JANUARY 3 VHS HISTORY LEASON : DIC ENTERTAINMENT
DIC Entertainment (pronounced "deek") was an international film and television production company. In addition to animated (and occasionally live-action) television shows such as Ulysses 31 (1980), Inspector Gadget (1983–1986), The Real Ghostbusters (1986–1991), and the first two seasons of the English adaptation of Sailor Moon (1995–1998), DIC produced live-action feature films while under Disney, including 1998's Meet the Deedles and 1999's Inspector Gadget. It was founded in 1971 as DIC Audiovisuel by Frenchman Jean Chalopin in Paris, as a subsidiary of Radio-Television Luxembourg (RTL). "DIC" was originally an acronym for Diffusion, Information et Communication. The company was also known as The Incredible World of DIC, D.I.C. Audiovisual, DIC Enterprises, DIC Animation City and DIC Productions. In 2008, DiC merged with Cookie Jar Group and then was absorbed into Cookie Jar Entertainment. Its American arm was founded in 1982 as DIC Enterprises. The company's United States headquarters, established in 1982 and headed by Andy Heyward, Jean Chalopin and Bruno Bianchi, in Burbank, California. In 1986, Andy Heyward and other investors bought the company, thus making the US headquarters the main base of operations. Chalopin and Bianchi left around this time, so did formally producer Tetsuo Katayama, in favor of Robby London and Michael Maliani. After the buy out, the company had heavy debt and sold the foreign rights to the DIC library to Saban Productions, who then sold the rights back to Jean Chalopin. At the time Andy Heyward considered Jean Chalopin an enemy, DIC sued Saban for damages and in 1991, DIC and Saban reached a settlement. In 1989, the company's name changed to DiC Animation City. In 1993, DIC Animation City and Capital Cities/ABC formed a joint venture called DIC Entertainment LP and in 1995 it became a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. In 2000 with an investment by Bain Capital, Heyward re-purchased DIC Enterprises. He purchased Bain Capital's interest in 2004 and took the company public the following year. In 2003 DIC launched a syndicated children's programming block called DiC Kids Network. In early 2006, DIC Entertainment and CBS Corporation signed a multi-year deal to unveil a new 3-hour long programming block for Saturday mornings on CBS. The resulting KOL Secret Slumber Party on CBS was launched the following fall. On September 15, 2007, a new programming block: KEWLopolis premiered, a joint venture between DIC, CBS, and American Greetings. In April 2007, DIC Entertainment, Corus Entertainment's Nelvana and Sparrowhawk Media Group announced plans to launch KidsCo a new international children's entertainment network. On June 20, 2008, it was announced that DIC Entertainment and Cookie Jar Group were merging. On July 23, 2008, Cookie Jar and DIC completed their merger, and DIC was finally folded into Cookie Jar Entertainment. DiC now remains an in-credit name only.
JANUARY 3 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW (1971)
I'm getting quite a kick out of satanically-themed movies of the 70s at the moment. This one from British studio Tigon fits into an even smaller genre known as 'folk horror' which includes the likes of Witchfinder General (1968 - also Tigon) and The Wicker Man (1973). These films explore the pagan traditions of the countryside (often set in past eras) and the brutality of religion (both pagan and Christian).
But where Witchfinder concentrates on the abuse of power by religious bigots and Wicker Man shows the horrific effects of pagan superstitions gone mad The/Blood on Satan's Claw (the film was released under both titles) differs in that its religious authorities and lawmen are in fact, no matter how brutal their methods, largely in the right. There genuinely is something nasty and supernatural going on in the simple country lives of these 17th century English folk.
The film gets off to a cracking start with several different story lines linked by the discovery of a deformed skeleton by local plowman Ralph. Believing the remains to be some sort of demon, Ralph's tale is met with skepticism by Judge Wymark who is staying with Mrs Banham. The widow Banham's nephew has also come to visit, bringing with him his betrothed. But the unfortunate girl meets an icy reception and during the night suffers some sort of fit accompanied by nasty visions before being carted off to Bedlam, sporting a nasty-looking claw where her hand used to be. Then there is the case of Angel Blake (played by the absolutely stunning Linda Hayden) who has found a claw in the field and seemingly succumbs to its power. All these intertwining story lines are evidence of an early version of the script that was set out like one of Amicus' horror anthologies. I'm glad they went with keeping it whole as it all makes for a very interesting first act.
Things soon take a turn for the seriously nasty with local children sprouting patches of scaly, hairy skin on their bodies and following the increasingly bitchy Angel Blake with all the fanaticism of a murderous cult. In a surprisingly gruesome and harrowing scene, Widow Banham's nephew suffers a similar trauma to his ex-fiance when he is attacked in bed by a clawed hand. After cutting the demonic hand off with a knife, he is distraught to discover that the hand was in fact, his own.
I was pleasantly surprised by the gritty and downright creepiness of the film. Most British horror films from this era are more than a little campy, playing up on the sex and blood. But this film made me feel genuinely uneasy, aided no doubt, by an extremely creepy musical score and eerie cinematography. While Blood on Satan's Claw certainly does not shy away from the gore and also includes, as one might expect, the almost obligatory rape/sacrifice scene, none of it feels gratuitous.
JANUARY 3 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW (1971)
In 1968, the British production company Tigon had found a measurable degree of success with the release of Michael Reeves' classic tale of greed and corruption, Witchfinder General. In a concerted effort to provide audiences with a film along the same lines a screenplay by Robert Wynne-Simmons was commissioned, Piers Haggard was brought on board to direct, and The Blood on Satan's Claw took root. In most cases, when a film is made by a studio hoping to cash in on a previous effort, the resulting film comes across as mere imitation. In this instance, however, a perfect combination of accurate period details, overwhelming atmosphere, and convincing central performances help provide the basis for one of the finest British horror films of the 1970s.
The story takes place in a 17th century English village where plow boy Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) has uncovered a mysterious set of bones belonging to what he can only describe as a "fiend". He fetches a traveling judge (Patrick Wymark) to investigate his find, but his claims are dismissed as the bones seem to have vanished. Later that night a local girl is overtaken by madness, and through some form of sinister means she grows a menacing looking claw. Convinced that something sinister is afoot, The Judge vows to return after attending to business he has in London. While preparing to leave the remote hamlet he warns that an ancient evil will soon begin to grow, and although people will die, the villagers must be patient and allow it to come to fruition in order to destroy it. In his absence the village begins to succumb to a plague like disease and the local children, led by Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), are drawn into a satanic cult bent on sacrifice and murder.
Wynne-Simmons crafts a superior period piece by injecting the screenplay for The Blood on Satan's Claw with an essential degree of historical depth. Every detail within the film manages to carry a weight of authenticity which never falters. The harsh reality of life during the time period the film emulates is well represented even in the most minor aspects. For instance, there is a scene where a doctor tells a person suffering from a fever that he intends to open a vein in order to bleed the sickness out. Although this sounds rather insane now, in the 17th century it was common practice. Haggard is successful at transporting the viewer to another time frame because of this heavy emphasis on accuracy in the most minuscule of details.
The overall sense of atmosphere that helps carry The Blood on Satan's Claw can be attributed, in large part, to cinematographer Dick Bush who sets an ominous tone from the start. Shot under slate gray skies there is a sense of hopelessness established through the photography from which the film never relents. Having the luxury of what turned out to be a ideal filming location (Bix Bottom Valley-Oxfordshire, England) was key to his ability in achieving this. The rolling hills, and surrounding woodlands provide a beautiful background for Bush's masterful use of widescreen lenses. The muted color scheme, accomplished by shooting in the fall season, gels to perfection with the film's dark subject matter.
As with any atmospheric chiller the music is an important part of the equation. Composer, conductor Marc Wilkinson's orchestral compositions are used to heighten terror and suspense by accentuating scenes in which this is the directors primary objective. This is noticeable from the outset in the scene where Ralph Gower first unearths the bones of the beast in a pre-opening credits sequence. As Ralph notices a grouping of birds gathered around what he thinks is a dead animal, the music creeps in. It builds as he approaches, and reaches a crescendo as he uncovers a skull with a worm covered eyeball. The score then falls into a haunting melody that plays over the opening titles, which is a perfect example of how music can aid in scene transition. This kind of musical dynamic is sustained by Wilkinson for all of the key scenes in the film, and is paramount in creating fear.
Since this tale concerns itself with the continual struggle of good against evil, Haggard's film places a primary character at either end of the spectrum, and then realizes each one to their full potential thanks in large part to the talented actors who portray them. The Judge, who represents the power of good, is played with conviction by the late Patrick Wymark. Whereas most witch finders in films such as this act without morals, and tend to use persecution for selfish reasons, The Judge is a virtuous man who shows a deep concern for the well being of his subjects. He displays considerable strength when needed, and harbors an intense cynical view when it comes to the supernatural. The former can be evidenced in his final confrontation against the titular beast, and the latter can be summed up with one telling line of dialogue from early in the film. When the possibility of witchcraft is proposed as an explanation for the malady which is infecting the villagers, The Judge states in a defiant manner "Witchcraft is dead, and discredited". Wymark's confident screen presence combined with his capability to shift from calm to aggressive emotional states is an asset to the character, and the film in general.
On the flip side, the films source of evil is of course, the devil himself. Since he takes form as the movie progresses, he must rely on a human presence to spread his influence as he gains the necessary strength for his rebirth. This catalyst is a beautiful teen aged girl named Angel Blake (Linda Hayden). She starts the film as a simple peasant girl, but is transformed into a tool of the devil after discovering a claw belonging to the beast while frolicking in the fields on the outskirts of the village. From that point on she is cast as a seductive temptress whose every devilish deed is meant to bring about the awakening of her master. Be it influencing the local children into forming a sacrificial cult, or accusing the village Reverend of rape after he denies her sexual advances, every act serves this singular purpose. Hayden's alluring natural beauty, as well as her unique ability to disguise evil as innocence are both major factors in bringing this character to life, and she succeeds on both fronts.
Although The Blood on Satan's Claw has never enjoyed the widespread appeal of Witchfinder General, the film nevertheless has persevered in cult circles, and has since gone on to become thought of by many as a true classic of the genre. Piers Haggard's tale of witchcraft and satanism unleashed on a remote English parish should be tops on numerous "must have" lists provided the film ever receives its much needed North American DVD release.
JANUARY 3 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
We open on a train, as a man with a meat cleaver stalks a young couple. This opening scene is shot from the point-of-view of the killer, a technique later popularized by Halloween, but despite the subject matter and pulp title the movie quickly develops a poetic, melancholic mood. The first hint of this comes with the evocative shots of a young boy, who we soon realise is the killer's younger self watching him from inside his head. The cinematography uses psychedelic techniques, but rather than this being just a sign of its being made in 1970, it is used to depict the inner life of the killer.
The movie cuts quickly from the opening murder to a close-up of a toy train rattling along a track. Just as we are prepared to mock the movie for such obvious fakery, a hand reaches down and stops the train. The hand belongs to the killer from the opening sequence, and he commences with a voice-over.
"My name is John Harrington. I am a paranoiac. Hmm, paranoiac. An enchanting word, so full of possibilities. The fact is that I am completely mad. The fact remains that I have killed five young women."
This is the world of Mario Bava, the co-writer/cinematographer/camera operator/director whose movies embodied all the best elements of the Italian horror movie. Bava's movies, despite their pulp titles and plots and their commercial bent, were almost all intensely personal and distinctive. Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a good example of Bava's art, weaving a sophisticated and multi-layered story out of what would usually be handled as trash. The story is not the point here - it's all in how he handles it. This is pulp poetry of the highest order, and it would be much imitated in the subsequent decade, particularly in the movies of Dario Argento.
John Harrington is portrayed as a vain and shallow young man. At first he seems to be trapped in an unhappy marriage, with a shrewish older wife who refuses to give him a divorce. This rang alarm bells with me, with its misogynistic overtones, but Bava and his cast undermine these elements beautifully. We are given glimpses throughout that Mildred Harrington has been driven to this state by John's manipulative nature and inability to satisfy her.
John is driven by two of the great clichés of movie psychos: issues with his mother, and impotence. What makes this interesting is that, although this is obvious to the audience almost from the start, John himself is unaware of it and is in fact attempting to discover the roots of his own madness. Each time he kills John's memory opens up a little more, and he feels driven to keep killing until he has finally remembered what started him in the first place.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon is in essence a character study. Only one brief scene takes us away from John, so that just once we are left to wonder whether he has committed a murder or not. He is depicted from the beginning as vain and shallow, spending endless time on his appearance. He runs a fashion business specialising in bridal wear left to him by his mother, but Mildred's money bailed it out and it's only her that keeps it afloat (one of several instances where his wife is shown to be a mother substitute). All but one of his victims are all brides-to-be, so that he is always symbolically killing both his wife and his mother.
Then two things happen with unforeseen consequences. John meets a young woman called Helen Wood, and discovers he has actual feelings for her; and he finally kills his wife.
The scene where John kills Mildred is also the one where she is transformed into a sympathetic character. What leads him to kill her is not her mean-spirited comments, as she had displayed earlier in the movie, but her softening towards him. We discover that she really loves John and wants nothing more than for him to love her in return. The coldness in their relationship comes completely from him - they have never actually consummated their marriage because he is impotent. So John dresses as a bride himself, hacks her to death with a meat cleaver, and buries her in the hothouse.
However Mildred is not going to give up on him that easily. Wherever John goes from then on, people keep greeting his wife, asking her opinion, serving her drinks, and even having long conversations with her. They can see her. The camera can see her. But John cannot see her.
This is approach to a ghost story that I don't think I have ever seen before, and it's impressively handled. The movie puts us completely on Mildred's side, while allowing us to feel John's palpable fear at her presence - especially in the few instances when she allows him to see her, and one where she touches him. Bava's tricky camerawork allows her to appear and disappear without cutting, and Laura Betti's excellent performance as Mildred makes these scenes extremely memorable.
After she appears to him and tells him that she will never leave his side, John attempts to exorcise Mildred by digging up her body and cremating her in the furnace. He carries her ashes around with him in a satchel, as a sick joke, but instead of the satchel people continue to see Mildred. It doesn't matter if he throws away the satchel and scatters the ashes - it keeps returning to him.
Meanwhile Helen is pushing John for a sexual relationship, and as for him sex means murder he is unwilling to commit to someone he actually cares for. At the same time a police inspector keeps dropping around to talk to him, obviously thinking that John is the prime suspect (several of the victims were models working for him) and trying to work on his mind in the absence of any physical evidence. The scene where the inspector almost catches John killing Mildred milks it for suspense in a manner that rivals the best of Hitchcock.
The final revelation is not a surprise to the audience, and the final scene - where Mildred gets the last laugh - is also predictable but still extremely satisfying.
This is an excellent thriller, provided you don't mind the end being so predictable. Bava's visual tricks are all tied into exploring character - the uses of many mirrors and reflecting surfaces, for example, or his characteristic use of the zoom to highlight irony. It would not be a bad introduction to Italian horror in general.
JANUARY 3 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
In Italy, sensationalist thriller novels were published with yellow (or ‘giallo’) covers, and so films inspired by their lurid subject matter became known as ‘gialli’. Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci may be its best known exponents, but they, like so many American directors, were in thrall to the undisputed father of the giallo, Mario Bava, who established all the subgenre’s groundrules in films like ‘Black Sunday’, ‘Blood and Black Lace’, and ‘Lisa and the Devil’, with his characteristic eye for rich detail and his extraordinary powers of manipulation. ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ represents something of a deviation from the normal conventions of the giallo. Instead of featuring the usual black-gloved killer whose identity is carefully concealed until the end, the cleaver-wielding John Harrington (Steven Forsyth) is seen doing his murderous work right from the opening scene, and his voice-over reveals candidly “I am a madman, a dangerous killer…I have killed five young women, three of whom are buried in the hothouse”.
The dandyish John exploits his ownership of a Parisian wedding salon to kill brides on their wedding night – with each murder bringing him closer to remembering the circumstances of his own mother’s violent death, which he witnessed as a boy. For in the tradition of ‘Peeping Tom’ and Psycho, Bava’s film is not so much a whodunnit as a whydunnit, and while there is a policeman (Jesús Puente) on the trail of the missing women, it is John’s own investigation into the shattered pieces of his mind and his attempts, through the act of murder, to track down a hazy boyhood memory, that form the centrepiece of the detective psychodrama. Yet ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ is also a darkly surreal comedy about the eternal bonds of marital love, with John’s nagging, unsatisfied wife Mildred (Laura Betti) proving to be a haunting presence with a far tighter stranglehold on his mind than his mother ever had.
To anyone steeped in the tropes of psychokiller cinema, ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ has very few surprises – but this is partly due to the film’s great influence on subsequent slashers, so that what in Bava was inventively original has now come to seem like cliché. For its opening train sequence is the source for the beginning of George A. Romero’s Martin, its point-of-view shots ascending a staircase have inspired the famous opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween, while its idea of a killer who surrounds himself with female dummies has clearly informed William Lustig’s ‘Maniac’. Still, when it comes to immaculately controlled sets, claustrophobic camera angles and editing that follows its own macabre logic (e.g. cutting from the smoking chimney of an incinerator in which a corpse is being cremated to a piece of burning toast, or from a woman with her throat slit open to a boiled egg being opened with a teaspoon), Bava’s only real rival (and closest imitator) is Dario Argento, and his ‘Deep Red’ in particular owes a considerable debt, and even its titular colour, to ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ (originally called ‘The Red Mark of Madness’).
Although ‘Hatchet for the Honeymoon’ does not quite deliver at the end on the promise of its first half (and at no point features a hatchet), it is nonetheless a consummate piece of Hitchcockian film-making from one of Italy’s grand masters of psychosexual suspense.
It's Got: Mothers, marriage, madness and murder; paranoia and the paranormal; exquisite sets (including General Francos villa in Barcelona); brilliantly executed cinematography and editing; a very black streak of humour.
It Needs: More of a surprise to its ending.
DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby 2.0/5.1 surround/dts; Dario Argento - an Eye for Horror (57min) - an excellent featurette on the life and works of Argento narrated by Mark Kermode, and including interviews with Argento, his ex-wife/muse Daria Nicolodi, his daughters/muses Fiore and Asia ("[he] never killed me once but he had me raped a few times") and his brother/producer Claudio, with his biographers Alan Jones and Maitland McDonagh, with his actors Michael Brandon (Four Flies on Grey Velvet), Jessica Harper (Suspiria) and Piper Laurie (Trauma), with his composers Claudio Simonetti and Keith Emerson, with directors John Carpenter, George A. Romero, William Lustig and Luigi Cozzi, with gore wizard Tom Savini, and with überfan Alice Cooper - all very fascinating, even if only tangentially related to Mario Bava (who gets only one passing mention); trailer; bio of Bava; film notes; photo gallery. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10
JANUARY 3 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
We had originally tried to rent this film around Valentine's Day, since I thought it would make a nice menu pairing with My Bloody Valentine, but were unsuccessful in our attempts to find a copy. Not even at the ever reliable 4th Street TLA Video. (Which I'm convinced used to, or possibly still does, employ someone who had an independent interest in Italian horror films from the '60s & '70s, based on their large selection of films that fall under that umbrella.) So imagine our collective surprise when we decided to make a pit stop at Quakertown Flea Market - mainly to eat some Caribbean food, use the bathroom and visit the used / back issue magazine stand - and stumbled across a dusty old VHS copy in the market's video store. (To find out what movies rounded out our buy two get one free purchase visit the BMB blog.) Had we known at the time just how dusty and old this VHS copy was, perhaps we would have chosen something else. But, we didn't choose something else, so we decided to try and make it through the film anyway. Even though the volume of some of the dialogue was so low that we had to make up our own as we went along. (Hey, it couldn't be any crazier that the film's real dialogue!) Which may explain why I didn't fully understand the plotline. On the other hand, generally speaking, Bava's work doesn't need to be fully understood to be appreciated because even when people's mouths are moving, implying a conversation is occurring, but no sound is coming out of the TV, the shot still looks cool. Plus, because this is a horror film made in Italy during the late '60s, it features many scenes featuring many lovely, well dressed young women. And, of course, many scenes of their subsequent bloody deaths; cause that's just how they rolled back in the day. At any rate, the reason I was thinking about this film for our VD menu in the first place was that I was under the impression that it was some sort of Giallo featuring an unseen killer stalking and dispatching newly wedded couples. Not true. For one thing, most of the lovely, well dressed ladies I mentioned earlier don't live long enough to walk down the aisle. (They do get one last chance to try on their dresses though. Too bad bloodstains are so hard to remove, the dresses might have much better resale value if a girl had just died in them and not gotten them all stained.) Hatchet For The Honeymoon is really more of a slasher film, a la Bava's Twitch Of The Death Nerve, but in this case there is no unseen killer because the killer's identity is revealed very early on. Not surprisingly, he's one of those tortured Euro-trash types. You know, the kind who has frequent non-sensical flashbacks and a proverbial army of skeletons in his familial closet. When he's not killing brides to be in his dress shop, the poor fella tries to make sense of these flashbacks in order to free at least one of the closeted family skeletons. (The untimely violent death of his mother.) As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for… Eventually he does find the answers he seeks and, again not surprisingly, the film ends moments later. While not one of Bava's best films, it's still worth checking out; particularly if you can find a copy in decent condition.