Monday, December 31, 2018


Last night's viewing. Thanks to film historian and writer Tim Lucas for alerting me to this wonderful film with one of his posts yesterday. HOUSE OF TERRORS is a 1965 Japanese film (originally titled KAIDAN SEMUSHI OTOKO) that has been dubbed into Italian with English subtitles added. The result is a surreal melding of Japanese gothic and Eurohorror, the beautiful B&W photography dripping atmosphere like stalactites. The film starts with a young woman losing her husband after a long and painful mental illness, after which she learns she has inherited the deed to an old property he owned, a mansion invitingly called "Satan's Pit", a place haunted by the ghosts of its previous inhabitants and looked over by a hunchbacked caretaker. The fun starts from the moment it begins and rarely lets up, there's some moments of genuine creepiness and scares and the magnificent spooky sounds and ambient music sounds like it could have come straight off one of those GHOSTLY SOUNDS record LPs later put out by Power Records in the early-70s.
Highly recommended and definitely worth a watch, I don't think the film has been officially released on disc but it can be found on You Tube (apparently the Italian-dubbed print is the only one known to be floating around).

Friday, December 28, 2018


Decided on whatever whim I was having late last night to check out Eli Roth's contentious 2018 remake of Michael's Winner's 1974 revenge thriller DEATH WISH. I didn't hate it but it is certainly a pointless remake that amps up the violence porn but completely dumbs down just about everything else. Bruce Willis has been a great action hero over the years but he is somnambulistic here as Paul Kersey, taking over the role made iconic by Charles Bronson in the original and subsequent films. It's hard to buy Willis as a supposed brilliant surgeon, I think they changed his profession from the original architect purely for plot convenience (ie - to provide the excuse for a drawn-out scene where Kersey uses his medical knowledge to inflict painful torture on a crim to get information out of him, a scene reminiscent of a much more effective one involving Dustin Hoffman's tooth in MARATHON MAN).


I had a lot of fun with James Wan's AQUAMAN, which was pretty much all I went in looking for. In that respect, it certainly delivered. I was particularly taken by Rupert Gregson-Williams's score, one of the film's most pleasant surprises for me. I don't know why they had to change Aquaman's look into that of a scruffy biker and barroom brawler, but thankfully this movie has a big sense of adventure and creates enough stunning underwater vistas (and creatures) to carve out its own place amongst the comic book glut. Elements of BATMAN BEGINS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and THOR RAGNAROK are clearly there, but thankfully there is much less AVATAR and much more FLASH GORDON to be found, and Wan's horror roots make themselves particularly known during the film's final act (the appearance of a bunch of scary and scaly critters known as The Trench had me thinking I was watching a remake of Sergio Martino's ISLAND OF THE FISHMEN for a moment). A lot of the costume and character designs were also visually cool and paid tribute to the comic book's roots - i.e., Altanteans riding giant seahorses, Black Manta having his big, bulbous helmet, etc. Enjoyed it enough to consider a second theatrical screening, this time in 3D.

Friday, December 21, 2018


To get myself into the Christmas spirit this year, I have contributed an essay on several early-70s toy-themed exploitation films gifted to us from master producer/distributor Harry Novak, which has been posted over on the Diabolique website and can be read by clicking on the link below.


Was asked by FILMINK to write an obit for Sondra Locke, which has now been posted over on their website. Click on the link below to check it out.

Sondra Locke Obituary


Have written a review of Michael Gingold's excellent book on 1980s horror movie ad mats AD NAUSEAM, which is posted over at the Diabolique website at the link below.

Saturday, November 10, 2018


WENG'S CHOP #11 is now out and available to purchase in both standard B&W and (highly recommended) full colour versions, featuring my essay on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970) as well as contributions from reliable film folk like Stephen Bissette, Lee Gambin, Dennis Capicik, Troy Howarth, Kris Gilpin and many more. Congrats to Tony Strauss, Brian Harris, Tim Paxton, cover artist Meghan Vaughan-Strauss and all the others involved in this fine film publication. Below is a sneek peek at my eight-page article but if you want to read and see the whole thing you will need to buy a copy, available from the links below (not sure how much it will be here in Australia though, now that Amazon US is blocked in this country).




My wife Marneen and I had a very nice time at the launch of IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN at the Grub Street Bookshop last night. Though touted as a journal (the first in a series published by Cinemaniacs), this publication is absolutely a book - 240 full color pages devoted to the depiction of scarecrows in cinema and television of all genres. This is beautifully designed and put together by Darren Cotzabuyucas and the rest of the Cinemaniacs crew, I am very pleased with how my two contributions to this volume (looking at the Batman villain The Scarecrow) turned out, and the rest of it looks just as stunning. 

The launch included a talk by Lee Gambin and several contributors to the publication, including Sally Christie, Emma Westwood and myself. There was also a magnificent scarecrow on display out the back of the store (terrific work by Résè Mart). Was also great to meet up with longtime online friend Ari Offaleater Richards who was in town. Marneen presented him with some signed goodies in thanks for a great review Ari had given for her pop/dance song "Standing Ovation! You're the Star!" (Ari is a stand-up guy who sells an amazing range of movie posters at great prices via his eBay store, and I will always appreciate the signed Ted V. Mikels goodies he sent me when he was working with Mikels in Las Vegas in the early-2000s).

IF I ONLY HAD A BRAIN is available in both hard and softcover versions, with contributions from Lee Gambin (Editor-In-Chief), Amanda Reyes, Ian Cooper, Sally Christie, Emma Westwood, Lisa Rae, Michelle Smith, Phillipa Berry and more. The second volume is scheduled to cover Weird Westerns. Thanks to Marneen for taking some great pics with her Cannon t2i.

Sunday, October 7, 2018


Australia seems to be one of the first places in the world to see THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, the new film by Daniel Farrands that has been released locally (on DVD only) by Defiant Entertainment. Subtitled “A Haunting on Long Island” to give it a bit of marketing tie-in to THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (2009) from the same studios, THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS is of course yet another film to be based on the infamous events which took place in the early-seventies in the now-iconic Dutch Colonial house on Long Island with the sinister window eyes. Though the slaughter by Ronald DeFeo Jr. of six members of his family made headlines in New York and other parts of the US when it occurred on November 13, 1974, it was the subsequent claims of hauntings by the next tenants of the property, George and Kathy Lutz and their three kids, that the story became a worldwide phenomenon. The publication of Jay Anson’s sensational best-seller THE AMITYVILLE HORROR in 1977, followed by the film adaptation in 1979, helped embed the case in the psyche of the public at the time. The 70s were a time when the mainstream were embracing and experimenting with ESP, UFO hysteria, Bigfoot sightings and paranormal events, making the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR all the more palpable and believable to the target audience of its day. Of course, one of the angles which makes THE AMITYVILLE HORROR so fascinating is that a very vital part of it is absolutely true. Ron DeFeo DID kill his family in a mass-murder rampage through that house in 1974. So regardless of the validity of everything that came afterwards, the Amityville legend was born from bloody, violent fact.
So far there have been around twenty (!) films based on the Amityville events and its legacy. Not to mention countless documentaries. But really, all most people need to see are the original 1979 film with Margot Kidder and James Brolin, Damiano Damiani’s remarkably sleazy sequel AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and perhaps the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. AMITYVILLE 3-D (1983) also provided some moments of fun in that format. THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS attempts to dramatize the events leading up to the DeFeo murders, with the apparitions and voices which the killer later claimed had driven him to commit the massacre (his insanity plea failed and was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains).
The problem at this point is that events have really become so familiar that it’s hard for a film like THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS to add anything new. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION depicted the same events (though with a fictionalized family) with much more tension and frisson, and with some genuinely impressive physical make-up effects by John Caglioni, Jr. The low-budget of THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS unfortunately shows in its very cheap and unconvincing computer effects, and there’s always something off about a movie with an early-seventies setting that’s filmed on HD digital, something that stops you from being able to get fully immersed and involved. It’s like watching a re-enactment of a famous crime on an episode of FORENSIC FILES.
The biggest positive which THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS has going for it is the performance from Diane Franklin in the female lead. As a twenty-year-old, Franklin played Patricia Montelli, teenaged daughter to Burt Young and Rutanya Alder in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. After indulging in an incestuous relationship with her possessed older brother Sonny (Jack Magner) who later kills her during his rampage, Franklin comes full-circle in THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS, playing Louise DeFeo, the matriarch of the DeFeo clan, who with her family live in fear under the angry, ruling hand (and leather belt) of husband Ronnie (Paul Ben-Victor). With her big hair and period clothing, Franklin is the most assured of the cast, and brings a genuine sense of a devoted wife and mother trying her best to convince herself that all is right in her world when in reality her entire family is clearly crumbling around her.  It’s nice to see her graduate to the next generation with her role in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, and her father in that film, Burt Young, also shows up in THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS playing the generous grandfather to the DeFeo clan. The appearances of Franklin and Young certainly make THE AMITYVILL MURDERS required viewing for those die-hard fans of AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION.
Writer/director Daniel Farrands has given horror fans some wonderful documentary films over the past several years, including NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY (2010) and CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th (2013), as well as writing the screenplay for HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995). He is clearly a genuine fan of the genre and certainly shows some talent and potential as a feature director, but THE AMITYVILLE MURDERS sadly does not demonstrate enough skill or, more importantly, contain enough tension or scares to make it a worthwhile viewing experience or even a passable fright flick. Here’s hoping his upcoming THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE, a fictionalized account of the terrifying visions which the young actress had in the lead-up to her death at the hands of the Charles Manson Family, at least tries to add something different and unique to another infamous crime case which has also been covered from just about every conceivable angle in the fifty years since it occurred.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


To coincide with the upcoming release of the VENOM movie, I have written a piece for FILMINK on the origins and background of the character and the previous attempts to bring him to life on the screen. Head on over to FILMINK at the link below to access the article.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


An inaugural inductee into the American National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, the View-Master has proven to be a popular toy with each successive generation of children and young teenagers. Introduced to the world at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the View-Master was a small handheld viewer, through which stereoscopic 3-D photographs could be seen, via thin cardboard discs (known as ‘reels’) containing seven pairs of small colour photographs, which is inserted into the viewer and rotated via a small lever at the side.

The View-Master had its beginnings within the walls of the Oregon-based Sawyer’s Services, Inc. (later shortened to just Sawyer’s), one of America’s largest producers of scenic postcards during the 1920’s. When avid photographer William Gruber hooked-up with Sawyer’s in 1938, he presented them with a special rig he had built in order to view stereoscopic (3-D) images from frames of the then-new Kodachrome 16mm colour film. After refining the viewer and dubbing it the View-Master (a name Gruber hated, thinking it sounded too much like a kitchen appliance), the initial viewers were made from Bakelite and sold at photography stores and scenic attraction gift shops. Subjects for the early reels included scenic attractions like the Carlsbard Caverns in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon.

The novelty of the View-Master quickly saw its popularity, as well as the profits of Sawyer’s, skyrocket. During the Second World War, the American military used View-Masters as a valuable tool for training their personnel in depth perception, purchasing over 100,000 viewers and nearly six million reels between 1942 and 1945. When Sawyer’s absorbed True-Vue, View-Master’s main rival, in 1951, it not only took care of the competition, but enabled Sawyer to take advantage of True-Vue’s lucrative licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Studios, producing popular reels of Disney characters, as well as reels depicting the various rides and attractions at Disneyland after the theme park opened in 1955.

In 1966, Sawyer’s was taken over by General Aniline & Film (GAF) and the View-Master, now more streamlined and manufactured in plastic rather than Bakelite, became a much more youth-oriented product. While scenic and travelogue reels were still being produced, the focus began to shift more towards movies, television shows, cartoons and occasionally music groups. Many of these post-GAF reels are amongst the most popular and sought after with collectors – some of the View-Master TV show sets produced during this period include Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, The Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-O, Laugh-In, Batman, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and many more. 

1970 saw the introduction of the Talking View-Master, a larger and heavier model which played special reels that had a clear plastic sound disc attached to them. While they were more expensive and had electronics in them that tended to break down after time, and the sound was often tinny and hard to understand, the Talking View-Master was a popular addition to the line, and remained in production in various incarnations until 1997. Another variation was the lighted View-Master, introduced in 1958, which used batteries and a built-in light globe to illuminate the reels, rather than have to hold the viewer up to a window or other external light source.

While the majority of View-Master reels were manufactured in America and Belgium, a number were also produced in countries like France, Austria, India and Australia (there were several Australia specific sets produced in 1973, covering cities like Alice Springs, Cairns, Adelaide and Melbourne). 

In terms of collectability, most View-Master viewers and reels can be found quite easily and inexpensively, such was the huge numbers they were produced in. There are certainly exceptions, though. Early viewers and reels will always command good prices if they are in great condition, and of course some of the reels for popular or cult movies and television shows remain desirable as they appeal to a cross-section of collectors. Again, condition is always a main factor in the value of the reels, since they were made of rather thin cardboard and could be damaged or bent easily, and the film frames were susceptible to scratching. The paper envelope packaging for the reels was also rather thin and easy to tear, and the rear flaps often detached. Most reels also came with an illustrated booklet that will often be missing or damaged. Naturally, packets that are unopened and still in their cellophane wrapping are the most sought-after.  Also popular with collectors are the special gift sets that are occasionally produced to tie-in with general themes (like superheroes, monsters and Disney) and specific movies/topics (such as the E.T., Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Hello Kitty and The Little Mermaid).

Advertising and other promotional material can also appeal to the hardcore collector. This includes store display signs, wholesale catalogues, demonstration reels given out to retailers, and even incentive items, like the pair of gold-plated View-Master cufflinks that were given out to company employees who had achieved or exceeded their sales targets. Another very desirable item is the thin plastic folding View-Master, which was produced to fit inside medical text books in the early-1970s, and came with a number of specially made medical reels, which helped students visualise diseases and parts of the human anatomy with a depth not achievable on the printed page (many of these images required a rather strong stomach to look at).

After 25 different models of viewer, thousands of titles and nearly 1.5 billion reels produced over the decades, and even a feature film reportedly being developed by DreamWorks (!), it’s safe to say the View-Master will be around and entertaining kids – and adult collectors – for many years to come.

Happy clicking!  
Copyright John Harrison 2018
(Note: The above piece was originally written for Collectables Trader, an Australian magazine which I regularly contributed to. Unfortunately, the magazine ceased publishing before this final piece could be run).

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Recently had the chance to catch-up on the first season of the HBO drama series THE DEUCE, which looks at life amongst the denizens of New York's 42nd Street in the early-seventies, a decade before the big clean-up started and the area was rife with street prostitution, drugs, crime and corruption, and hardcore XXX movies were moving from the back room peep booths to the once-grand old cinemas which populated Times Square.
Of course I only know this period from what I have read in books and seen in movies and documentaries, so how accurate it may be in capturing the zeitgeist of the times may be open to debate, but THE DEUCE certainly brings the period to life in a visually impressive way (apart from the odd dodgy 70s wig on some of the male cast members). Created by the team behind the acclaimed THE WIRE, there are certainly some impressive names behind THE DEUCE that lend it some extra gravitas and credence. Noted crime fiction author Megan Abbott serves as a story consultant and also wrote one of the episodes, while the folks behind The Rialto Report (a remarkable website/podcast which documents the golden age of adult sinema) worked on it as creative consultants.
Maggie Gyllenhaal (who also executive produces the series) is excellent in the lead role as the hooker who finds a much-needed mental and creative outlet behind the camera, and she has some quite brave and daring scenes. I am not a huge James Franco fan and was dubious about him playing not one but two roles in this (as twin brothers), but I warmed to his characters and performances after a couple of episodes. And of course there is just the sheer joy of seeing all the Times Square cinema marquees recreated and advertising everything from Dave Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis films to THE OMEGA MAN and Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMMAGE (given an extra M here).
Looking forward to the second season which premieres in September and apparently jumps ahead five years, picking up the story and characters in 1977.

Friday, August 3, 2018



Usually thrown-in with the 1970s cycle of disaster films (AIRPORT, EARTHQUAKE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, etc.), James Goldstone’s ROLLERCOASTER (1977) is actually much more in the style of the classic Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller, and in that regard it is one of the best films of its type to emerge from that decade. George Segal turns in a marvelous performance as Harry Calder, a safety inspector for a big insurance firm, who finds himself caught up in a game of cat and mouse with an intelligent, blackmailing young psychopath (Timothy Bottoms) who is crisscrossing across the US planting bombs in some of the country’s biggest and most populated amusement parks.

A spectacular opening sequence, in which Bottoms’ unnamed character derails the old wooden Rocket rollercoaster ride at Ocean View Amusement Park in Virginia, is later followed by a tense and extended scene in which Calder, acting as bag man for the ransom money, is sent all over the Kings Dominion theme park by the psychopath, in an attempt to wear him and the cops down, disorienting them until he has the chance to snatch the suitcase filled with a cool million (well, it bought a lot more in 1977 than it does today). Adding suspense to this scene is the revelation that Calder is carrying a bomb, planted in the walkie-talkie which the bomber has delivered to him to enable communication. There are some terrific moments here, none more so than when Calder is ordered to ride the Rebel Yell rollercoaster, the first person camera doing a dizzying twirl off the ride’s highest turn, momentarily giving the impression that the coaster is soaring off its track.

Segal’s performance in ROLLERCOASTER has nice moments of humor and a great sense of mid-70's polyester swagger (a running subplot has him trying electric shock therapy to help him quit smoking), and he and Bottoms play off each other wonderfully. A nice supporting cast includes Richard Widmark as a gung-ho federal agent, Harry Guardino as a police chief, Henry Fonda as Calder’s boss, Susan Strasberg as his girlfriend and a teenaged Helen Hunt as his daughter.

Originally released in Universal Studios’ short-lived Sensurround process (initially developed for EARTHQUAKE in 1974), ROLLERCOASTER also benefits from a nice score by Lalo Schifrin, who mixes the usual amusement park calliope sounds with cues that are very reminiscent of past classic Hitchcock soundtracks (Bernard Hermann’s PSYCHO score in particular). Using expensive speakers that had to be specially installed in cinemas who wanted to take on the format, Sensurround bumped up the bass in the low frequency range, causing the seats and floors of the cinema to rumble in correlation to the onscreen action. Other than EARTHQUAKE and ROLLERCOASTER, Sensurround was only used for two other feature films, the war adventure MIDWAY (1977) and the theatrical version of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA pilot from 1978. While I saw ROLLERBALL upon its initial release in Australia, it was at the drive-in (taken along by my older sister and her future husband) so I unfortunately did not get to experience the movie in Sensurround, though I at least did get to see BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in that process.

Mixing-up the soundtrack a bit are a couple of numbers by cult American New Wave rock band Sparks, who perform two of their numbers - Fill ‘er Up and Big Boy - during the climactic third act, which takes place during the July 4th grand opening of the 360 degrees Revolution rollercoaster at Magic Mountain in California. According to varying sources, the producers originally hoped to have either KISS or the Bay City Rollers perform in the film, but had to settle for Sparks after the other choices fell through (KISS would eventually invade Magic Mountain for their own film, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK, the following year). As cool as it might have been to see KISS performing here, it is great to see Sparks get some decent screen time in a Hollywood production (though Sparks themselves often cite their appearance in the film as one of their biggest career mistakes, and the songs which they perform in the film are absent from the soundtrack LP released by MCA).

Long overdue for a home video upgrade, ROLLERCOASTER comes to hi-def in a limited (3000 copies) Blu-ray release from UK outfit 101 Films, who finally give the film the attention it deserves. Spread out over two discs, the release features both the US theatrical cut and the slightly longer German cut (in English language), which contains a couple of seconds of extra blood (in the opening roller coaster crash and during the climax). The transfer looks wonderful, preserving some nice light film grain yet adding so much depth and definition to the movie, and the amusement park sequences have never looked more vibrant or pulsating with colour (especially the neon-lit night scenes filmed at the Ocean View Amusement Park).

Extra features on the ROLLERCOASTER Blu-ray include an audio commentary by UK film journalists Allan (The Dark Side, Infinity) Bryce and David (Sheer Filth) Flint, a short featurette on the film and the 70s disaster film cycle (enjoyable if not overly-revealing), and an interview with Tommy Cook (who cooked up the original story for the film and served as an associate producer). The original theatrical trailer is also listed amongst the special features on the back cover of the sleeve and in the promotional specs, but I was unable to locate it on either of the discs. The Blu-ray is packaged in a cardboard slipcase and includes a very nice 28-page colour booklet printed on thick stock, which contains an essay on the film by Scott Harrison and a piece on the Sensurround process by Allan Bryce. The commentary by Bryce and Flint is pretty casual and free-flowing, not a lot of production information revealed but an enjoyable chat between two people who appreciate the film and have some entertaining observations about it, my favourite moments being those where the pair discuss the Lalo Schifrin score and the participation of Sparks (and rumoured KISS and Bay City Rollers involvement).

Though I would have loved a documentary featurette on the Sensurround process and a bit more variety in the packaging (the slick and cardboard slipcase both feature the same photo and design, ignoring the film’s great range of international poster art), this is still a much-welcomed and essential purchase, and will hopefully help this still somewhat underrated movie find the much larger audience that it deserves.

You can order the ROLLERCOASTER Blu-ray from 101 Films HERE.

Review Copyright John Harrison 2018

Saturday, July 28, 2018


Caught up with the first three episodes of the new CASTLE ROCK series, which weaves many of the people, places and situations from the writings of Stephen King into its own fictional narrative. Part murder mystery, part supernatural horror and part TWIN PEAKS, it's very Shawshank-heavy so far but I have found it intriguing and effective enough to keep watching for the moment. It thankfully isn't as "gimmicky" with all the King references as I feared it might have been (at least so far) and there's some nice performances from Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn and Bill Skarsgård (proving he can be as disturbing without the Pennywise get-up as he can be when he is inside it).


Last night's movie. An enjoyably odd little horror thriller from 1963 starring Michael Gough in another deliriously over-the-top performance as the haughty British owner of a private zoo in Los Angeles, who not only treats his collection of big cats to private organ recitals in his own living room, but uses them to dispense of anyone who threatens him or tries to stick their noses into his business. BLACK ZOO is a quite lurid and seedy film in many ways, a lot more continental in look and style than an American production, and passages of Paul Dunlap's score contains the type of sleazy jazz more suited to a stag film loop. I had this souvenir photo magazine, published in 1963 by Charlton, long before I ever got to see the movie.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Written by Tim Lucas
Midnight Movie Monographs
Published by Electric Dreamhouse/236 Pages
‘To me, Spirits of the Dead is not only that occasion of homecoming— the occasion of art returning to its birthplace in a necessarily evolved form—but an advancement of the Poe film comparable to the Beatles’ summit of artistic expression with Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The music from that album, first released in June 1967, was influencing the arts across the board at the time Histoires Extraordinaires was in production—as can be seen in the “Rocking Horse People” of “Metzengerstein,” the “Within You Without You” of “William Wilson,” and in “Toby Dammit,” who “blew his mind out in a car.”’ – Tim Lucas

I first read about SPIRITS OF THE DEAD – the 1968 Italian/French anthology film based on three short stories by Edgar Allan Poe - in the pages of Michael J. Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (Ballantine, 1983). It was one of literally dozens upon dozens of titles which I eagerly jotted down into a notebook as Weldon’s amazing tome opened my eyes to a range of cinema I had never known existed before (and if I did, had never paid much attention to until reading the author’s unique spin on it). I have to admit that, as a teenaged boy who hotly anticipated every late-night Saturday TV screening of BARBARELLA (1968), my main impetus for initially wanting to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD was the thought of watching more late-sixties-era Jane Fonda parading around in skimpy, fetishistic outfits. 
When I finally did get to see SPIRITS OF THE DEAD almost 15 years later (thanks to a grainy bootleg VHS sourced from an Australian grey-market company called Psycho Voodoo Video), my film appreciation had thankfully developed and matured substantially, and even with the tape’s dubious quality (third generation dub at least), the film seduced me and overwhelmed me from the get-go. That doesn’t mean that Jane Fonda didn’t look as stunning as I had imagined, but she was just one part of the film’s phantasmagorical collision of visuals, sounds and ideas which penetrated my senses like an unstoppable surrealistic hurricane. 

For those who are unfamiliar with SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (or HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES, as it was known in France), the three Poe stories adapted for the movie (in order of appearance) were: "Metzengerstein" (directed by Roger Vadim with Jane and Peter Fonda), “William Wilson” (directed by Louis Malle with Alain Delon) and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” (filmed as “Toby Dammit”, directed by Federico Fellini with Terence Stamp). While the first two segments are works of frequent visual beauty and compelling abstract themes (the opening sequence of Malle’s segment in particular never fails to induce overwhelming anxiety in me), they are pretty much curtain raisers to Fellini’s “Toby Dammit”. A portrait of an alcoholic Shakespearean actor (Stamp) slowly losing his mind (and ultimately his head) in one of the most terrifying yet hauntingly beautiful descents into madness ever depicted on film, “Toby Dammit” was initially considered almost two good to be included as part of the trilogy. There was some discussion around Fellini adapting another Poe story and releasing that and “Toby Dammit” as its own anthology film, but as tempting as that idea is it never eventuated and “Toby Dammit” was included as the final story in SPIRITS OF THE DEAD as planned.

Written by Tim Lucas and published by Electric Dreamhouse as part of their excellent Midnight Movie Monographs series, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is an engrossing read which serves as both an in-depth history of its production, critical reception and complex release history, as well as providing a virtual shot-by-shot analysis of the film. As someone who has long studied and championed European genre cinema (through the pages of his seminal Video Watchdog magazine and more recently via his audio commentary work), Lucas is certainly the one qualified to take on SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and I personally have always enjoyed his writing style so it’s comforting to see him return to the page with a substantial written piece, now that Video Watchdog is sadly defunct.
Sensibly, after an entertaining and nostalgic recollection of his own introduction to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD at the Plaza Theatre in Norwood, Ohio in 1970, Lucas approaches each of the three segments as their own individual films, which of course is what they actually are. And just to ensure you are getting a complete overview of SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, and to help understand a lot of the points being made by Lucas’ text, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) even reprints the three Poe stories which inspired the film. I personally love production info above analysis, so my favourite parts of the book are those which deal with the history of the film, both as a whole and its individual parts – from a germ of an idea in the mind of French producer Raymond Eger and the recruiting of the talent (Orson Welles was originally tapped to direct an adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death”) to its somewhat underwhelming premiere at Cannes and subsequent editing for its 1969 US release by AIP (American International Pictures). It was AIP who changed its title to SPIRITS OF THE DEAD for the American market, where it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be slapped with the R rating in that country. Also included is an overview of previous filmic and TV adaptations of Poe stories (including, of course, the classic run of Poe films made at AIP by Roger Corman), and a chronology of some of the more notable home video and disc releases (the one to beat currently being the 2010 Blu-ray released by Arrow Academy).

Though substantially smaller (in both word count and sheer size) than Lucas’ last book devoted to European genre cinema – his mammoth 2007 book on Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, All the Colors of the Dark – the Midnight Movie Monographs series are the perfect size for an in-depth examination of an individual film, providing enough room for details while trimming off any unnecessary fat. They are shaping up into a nice library of books which share the same format but highlight a diverse range of writing styles from various fine authors, and encompass a good range of cult cinema that includes both well-known films along with some more slightly obscure or unexpected titles. Future announced entries in the series include such films as From Beyond the Grave (1974), Eyes Without a Face (1960), Hammer’s masterful Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), De Palma’s The Fury (1978), the beautifully hypnotic Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971), Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) and Herk Harvey’s surrealist classic Carnival of Souls (1962), the latter two authored by noted comic book artist and film writer Stephen R. Bissette.

Because I had not seen it in quite a while, I gave SPIRITS OF THE DEAD a rewatch before plunging into the book. Immediately upon finishing the text I watched the film again, appreciating many of its textures in a new and re-invigorated way. To me, that marks the sign of a good book that has done its job well. Illustrated throughout with B&W photos, Spirits of the Dead (Histoires Extraordinaires) is due for publication (in hardcover) around the end of July, with a cover price of UK 20 pounds. For more information keep track of the publisher’s website at: ELECTRIC DREAMHOUSE
Review by and Copyright 2018 John Harrison