The B-Movie Isle (09/28/2017)
The B-Movie Isle a small written (sometimes) weekly companion piece to the B-Movie Podcast.
Every B-Movie is an Isle onto itself. The B-Movie Isle recommends a few films either being released or already released in theaters, VOD, streaming or on Blu-Ray/DVD. These are not going to be blockbusters but those movies you’ll probably find in the door buster clearance bin. Films that people told you weren’t worth your time or you may have not heard about. You and I know they’re just un-enlightened to the beauty of a killer B-Movie!!!
THE TOP SHELF TITLE AKA FEATURED TITLE OF THE WEEK
The Film: Talk about a cold cup of coffee. Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of Clifford Odet’s play The Big Knife is the West Coast spiritual cousin to The Sweet Smell of Success (a film coincidentally sourced from an Odet Novel). The film is as dark, bitter and cold as the Alexander Mackendrick film released only 18 months later.
It makes sense that this film has been undiscovered for over six decades. It’s a hard harsh pill to swallow if you’re not prepared. If you’re willing and able to take the ride, you will be rewarded with a great slice of filmmaking that’s as uncompromised as Success is and maybe even darker. The Big Knife leaves no one unsacred by its final moments.
Under the veneer of Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) and his movie star life lives a secret eating away at him. The life that Aldrich shows in the first few minutes is props and film effects. That secret has eaten away at Castle’s personal and professional life. The studio head (Rod Steiger) of the low rent studio he is under contract for is blackmailing him into signing another contract. The wife (Ida Lupino) that says she loves him wants a divorce. The best friend (Wesley Addy) is involved with the wife.
As the long day into night into day goes on Castle’s life are put through the wringer. It’s done in the way the Film Noir loves to put their characters into a pressure cooker to see how they’ll react. The film’s single large set does smell of a stage bound play but this does work in its favor. The film’s single setting adds a claustrophobic element as the film continues; no escape for Charlies Castle or the audience.
Aldrich’s direction is nothing short of masterful. His use of space and framing keeps the film from feeling static or stage bound. Though you feel the film is bound to one set, it is because Aldrich wants you to. The director understands this film is not just a character piece but a terse thriller. The work that’s done by Aldrich and cinematographer Ernest Lazlo is beautiful and subtle. The way that they close in on characters with frames within frames, how the lighting gets harsher and harsher as Castle begins to see clearly his options are dwindling.
I could go on longer about so many other things like Steiger and Palace going mano-e-mano (actingwise) or Ida Lupino’s heartbreakingly stoic performance or the rich cinematography. I’ll let you discover this wonderfully bleak gem
The Transfer: In a word, beautiful. The striking B&W photography is rendered perfectly. There are a few moments where the film appears to be out of focus. This is an affect of the source itself not the transfer. Those who dislike grain be forewarned, like many Arrow Video transfer there is a healthy sheen of grain that gives the image a filmic quality. Those who love their older films DNR-ed to death should stay away from this film as it really does look like a beautifully struck 35mm print. Bravo to Arrow Video for acquiring such an amazing source for their transfer.
The Extras: They include the following
- Commentary by film critics Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton, recorded exclusively for this release
- Bass on Titles – Saul Bass, responsible for The Big Knife’s credit sequence, discusses some of his classic work in this self-directed documentary from 1972
- Theatrical trailer
The commentary by Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton is a great informative track giving you a scholarly breakdown of the film itself and its history.
Bass on Titles is actually a documentary I have been curious about for years, having only seen snippets. It’s included in its entirety here. The fascinating 72 minute documentary directed by Saul Bass himself is very technically minded giving you a glimpse into the man who created just about every iconic credit sequence in the 50’s and 60’s.
The two trailers are fascinating a because one is a 5 minute EPK on the making of the film shown on TV. The other is a traditional one. Both provide a rare glimpse into film culture and selling of a film circa 1955. Spoiler, these two “trailers” ruin a lot of the film’s big moments, so much for trailers showing the best parts of the film being a new millennium occurrence.
The Bottom Shelf: The Big Knife is vital and undiscovered cinema. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!
The Film: I’ve talked at length about my dislike of 90% of the Romantic Comedies out there. Heck, even some of the pillars of the genre I dislike. That is not for this this column but for a different time. That 10% I really do enjoy (see all the films of Albert Brooks, the 70’s into 80’s era Woody Allen and Billy Wilder for proof of the 10%). I am adding Psychos in Love to the 10%. God, this film is great. Part When Harry Met Sally, part Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
More romantic comedy than horror/serial killer film, this low budget 80’s gem is designed to entertain. Director Gorman Bechard’s film is not some sort of dark brooding film. Everything is played for laughs and goofiness including the boundless amounts of gore that’s on display. The film has this lived-in dirty quality that’s more charming than it is gross. Bechard creates this world that feels like the 1980’s more so than any big budget film that pose to do the same.
The film minus its ample amount of gore, meta comedic bits, pseudo-documentary moments, is a straight ahead love story between strip bar owner Joe (Carmine Capoblanco) and mobile manicurist Kate (Debi Thibeault). There is a seediness to the proceedings that adds to the charm of the film. The film smartly doesn’t just show us the meet-cute and happily ever after but beyond that. The funniest moments in this film come from the depiction of what domestic bliss is for serial killers. Even funnier is as their relationship begins to stutter how the film shows what serial killers do to “spice things up”.
Many may find this film just outright offensively glib in the way that it treats serial killers. With considerations to the many-many-many-many crime documentaries people love, because of the glibness and its gore happy moments, the film works. Psychos in Love is charming albeit gore filled romantic comedy for any fan of horror films or those just looking for a different rom com than the latest Reese Witherspoon joint.
The Transfer: The new restored 2K transfer from the 16mm negative is gorgeous. There isn’t a spot of dirt or scratches present on this release. After looking at samples even from the most recent DVD releases this blows them all out of the water. There’s a clarity here that doesn’t suffer from DNR that many 16mm shot films can have if they are attempting to “sharpen the image”. The transfer has the perfect balance of grain and sharpness. Point in fact this may be one of the best transfers of the year. It’s that good.
The Extras: They include the following
- Commentary Track with co-writer/producer/director Gorman Bechard and co-writer/composer/actor Carmine Capoblanco
- Commentary Track with Bechard
- Directing the Psychos – interview with Bechard
- Playing a Psycho – interview with Capoblanco
- Discussing Psychos – a conversation between Bechard and Capoblanco
- Making Psychos – Making-of Featurette
- Carmine Capoblanco’s Q&A from Cinema Wasteland 2016
- Rough edit outtakes and extended scenes
- Alternate Opening Sequence
- Highlights from Psychos in Love the stage play
- Short Films directed by Bechard
- The Only Take
- Objects in Mirror Are Further Away than they Appear
- Original Trailer
- Photo Galleries
Vinegar Syndrome has gone all out on this release. Much of this is yes recycled from the DVD release but it’s a wealth of knowledge. The six hours hours of special features cover everything you’ll ever want to know about Psychos in Love.
The best feature is the two commentaries. One with Bechard and Capoblanco and the other with just Bechard. Both are lively commentaries with not too much overlap.
The 60+ minute Q&A from Cinema Wasteland is also great with Capoblanco holding nothing back in this go for broke funny and charming Q&A.
The short film collection from Bechard is fascinating glimpse into the director’s early work. An added bonus to an already well stocked Blu-Ray edition.
The Bottom Shelf: Snag this one quick as it’s a limited edition form Vinegar Syndrome. Psychos in Love is a quirky fun and funny play on the romantic comedy. Highest possible recommendations.
The Film: Warning! Trip with the Teacher is the type of exploitation film that some will want to stay away from. As it deals with the assault some will want to stay clear of this film. That being said it doesn’t go as far as The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave all the same I do like to warn people of the rough ride ahead. Those films rely on cheap salacious rape scenes that go on far too long for no other reason than to be salacious, this does not have those scenes but their implied. Trip with the Teacher manages to be an effective rough ride of a horror film.
The film’s setup is simple; a group of college girls are on a trip with one of their teachers. They flirt with some bad new bikers. The Bikers set them up leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. The film is a center piece for the performance by Zalman King of the Red Shoe Diaries and Wild Orchid fame. Here he plays a deranged biker that goes from fits of wild psychotic behavior to an almost cationic state. King is amazing in this recklessly vile performance. He has no vanity as he makes the biker a truly despicable person.
Much like these entries from the 70’s it turns and turns the screws until the final confrontation which really is all for naught. Much like the previously discussed Victims! this isn’t a sweet pat ending. Though the music may be happy-go-lucky the stark moments at the end are anything but.
The Transfer: Vinegar Syndrome did a new 2K transfer from the original 16mm camera negative. The film looks as sharp as it ever has on home video. The big draw back for many will be the huge amount of grain. But that’s more an affectation of the elements, specifically 16mm features form the 1970’s, than the quality of the transfer. Vinegar Syndrome continues their near miracle work of restoring genre and exploitation forgotten gems.
The Extras: They include the following
- Commentary Track with director Earl Barton, actress Cathy Worthington and actress Dina Ousley
- Taking the Trip – interview with Cathy Worthington
- TV Spots
- Theatrical Trailer
- Still Gallery
The commentary is standard commentary with comments by the director and actress on the production. All three participants are very willing and able to discuss the film and specifically Zalman King.
Some of the fifteen minute long interview with Cathy Worthington is covered in the commentary but this is much more focused on her career as a whole (her monologue work is quite fascinating).
TV and Trailers are always fun on an exploitation release and here it’s no difference with these trailers offering up something a lot more salacious than what is the reality.
The Bottom Shelf: If you’re into this type of exploitation horror films snag this one quick as this is a limited edition from Vinegar Syndrome.