Movies Till Dawn: Velour

The Naked Ape” (1973, Code Red) Vintage curiosity produced by Playboy Enterprises attempts to deliver a “now” interpretation of anthropologist Desmond Morris’s 1967 book on human evolution but instead offers up a fragmented mix of psychedelic animation, tame sex comedy, and cultural commentary. Framing story, set to songs by Jimmy Webb, involves TV star Johnny Crawford as a college student/naif plunging headlong into adulthood via sex with a pre-“Dallas” Victoria Principal and the then-still-current Vietnam war, while cartoon sequences (animated by Murakami/Wolf of “Free To Be… You and Me” fame and Charles Swenson) detail how similar explorations played out for our primitive ancestors. Given Playboy’s involvement, the film is remarkably chaste, and the observations – both live-action and animated – are broadly constructed and not particularly revelatory. Best enjoyed as a long-lost emissary from the 1970s; Code Red’s Blu-ray looks great and bundles the theatrical trailer with other titles in their library.

Stiletto” (1969, Kino Lorber) Forgotten leading man Alex Cord broods manfully as a jet-setting count who also moonlights as a Mafia hitman. Though awash in wealth and women, Cord tires of his lifestyle –a quid pro quo from mob boss Joseph Wiseman – and prompts pursuit from his former employers and Patrick O’Neal as a Stateside cop. Sudsy pulp action, based on a beach-read novel by Harold Robbins and directed with TV-movie flair by Bernard L. Kowalski; the picture’s primary pleasure is spotting the Golden Age and up-and-coming players in the cast, including Roy Scheider, Charles Durning, Olympia Dukakis, and Raul Julia (in his film debut), many of whom are noted by David De Valle and David DeCouteau in their chatty commentary. Puerto Rico plays itself and Sicily; classic crime scribe W.R. Burnett (“High Sierra”) contributed an uncredited script polish.

The Chinatown Kid” (1977, Arrow Video) Trouble with Triad gangsters in Hong Kong sends Alexander Fu Sheng – a nice guy with a serious punch – to San Francisco, where he again runs afoul of – and falls in with – organized crime. Well-loved title from director Chang Cheh (“One-Armed Swordsman”) and Shaw Brothers Studios, thanks to the late Fu Sheng’s abundant charisma and physical skills, the presence of several members of the Venom Mob from Cheh’s “Five Deadly Venoms,” and an eye-popping interpretation of Stateside fashion and culture (with Fu Sheng’s denim on denim combo a standout), all set to a groove-heavy score by Chen Yung Yu (Frankie Chang) and choice De Wolfe library cuts. Cheh’s direction is occasionally uneven – wacky comedy collides with stark grit – but his focus on the relationship between Fu Sheng and Sun Chien, who plays a fellow émigré on a downward path, adds dramatic heft to the material. Arrow’s Blu-ray – part of its “Shawscope Vol. 1” set – bundles the 115-minute theatrical cut (with Cantonese and English-language tracks) with a controversial 90-minute version for the Mandarin-language market. Commentary by Fu Sheng scholar Terrence J. Brady, an interview with co-star Susan Shaw, a segment of the 2003 “Elegant Trails” featurettes focused on Fu Sheng, and American and international trailers round out the disc; many of the De Wolfe library tracks are featured on two CDs included with the “Shawscope” set.

Scream, Pretty Peggy” (1973, Kino Lorber) Doe-eyed art student Sian Barbara Allen comes to regret ignoring all the red flags that waved around her new assistant job at the home of artist Ted Bessell: his hideous sculptures and imperious mother (Bette Davis), for sure, but also the fact that the previous assistant (Tovah Feldshuh) is missing and a secret apartment in the house holds Bessell’s unseen (and insane) sister. Modest TV-movie made during the height of the ’70s small screen horror boom telegraphs most of its twists and shocks, but benefits from Davis’s presence and a pair of fright film vets – co-writer Jimmy Sangster of Hammer Films fame and director Gordon Hessler, who helmed “Scream and Scream Again” (and “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park”) – behind the camera. Kino’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Troy Howarth and an original TV promo spot.

School of Death” (1975, Mondo Macabro) Headstrong Sandra Mozarowsky – the new girl at a 19th-century London orphanage-cum-training school for domestics – investigates the disappearance of friend Victoria Vera and uncovers the ghastly fate of fellow classmates who break the school’s severe and repressive rules. Spanish thriller hews closer to Gothic mystery than gorefest; director Pedro L. Ramirez shows considerable restraint, even in an opening bit of enforced brain surgery, and favors atmosphere and suspense over the hallmarks of ’70s horror (sex and blood). As such, “School” is the rare Eurohorror title that’s palatable for a wider audience beyond its devotees; Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray, which marks the worldwide home video release for this title, includes informative commentary by historian Kat Ellinger, who details its history and influences.

No One Heard the Scream” (1973, Severin Films) On a whim, Carmen Sevilla decides to forgo her once-a-month visit her sugar daddy in London and instead stay in her apartment in Madrid, where she discovers her neighbor (Vicente Parra) attempting to dispose of his wife’s body in the building’s elevator shaft. He enlists her – unwillingly at first – to help him cover up the crime, which leads to a curious sort of relationship, albeit one in which the emotional ups and downs come with a much higher price. Glossy crime thriller by Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia hews closer to American suspense efforts than the director’s best known work – the darkly comic and bloody “Cannibal Man” and the grim, grit-steeped “Quinqui” films – while also peeling a fisheye at the transactions and negotiations inherent to all relationships. Severin’s Blu-ray includes an interview with film historian Andy Willis, who discusses the Spanish take on Italian giallos and de la Iglesia’s unique body of work.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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