A CULT CLASSIC) and others. Finally, tucked inside the double keep case (which features original cover art by Stephen R. Bissette) is an illustrated 34 page booklet in which HEADPRESS editor David Kerekes discusses his obses­sion with the film (which he was not entirely sure even really ex­isted at first) that eventually led him to travel 6000 miles to America and meet with Watkins in person. This is followed by interviews with the director, Ken Fisher, Ken Rouse (who plays the whip-cracking hunchback), Steve Sweet, and Paul M. Jensen that offer additional information and reminiscences. There is little repetition of the materials found on the discs, and the booklet—whose contents also appeared in HEADPRESS #23— is an excellent complement to a lovingly obsessive and highly satisfying release that is sure to increase the profile of a unique, unyielding movie.

[This went out of print with the demise of Barrel Entertainment. However, Vinegar Syndrome has announced a forthcoming Blu-ray/DVD release of the picture derived from a cleaner and more complete source and presumably boasting a similar bounty of extras]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Movie Review: VENGEANCE (1968)

VENGEANCE
Joko invoca Dio... e muori  
“Joko Invokes God... and You Die” 
aka ROKO'S REVENGE
1968, Image Entertainment #ALF9858DVD, DD-1.0/LB/16:9, $24.99, 100m 9s, DVD-A

By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #72

Although he may be better re­membered today for his peplum roles and a series of dreadful ninja films from the mid-’80s, Richard Harrison also toplined some no­table Euro Westerns, including this well-crafted effort from co-writer/ director Antonio Margheriti and LISA AND THE DEVIL producer Alfredo Leone. After his friend Richie (Alberto Dell’Acqua, aka “Robert Widmark”) is drawn and quartered by a five man lynch mob, half-white/half-Cheyenne gunman Joko Barrett (Harrison) begins to track down his killers, beginning with the snivelling coward Domingo (a perfectly cast Luciano Pigozzi, aka “Alan Collins” ). Card sharp Yuma (Goffredo “Freddy” Unger, the stuntman behind the killer’s mask in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) is the next to die, his throat slit by Joko’s spurs. The trail of ven­geance continues when Joko ap­points himself sheriff of a bleak and lawless town, holding the beauti­ful showgirl Jane (THE SECT’S Mariangela Giordano) in jail as bait to get bandito Laredo, who has just purchased the woman and is not going to let a redhead go to waste. Flashbacks reveal that Joko and Richie participated in a gold robbery, orchestrated by Mendoza (Claudio Camaso, in a character­ization quite similar to his brother Gian Maria Volonte's simmering maniac from FOR A FEW DOL­LARS MORE), an unmatched safe­ cracker known as “The Professor,” who died when the job went wrong, resulting from an act of betrayal by one of the partners. The next target on the list is The Kid (the dependably villainous Werner Pocath), who unsuccessfully chal­lenges Joko to a most unortho­dox duel in a saloon... after leaving him to bake in the sun for six hours with his eyes pried open. That leaves only one possible suspect...and a Pinkerton investigator (DJANGO THE BASTARD's Paolo Gozlino) who must ensure that Joko stays alive, if he is ever go­ing to learn the whereabouts of the purloined gold.

Nothing in VENGEANCE tran­scends the genre, but the per­formances and production are laudable and the film is usually ranked with AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (1969) as the best of the director’s Westerns. Although re­quired to heed Clint Eastwood and Franco Nero’s strong and silent archetypes (right on down to the five days’ growth of beard), Harrison still cuts a fine figure, re­maining just handsome and sen­sitive enough to retain audience empathy (though his baby blue eyes certainly work against the il­lusion of Joko being a halfbreed). Cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini only offers up a handful of fanciful compositions (most nota­bly, the aforementioned throat slit­ting, which is depicted with an inspired POV shot) but fills the scope frame adeptly; the climac­tic confrontation in a sulphur mine is particularly atmospheric. Similarly, Margheriti offers no grand directorial flourishes but does incorporate some inciden­tal touches. Of particular note is the simple way in which he adds immediacy and retains interest during the long flash­back. The sequence is ac­companied by Carlo Savina’s lovely score and Margheriti has Giordano’s character actually playing it on guitar in the back­ground, while Harrison relates the events that led to Richie’s death. There is also a nice gag at the very end (showing how Joko does one last disservice to his now-dead opponent) that seems more like on-set improvisation than a scripted act.  

VENGEANCE (which did not hit US theatres until 1972 and has not enjoyed a legitimate domestic video release until now) is presented in anamorphic 2.31:1 and generally looks nice, with occasional, varying degrees of wear on the source material; the sound (apparently derived from the optical track of the print) is passable. Night sequences are sometimes impenetrable, but they also looked this way on older foreign transfers we have seen. Amusingly, the American poster reproduced on the cover of the snapper case prominently fea­tures the credit “A Leone Produc­tion,” apparently in the hope that patrons might confusion this with the other Leone’s films. One of the chapter titles incorrectly lists Harrison’s character as “Rocco,” though his gunbelt carries the initials “J.B.” There are no ex­tras.

[This version is no longer available, but Code Red has since released a fresh transfer of the picture on DVD]

Friday, August 29, 2014

Alpha Video Reviews


With resources like Internet Archive and YouTube and those gigantic Mill Creek DVD packs, there cannot be much of a market left for single DVD public domain releases.  Nonetheless, 
Pennsylvania-based Alpha Video continues to issue a regular slate of unprotected movies and TV programs packaged in their characteristically colorful covers. They switched to DVD-Rs a while back, but their prices are still pretty hard to beat and they occasionally manage to still come up with rarities that have not yet appeared from other labels. Here are reviews of a few of their titles, which were originally published in Video Watchdog.


CITY OF MISSING GIRLS

1941, Alpha Video, DD-2.0/+, $5.95, 73m 50s, DVD-0
By John Charles

While erudite police captain McVeigh (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’s H.B. Warner) and assistant district attorney Archer (James Horton) gather enough evidence to build a strong case against notorious thug “King” Peterson (Philip Van Zandt), wise girl reporter Nora (Astrid Allwyn) conducts her own, more straightforward investigation into the murder and/or disappearance of several young women. All were somehow associated with The Crescent School of Fine Arts, a talent agency Peterson uses as a very lucrative front, one he is willing to maintain through murderous means.

It was commonplace for producers from this time to go back and forth with the Hays Office on what could and could not be depicted in their movies. However, the makers of this low-budget Select Attractions thriller faced a particular challenge in that the story revolves around a white slavery/prostitution ring, not exactly the sort of premise that generally got one a Production Code seal without a fight and much trimming of prurient material. This not being a Dwain Esper roadshow special, that particular minefield is skirted via some amusingly vague dialogue about “booking acts” and putting girls under contract in “out-of-town nightclubs.” Elmer Clifton (SLAVES IN BONDAGE) provides his usual no-frills direction and this rather torpid programmer is knocked down an additional peg by a terrible organ score that is so infrequent, it might as well not be there at all. Thankfully, old pro Warner adds considerable charm to his fatherly authority figure and the dialogue occasionally offers the sort of snappy patter one expects from this genre.

Master tape damage is sometimes apparent and the B & W presentation looks grainy and mildly battered. Contrasts are harsh enough to occasionally obscure facial detail. The low end is mildly distorted but, overall, the audio track gets passing marks. Alpha’s regular catalog section is included.
 

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS

1954, Alpha Video, DD-2.0/+, $5.95, 72m 30s, DVD-0
By John Charles

Roger Corman’s third effort as a producer, this modest but entertaining crime meller was the first offering from American Releasing Corporation, which would soon change its moniker to American International Pictures. Traveling south in order to participate in a road race that wraps-up in Mexico, pretty Jaguar driver Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone) is kidnapped by escaped fugitive Frank Webster (John Ireland). On the lam for a murder he didn’t commit, Frank is anxious to get across the border and the race provides the perfect cover. However, a last minute ban on female drivers means that he will have to get behind the wheel himself.

The screenplay (based on a story by Corman) follows the usual structure for this sort of programmer, but includes plenty of caustic repartee for Ireland and Malone, providing some amusement for the viewer before their inevitable romance. While some of the driving sequences are depicted via stock footage and rear projection, a good amount of the race was actually staged for the movie, giving the project more excitement and production value than expected. In exchange for a pay cut, Ireland was allowed to co-helm the picture with Edward Sampson (miscredited as “Edwards Sampson”); this was the first directorial credit for Sampson and the last for both men. Bruno Ve Sota makes the most of his brief screentime as an obnoxious trucker and Jonathan Haze appears briefly in the final reel. Corman cameos as a policeman at a roadblock, but a break in the source material here wipes out half of his appearance.

There is the expected degree of print wear, but the image and sound are reasonable for a public domain stand-by. Alpha’s ubiquitous catalog feature is present and accounted for. The best edition of this title we have seen remains the crisp and largely clean transfer that used to air on SpeedVision’s LOST DRIVE-IN program.

THE HOODLUM

1951, Alpha Video, DD-2.0, $5.99, 61m 43s, DVD-0

By John Charles
             
His real-life behavior sometimes uncomfortably mirrored the vicious lowlifes he played onscreen but there was no questioning Lawrence Tierney’s qualifications as one of Hollywood’s finest character players. This engrossing Eagle Lion programmer re-teamed Tierney with German emigre Max Nosseck, who had previously directed the imposing actor in the PRC cult classic DILLINGER (1945) and KILL OR BE KILLED (1950). In THE HOODLUM, Tierney is career criminal Vincent Lubeck, whose term in stir for armed robbery is unexpectedly cut in half when his elderly mother (Lisa Golm) appeals to the parole board. Still reeling from his impoverished upbringing, Lubeck is soon making time with bank secretary Eileen (Marjorie Riordan) and formulating a scheme to knock off an armored car shipment. In between ironing out the final details of the job, he makes advances on Rosa (Allene Roberts), the innocent, impressionable fiancée of his hard-working, straight-laced brother (played by the actor's real-life sibling, Edward Tierney). Some exchanges seem more heavy-handed than hard boiled (particularly Tierney’s saturnine speeches about how an ex-con has nowhere to turn), but the screenplay also incorporates elements and dialogue that are surprisingly adult for a 1951 picture, and the expected noir trappings, courtesy of cinematographer Clark Ramsay (MA BARKER’S KILLER BROOD), are spare but effective. Edward is not a patch on Lawrence (or Scott Brady) but the other performers are effective, with Golm getting the dramatic spotlight as the long-suffering immigrant mother blinded by her love for a son who could never be rehabilitated.

The presentation of this B&W feature is standard public domain fare, with a soft image, weak contrasts, and plenty of wear on the source print and optical soundtrack; it ain’t pretty but it’s workable. Alpha’s cover art is usually exemplary but the collage of gaudily colorized pictures here look awfully tacky.


MIDNIGHT MANHUNT

1945, Alpha Video, DD-2.0, $7.98, 62m 25s, DVD-0

By John Charles

While the storyline and cast suggest Monogram or PRC, this enjoyable whodunit actually hails from the Pine-Thomas B-movie unit at Paramount. When the body of notorious trigger man Joe Wells turns up in the alley outside The Last Gangster Wax Museum and then disappears shortly thereafter, rival newshounds/ex-sweethearts Sue Gallagher (DETOUR's Ann Savage) and Pete Willis (STRANGE IMPERSONATION's William Gargan) smell an exclusive. Sue is so determined to score points with her editor, she moves the corpse so that her photographer can get some snaps of it before any of the competitors. Unfortunately for her, Jelke (George Zucco), the man responsible for plugging the victim in the first place, follows the bloodstains to Sue's apartment above the museum. Confronted with a pistol in her face, she agrees to take Jelke to the body's new location but it is no longer there. In fact, ensuing events reveal Joe Wells to be remarkably mobile for a dead man. Savage and Gargan do well in their time-honored roles, matching wits with impatient editors and flatfoots, while also trying to outsmart cool-headed assassin Zucco. Leo Gorcey ("I figured this whole thing out through the process of mental reduction") co-stars as the museum's handyman, whose hair-brained schemes prevent his highly stressed boss (Charles Halton) from getting some desperately needed sleep. William C. Thomas (I COVER BIG TOWN) directed.

The transfer of this public domain feature is soft, dupey, and grainy, with ample wear and several perturbing breaks in the 16mm TV source materials. Most distractingly of all, a hair waves around the left side of the screen for a couple of minutes during the final reel. The audio is merely adequate and there are no extras.
 


MURDER IN THE NIGHT
aka MURDER IN SOHO
1939, Alpha Video, DD-2.0/+, $5.95, 69m 47s, DVD-0
By John Charles

This UK quickie blends together elements from British and American crime movies, but the result is not as intriguing as one would expect such a combo to be. Formerly based in Chicago, suave kingpin Steve Marco (Jack LaRue) now enjoys a posh lifestyle as proprietor of a ritzy nightspot in Soho. After mingling with the affluent patrons one evening (“Never let a sucker think he isn’t appreciated”), Marco deals with a blackmailing subordinate in the usual fashion. Scotland Yard drops by shortly thereafter in the form of Inspector Hammond (Martin Walker), who has been keeping a close watch on Marco’s activities, and knows something is obviously up after witnessing the suspicious antics of the mobster’s flunkies. Working from inside tips provided by the dead man’s ex (Sandra Storme), Hammond plots to trip up the image-conscious thug.
                                                                                       
Directed in workmanlike fashion by Norman Lee (THE DOOR WITH SEVEN LOCKS), this is a lethargic effort more concerned with colorful character bits than crafting an exciting or even especially interesting yarn. The humor is not barbed enough to carry the film, but the supporting cast is game. The best work comes from Arthur O’Connell and Edmon Ryan (who went on to play the transplanted American cop in DARK EYES OF LONDON that same year), who do the best work as Marco’s right-hand dimwits, while future “Q” Bernard Lee also acquits himself well as an enterprising reporter/would-be comedy writer.

The source print (which bears the alternate title, MURDER IN SOHO) has plenty of wear and a few disruptive breaks. The end credit sequence also appears to have been disassembled and then put back together in the wrong order. Contrasts are overly hot in spots and pixellation is also evident in some backgrounds. The audio is adequate and Alpha’s catalog feature is included.

RAMAR OF THE JUNGLE VOLUME ONE

1953, Alpha Video, DD-2.0, $5.99, 105m 1s, DVD-0

By John Charles

Alpha has collected four episodes from this modest adventure series, which stars Jon Hall as Tom Reynolds, the titular “Great White Doctor.” The program has all of the deficiencies one would expect (stereotypical natives, grossly mismatching stock footage, elementary scenarios, and stilted acting) but remains mildly enjoyable nostalgia. In “Dark Venture” (26m), an insane Eastern European scientist (Veronica Pataky) plots to unleash atomic gas on the area’s tribes, thus providing instant radiation victims to test her new serum on. Reynolds sets out alone to foil the plot but is captured; his colleague, Professor Ogden (Ray Montgomery), and some natives must act quickly to stop her. “Voice from the Past” (26m 23s) finds Reynolds and Ogden trying to aid a white man haunted by the spirit of his wife, who died under mysterious circumstances. Woody Strode cuts an impressive figure as a chieftain determined to see jungle law prevail. Strode also appears in “King of the Watus” (26m 13s) as a displaced leader anxious to eliminate a white man who has fooled the tribe into thinking he is immortal. The most entertaining episode, “Lady of the Leopards” (26m 23s) is a campy delight about a deranged woman (Suzanne Dalbert) who turns homicidal under the full moon. Clad in a leopard skin, she shreds unsuspecting victims with a trusty claw glove, but her husband (ROBOT MONSTER’s John Mylong) inexplicably refuses to take her back home for treatment. Each installment was directed by poverty row specialist Sam Newfield (NABONGA, WHITE PONGO).

The 16mm source prints display light wear but the image (apparently derived from a VHS source) is reasonably good and the audio adequate. Only a single chapter has been provided for each episode and the case lists an incorrect running time of 95m. As of this writing, three more volumes are also now available.