December 08, 2014

Bela Lugosi was here - a look round his old mansion!


Through a series of unrepeatable, lucky coincidences, I recently found myself standing in Bela Lugosi's bedroom. He may not have lived here for long, but just walking around one of the houses he owned felt very special. The rooms he once walked in, the views that he once enjoyed...

Bela and his wife regularly moved homes when he was at the height of his career. It's estimated that he lived here for less than two years, in 1934 and 1935, in the Hollywood Hills' Beachwood Canyon in a mansion known as Castle La Paloma. 


Because the house was up for sale, we were able to briefly look around inside, with the realtor's permission. As this is private property, this certainly isn't open to the public, but sightseers can still see the front of the house from the street.

This isn't the modest, cramped home portrayed in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, when Bela was at the end of his career. This is where he lived twenty years earlier, while making Mark of the Vampire.


The house perches on a very steep drop, allowing views from the back of the house, and gardens, to overlook a significant chunk of the City of Los Angeles, as well as across at many other lofty residences around the rest of the canyon. It has quite extensive grounds, carefully planted out, despite some of them being on a 30 degree slope! 


The 1924 house has recently been renovated and restored for the current sale, with this swimming pool added to what was once a large lawn where Lugosi's menagerie of large dogs must've romped.


The front of the house looks like a quaint English country bungalow, disguising the fact that the house is actually on two levels, built down the canyon slope at the back. 

I wasn't allowed to take photos in the room where Bela most likely used to sleep, which added to its mystique. The fascinating aspect of that room was a hidden, tiny back door that lead outside and subtly out of a corner of the grounds, past a hidden arbour. A remnant of forbidden Hollywood, to include a sneaky secret escape route out of the bedroom and away from the house!


It was a pleasure to witness some vintage Hollywood history, and a privilege to look inside one of the luxury homes I normally only marvel at from the outside. The views are spectacular, and the chance to live in a genuinely old property relatively rare. I wonder who's going to end up buying it?


More photos of this Lugosi residence on Curbed L.A.

Me, not believing my luck

October 05, 2014

BLIND TERROR / SEE NO EVIL (1971) - CD soundtrack release


I've updated my review of Blind Terror (UK title) / See No Evil (US title), Richard Fleischer's 1971, blind woman vs psychopath thriller starring Mia Farrow. Unexpectedly, Elmer Bernstein's rousing and beautiful soundtrack has been restored and released on CD.





September 30, 2014

The Making of George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD - a new book!


I wish all my favourite movies had a book like this

George Romero's 1985 Day of the Dead now has a brand new making-of book, full of never-before-seen photos and recent interviews with the cast and crew. Published in October, it's been put together by Lee Karr, who's so keen on Romero's zombie films that he even relocated to Pittsburgh!


Day of the Dead deserved this book in 1985, but as the author notes, any chance of that was eclipsed by the publication of Paul Gagne's 'The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh - The Films of George A. Romero'. That only had a chapter about the film, but that was the main reason why I got it at the time. It's very good, but gives equal space to every other Romero film that existed up till then. I was so impressed with this film that I was still hungry for much more detail, which is why this book is such a treat. 


It's still hard to decide which I like more, Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead. Dawn was more influential, but Day has a better script and a more consistent cast. While the shopping mall was a post-apocalyptic fantasy, the underground shelter is a claustrophobic nightmare. The mall had many escape routes, in the mine, you're trapped. In the dark. With zombies.


I saw both films in the cinema, during their first run in the UK. But the many, bloody shock moments in Dawn of the Dead had been censored, literally cut out of the prints, and it took years before the jigsaw was eventually put back together on home video. But Day of the Dead, I saw on one of the largest screens in the country and it looked uncut. With even more elaborate make-ups and gory effects, the many shock moments made much more of an first impression. 


Thirty years later, I've seen short documentaries and heard a few well-trodden stories, but here is a book full of much more. A complete story of the production of Day of the Dead, from the original rumours of 'a trilogy', through Romero's original vision (there is a lengthy synopsis of his favoured script), to the tortured pre-production process as the budget was pared down. There's a detailed account of how and exactly where everything was filmed, including interviews with the cast and crew, right down to the main zombies of every scene. Featured zombies were often technicians, volunteers or extras - but this was a chance for anyone to get a big screen close-up and a death scene. Something that many actors can only dream of.


Usually, when a film is documented, it's divided up into departments, stunts, special effects, directing, and a choice of all the best stories. In Karr's book, I was apprehensive to start trawling through the lengthiest section, a day-by-day account of the entire shooting schedule! But it proved to be very interesting - here we don't get the best stories, but all the stories. By the end, I felt like I'd been there with the crew for the entire shoot!


Karr doesn't shy away from the raunchier aspects of the young, high-spirited crew and I now see the wizard of gore, Tom Savini, in a slightly different light (!). His constant love of practical jokes distracts many of the crew from a grindingly hard and difficult location, where they were filming for months, though some of the 'gags' end up in hospital! At the same time, Savini tests his effects so thoroughly that it's very rare that any of his effects misfire. He's so conscious of how precious time is to a production schedule.


The film proved to be a training ground for several young crewmembers who'd been drafted in to deal with the huge number of make-ups and effects. Day presents the zombies as starting to rot, whereas in Dawn of the Dead, many of the make-ups were just extras painted green! Greg Nicotero, now a make-up effects supervisor on The Walking Dead, got his professional start on Day of the Dead, (and even had a supporting role). He learnt his trade on this film, though now we know what he actually did...


The book is drawn from over 100 interviews, though the passage of time has dimmed some of the detail. But the book boasts 250 never-before-seen photos (none are shown here), mostly in colour, presenting an eyewitness document of Day of the Dead that can't be beaten.

The paperback has just been published by Plexus and is now available in the UK and USA. Happily, Day of the Dead is now available on blu-ray in the UK and US, but please, please don't confuse George's film with the inferior 2008 'remake' starring Mena Suvari. Please.



September 17, 2014

Underrated Action Adventure movies - my guest post


Just had an article published on another movie blog. So if you go visit...

Rupert Pupkin Speaks - Underrated Action Adventure

... you can read my short list of action adventure movies through the decades, as well as many more sharp, snappy bundles of suggestions by other guest writers.






August 29, 2014

Flashbacks 1982 - Blade Runner, Tron, Poltergeist...

1982 was an incredible year for new movies. But at the time, I was buying fewer of my usual, general film magazines. Here are the only highlights, plus a look at the more specialised publications I was chasing instead...





This Blade Runner cover shows how Ridley Scott's futuristic vision was at odds with the style-less presentation of movie magazines.

Photoplay, October

An 'AA' certificate for the 'European Cut' of Blade Runner that was less censored than the US release. Unfortunately, that toned-down US version was then used as the basis for the 1992 'Director's Cut'.




Photoplay, October

I included this advert for Who Dares Wins because of the details of the release pattern, following TV regions and describing everywhere that isn't London as "provincial cities"!




Photoplay, October

This was a great year for special-effects heavy classics. But these monthly magazines couldn't give me what I really wanted - colour photos from the films and well-researched behind-the-scenes information. In retrospect, they provide valuable information about when and how they were released in the UK.





A great cover, but Films & Filming had no colour pages inside. Couldn't pass up articles about John Milius and David Cronenberg though!




Films & Filming, October

The Entity still has no trouble finding an audience. It was late to the 'possession' horror genre, it's edge came from the claim that it was based on a true story. Surprised to see it appeared in 70mm!




Films & Filming, November

Besides the blockbusters, mid-budget genre films like The Sword and the Sorcerer, which delighted me all through the 1970s, were disappearing from wide cinema release and instead finding their fortune on home video.




That's all I've got to show you from 1982! The reason that I bought so few Photoplays and Film Reviews was because of the blossoming of sci-fi and horror specialist magazines. Film synopses, cheesecake photos and publicity-soaked interviews were no longer enough. I was after hard facts from writers who didn't scoff at my favourite genres! Here's (some of) what I was collecting instead in 1982...


'Cinefantastique' had glossy pages (mostly colour), top reporting on new sci-fi hits, great news coverage of what was coming, and extensive, superbly researched retrospectives of genre classics.


'Cinefex' soon took over from Cinefantastique in chronicling the precise visual effects techniques used in American blockbusters, as well as any groundbreaking techniques used in film or TV, focussing on two or three of the latest movies each issue. In the UK, we could see how they made the movie before we saw had a chance to see it! Thick issues full of startling photos. However, their coverage can dissipate the magic of a movie, by blowing every secret behind the cleverest effects.


'Starlog' rivalled Cinefantastique with it's sci-fi coverage. Published more often, it could scoop it on news and had far more coverage on TV fantasy. At the time, their episode guides were invaluable!


Starlog begat 'Fangoria', with horror movie news and a special interest in the latest make-up effects. Often the clever gory techniques would never make it onto UK screens due to the avid censorship of the time. The colour pics in Fangoria were the only clues we had to what we'd missed.


Yet another American glossy on sci-fi movies, 'Fantastic Films' soon failed to compete, but with great interviews and tons of colour photos, it was essential while it lasted.


This British answer to Starlog was cheaper and timelier than the US mags. Of course 'Starburst' covered more European sci-fi, TV and (gasp) literature. It also sneaked in horror reviews in the absence of any UK mags on the subject.

But. I'm not going to go through these magazines in the same 'flashback' way. Most titles are still publishing, so I'm certainly not reproducing any of their pages. Because... copyright. And because, they still make money from back issues, digital or otherwise.

My flashback articles have focussed on the covers and adverts for the UK release date information. Taken from defunct magazines that predate the scope of internet coverage. The next flashback, 1983, will be my last look back at my UK movie mags from this era.



(There's a list of links to previous Flashback posts, from 1968 onwards, in the sidebar to the right...)