Friday, January 30, 2015


"Take the Express Train to TERROR !!!"

"50,000 Years of Death Stalks the Subways !!!"

   An ancient Hong Kong demon stalks the NYC subway and the task falls to kung-fu "master" Warhawk Tanzania (!) to defeat the sneaker wearing monster - helped along by some sideline ranting & raving by none other then Brother Theodore, this features some of the most hilariously inept king fu ever committed to celluloid (that is compared to Warhawk's only other film 1975's FORCE FOUR) along with editing and dubbing that would make Doris Wishman proud. Filled with countless WTF moments of cinema ineptness the highly entertaining slice of low budget 1970's NYC exploitation has finally got a nifty widescreen release courtesy of Code Red.
    Directed by TV producer Barry Rosen (who's only other directorial credit was 1976's THE YUM YUM GIRLS) it was later released as GANG WARS with the horror elements played down in the trailer to cash in on 1979's THE WARRIORS. When watching the film at first it seems like it was originally shot as just a straight up urban action film with the horror/demon stuff added at some point well into shooting (or even afterwards), but the editing is so daffy and nonsensical that in the end I was thinking that it just the way it's was put together.

   Seemingly filmed as though each days shooting brought an entirely new script into play, as characters wonder into shots of an empty room while talking, while at some points music intrudes on dialogue drowning it out and the same group of Oriental actors to seem to pop up at various points in the film playing different roles in the film. Bizarrely, the film has some occasional flashes of near brilliance (or at the very least near competency) with some documentary style shots of mid 70's NYC including the theatre marques of 42nd St.
  Warhawk Tanzania (who completely disappeared after his two films) plays Luke who along with his buddy Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan) travels to Hong Kong (which looks suspiciously like upstate New York) to receive some sort of masters training in kung fu. While their meditating out in the countryside Rodan discovers an ancient medallion down in a hole and pockets it, taking in back to NYC. In a prologue set in 200 B.C. (!) China a group of monks with samurai swords were shown placing a large crate like casket in the hole, placing the medallion on it and then finishing up by having them all commit suicide.

   It seems that by removing the medallion Rodan unleashed a demon that had been buried in the hole with the demon now needing to retrieve the medallion in order to become invincible and/or live forever (its never really made clear exactly what the demon's purpose is). Sneaking back to NYC aboard a ship by possessing a passenger (which causes his eyeballs to turn into ping pong balls with black dots painted on them), the demon once back in the city staggers around a bit, then heads down into the subway. Once down there in turns into full tilt monster mode and begins attacking people, including a would-be rapist who gets his head torn off and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD director David E. Durston playing an out of town businessman.
   At the same time Rodan begins getting into hassles with a Chinese gang and Warhawk's been dealing with a policeman protagonist/friend who's also been investigating the subway deaths (with Brother Theodore showing up at the crime scenes to rant a bit). Warhawk, after visiting an elderly Chinese man (sporting some of the worst old age make-up in the history of cinema) learns the secrets of the demon and putting on his gold bib overalls heads down into the subway to do battle.
  Clocking in at just a little over 80 minutes it manages to jam an amazing amount of disparate plot elements onto its running time as it even trots out the classic,"discarded pets turned into monsters in the subway" urban myth. The fight sequences are seemingly choreographed as if the rehearsals were filmed & cut into the film instead of the actual final staged scenes with slo-motion movements, missed hits and gentle rolling falls. The demon costume is thankfully kept mostly in the dark, until an unfortunate  camera shot shows him outfitted in a pair of tennis shoes.

  Combining a leading man with all the charisma of a concrete slab, ultra low budget DIY effects along with the horrible acting & editing would all seem to be a recipe for an agonizingly long viewing experience but DEVIL'S EXPRESS is just so schizophrenically crazy that you can't help but watch in awe-struck admiration (and Brother Theodore is just the icing on the cake). Even the obvious filler sequences such as an old bag lady wondering down a subway car while yelling at the passengers all have an entertaining off kilter goofiness to them.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Oak Drive-In's Favorite 2014 Catalog Releases

 In no particular order here's some of the catalog releases from the previous year that made me feel all warm & giddy inside. 

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 40th Anniversary 1974 (Dark Sky Blu)  After 40 years of sequels, prequels, re-boots and remakes of varying lesser quality nothing has diminished Tobe Hopper's original claustrophobic & sweat soaked horror classic (along with a surprising undercurrent of dark comedy that becomes more apparent with each viewing). A new transfer from the 16mm negative brings forth the hellish proceedings in startlingly clarity and plus there's some nifty new extras. Made all the more poignant by the passing of star Marilyn Burns earlier in 2014.

MR. MAJESTYK 1974 (Kino Cinema Classics Blu)  Thanks to a licensing deal with MGM Kino has quickly turned into one of the best catalog labels with releases such as this. Beyond DEATH WISH when most people think of in-his-prime Charles Bronson the first one that comes up is the very excellent THE MECHANIC (released this year by Twilight Time), but for me this is the 70's Bronson film. In this masterfully simple screenplay by Elmore Leonard melon farmer Chuck squares off against a mob hit man in the form of ultimate 1970's bad-ass Al Lettieri. Plus along with the wonderfully weaselly Paul Koslo, there's also direction by Richard Fleischer, a great score by Charles Bernstein (see also WHITE LIGHTNING below) and that famous white Ford pick-up.

THE COMPLETE DR. PHIBES 1971/1972 (Arrow Films Region B Blu)  Although these are now both available from Scream Factory on their two excellent Vincent Price collections (and soon to be released separately by Arrow) this beautifully put together limited collectors edition is the way to go for those Phibes fans with region 2 compatibility. After declining to do another "Poe" film for A.I.P (THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE), Price instead chose to work with director Robert Fuest on 1971's THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. With its marvelous cast, psychedelic Art Deco set design and a witty script with just the right touches of both the macabre and black comedy this gave Price's career a huge resurgence. The 1972 follow-up THE RETURN OF DR. PHIBES while still fun, sadly suffers from studio tampering (which is explained in detail in a highly informative commentary by Tim Lucas). Along with THE HOUSE OF WAX, THE FLY and the above mentioned Scream factory sets, this has been a banner past couple of years for Vincent Price on blu-ray.

ACROSS 110TH STREET 1972 (Kino Cinema Classics Blu)  Most often categorized as Blaxploitation  (there's lots of loud suits & big hats hereabouts), this is actually more of a gritty 1970's NYC crime drama/buddy cop film with Anthony Quinn and Yaphett Kotto as a pair of personality clashing police detectives who are assigned to investigate the bloody robbery of a mob bank in Harlem. Featuring a great scenery chewing Tony Franciosa as an ambitious mobster who's also on the trail of the money, some wonderfully grungy 70's New York settings and great turns by Paul Benjamin as one of the heist men and gravely voiced character actor Richard Ward. Plus there's the great score by J.J. Johnson with the classic Bobby Womack title track. Originally released on DVD by MGM as part of their "Soul Cinema" line, its been OOP for awhile so this was a very welcome release by Kino and plus in conjunction with this they also brought out the entertaining COTTON COMES TO HARLEM.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLE 1959 (Shock Region B Blu)   The release of Hammer on blu has been a somewhat problematic endeavor with the films scattered amongst different studios and releasing companies that have lead to a mixture of both outstanding and kind of iffy releases. Luckily Shock of Australia hit one out of the park with this release. One of the greatest non-horror releases from Hammer (although this being a Hammer production the horror elements are played up), along with director Terence Fisher at the height of his powers and best of all Peter Cushing in full scene stealing mode as Sherlock Holmes (and has there ever been a better Dr. Watson then André Morell ?). An absolutely beautiful transfer brings out every detail of Jack Asher's cinematography and Bernard Robinson's set design, plus nobody can do stiff and pompous upper class like Christopher Lee. This was also announced as Twilight Time release for 2015.

GRINDHOUSE TRAILER CLASSICS Vol. 4 (Nucleus Region 2 DVD) I love trailer compilations and this ongoing series from Nucleus has consistently been some of the best. Vol. 4 contains some real treasures including a long lost (but soon to be released) piece of Arthur Mark's 1970's output THE ROOMMATES, CRAZY JOE (Peter Boyle as power hungry psycho gangster), the early Charlie Band effort MANSION OF THE DOOMED (Richard Basehart as a mad scientist & a young Lance Henriksen), THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (Rosalba Neri !) and the "has to be seen to be believed" LITTLE CIGARS. Vol. 1 in the series has recently gotten a region 1 release so hopefully the rest will follow.

PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES  1965 (Kino Blu)  Taking along his patented Gothic trappings and hallucinatory lighting Mario Bava moved his milieu to outer space. As a recognized influence on Ridley Scott's ALIEN this is one of the greatest examples of style and special effects on a minuscule budget. Filled with unforgettable imagery (the sight of dead crew rising from their graves is not soon forgotten & you gotta love those leather outfits), this release by Kino looks ravishing and contains a nice group of extras including a commentary by Tim Lucas.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE 1973 (Scream Factory Blu)  A sure contender as one of the greatest horror movies of the 70's, this along with the recent releases of THE HAUNTING (1963), THE UNINVITED (1944) and 1961's THE INNOCENTS (see below -which along with this makes a nifty dbl. feature) falls into that wonderful category of "turn out the lights and settle in" haunted house movies. Featuring a wonderful performance by Pamela Franklin (again see below's THE INNOCENTS) as a medium who's part of a team of researchers sent in to investigate "the Mount Everest of haunted houses". Also boasting a nail biting claustrophobic script by Richard Matheson (from his well worth reading novel HELL HOUSE) along with some truly unsettling set pieces and sequences (all those unnerving close-ups) and a crackerjack cast including Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill , Gayle Hunnicutt and a rather unique "cameo" by Michael Gough. 

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT 1974 (Twilight Time Blu)  After the upheavals of the 60's American cinema hit the road in the 70's, while often times such as here traveling through the vast open spaces of the west. Featuring near career best performances by Clint Eastwood and an Oscar nominated Jeff Bridges along with some surprisingly lean and tight direction (helped along by some doubtless backseat directing courtesy of Clint) from a pre- DEER HUNTER & HEAVEN'S GATE Michael Cimino (from his own screenplay). This combination road/heist film is at its core a very moving story of friendship & loneliness and along with it's endlessly debated subtexts there's also some scene stealing work by George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis, plus a host of familiar 70's character faces (including several members of the Sam Peckinpah stock company).

THE INNOCENTS 1961 (Criterion Blu)  Most often simply categorized as "a haunted house movie", director Jack Clayton's adaption (from a script by Truman Capote) of Henry James THE TURN OF THE SCREW features a mesmerizing performance by Deborah Kerr as a (perhaps ?) mentally unbalanced governess who comes to care for a brother and sister at an isolated English country estate who may or may not be possessed by something (or somebody...?), while lurking below everything is an atmosphere of innocence corrupted and repressed sexuality. Freddie Francis's mind bogglingly beautiful B&W cinematography is a wonder to behold on the Criterion blu-ray and a young Pamela (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) Franklin (along with Martin Stephens from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) are unforgettable as the children in question. Definitely needs to be watched with the lights turned out.

DERANGED 1974 (Arrow Blu)  Featuring a stand out performance from quirky character actor Roberts Blossom (in a rare leading role) this is based upon the real life exploits of notorious murderer/grave robber and necrophiliac Ed Gein (whereupon whom PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE drew their inspiration). Writer/director Alan Ormsby (see also SHOCK WAVES below) creates an almost perfect balance of quesey horror along with a touch of black comedy and its all anchored by Blossom's sensitive and restrained work (for whom you can't help but feel pity for). Released by MGM back in the "Midnight Movie" days it was unfortunately cut by a few seconds (the infamous "brain scooping"), but Arrow brings it out here in all of its glory complete with a slew of extras including contributions from an early credited gore master Tom Savini.

MESSIAH OF EVIL 1973 (Code Red Blu)  Long a staple of shoddy PD releases this was put out on a now OOP DVD several years ago by Code Red and this year they re-visited it on blu-ray. One of the greatest American horror films of the 70's, husband and wife screenwriters Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz (AMERICAN GRAFFITI) co-directed and co-wrote this creepy & unsettling low budget combination of a European art film and 70's drive-in horror (with a touch of H.P. Lovecraft). Marianna Hill travels to a desolate California coastal town to investigate the disappearance of her artist father played by the great Royal Dano (whose unforgettable voice provides the narration). One of the many superb touches in Huyck and Katz's screenplay is the way that they take situations which we all have found creepy (being the only one in a late night grocery store & and the lone patron in a movie theatre) and then slowly elevate them to horror.

ISLAND OF TERROR 1966 (Oden Blu)  On exile from Hammer director Terence Fisher knocked out a couple low budget quickies for the British based Planet Films including the interesting NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT (also released by Oden on blu this year) and this which features slithering bone sucking creatures loose upon an isolated island. With the always great scene stealing Peter Cushing along with Edward Judd and sex-appeal provided by Carole Gray, plus some creepy low budget atmosphere. Fishers's visions here are sometimes hampered by budget restraints, but the monsters are unforgettable (along with their unnerving sound effects) and anytime you can get Peter Cushing, bone sucking monsters AND Carole Gray you know your in for a good time.

SHOCK WAVES 1977 (Blue Underground Blu)  The Citizen Kane of Nazi zombie movies got a very welcome upgrade this past year courtesy of Blue Underground. Featuring John Carradine and Peter Cushing doing what they do best (crotchety old curmudgeon & obsessed with a touch of madness somewhat evil scientist respectfully), this release with the added detail of blu brings out the humid fetid atmosphere of this Fl. lensed gore-free shocker (shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm) in amazingly grungy clarity. With its never to be forgotten "underwater nazi zombies" and Brooke Adams in a bikini this release carries over all the extras from the previous DVD release (along with adding a few new ones) including an informative and entertaining commentary by director Ken Wiederhorn, effects artist Alan Ormsby and Fred Olen Ray (who served as still photographer and gopher on the film). Was this was a great year for Cushing on blu-ray or what ??

WHITE LIGHTNING 1973 (Kino Cinema Classics Blu)  One of Burt Reynold's best roles (and a fascinating view of pre-mega star Burt) this surprisingly gritty (and sweaty) southern drive-in classic features a great supporting cast including a wonderfully low keyed evil Ned Beatty and Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, R.G. Armstrong, Jennifer Billings and Diane Ladd - along with automobile mayhem by stunt coordinator Hal Needham. Finally given the widescreen anamorphic release it deserves, sadly this year also marked the passing of WHITE LIGHTNING's director Joseph Sargent (who also helmed the great THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE).

RAW FORCE 1981 (Vinegar Syndrome Blu)  Vinegar Syndrome has turned into one of the more eclectic labels on the scene with their 4K restorations of 70's adult features along with the oddball horror/exploitation release such as this. This American produced shot in the Philippines kung-fu/zombie/cannibal/WIP mash-up features cheesy special effects, copious amounts of nudity & gore along with Vic Diaz AND Cameron Mitchell (not to mention creepy monks and an Adolf Hitler look-alike chief bad guy !). A wonder of low budget badly acted visionary greatness this was one of my new release highlights for this year (heck, maybe this decade).

SLAUGHTER HOTEL 1971 (Raro Blu)  If you frequented drive-ins and theatres with sticky floors & stale popcorn back in the 70's there's a good chance you caught this weird and nonsensical Italian giallo on a double or triple bill under one of its many re-titlings such as ASYLUM EROTICA. Directed by Italian crime master Fernando Di Leo, this while not being a great example of the giallo genre does feature Klaus Kinski as a creepy doctor in a sanatorium which specializes in young women with sexual problems who are being knocked off by a hooded killer (who uses a variety of medieval weapons that are handily kept in easy access). Along with the blu-ray debut of the gorgeous Rosalba Neri (which in itself would make it worthy of one of this blogs favorites) the movie also features Margaret Lee and enough skin and blood splashed across the screen from its female cast to make it defiantly worth your while.

THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH 1964 (Raro Blu)  Directed by Antonio Margheriti (here under his usual "Anthony Dawson" pseudonym) this is a prime example of 1960's Italian Gothic horror with all the hallmarks in place - witches burned at the stake invoking curses upon dysfunctional families, shadowy candlelit castles and first and foremost the presence of horror icon Barbara Steele who as here (with all apologies to Mario Bava & BLACK SUNDAY) has never looked more eternally beautiful. Featuring luminous B&W cinematgraphy by Riccardo Pallottini (LADY FRANKENSTEIN & CASTLE OF BLOOD), like most Italian horror its a bit short on plot while being long on atomsphere (but hey, that's we watch these). Now somebody needs to bring out English friendly versions of THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK, THE GHOST & TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE.


In closing here's a few goodies we're looking forward to in 2015.

THE ROOMMATES -  Starring Pat Woodell and Roberta Collins and originally released in 1973 (and now announced by Gorgon Video paired with A WOMAN FOR ALL MEN) this missing piece in the filmography of Arthur Marks has been a long time coming.

1990 : THE BRONX WARRIORS, ESCAPE FROM THE BRONX and THE NEW BARBARIANS - Blue Underground has announced this really cool set on blu (with a multitude of extras) of Enzo G. Castellari's post apocalyptic 1980's MAD MAX/ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK knock-offs. With the upcoming release of the new Mad Max we can (hopefully) look forward to a plethora of these entertainingly cheesy Italian rip-offs being released.

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE - Plagued in the past by several dodgy DVD releases, Arrow have just announced a brand spankin' new edition of this Bava classic over at their Facebook page. Featuring some of Bava's most deliriously hypnotic camera work and use of color this will feature a slew of new extras and a "New 2K restoration from the original camera negative". Plus, with Arrow's new U.S. distribution arm this will be available stateside in Region A.

A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL - More Spanish horror on blu-ray is always a good thing and this 1973 shocker has been announced by Scorpion as a direct sale only title (with the DVD available through the usual outlets). Also known as IT HAPPENED AT THE NIGHTMARE INN this intriguing thriller has been lurking around in those those multi-disc PD horror collections over the years in various running times. Concerning a pair of religiously psychotic sisters who operate a boardinghouse and who's tenants periodically disappear, which prompts Judy Geeson to investigate (with her sister being among the missing).

MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE - Grindhouse has really been crankin' them out lately and this long promised slice of low budget pasta has long been promised and now has a solid release date. Dean Martin wanna be crooner Duke Mitchell (who earlier had teamed with Sonny Petrillo for an (in)famous Marin & Lewis rip-off comedy duo) wrote, directed and stars in this homemade MEAN STREETS style homage from 1978. Grindhouse has also promised Mitchell's equally insane GONE WITH THE POPE for later this year.