Wallow in Giallo: A review of Severin Films’ “All the Colors of the Dark/All the Colors of Giallo” Blu-ray set

What it is: A Blu-ray, DVD, and CD set from Severin Films

What’s included:

1) The 1972 feature film ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, directed by Sergio Martino, on Blu-ray (region A)

2) The CD soundtrack of the film’s score by composer Bruno Nicolai

3) A new, original, feature-length documentary ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO on Blu-ray (all-region)

4) 80+ trailers of classic giallo films, included on the documentary Blu-ray.

5) A DVD compilation of Krimi trailers (Krimi are noirish German murder mysteries similar to, but predating, Italian giallo films).

6) A CD compilation of theme songs and music-score excerpts from popular giallo films.

Bonus features include interviews with filmmakers and film historians as well as audio commentaries by giallo historian Kat Ellinger. Below I review the individual components.

The movie: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK is the third giallo in the career of versatile Italian director Sergio Martino (TORSO, THE VIOLENT PROFESSIONALS). Set in London, the story centers on Jane (Edwige Fenech), a woman beset by bizarre, violent nightmares ever since a car accident claimed the life of her unborn child.

Live-in boyfriend Richard (George Hilton) helpfully insists that taking vitamins will stop the nightmares. Jane’s doctor advises therapy. Jane instead chooses option three, suggested by her mysterious new neighbor, Mary (Marina Malfatti): a black mass. Surprisingly, this black mass does not stop the nightmares, and Jane now finds herself pursued by murderous devil worshippers. As the bodies start to pile up, Jane is forced to ask, “What terrible decision can I make next?”

No one watches giallo films for plot logic. Gialli are about stylish visuals, violent set-pieces, and good-looking people screwing each other in bed and in life. ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK delivers on all counts and is probably Martino’s most visually captivating movie. It’s dreamy, hypnotic, and sometimes jarring, with the camera swooping, tracking, rising, rack focusing, and going into kaleidoscope mode.

My only real critique—which will probably get me into trouble with fans—is the lead character. I adore Edwige Fenech as much as any human does, and her performance is fine. The problem arises in Jane being an unlikable protagonist. From the opening sequence, she’s close to hysteria and stays that way throughout the film. She is, in a word, baroque. At some point you just want her to take a valium and chill the fuck out.

The Blu-ray: Severin did a nice job on the scan. Yeah, it’s grainy in spots, but unless JJ Abrams is enough of a fan to restore every frame of a movie, low-budget flicks from the 1970s are going to show grain when presented in HD. The important thing is color saturation. It’s called ALL THE COLORS IN THE DARK for a reason, and those colors tend toward vibrant greens and rich purples.

The documentary: ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO, mostly in Italian with English subtitles, gets more interesting as it goes along. The first half covers now-familiar territory for fans, from the yellow-covered detective novels that gave the genre its name, to Mario Bava’s establishing entries, to Argento’s global impact. If you’re willing to drop $30 on a Blu-ray documentary about giallo films, you already know this stuff inside and out. Fortunately, the second half gets much more interesting as they dig into the works of other filmmakers and bring out directors Martino, Luciano Ercoli, and Umberto Lenzi, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and giallo stars Barbara Bouchet, George Hilton, and Susan Scott for on-camera interviews (using archival footage of those who are no longer with us). There’s also an audio recording of Lucio Fulci shit-talking Dario Argento, which is worth the price alone.

4 hours of giallo trailers: “4 hours of trailers” kinda sells itself, doesn’t it? I’m a trailer-comp junkie, so Severin didn’t even need the other content to get my $$.

The CDs: Picture a place where romantic orchestral music, progressive rock, and jazz co-exist in weird, fantastical harmony. Seriously, Severin, just release some best-of giallo composer CDs. They will sell.

The DVD: Didn’t watch it.

Star rating: Do I seem like someone who would do star ratings? Get outta here with that.

Note: I purchased all of the above in a limited-edition set inside a slipcase (see lead image), but the movie and its soundtrack can be purchased separately from the documentary, trailer compilations, and various-composers CD on Severin’s website, Amazon, and Diabolik DVD. Please be advised that some or all of the bonus content described above may be limited-run offerings. Visit Severin’s site for details.

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Generation 0: Unhumans now available in paperback and Kindle

Five years after an unexplained global phenomenon wiped out most of humanity, Josie Revelle and her small band of survivors travel up the eastern seaboard looking for a better life but instead find burnt-out cities and a deadly black fungus choking the countryside. In an attempt to escape the blight, they run straight into an even graver existential threat: An invading paramilitary force seeking to wage war against the Unhumans, mysterious beings who hide in the shadows and are believed responsible for the deadly infestation. As a horde of barbarians storms in from the west, Josie’s band is torn apart, and she soon finds herself choosing an unlikely ally in the looming conflict … a decision that could pit her in battle against her closest friends.

Generation 0: Unhumans, the sequel to Generation 0, is available at amazon.com in the US and Europe:

Paperback US:
Paperback UK:
Kindle US:
Kindle UK:

Generation 0 available now

Any fiction lovers in your life? Give the gift of death and destruction!

GENERATION 0 by Alex Vorkov (AKA me) is available now at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This grim and harrowing survival story makes the perfect Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa present, provided your friend/loved one likes to spend their holiday reading novels full of dirt, blood, and rotting corpses.

There’s this other junk in there about the human condition and finding strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, but that’s the dumb, old nonsense that English teachers like. YOU CAN TOTALLY IGNORE IT!

Published by Permuted Press, GENERATION 0 is recommended for readers 14 and up. It’s pretty gruesome in places.

3-minute Blu-ray review: The Old Dark House (1932) NEW

Released on Blu-ray by Cohen Media Group, October 24, 2017

Specs: 1080p, PSM 2.0 audio. No region code or aspect ratio is stated on the packaging, but Amazon reports them as Region 1 and 137:1 respectively.

Running time: 72 minutes

Genre: High-Classic Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy)

Concept: After a landslide blocks a neglected country road, five storm-drenched travelers seek refuge in an austere old house populated by a monstrous butler and a pair of eccentric siblings harboring a secret that will soon endanger them all.

The Movie: It’s true that not a whole lot happens in The Old Dark House. James Whale fans expecting the grim horror of Frankenstein, the fantastical wonder of The Invisible Man, or the epic fairytale quality of Bride of Frankenstein may be disappointed at first. The film consists mostly of characters skulking around shadowy hallways, running through the rain, sneaking up creaky stairs, and complaining about the weather.

It sounds dreary on paper, but that’s why we watch the movie!

Under the visionary guidance of Whale, the mundane becomes frightening and the banal turns razor-sharp. Each character (and there are quite a few for a film restricted to one setting) is distinct and layered, and their collective interplay is a master class in sardonic humor. Some label The Old Dark House a comedy, but don’t imagine outdated jokes and corny comic relief. It’s a horror film that drips wit just as it pours rain and rattles thunder.

The cast might be the best ensemble of any horror film from the 1930s: Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Eva Moore, Lilian Bond, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, and the inimitable Ernest Thesiger, whose every line is a quotable delight.

My only real criticism is the abrupt ending, though that hardly makes it different from other genre films of the time. So sit back, fire up the Blu-ray player, and have yourself a potato.

[review continues below]

Video: The transfer is super clean. While a bit of grain should be expected from an 85-year-old movie, the print itself is in excellent shape. The contrast is quite good for the most part, though lowering the brightness on your TV a notch or two might darken a few shots that bear too much middle gray. Don’t dim too much, however, or you’ll miss out on the beautiful textures revealed by the new 4k scan. Yes, this release is far superior to any version previously on the market. That’s what you really want to know, right?

Late in the film, there appear to be a few missing frames, once at about 57:30 and again a few minutes later. Probably less than a half-second in total. I’m not sure if previous versions have this glitch, but I there’s no obvious splice or auditory pop, so it’s a minimal distraction.

Audio: There’s not much to report about a dialog-heavy movie with no music score that takes place in one setting. Overall, the actors’ voices come across clear and full and the sound effects are mixed well without overpowering the conversation. The thunder cracks are appropriately loud where intended to startle or punctuate the action.

Extras: Two audio commentaries; featurette; Sarah Karloff interview; trailer.

Verdict: Seek some much-needed shelter from the stresses of modern life at The Old Dark House.

GENERATION 0 arrives in paperback on November 7, 2017!

Follow the lives of fours strangers into a global apocalypse:

Josie, a social misfit whose best friend is a switchblade knife.

Shawnika, a bookworm with a dark side that erupts when threatened.

Grace, a tomboy with a special skill that gets her into trouble as often as out of it.

Zane, a psychopath amused by suffering and murder.

As the world descends into gang warfare and the dead rot in the streets, their every moment becomes life or death. Every choice blurs the line between good and evil. Every action chips away at their humanity. And when a maelstrom of events forces their paths to cross, they’ll each will discover what they’re really made of.

Generation 0: Are they the end of mankind, or a new beginning?

Amazon paperback pre-order

Barnes & Noble paperback pre-order

Kindle e-book (available now)

3-minute Blu-ray review: The Dead Next Door (1989)

Released on Blu-ray & DVD by Tempe Digital, September 26, 2017

Specs: All Region, 1080p HD, DTS 5.1

Running Time: 78 minutes

Genre: Classic American Zombie (Dawn of the Dead, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things)

The Concept: A small band of soldiers travels from Virginia to Ohio in search of an antidote to a zombie plague, but they must first face off against an armed and hostile religious cult determined to stop them.

The Movie: DIY horror films are fairly commonplace today, thanks to the relative availability of HD cameras and editing software, the ease of sharing/streaming content online, and the rise of the found-footage genre, which eliminates the need for polished cinematography and time-consuming shot coverage.

Prior to those developments, however, making a film on your own was tough going. You needed expensive film stock, lighting rigs, and professional post-production equipment. You had to strike costly prints. Then you had to find a theater willing to show your film or a home video distributor able to mass produce it.

Enter J.R. Bookwalter, ambitious youth. In the mid-1980s, armed with a Super 8 camera, then 19-year-old Bookwalter spent four years shooting a surprisingly epic zombie-splatter adventure that was eventually released on VHS as The Dead Next Door. The film plays like an expanded universe entry in George A.Romero’s living dead franchise (imagine a Star Wars-type standalone that takes place between Dawn and Day of the Dead).

The Dead Next Door looks like what it is: a remarkable achievement in home moviemaking, replete with amateurish acting and inconsistent cinematography. The Evil Dead, the greatest DIY success of that decade, is far more polished and spectacular in comparison. Alas, while Bookwalter has carved out a niche career in the horror genre, his talents didn’t translate to the big leagues the way Sam Raimi’s did.*

[On the other hand, I’ll bet Bookwalter’s Robot Ninja is more fun to watch than Oz, The Great and Powerful.]

Video: The transfer is as good as the source allows. That is, the outdoor, wide-angle daytime shots look generally clean and bright. The close-ups are rather grainy, owing to the film being shot on Super 8, a poor format for subjects closer than three feet from the lens.

On the plus side, the color temperature is accurate and naturalistic. Conversely, there’s a fair amount of flutter present in some shots. It’s not easy to pull focus on an 8mm camera, either, and it shows at times. Ultimately, there’s only so much you can do about picture quality when reproducing 8mm film in HD.

Audio: It’s difficult to evaluate sound quality when the audio track is patchwork (some ambient, some looped). The volume is uneven, but I suspect adding compression to flatten it out would introduce a considerable amount of hiss.

Extras: Audio commentary, featurettes, outtakes (oddly, the DVD offers three commentaries, the Blu-ray only one)

Verdict: The film is intermittently effective but, overall, doesn’t hold up that well. While the gore FX are well done, it’s too ambitious for its limitations. I quite enjoyed the Romero-esque “American heartland” setting and sensibility, though, and the filmmaker’s swing-for-the-fences approach is admirable.

*Raimi ended up serving as executive producer on The Dead Next Door, perhaps seeing something of himself in Bookwalter.

Boris Karloff – The Top 10 Films

For generations of horror fans, Boris Karloff is one of the most beloved figures in the genre. The combination of his gaunt appearance, menacing glare, and musically sinister voice made him an iconic movie villain, but it was his ability to find the soul of every character that rendered his performances  timeless.

Karloff elevated every movie he in which he appeared, from mundane B programmers to yesterday’s five honorable mentions. Today, we look at the ten films that, in my opinion, represent the best.

 

My Top 10 films of Boris Karloff

 

  1. The Ghoul (1933)

Karloff plays a professor of Egyptology who appears to have more than simply an intellectual curiosity for his subject, returning from the grave like a mummy to seek revenge on those who stole a jewel he believes is imbued with the power of the ancient gods.

If not marred by a terrible, banal ending, The Ghoul would be higher on this list. The film is among the most eerie and atmospheric of the era, and it benefits from a delightful cast (including Ernest Thesiger and Cedric Hardwicke), grim humor, and well-paced direction from T. Hayes Hunter.

 

  1. Targets (1968)

In one of his most nuanced performances, Karloff plays a fading horror star who finds his talents are now lost on a society where real-life horrors like the Vietnam War, political assassinations, and rapid cultural upheaval have made the gothic films on which he built his reputation seem quaint and anachronistic.

Targets is an astute, smartly self-aware film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who went on to earn acclaim for 1971’s The Last Picture Show.

 

  1. The Body Snatcher (1945)

Producer Val Lewton is legendary for his nourish psychological horrors of the 1940s. With future A-list director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still) at the helm and a multi-dimensional performance from Karloff as the grave robber implied in the title, viewers are treated to a superior film.

Like most Lewton films, The Body Snatcher isn’t exactly action packed, but it boasts one of the eeriest climaxes in the classic age of horror cinema.

 

  1. The Old Dark House (1932)

Part comedy and part horror film, The Old Dark House is a grim delight from the pre-code era. The plot, concerning a group of stranded travelers who must shelter in a scary old mansion, is merely a set up for darkly humorous interplay between a smart cast that includes Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Lilian Bond, and Gloria Stuart. Not a whole lot happens, but James Whale’s stylish and atmospheric direction somehow ladles on the suspense anyway.

 

  1. The Black Cat (1934)

Once again, stranded travelers find themselves seeking refuge at a home inhabited by Boris Karloff. This home isn’t some gothic fairy-tale mansion, however, but a sleek, art-deco chamber of horrors. And Karloff isn’t a hairy brute this time but a war criminal with some rather disturbing hobbies. Among the visitors happens to be Bela Lugosi, who would love nothing more than to seek brutal revenge on the host for his wartime transgressions.

Owing to its subject matter, The Black Cat is one of the tonally darkest films of the classic era.

 

  1. Isle of the Dead (1945)

In another pairing of Karloff and producer Val Lewton, the actor plays a Greek general quarantined on an Island with a group of strangers as a plague ravages the land. However, not everyone agrees it’s a plague. Some of the locals believe a soul-stealing vampire called a “Vorvolaka” is on the prowl.

It’s a toss-up where to put most of these films on a Top-10 list, but of one thing I’m sure: Karloff’s descent from the voice of reason to a violent paranoiac is conveyed through one of his very best performances.

 

  1. The Mummy (1932)

Universal was really hitting ‘em out of the park in the early 1930s, weren’t they? The Mummy may be the most subtle, elegant film of the studio’s major horror classics, and Karloff’s presence is felt throughout its entirety, despite his relatively limited screen time.

Honestly, there’s almost no action, yet viewers are left feeling they’ve seen the unforgettable. It might have something to do with that awakening scene.

 

  1. Black Sabbath (1963)

Perhaps it’s strange to place a film that came so late in Karloff’s career, when he was relegated to doing mostly B movies, among the top three. But these are horror films we’re talking about, and Black Sabbath is without a doubt the scariest he ever made. Not since his portrayal of Poelzig in The Black Cat had Karloff been so malevolent in a role.

This film terrified me so badly when I was a kid that … well, nothing, I loved every minute.

 

  1. Frankenstein (1931)

It’s not often a star is born while going unbilled and acting without dialog under 10 pounds of make-up. It’s also not often that Boris Karloff, James Whale, and make-up FX genius Jack Pierce collaborate on one of the best horror films ever made.

Although the plot veers widely from that of the book on which the movie was based, Frankenstein captures the two most important aspects of Mary Shelley‘s literary classic: the tortured relationship between the monster and his maker, and the sheer horror of the tragic events that unfold. Naturally, by today’s standards the film the film isn’t actually frightening, but Whale’s groundbreaking direction, Pierce’s creature design, and Karloff’s impassioned performance are nevertheless the makings of timeless cinema.

 

  1. The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Trying to top an original cinematic masterpiece with a sequel is generally a hopeless endeavor. You’re working against everything that makes an original masterpiece what it is: something new that captivates and surprises audiences and ripples with influence and change across the entire film industry. You can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.

Usually.

Usually you don’t have the boundless creativity of James Whale, Jack Pierce, and Boris Karloff to draw upon. usually you don’t add that one perfect element that wasn’t there before (Ernest Thesiger in the role he was born to play). You don’t dream up one of the most instantly iconic characters in movie history (The Bride). And no one says, “You know what we should do? We should do a sequel to a gruesome, bleak, pure horror movie, but make a dark fairy tale instead.”

The Bride of Frankenstein is arguably the greatest sequel in horror history and, therefore, takes its rightful place as Boris Karloff’s best film.