Movies Till Dawn: Halloween Dusk-to-Dawn Marathon

6 p.m. – “F for Fake”Documentary/Experimental

71q1rQsbxBL._SL1500_(1974/76, Criterion Film Collection) What better way to start a Halloween movie marathon than a picture about the power of tricks? Orson Welles’ last completed feature is presented as a documentary on art forger Elmyr de Hory and his biographer, Clifford Irving, who is revealed midway through the picture as a world-class hoaxer in his own right by penning a faux autobiography for Howard Hughes. Welles and his muse of sorts, Oja Kodar, become interwoven into the story, though the authenticity of their involvement shifts in and out of fiction at the whim of Welles, who appears to having a grand time pulling the wool over the viewer’s eyes. “F for Fake” ultimately serves as Welles’ final word on his fondness for sleight of hand, which he exercised throughout his life, both on film (think the hall of mirrors in “The Lady from Shanghai” and the varying perceptions of Kane in “Citizen Kane”) and in his real life, from his “War of the Worlds” radio hoax to his protean identity (Boy Wonder, Hollywood Has-Been, Comeback Genius, TV Shill). The Criterion Blu-ray includes a host of extras from the 2005 DVD, including commentary from Kodar and cinematographer Gary Graver, the nine-minute trailer Welles shot to promote the film and documentaries on Welles, de Hory and Irving, as well as a new feature, a 1975 episode of Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” in which Welles discusses everything from “Kane” and magic to fine dining.

7:30 p.m. – “Hangmen Also Die!”Thriller

813+L0StLZL._SL1500_(1943, Cohen Film Collection) This taut drama is frequently labeled as noir, probably due to director Fritz Lang’s talent for the genre (“The Big Heat”). And while it shares elements with noir – the murder at the center of the story and gorgeous black-and-white photography by James Wong Howe – the Oscar-nominated film hews closer to Lang’s “M” or “Testament of Dr. Mabuse” in its depiction of an outlaw organization’s dynamics and loyalties. The group in question here is the Czech resistance, which shelters a surgeon (Brian Donlevy) after he assassinates Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, even at tremendous costs to their number. Written by Lang and Bertold Brecht shortly after Heydrich’s real-life murder by the Czechs, “Hangmen” is a solid showcase for its director’s talent for suspense and socio-political commentary, marred only by an odd, ambiguous ending tacked onto the Cohen print, but missing from most theatrical prints and home video releases. Commentary by former New York Film Festival director Richard Pena provides a wealth of information on the production and Lang’s work, while a featurette discusses Heydrich’s role in World War II and his depiction in the film .

9 p.m. – “Alibi for Murder”Mystery

612H+gNhu5L._SL1000_(1936, Sony Choice Collection) Breezy black-and-white trifle for Golden Age whodunit and pulp fans has William Gargan as a dogged radio reporter who uses the airwaves to solve the murder of an inventor. Based on Theodore A. Tinsely’s popular “Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter” series of mysteries for “Black Mask” magazine (though Gargan’s character is named Perry Travis), “Alibi” also features Dwight Frye – Renfield in Universal’s “Dracula” (1931) – as the inventor’s assistant, who appears to be on the edge of hysterical collapse every time he opens his mouth, and Ralph Byrd, who played Dick Tracy in films and on TV in the ‘40s and ‘50s, in an unbilled turn as a cop. Reportedly, Gargan worked on both sides of the law prior to becoming an actor, selling bootleg whiskey in the ‘20s before joining a detective agency.

10 p.m.– “Ringo and His Golden Pistol”Western

71LWp9iTccL._SL1000_(1966, Warner Archives Collection) Sergio Corbucci directed this Italian Western shortly before commencing work on his iconic “Django,” and if “Ringo and His Golden Pistol” doesn’t quite measure up to that film or Corbucci’s best work (“The Great Silence,” “Companeros”), it’s still an entertaining effort, with enough of his signature inspired touches to satisfy completists and casual viewers. Mark Damon (Roger Corman’s “Fall of the House of Usher”) is top-billed as Ringo, a seemingly invincible bounty hunter equipped with the title weapon, which he refuses to draw unless he can profit from it. His kill-for-cash-only policy nearly proves his undoing when he spares Juanito (Franco De Rosa), the youngest of a quartet of bandits because he lacks a price on his head. Juanito assembles a gang of outlaws to claim his revenge on Ringo, who’s been locked up in a small town jail. There isn’t much here that veteran Eurowestern fans haven’t already seen, though the tongue-in-cheek tone that runs through many of Corbucci’s work enlivens the shoot-outs and showdowns. Other plusses: Damon makes for a snazzy-dressed and self-amused hero, and the score by Carlo Savini features a swinging title track by Don Powell. Originally titled “Johnny Oro,” the film and its hero were renamed to cash in on the popularity of Duccio Tessari’s “A Pistol for Ringo” and “The Return of Ringo.

11:30 – “Wizards and Warriors” –“The Unicorn of Death” – Television/Fantasy

61Ot64diZwL._SL1000_(1983, Warner Archives Collection) CBS attempted to address the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons with this amusing fantasy-satire, which is nicely encapsulated by its debut episode. Handsome prince Jeff Conaway and his strongman sidekick (Walter Olkewicz) must stop equally handsome but villainous Duncan Regehr from delivering a sort of medieval nuclear bomb hidden in a unicorn statue to Princess Ariel (Julia Duffy) on her birthday. Played straight, the plot and characters are inane, but the series, created by Emmy winning writer Don Reo (“The John Larroquette Show,” “Two and a Half Men”), spoofs the whole sword-and-sorcery subgenre with a wry wit similar to “Get Smart,” which results in not big laughs, but frequently amusing moments. Conaway and Duffy give particularly fine and dryly funny performances, but the whole cast succeeds (Regehr, who was relegated to suave exotics throughout his career, clearly relishes the chance to do comedy) in selllingthe show’s low-key humor. Unfortunately, the fantasy element proved to be “Wizards’” undoing – fans didn’t like seeing their favorite genre tweaked, and sitcom viewers were put off by the dragons and magicians – which resulted in its cancellation after only eight episodes. WAC’s two-disc set includes the entire series run.

2:30 a.m. – “Stagefright”Horror/Thriller

(1987, Blue Underground) Italian filmmaker Michele Soavi (“Cemetery Man”) made his 91-xdQxZllL._SL1500_directorial debut with this giallo-styled slasher picture about a masked killer stalking the members of a theatrical troupe. The influence of Soavi’s former mentor, Dario Argento, is acknowledged by an array of stylistic elements – the owl mask worn by the killer, the relentless downpour of rain outside the theater, and the Technicolor/E.C. Comics lighting scheme – but Soavi establishes his own aesthetic through muscular camerawork and editing, as well as some inspired set pieces, such as the heroine’s attempt to retrieve a key stuck in the floorboards of the stage while the killer lurks nearby. The gore is plentiful and the characterizations freeway broad, but fans of Italian horror should appreciate this splashy, splattery debut. The Blue Underground Blu-ray includes a wealth of extras, including interviews with Soavi, composer Simon Boswell and co-star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (“The Gates of Hell”), among others, as well as an original trailer and poster and still gallery.

2 a.m. – “Treasure of the Four Crowns”Action/Adventure

(1983, Shout Factory) Arguably the loopiest title in the 3-D revival of the 1980s (though 918XOYBfHBL._SL1500_“Parasite” and “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” aren’t far off), this Italian-Spanish knockoff of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” takes a kitchen sink approach to the process, hurling nearly everything with a point or edge at the viewer in an attempt to compensate for its lack of big-budget special effects or action setpieces. This lends an agreeable Marx Brothers/Looney Tunes quality to its story about a team of adventurers searching for lost gems hidden in the title objects, which is best embodied by its finale, an outrageous barrage of spinning heads, melting faces and flamethrowers that does its darndest to evoke the opening of the Ark in “Raiders,” though on an eighth of its budget. American star and producer Tony Anthony, who made the similar “Coming’ At Ya” in 1981, brings a lot of the same hangdog humor that earmarked his terrific “Stranger” series of Italian Western (as well as the truly offbeat “Blindman” with Ringo Starr) to the proceedings. Though the version included on Shout Factory’s “Action Adventure Movie Marathon” is 2D and full-screen, you’ll still enjoy the barrage of spears, jewels, torches and other ephemera thrust at the camera. The two-disc set includes three decidedly more sedate film: the Roger Corman-produced “I Escaped from Devil’s Island,” with Jim Brown; James Cagney’s sole directorial effort, “Shake Hands with the Devil,” and “The Final Option”  (a.k.a. “Who Dares Wins”) with Judy Davis and a great Roy Budd score.

3:30am – “Hell of the Living Dead” Horror

(1981, Blue Underground) Wonderfully absurd Italian zombie film about a team of 91ykZWoxRTL._SL1500_commandos dispatched to New Guinea in order to rescue journalists caught in the midst of a medically created plague of flesh eating undead. Since nearly every frame of “Hell of the Living Dead” comes across as ridiculous, from the commandos’ appearance (Bay City Rollers circa ‘76) and the barrage of stock footage (including a barn owl) pretending to be New Guinea’s fauna to the extraordinary dubbed dialogue (including, I swear to God, an exchange that opens with “What’s eating you?”), one might assume that the whole film is a goodnatured if extremely gory goof, and should be enjoyed as such (though the real story behind the film is production-wide ineptitude). Directed by Italian exploitation vet Bruno Mattei, though as the supplemental features note, screenwriter Claudio Fragasso – Mr. “Troll 2” himself – was equally responsible for the end result. Blue Underground’s Blu-ray also features Mattei’s post-apocalypse thriller “Rats: Nights of Terror,” which features fewer deliberate laughs.

5 a.m. – “The Manipulator”Thriller

(1972, Mill Creek Entertainment) Words cannot adequately describe this bizarre obscurity 91UVyodDXEL._SL1500_starring Mickey Rooney as a faded Hollywood director, now completely deranged and holding a captive (Luana Anders, “Easy Rider”) whom he believes is the star of his next picture. At least 75 % of “The Manipulator” is comprised of the sweaty, unshaven Rooney ranting, weeping and screaming, often in other voices while also performing a substantial portion of “Cyrano de Bergerac”; Anders does her best to withstand this tidal wave of unfettered lunatic babble (and gets a few showcase freakout moments of her own), but the picture is swallowed whole, digested and then spewed out again by Rooney, who outdoes even his most unhinged talk show appearance with this manic performance. Ninety straight minutes of Full Tilt Rooney is probably more than most sane individuals can bear in a single sitting, and the ear-splitting electronic score by Gil Melle (“Night Gallery”) isn’t going to make things any easier. But for those who do make it to the end credits (where it’s revealed that Burt Sugarman of “The Midnight Special,” is among the producers), “The Manipulator” is a truly unique movie experience – not a particularly good or pleasant one, but an experience all the same. “The Manipulator” is just one of 50 (!) low-budget horror, comedy, adventure and crime films featured on Mill Creek Entertainment’s sprawling, 12-disc “Drive-In Movie Classics” set, which could provide industrious viewers with at least a week’s worth of round-the-clock psychotronic marathons. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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