King Kong starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot. Son of Kong starring Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, and Frank Reicher. Mighty Joe Young starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, and Robert Armstrong.
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack (The original King Kong co-directed by Merian C. Cooper)
Released by Warner Home Video
There are few pleasures on Earth quite like watching a timeless classic of a film, or in this case three timeless classics in one monster filled lovingly restored box set. For the first time ever the original King Kong, Son of Kong, and the original Mighty Joe Young have finally come home; and Warner Home Video is not monkeying around when it comes to their treatment and respect of these films.
Kong for all his ferocity is one of the most beloved figures in cinema history. Originally released in 1933, King Kong grabbed moviegoers by storm as it showcased for its time some of the most amazing effects in movie history. There’s no denying the magic and wonder one feels the very first time that Old Brown Eyes makes his first onscreen appearance. Whether you’re an adult or a child, you will find yourself staring wide-eyed at the screen as Kong battles dinosaurs, eats up the locals, and of course climbs the tallest building in the world to knock around a few planes.
There’s a reason that this film is the success that it is. It wasn’t just the directorial talent of Schoedsack or the writing skill of Merian C. Cooper that elevated Kong to its legendary film status. I attribute that feat mostly to the genius of the special effects. Willis O’Brien’s stop motion effects gave birth to dreams that have since launched the careers of F/X legends such as Ray Harryhausen. Kong, though animated, displayed an unequaled range of emotion. You can feel his rage and his tenderness. He was a leading man that stole our hearts, and he still grips them in his large furry paw to this day. I could go on forever singing the praises of this film and the rest in the series, but we’re here to talk about the DVD, so let’s get to it!
I knew when Peter Jackson’s remake of Kong got underway, one of the first things that would happen would be the stellar DVD release of the original films that fans have been screaming for. This set does not disappoint in the slightest. King Kong comes as a two-disc set and is brimming with special features, but before we get to them, let me say this: These films have never looked or sounded better. They have been painstakingly restored, and it truly shows. My hat is off to the responsible parties. No matter how many times you have seen either of these films, if you’re a fan, you owe it to yourself to see them like this. Now then, back to Kong‘s extras. There’s a boat load. One of the showcases is a truly heartfelt commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston with Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray. To hear these legends speak is nothing short of captivating. Along with that you’ll find a seven-part making of Kong that includes an exploration of the now infamous missing spider pit sequence and even some really early test footage with a commentary by Harryhausen. There is no stone that is left unturned in this walk through Kong‘s legacy, and the time and attention that are paid to every detail make this two-disc release an absolute must have.
Of course being that Kong was so successful, another expedition to find that success would be launched just a mere few months later. Son of Kong was released to audiences, and the reaction was pretty lukewarm. It seems that maybe the studio execs felt a bit bad about Kong’s death so this lighthearted romp ended up feeling more like a there there pat on the back than it did a true sequel. Still, it’s worth seeing for the F/X alone as more dinos and of course baby Kong duke it out on the regular. This disc comes sans extras except for the films trailer, but just having this movie as a companion piece to the original seems like an extra in and of itself.
It wasn’t until 1949 that audiences had some more great monkey mayhem to sink our teeth into. Mighty Joe Young captures the magic of Kong and serves as another landmark in filmmaking. In addition to being a great big screen adventure, Mighty Joe Young marks the film debut of then first technician of special effects Ray Harryhausen working alongside his hero, friend, and mentor Willis O’Brien. Though O’Brien received top billing for the film, it was Harryhausen that created around ninety percent of the film’s stop motion effects. Mighty Joe Young also gets the loving treatment of some great DVD extras in the vein of a Harryhausen commentary and a couple of in-depth featurettes.
I don’t think I have ever been more thrilled with a box set. All the classic giant monster mayhem that fueled my youth is here in stunning detail. The best part? Even if you don’t want to shell out the cash for the box set, each of these discs are available as separate purchases! Pick and choose whichever of these treasures that you want. The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of giant monster films, these are the granddaddys of them all. Kong is still very much King.
Commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray
I’m King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper — 2005 documentary
Merian C. Cooper Movies Trailer Gallery
RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World – 7 Part Documentary including…
— The Origins of “King Kong“
— Willis O’Brien and “Creation“
— Cameras Roll on Kong, The Eighth Wonder
— A Milestone in Visual Effects
— Passion, Sound and Fury
— The Mystery of the Lost “Spider Pit” Sequence
— King Kongs Legacy
Creation Test Footage with Commentary by Ray Harryhausen
Son of Kong
Mighty Joe Young
Commentary by Terry Moore and visual effects veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with interpolated interviews excepts of Merian C. Cooper
A conversation with Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo Brothers
“Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young” featurette
Discuss in our forums!
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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