Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Lone Ranger's Cave of Terror

I was never really a huge fan of the Lone Ranger. I watched the Clayton Moore TV show as a kid, and the Filmation cartoon that came on in the late 70s or 80s. The idea of a masked avenger is a cool one, and one that is tried and true in the pages of the pulps. The list of masked vigilantes in comics, film, TV and books is too long to go into here.

I should admit I'm not a big fan of Westerns in general as well. But in some cases I do find them fun, especially if they are on the weird side. Cowboys fighting zombies, werewolves, vampires and wendigos can be good entertainment.

Lately I've been watching some pretty crumby but very fun Mexican horror/western/masked vigilante movies such as El Charro de las Cavaleras and El Latigo contra Satanis. That sort of got me looking back at the Lone Ranger and I did find some interesting stuff. For one thing there was a Lone Ranger cartoon in the 1960s which seemed to be mirroring or even cashing in on the popularity of The Wild Wild West as it pitted Kemosabe and Tonto against an array of steampunk machinery and vampires and ghosts. That sounds pretty cool! But too bad it isn't available on DVD anywhere.

An episode of the weird west Lone Ranger cartoon from 1966
Another interesting cartoon is this silent short subject.

So as things always seem to go it seemed like looking into Fran Striker's own written word on the Lone Ranger might be a good idea, just in case there were any cool creepies in there.  Well the one title I've found so far that sound creepy is The Cave of Terror and this is our digital experiment for Thanksgiving.  Seems at least kinda fitting.  I don't know if Tonto agrees, but we'll hope so.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

La Pantera Negra (2009)

Though completed in 2009, La Pantera Negra is only now slowly making its way through the festival circuit.  To paraphrase the production notes:  Nico Beamonte is a private detective, alcoholic and decadent. One day he receives a call from God, who asks Nico to find "The Black Panther". What or who is the Black Panther? God doesn't say but Nico takes the job. While looking for The Black Panther he meets Mrs. M., who also asks for help. She says Pedro Infante, the idol of Mexico (a true life music and movie legend comparable to Elvis) who died years ago is more alive now than ever. So she wants Nico to find Pedro as well. What Nico does not know is that this is a plan conspired between God and Mrs. M. to face his destiny. Nico will gradually  notice that the search for The Black Panther is really a search for his own existence, hidden in his past and his dreams.

Mrs. M... aka Death
This is a skirmish into an existential dreamland, full of wild tangents and seemingly side stories.  It is a rare film which while watching it, the thread of the story gets washed away. As we are presented with one stylish set-piece after another forming a string of disjointed, barely discerned narrative it seems to not make any sense.  Usually it's pretty easy to see where a story is taking you by the end of the first act. But with this I was left wondering until the last few minutes of the film what exactly this journey had been.  But at the end of the movie I realized what I was seeing, which was a fresh adaptation of a classic story from an 19th Century American writer.  I won't say more than that about which writer or story, as if you've read it or seen other adaptations, it will be a complete spoiler.

Nico has a talk with God.
La Pantera Negra is shot in black and white, oozing with Noir style and hard-boiled pulp attitude.  There are elements of fantasy and science fiction mixed with some entertaining musical numbers. The music incidentally was written by Director Iyari Wertta.  I am hoping that not only a DVD will eventually be available for this film but also the soundtrack, as the music really was enjoyable and impressive, fusing a 50's Noir vibe with modern rock underpinnings. 

Hoping for a soundtrack CD
During Nico's quest to find the Black Panther we meet a wide array of characters.  His ex-girlfriend and ex-partner who has also been contacted to find the Black Panther and spends her time dressed up as a ninja-like crime-fighting superhero.  There is El Gringo, a rich white guy who sees a flying saucer and tracks it and the alien pilot down.  The alien winds up switching bodies with El Gringo's daughter's lesbian partner.  El Gringo sends Nico on his third mission, to track down the lesbian girlfriend alien.

In the end, all of these disparate threads suddenly collide together in a classic "Gotcha" moment made famous in the story I hinted at above.  La Pantera Negra is a really interesting film mixing mystery, sci-fi, horror, music and comedy but not revealing any of its secrets until the very end.  It made for an interesting thought process while watching the movie, where I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. But when it was over and as the days have gone by and allowed it to percolate in my mind, I found myself really happy with the experience, and find it to be a must have on DVD. Thus hoping for a domestic release eventually.

Tracking the Alien
La Pantera Negra is not even in the art-house circuit but is making the film festival rounds. I just saw it at the Redwood City International Latino Film Festival.  The only way I know of to find upcoming dates is to become a fan on the production's Facebook page and Twitter feed.  I highly suggest trying to track it down. As a lover of odd ball and outre pulp and Noir, I recommend it!

Iyari Wertta
Producer: Issa Guerra
Exec Producers: Henner Hoffman, Liliana Pardo
Scriptwriter: Iyari Wertta
Editors: Luciana Jauffred, Francisco Rivera, Yoame Escamilla
DoP: Christian Rivera
Production Designer: Alejandro García
Sound Production: Marco A Hernández, Iyari Wertta, Izabel Acvedo
Music: Iyari Wertta

Cast: Enrique Arreola, Laura de Ita, Dolores Heredia, Ely Guerra, Mario Almanda, Fernando Cianguerotti, Mariana Gajá, Daniela Schmidt, Mariús Biengai, Arnulfo Reyes

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A pledge for The Trail of the Octopus

Although we may never see the complete serial of THE MYSTERIES OF MYRA there are other serials that may be just as amazing from the silent movie era.  Serials where it is obvious that a lot of money, time and creativity went into the productions.  One that will hopefully be available in Spring 2011 is THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS.  This is another revelation from the age of the silents; where an amazing globe-trotting adventure comes to life as we meet great detectives, evil cults and mysterious strangers, spanning from a lost city in Egypt to the streets of San Francisco.

THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS (not to be confused with the book by Goddard & Coleman) is a serial from 1919 consisting of 14 episodes totaling 7 hours. From the Serial Squadron's page the story goes:

Dr. Reid Stanhope, a noted scientist, and Raoul Bornay, a Frenchman of questionable standing, set out upon an expedition to explore the mysteries of ancient Egypt. With their caravan of natives and camels, they pierce the very heart of the great Sahara Desert in their search for the Temple of Death and the sacred Talisman of Set, both considered mythological by everyone except Dr. Stanhope.

After weeks of searching they discover a sarcophagus upon which hieroglyphics read: “He that toucheth or taketh away the Sacred Talisman of Set will bathe his hands in human blood.” Reaching inside the sarcophagus, Stanhope takes out the Sacred Talisman which is also known as the Devil's Trademark – the cloven hoof of Satan.

From the moment the Talisman is released, murder and destruction run rampant. Stanhope is forced to kill Bornay when attacked by him and Bornay's final words are “Don't think you killed a friend – they sent me to get you and the Talisman.” Who “they” are provides the foundation for the story of the rest of the serial, which takes place after Stanhope returned to civilization.

When we pick up the story from there, we see Stanhope telling his niece Ruth he has never had a moment's peace since he hid the Devil's Trademark in a rock vault – he's been haunted by the sudden mysterious appearance of a pair of uncanny looking eyes. While Dr. Stanhope tells the story, a thunderstorm arises and the “eyes” appear outside. He tells Ruth she must get rid of the Talisman as it endangers her life. He takes a dagger from a drawer and says, “Eight other daggers like this are in the hands of eight fellow scientists for safe-keeping. You must have all of them to get the combination of the rock vault, in which is hidden the sacred Talisman.”

When Stanhope receives a telephone call from the mysterious masked Monsieur X, who tells him that his friend, Professor Hubbard, one of the scientists, is dead, Ruth runs across the street to call on Carter Holmes, the criminologist, taking the dagger with her.Stanhope's scream in the distance begins a chain of events that leads to the kidnapping of Ruth by a clan of Devil Worshippers headed by a sorceress named Madame Zora, and a three-way battle between Holmes, the Devil-cult, and an Asian mastermind known as the Octopus to possess the Talisman by collecting the remaining daggers and placing them together in a cliffside vault that will reveal its secret.

An extremely atmospheric serial, heavily influenced by aspects of THE MYSTERIES OF MYRA (the Devil-cult with its crystal ball, and characters who disappear into astral form), and anticipating DRUMS OF FU MANCHU in its noir-ish look, THE TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS changes location and emphasis many times but remains generally in early pulp/detective/horror mode throughout, with more than the occasional element of the paranormal thrown in to kick the mystery up a notch.
This serial is being restored by the Serial Squadron and even some missing scenes are being re-filmed with contemporary actors in order to have the story be as complete as possible. Doing this costs money though, and to get this production completed the Serial Squadron has a pledge drive going.  What this means is that you pledge beforehand to pay for the DVD upon completion of its production (Spring 2011).  This ensures that the costs of restoration and DVD production are covered.  The TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS page explains:
Pledging does not require immediate payment, however, your pledge is a promise to pay for your DVD set when the DVDs are ready to go to press and should be considered an "order" to be billed to you. You will be sent an email confirming your pledge which only requires response in case of any error in the message, then, if and when the pledge drive reaches its total, an invoice with a PayPal link which will allow you to pay for your DVD set, or information on how to pay using a check or money order by regular mail.
The pledge for TRAIL OF THE OCTOPUS is $40 for 2 double-sided DVDs.  This is a very fair and reasonable price for a micro-production which is putting out a small run, but professionally restored and extremely rare serial.  You won't find this serial anywhere else because it does not exists anywhere else. This DVD set is being digitally remastered from a 35mm print from the Library of Congress.

Along with the visual restoration the Squadron's Eric Stedman has mixed a new sound track including music that is scene relevant along with sound effects for important points of nuance.  This in my opinion really adds a layer of watchability and entertainment value to the whole project. You can see and hear the results in a sample posted at the bottom of this entry.

Please do NOT pledge if you do not intend to follow through with your order.  But please do pledge if you want to be able to own a cool if not amazing part of movie history. Head to the Serial Squadron and fill out the form at the bottom. Be sure to click in the yellow box on which pledge choice you want to make.

The Squadron has a few ongoing pledge drives for different serials and as of this writing TRAIL is at 48% of its goal.
Check out the first 15 minutes of the first episode of TRAIL here: