Sunday, 9 June 2019

REVIEW OF SEVERIN'S THE UNCANNY BLU RAY AND THE POTTED SAGA OF MILTON AND MAX


THE PROGUE
THE UNCANNY, has a title that is weirdly appropriate and fits not only the whole weird set up of the film, and by that I don't just mean, the film's characters and the script! If when following the story, you have a feeling of 'deja vu', it's perfectly justified.  Severin Films has recently released  their long awaited blu ray of this bizarre British / Canadian feature film. Anyone worth their mustard and standing as a 'Fantasy flicks' fan will be familiar with the films of Amicus Productions and it's producers, a successful partnership of Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. Milton based in the UK, soul provider of books and script properties to fashion into worthy productions and other Max, a hard nosed deal-man who rustled up the lolly and funding for these films and projects. It all worked splendidly for decades. A wielding of two men, dedicated to the product who started and founded their company with no legal document, only a 'gentlemans' hand-shake. Such was the trust they had in each other and their belief in their skill set! Together they formed said company 'Amicus' (roughly translates as 'Friend' in Hindi) and proceeded to make some of the best British horror / fantasy films that generated some impressive box office through the mid 1960's until the early 1970's.


THE LATE Max Rosenberg called Amicus "a studio without walls". He was a New Yorker, a law graduate with a successful distribution company who when he first heard about the Eady plan, a British subsidy set up to funnel government money into movie production and encourage filming in the UK., knew he had found the 'golden hen' for their at the time, tin pan plans. Milton Subotsky was a shy science-fiction film freak, also from New York, whose parents considered the movie industry disreputable. Nevertheless, he still managed to squeeze into the feature film business, producing 'Rock, Rock, Rock' with Rosenberg in 1956, before he moved to England in 1960. 


IN 1964,, the pair made that 'shake' and with that, the founding of Amicus, to take advantage of the Eady plan and put their plan into action.  There was no capital structure, so films got made through a combination of some private investment, funding from the 'Eady Plan', all not poured but rather, dripped into some  extremely low budgets. Their first portmanteau and 'proper' production, arrived in the 1965 'Dr Terror's House of Horrors'. It was made for less than £100,000, yet starred the two horror giants of the time,  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It was directed by Freddie Francis, who by then was already a highly acclaimed cinematographer. Rosenberg's technique for attracting high-profile talent was simple formula: he hired them on a competitive day rate, but only for a few days, so shooting schedules were brisk. Very brisk. The box office popular 1971 'The House That Dripped Blood' was filmed over a just four weeks.



IF WALLS COULD TALK! Part THREE of the AMICUS FILMS of PETER CUSHING, includes gallery and behind the scenes story on the making of 'The House That Dripped Blood' CLICK HERE!



THE MEAT
AMICUS may have, for some fashioned what could have be seen as quite way off horror hokum, but their most popular Peter Cushing portmanteau movie, 'Tales From The Crypt' was second only to The Godfather at the US box office in 1972, and also spawned a follow-up, The Vault of Horror! All of this came into being through hard-nosed opportunism and Subotsky's love of simple, well told tales, though many adapted with an ink and mind set, darker than most and writer called, Robert Bloch, which equaled Bloch-Office-receipts at the cinema. 



AMICUS IS SEEN by many to have been the only direct competitor to Hammer films, that other British production company, who also hit gold with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee just eight years before, Amicus dig in their flag. Where Hammer based their movies in far off European countries like Transylvania, where Counts are vampires and Baron's keep not wine and antiques in their dungeons and cellars, but body parts and heads, Amicus set their plots in contemporary suburban England, a staple funds saving choice, as all sets were usually cast off's from other films, still standing at Shepperton studios! The often leafy lane and cottage needed for a tale, were always a conveniently mere three miles from the studio gate! 


WE MAY TITTER, but it worked and worked extremely well. The Amicus films were typically quite brooding and claustrophobic; they were in some ways far darker without the Gothic, these horror stories could have been taking place in our homes, basements, garden sheds or kitchens! Many of the scripts tended to reflect some of Subotsky's obsessions. 'I, Monster', the weird Amicus Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde adaptation, is stuffed with Freudian theories. It's no secret that Subotsky's wife happened to be studying psychology at the time . . .!


THE BONE
Even though at heart, Subotsky was a dreamer, he could when needed also be a shrewd businessman. "Hammer was a business set-up," the late, legendary horror director Freddie Francis once said in 1995. "Had it dealt in garbage disposal, it would have been just as successful. Milton Subotsky from Amicus, on the other hand, was a real horror buff." Only Subotsky could 'rent' a star name for a day on a flat rate to include them as part of the cast and add value to the cast list rota on the cinema poster! Such was the amazing chemistry of how, Amicus worked, before Subotsky and Rosenberg had a huge spat and it all went south. Rosenberg though carried on producing a few films under the Amicus name and then became a distributor called Dynamite, who ironically and horribly, reedited and repackaged two Hammer films, 'Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires' and 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula' both with Peter Cushing, for distribution in the US on VHS and DVD. And Subotsky? Well . . . 




THE SCRAPS
IN 1975 AMICUS made its final bow with 'At The Earth's Core'. On viewing it at a local cinema with his son, Milton was appalled. When PCASUK interviewed Subotsky in a rare video interview in the early 80's, he found it hard to cover his disappointment at the film and contempt for Rosenberg's and director Kevin Connor's handling of the film, in his absence. 'I went to the trouble to invent and devise a complete language for the Pellucidarians in the film. But that was just ignored. When Peter speaks to them and they talk back in fluid English I nearly fell off my seat! And the climax in my screenplay was entirely different. A film that ends with fire works and explosions just shows lack of imagination!' 



AND SO with the final death throes of Amicus, Subotsky set up camp elsewhere. He formed "Sword & Sorcery Productions, Ltd.", tried to get funding for several projects like the 'Thongor' stories, even a film with Stan Lee's 'The Hulk' but to no success. But all was not lost, Subotsky produced the film  'Dominique' with Simon Ward, Jenny Agutter, Ron Moody, Judy Geeson... all actors who had worked with Peter Cushing... and Jean Simmons! In 1980, he co-produced the TV series The Martian Chronicles, adapted from the short story collection by Ray Bradbury. But in between there, he joined forces with Cinevideo, Rank and several other piggy banks in Canada, to make one other film, and this is where we started . .





THE UNCANNY
Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing) visits Frank Richards (Ray Milland ) so he can get his book published. This book Gray has written are about cats. Cats watching everyone and controlling everything. He mentions the stories in the book are all true, and gives three examples. The first involves the murder of a cat-loving old woman (Joan Greenwood, Susan Penhaligon and Simon Williams ) who gives her entire fortune in her will to her cats. Not everyone is happy about the wills, but would have to get past the cats to get the the will. The second story is a tale of black magic between two girls (Chloe Franks and Katrina Holden Bronson) and the third story is a tale of murderous revenge (Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar and Catherine Bรฉgin) ... by a cat.






SEVERIN 'THE UNCANNY' BLU RAY
I FIRST SAW this film, back in 2006 on a Network DVD release. I sadly missed any chance of catching it on the big screen, as it received such a poor reception theatrically back in 1977, no local flea pit would take it. So a chance to see the film, that for many years had been given the rough treatment in Fantasy magazines and fanzines, who seemed more caught up on the idea that this could only be a feral version of anything Subotsky had to offer, since Amicus was now dead and buried! On viewing, I was much surprised! It's not Amicus, but it is entertaining. The bleak and black sense of humor that often peeped out from the traditional Amicus suburbian alcoves and curtains, is now given the full room, which is quite a change for Subotsky, who stages the stories across London 1912, Quebec Province 1975 and Hollywood 1936! Despite Subotsky's well known dislike of unpleasant graphic scenes of blood and sex in his productions, he does pull out the stops in a few scenes. Remember, cats have claws and love to chew and bite! 


THE CAST is more than capable of holding these three tales together, Joan Greenwood is deliciously unpleasant, creepy and taster than cat nip, Susan Penhaligon, does 'hungry' very well and left me peckish to want to see more of her. Chloe Franks and Katrina Holden Bronson carry their lead roles in their tale as brat and victim to the hilt, while Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar and Catherine Bรฉgin, are given the full nine yards in a camp and funny, saga of silent era Hollywood. Pleasence really does go for it, right up until the macabre climax. Meee-OUCH! This isn't 'Tales from the Crypt' or 'Torture Garden' it's Subotsky having fun. Personally, or me, it's the Cats Whiskers . .๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜š




SEVERIN FILMS must be congratulated on bringing the film to blu ray for the first time, given the film's, rocky reputation, this film has had more bootleg and dodgy VHS transfers to DVD, than Peter Cushing's 'dead on arrival' Tendre Dracula! Long before this film's release, we were teased with the news that the blu ray transfer came from . . a source, that has been “scanned from an inter-negative recently discovered in a London vault.”  . . sounds like a thread from one of Subotsky's stories! The surprising thing is sporadically, at the beginning of the film, it seems that this single layer transfer, looks every frame, like it was 'found from said vault'!. Not so bad, that we have a the surface of the bottom of an old and well used cats bowl to look through, but it has that 'no longer a kitten, more an old moggy look about it'



THIS IS A SHAME, as the definition is certainly better than a dvd but the surface of the film and the audio during the first few minutes, has been unnecessarily neglected. Having said that, the transfer is bright, colourful as should be, the audio is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The dialogue thankfully is always clear. If you are watching and listening with headphones, it sounds exceptable and I can't say I heard anything distracting or any audio distortion. 


THE EXTRAS on this release are slim. A twelve-minute interview with actress Susan Penhaligon, entitled 'The Cat’s Victim' is the best of a handful, Penhaligon chats about her career and some of the early roles that leads up to her role in The Uncanny. She also spends a little time on working with Peter Cushing and some of the trickiness involved in working with live cats on set during the making of the film. There is also a theatrical trailer


THIS IS NOT A BAD transfer, considering the problems with finally finding a source, but I can't help thinking, the whole thing would have been so much better and deserving of a much awaited blu ray release, had another source been used.. but that sadly, wasn't possible, and there lies another Subotsky like tale, for another time...   


MILTON SUBOTSKY died of heart disease in 1991, at the age of 69. Max Rosenberg died in Los Angeles, California in 2004, he was 89

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