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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Horror > Thriller > Book > Werewolf > Literature > Scientist > Monster > Silent FIlm > Sup > Alien Vault (2011/Hardcover Book/Voyageur Press)/The Howling Reborn (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Island Of Lost Souls (1932/Criterion Blu-ray)/Phantom Of The Opera (1925/Image Entertainment)/The Others (

Alien Vault (2011/Hardcover Book/Voyageur Press)/The Howling Reborn (2011/Anchor Bay Blu-ray)/Island Of Lost Souls (1932/Criterion Blu-ray)/Phantom Of The Opera (1925/Image Entertainment)/The Others (2001/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Torso (1973/Blue Underground Blu-ray)


Picture: X/B-/B/B/C+/B     Sound: X/B/B-/B-/C+/B-     Extras: B/D/B/B/C-/C     Book: B+/Films: D/B/B/C-/C



Now for a look at three horror classics, one cult classic, a ambitious failure and a new duds in the Horror genre.



We start with a great new hardcover book on the making of Ridley Scott’s original 1979 classic Alien by Ian Nathan called Alien Vault (2011) that is yet another great, unique item inspired by one of the most enduring Sci-Fi/Horror films ever made.  That has been an unspoken tradition with the film and this book is a hardcover in a hardcover slipcase shell (something you rarely see anymore, but used to be common in publishing) and in addition, has several pockets throughout with more paperwork and reproduction items as the book thoroughly tells you “the definitive story of the making of the film” as the case claims.  At least it does this as thoroughly as a book can, even trying to begin to delve into its pop culture success.  Fans new and old will want to not just read it, but experience it and Nathan has come up with material even I have not seen and I am a very big fan.  For more on the film and its sequels, try our links to our coverage of the Alien Anthology on Blu-ray:




With Limited Edition EGG Package




On the other end of the Horror franchise is Joe Nimziki’s The Howling Reborn (2011), a silly, dumb, laughable attempt to revive the name of the 1981 werewolf hit on its thirtieth anniversary, joining 2011’s absurd trend of remaking anything from the 1980s as if that would bring them back.  This one hardly saw a theatrical release and with good reason.  Universal’s Wolfman remake did not fare well at the box-office, so why the makers of this one thought they would do any better is unfathomable as a high school teenager (Landon Liborion) discovers that falling for a girl (Lindsey Shaw) Arouses him to be more than sexually attracted, it makes him grow fur and want to kill people!  And you thought you had problems.  Ivana Milicevic (Casino Royale) shows up to explain why he is hungry like the wolf, but not why they do not have a good script or why this feels like a warmed-over version of The Twilight Saga that is as overrated as anything.


It is also boring and very badly made, like all the Howling sequels that never worked.  The make-up is laughable (unless fake fur terrifies you) and sound effects that are practically boring library stock.  Nothing here works, 92 minutes is too long and this proves that the werewolf film is dead.  Extras include a feature length audio commentary track (zzzzzzzzz) by Writer/Director Nimziki and Actor Shaw, Making Of featurette and Theatrical Trailer.  For more on the original film and one of its sequels, try these links:


Howling DVD



Howling 3 DVD




Even after the 1977 Michael York/Richard Burton remake and disastrous 1996 Val Kilmer/Marlon Brando re-remake, Erle C. Kenton’s Island Of Lost Souls (1932) not only remains the best version of H.G. Wells’ classic novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau, but is a much more important classic of the Sci-Fi/Horror genre than most know about or realize.  Finally restored to its uncut, uncensored version, the film can be properly understood as being as important to the genre as all the Universal monster classics, Val Lewton RKO thrillers and RKO’s original King Kong among the many genre classics.


Like Kong, the characters take a boat journey to another world that will bring the city people and science people face to face with their animal nature (but this was a year before Kong) and in this case, land up shipwrecked on a South Seas island.  However, there lives Dr. Paul Moreau and in this film, he is played in a great early performance by the legendary Charles Laughton whose performance remains as impressive as his later work.  Richard Arlen is Edward Parker, who questions the doctor’s morality while being at his mercy and Bela Lugosi shows up in an underrated performance as Sayer Of The Law.


The censorship came from the new Production Code objecting to ideas of human being combined with animals, being like animals, being animals, being sexual and of course, anything suggesting evolution.  However, this tale is as relevant as ever and this version as landmark as ever, originally made by Paramount Pictures in their early prime and show’s what the second most powerful studio was willing to spend a then-large amount of money to produce to compete with genre work from the other studios.


Because a TV deal back in the day has NBC/Universal owning almost all Paramount films to 1948, this tends to be a catalog that is somewhat neglected and not dealt with enough, including some classics long overdue for restoration and reissue.  This is the way to do it and I have to admit the film even pleasantly surprised me.


Extras include another informative, illustrated booklet with technical information and an essay by Christine Smallwood, while the Blu-ray adds film historian Gregory Mank’s fine, feature length audio commentary, Stills Gallery, Theatrical Trailer, new conversation on the film with American Werewolf In London director John Landis, make-up legend Rick Baker and fan/actor/genre expert Bob Burns and new interviews with film scholar David. J. Skal, Director Richard Stanley (who made that doomed 1996 remake) and Gerald Casale & Mark Mothersbaugh of the legendary band DEVO who was partly inspired by this film.  Their classic Music Videos for “Secret Agent Man” and “Jocko Homo” are also included.


Universal itself was a much smaller company than Paramount when they made their first Phantom Of The Opera in 1925, but it helped put the studio on the map and on the road to being the top Horror studio in the world.  With this film, directed primarily by Rupert Julian of Gaston Leroux’s classic novel, marked the point where Hollywood overtook German Cinema in the Horror genre.  The reasons aside form the rise of Hollywood include the soon-to-end of German Expressionist movement, the soon-to-begin arrival of sound and movement of German talent to Hollywood accelerated by the rise of Hitler.


But that should not take away from how great the film is on its own and how studio Carl Laemmle backed the film 100% to make it a big film.  Of course, it worked and became a huge international worldwide hit cementing the studio’s capacities to make great films when they could fund them and making Lon Chaney a movie star legend for the ages.  The tale of the Paris Opera House haunted by a lonely, sick, psychotic romantic who falls for the star Opera singer is known as much now as a hit musical as anything, but it is still most effective as the tale of terror it truly is (while the musical tends to sand-down that aspect to make it a somewhat phony romance in all honesty) so it is nice to see the original classic film (even in variant versions) in all of its glory as close to the original theatrical film releases as possible.  You will be surprised by and impressed over how well this still works.  Having just looked at the slightly older Phantom Carriage (1921, reviewed elsewhere on this site) on Criterion Blu-ray, the film more than holds its own indeed.


Extras include the Film Script, Still Gallery, Original Theatrical Trailer, Theatrical Souvenir Program Reproduction, interview with Composer Gabriel Thibaudeau (whose scoring of the 1929 20 frames per second version is on this disc) and a feature length audio commentary track by film scholar Dr. Jon Mirsalis.



Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others (2001) was an attempt to put Nicole Kidman into a smart supernatural thriller as the mother of a family stuck in a house and though the situation had some potential, but turns into a laughable bore as the makers either do not know what they are doing or think they are above the material they are making, condemning it to not work.  Kidman is trying, but she cannot overcome a dull project.  Four making of featurettes and a theatrical trailer are the extras.


Finally we have Sergio Martino’s more watchable Torso (1973), which wants to be a major entry into the giallo psycho-killer cycle Italy was experiencing at the time, but despite its cult following and some good moments, it is just not up to the style of what Mario Bava or Dario Argento would do and these films depend on a certain style.  Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont co-star in this sex-killer thriller here in uncut and director’s cut version for the first time from Blue Underground, who have done justice to the film as expected.  Being a minor classic from this cycle, you should see it at least once, but don’t expect it to work consistently either.  At least it looks good.


Extras include a Theatrical Trailer, U.S. Opening Credits, TV Spots, Radio Spot, Murders In Perugia on-camera interview with Martino, Poster & Still Galleries.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Reborn is weak with motion blur and other detail issues, plus the color is limited and this all makes watching a bad film that much more difficult.  The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Souls and two different 1.21 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers (with different frame rates) on Phantom despite their age and reconstructed nature look as good as anything here.  To get an unedited version of Souls, two 35mm prints and a private collector’s 16mm print had to be combined to make sure all the “shocking images and dialogue” was in tact, but the results are impressive and watching it is like finally seeing a long lost horror classic that no one has seen in nearly eight decades, which it is.  You are let into a bold, daring film that no remake has touched.  This also does great justice to the amazing camerawork by Director of Photography Karl Struss.


Phantom offers the original 1925 silent version in 16mm, 1.33 X 1, low-definition form only as no 35mm print seems to have survived and this includes footage not in the later 1929 version that does not look so good here.  That means the only versions in High Definition version offered here are two 1929 cuts.  They not only includes properly tinted scenes, but (and I have to get more specific than usual) restoration of the hand-colored scenes which has been done here by older computer means and the famous ballroom sequence where The Phantom shows up in a very red outfit wearing a skull.  This was issued in two-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor for the 1925 version and 1929 “sound” reissues, but it is not as simple as it sounds.


To explain and add to what the records I have and audio commentary by Dr. Jon Mirsalis points out.  He says it is possible the sequence was not shot in Technicolor, but a competing format called Prizma Color, so if it was in 1925, this would make it the second version, which was a subtractive process.  That means when you add the second strip, you get colors as some take away others to register the final color schemes.


He then states that it is a mistake to call the older Technicolor Two-Strip because there is only one strip running through the camera, but he is wrong in his reasoning as three-strip Technicolor has two strips of film running and it is still is called three-strip, though one of the strips is registering two of the three colors.  In addition, there are three versions of the two-strip Technicolor process.  The first was a color additive process like the first version of Prizma Color (which itself replaced the famous Kimemacolor) and used on two films (in 1917 and 1920), the second is a cemented positive (1922 to 1927) and the third is dye-transfer (1928 - 1933).  Prizma even reportedly sued and lost a lawsuit to Technicolor over using their process in 1922.


If the 1925 Phantom had that color ballroom sequence as records show, than it was in the cemented positive format soon discontinued when the prints had troubles including the heat of the projector melting the print apart.  Mirsalis claims the copy used for the 1929 version is a dye-transfer print so that means that footage is either a cement copy he is misidentifying, a dye-transfer version struck immediately by Universal when that format became available in 1928 because the film was such a massive hit or it is from the 1929 sound reissues which made more money still just the same.  Whether it is an original Two-Strip Technicolor or Prizma Color shoot, it does not matter in so far as you get the same result.  It is as if you recorded a film in DTS 5.1 sound today for a new movie, but issued it in DTS, Dolby and Sony Dynamic Digital Sound 5.1 in theaters because it is the same mix as it were.  More research is needed, but that is apparently the story on that amazing sequence, though apparently the late, underrated composer Roy Budd bought a copy of the film (possibly the 1925 version) in 35mm and created a while new score for the film and spent money restoring his print, but this version is still in the vaults.


Getting back to the Blu-ray playback, though there are some various issues with the footage here and there (ghosting, softness, print damage unfixable or too expensive to fix) as expected, this is the best this film has ever looked and like Souls delivers a Blu-ray that will finally deliver the greatness of this classic for everyone to enjoy for what for almost everyone will be the first time they have properly seen the film!


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Others is off of an older HD master, actually looks poorer than Reborn and hurts the shots in this film that look good, while the same presentations on Torso comes from the original camera negative and except for age, looks fine and has color as good as anything here.  The film was originally issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints (if you have one of those, it is worth some money) and there are enough instances here where you can believe that as you watch.  That does not always equal style, but it does equal quality Horror filmmaking.


By default, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix on Reborn sounds the best and at least has a rich, consistent, warm-enough soundfield throughout, though that cannot help the film and it sounds as if the makers relied on it more than they should have.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Others is quiet to begin with, but being down a generation or so like its HD master makes this the weakest sonic performer on the list.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono on Torso in either language is fine, though the Italian track is more authentic, but both are warmer than expected and as good as the film will ever sound.  Criterion chose PCM 1.0 Mono for Souls playback and it is as fine a reconstruction as we could hope for, as clean and clear as a soundtrack its age could be.


Phantom has three scores in PCM 2.0 24/48 sound, with the new Alloy Orchestra score and Gaylord Carter’s Theater Organ Score in Stereo on the 78 minutes/24 frames-per-second version and Gabriel Thibaudeau’s recent score in Mono on the 92 minutes/20 frames-per-second version.  That 16mm 1925 silent print has a piano score by Frederick Hodges in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, though I wondered if the film could not use another score to bring out even more that it has to offer.  Like Souls, no remake has worked as well, though one or two have come closer.  Nice to have them out in time for Halloween 2011.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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