Wednesday, April 16, 2014

R.I.P. Lorenzo Semple, Jr.



We’ve posted quite a bit of late about the 1966 BATMAN television series HERE and HERE, making this post a sad coincidence. 

Television and film writer Lorenzo Semple, Jr. died on March 28, 2014, at the age of 91. 


A look at his IMDB credits reveals he was responsible for a great many well-known products of entertainment.  But, to me, he was – and always will be – the man who defined the look, feel, and very existence of television’s first Batman. 

THIS ARTICLE reveals that, having been hired by producer William Dozier to develop the series, it was Mr. Semple who came up with the brightly colored POW! BAM! BIFF! graphic sound effects, and Robin’s trademark exclamations “Holy (fill-in-the-blank)!” 



From this, we can further assume Lorenzo Semple, Jr. was also responsible for the weekly death trap cliffhangers, "The Batphone" and "The Batpoles".

"I'll summon him, Sir!"

"To the Batpoles!"
Of course, these unforgettable elements were commonplace within the comic books of the day (okay, maybe not the Batpoles), but it was the genius of Semple and Dozier to port them over to a filmed television production -- where they, and the talented actors who so perfectly performed material the likes of which was never seen by a mass-audience before, came together to create legend! 


Of the comic books used as source material by Semple and Dozier was the one above – BATMAN # 171 (Cover Date: May, 1965).  Many elements of this particular story were used in Semple’s pilot script for the BATMAN TV series “Hi Diddle Riddle” / “Smack in the Middle”, guest starring Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. 

 So much so that, in what may be my favorite fannish-moment of all time, at a convention, in the ‘90s, I showed Adam West a copy of this comic – and asked him to see if he recognized anything familiar about the story. 


 As he paged through it, he visibly perked-up and said (something to the effect of) “This is from our first episode!”  He called Frank Gorshin, who was at a neighboring table, to come and look at this comic.  I explained that this was the specific comic book that, more than anything else, defined their show.  
Remember this stuff?  Click on comic images to enlarge.

Look familiar?
They were both pleased, and each autographed the cover for me! 
 Click on either image to enlarge.


 But, I digress.  None of this, including the highly anticipated LATE 2014 RELEASE of the 1966 BATMAN TV series on DVD, could have happened without the talents and vision of Lorenzo Semple, Jr. 

Who, for having written the pilot episode, would also have invented “The Batusi” – an element clearly not part of the original BATMAN # 171 comic book – but of the wonderfully creative mind of Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Rest in Peace!      

Thursday, April 10, 2014

DVD Review: The Bloody Ape (1997)

 
 
The Bloody Ape (1997)

 Released: 2008 by Wild Eye Releasing

 Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

 
Summary:  You’ll WISH this ape just threw its feces at you!  
 

Full disclosure:  The director and co-writer of this unique “indy” over-the-top homage to the horror and exploitation films of the late 1960s and early 1970s is a gentleman named Keith J. Crocker.   
 

I first encountered Keith J. Crocker as the instructor of an adult-ed film course on horror and sci-fi films in 2012, and enjoyed his presentations immensely. 

Keith is responsible for adding both THIS DVD and THIS DVD to my collection (among others), resulting in the reviews found at this Blog – and has considerably broadened my horizons in the area of lesser-known horror, sci-fi, and general exploitation films.  I’ve also come to consider him a friend. 
 
THIS, on the other hand, might be a "friend" you DON'T WANT!
There’s probably no reason to say this, because I’d very likely hold a similar opinion of “The Bloody Ape” if he were none of these things. Then again, if he WERE “none of these things”, “The Bloody Ape” would most likely never have come my way… and you’d be reading about another old James Cagney film, or some random Silver Age comic book. 
 
So, is “The Bloody Ape” an example of filmmaking at its finest?
 
No, not even close.  But that’s not the point.  What it IS, is one hell of a lot of outrageous fun!  The kind of gory, sexy, and politically incorrect fun that you may initially feel guilty about getting-on-board with, until you just GO WITH IT – and will you ever be glad you did. 
 
Click to enlarge and read the Cover Text
Our story opens at a carnival in full swing, rides, games, and attractions – both human and animal abound.  One of these attractions is “Gorto” an allegedly gentle and friendly ape. “…He may eat a little more than your father!  But, he’s probably FRIENDLIER than your father!
       
Gorto is owned and trained by “Lampini” – a misfit standing-in for a human being, who comes across as a sort of  Italian version of Larry David” from SEINFELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM.  Paul Richichi, as Lampini, steals the show, with his rumpled hat and cape, and his uproariously bad dialogue – saying almost everything in long and unnecessarily convoluted gibberish. 
 
Lampini.
Larry David - "Separated at Mirth"?
There's no "Curbing" The Bloody Ape's "Enthusiasm"!
For instance (Lampini to his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend):  The sky has never been bluer.  The grass has never been greener.  And Japanese sports cars have never been smaller, ever since I laid my head between your breasts.”
   
The words I use to depict my sentiments, for your unconditional wanton, merely reflect the fluids of my body and soul.”   Eeesh!  If I were a female with a pulse, I’d be outta there too! 
         
While sub-human in his own right, Lampini is far from alone in the lowlife department.  Racist police detective “LoBianco”, scum-bag (there’s just no other word for it) mechanic “Vic White”,  shifty diamond merchant “Rabinowitz”, and a pompous, rude video store proprietor  – just to name four – actually outdo Lampini on the sleaze-ball scale.  (...Except, maybe, for that killing-stuff that comes later!)  I’ll give Lampini’s former girlfriend “Ginger” a pass for walking out on him, because who would want to be with him anyway.  …Especially, after that speech above! 
 
LoBianco: Protect and "Serve-him-donuts"!
As you might expect, White, Rabinowitz, and Ginger, have done Lampini wrong – and he lets Gorto loose to exact violent – and often outrageously murderous revenge, on them and innocents alike! 

And, as if Crocker’s nameless, early ‘70s era, small Long Island town hasn’t suffered enough – and its sorry denizens cast in a bad enough light – a black man, seemingly passing through town, is charged, by Detective LoBianco, with the murders committed by the Ape. 
 
 
The black man, “Duane Jones”, is played by Christopher Hoskins and is unquestionably the best and most professional actor in the film, with nearly all others coming off as blustery caricatures.  I suspect this is a directorial choice by Crocker, so that the “townies” are clearly portrayed as fools, in direct contrast with our unjustly accused nominal hero. 
 
 
Then again, it might just be that Crocker employed his friends and family as townsfolk, because they were available and inexpensive!  You decide! 
 
Welcome to Long Island!  Enjoy your stay!
 
I should also not let the name “Duane Jones” slip by without mentioning that Duane Jones (in real life) was the lead actor – and hero – of the 1968 classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead”.  
Actor Duane Jones in "Night of the Living Dead"
 
 
Visually, we occasionally “drop-out” of the early ‘70s with such anachronistic background artifacts as Barney the Dinosaur, Bloom County’s Opus, and “later-model” televisions and automobiles, let alone the existence of video stores, but:
 
A:  This is probably a harder thing to control than one might think.  Ask me about the episode of THE WILD WILD WEST, where a jet plane is accidently caught on film, moving across the supposedly 1870’s skies.  MAD MEN is also known to use IBM Selectric typewriters as office equipment, even though they did not exist during the time of the series. 
 
B: For all I know, it might be purposeful, just to screw with the nitpickers!     
 
 
If one chooses to further nitpick, one might lament the fact that the Ape doesn’t commit his first atrocity until 28:42 of the 01:16:39 film – but is it EVER worth the wait!  I won’t spoil the, um… “graphic details” of the kill, but an early ‘70s hippie, attending a Grateful Dead concert at the equally early ‘70s-erected Nassau Coliseum, is The Bloody Ape’s first victim.  I died along with him… died LAUGHING, as he fatally falls in a blaze of psychedelic colors! 
 
 
…Is the Cause of Death in questionable taste?  Perhaps.  But I don’t think I laughed quite as hard in a long time! 
The psychedelic Ape-death of a hippie!  Cosmic, man!
 
And, that’s the secret of Crocker’s success.  Like FAMILY GUY’s Seth MacFarlane, he sets out to unsettle everyone with his loving assault on the politically correct – and he grandly succeeds. 
 
Over-the-top ape-assault violence, both ethnic and plain old dumbbell humor, and female nudity abound.  Sure it’s gratuitous – but most of it is funny precisely BECAUSE it’s gratuitous! 
 
 
Maybe uncharacteristic of a low-budget, modern-day, independent filmmaker, Crocker made the wise choice to film “The Bloody Ape” on Super 8 film, rather than the more convenient and affordable videotape.   This achieves the effect of approximating the look of a late ‘60s early ‘70s horror / exploitation film far better than one might realize. 
 
C'mon!  Doesn't that look as if it were made in 1970?
If one fails to understand how this would add to the ambiance of “APE”, try watching the opening theme sequence to an episode of ALL IN THE FAMILY (shot on videotape) and the same for the then-contemporarily produced THE ODD COUPLE (shot on film) as I did recently – and see that the latter looks timelessly classic and at-home in any era, and how much the former looks “cheaper” than such a groundbreaking show deserved to be. 
 
 
It’s also fun to identify Crocker’s influences for “The Bloody Ape”, starting with Universal Pictures’ 1932 Bela Lugosi film adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue”… though in a published article Crocker cites 1954’s “Phantom of the Rue Morgue” (a film I’ve yet to see) as still more of an influence. 
 

"Even MY ape, Erik, couldn't do THIS!"
 
Among the other influences are Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, clearly sent-up by an Ape-Attack of an unsuspecting showering, and need I say gratuitously nude, female (Thank you, Keith!). 
 
Like the great British director, Crocker also cameos as “Man Crushed Between Two Cars” – and, as Hitchcock himself supposedly wielded the knife that hacked and slashed at Janet Leigh, Crocker, too, does the deadly duties for this tribute scene, in his only turn as the Ape. 
 
We also see some “Three Stooges action” with a pair of pliers applied to a place Moe Howard would never dare to go!
 
 
There are tributes to a pair of classic horror films like Bela Lugosi’s “The Devil Bat” (reviewed HERE) which actually PLAYS IN THE BACKGROUND of the “video store sequence”, and the aforementioned “Night of the Living Dead”.  The unique… er, “qualities” of the films of Russ Meyer also contribute to the “general atmosphere”.
 
 
If, by now, you’re sensing that a viewing of “The Bloody Ape”, might yield more humor than horror, you’re right… except, perhaps, for those ubiquitous photographs of Richard Nixon found throughout the film… Scary!   
 
Pick your poison!
For me, personally, the experience is additionally enhanced by my ability to identify specific Long Island locations used in the film.  Various sites in Valley Stream, the Nassau Coliseum (which I now associate with a gruesomely funny hippie-death, more so than the New York Islanders hockey team), and, as background, the administration tower of Nassau Community College, and a Uniondale office building, in which I WORKED at or about the time “The Bloody Ape” was filmed! 
 
Nassau Coliseum... Alas, poor Hippie!
Best of all were the shots of the Hempstead Transit Center (Bus Terminal), through which Crocker managed to shoot a frantic running scene in a fortuitous dusk-time window during which no bus or pedestrian traffic was there to visibly interfere. 
 
Hempstead Transit Center - when "The Bloody Ape" was NOT filming!
 
As a DVD set, “The Bloody Ape” offers a wealth of Extra Features to extend the experience: 
 
·         Commentary Track with Keith Crocker, George Reis (co-writer, who also played LoBianco AND the Ape!), and Paul Richichi (Lampini).
 
   ·         A “making-of” documentary.
 
 
·         Keith Crocker film trailers.
 
 
·         Keith’s short film “One Grave Too Many”, a “Burke and Hare-larious” (pardon) mini-movie about two grave robbers who apparently ply their trade in BROAD DAYLIGHT,  rather than the usual dead of night, and tackle “one grave too many”. 
 
·         Stills, posters, artwork, and so many more things that DVDs USED TO HAVE as “Standard Equipment” – but no longer do. 
    


 
But, forget all that.  Just sit back, pop-in “The Bloody Ape”, switch off that part of your brain that aspires to be a New York Times film critic, and see what wonders can be accomplished with $5,000.00 and a marvelously twisted dream!  
 
You’ll shudder.  You’ll wince.  But mostly you’ll LAUGH, and have one “Bloody” good time!