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    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    DVD: Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

    Time for more Jimmy Sangster. Some Hammer Studios swashbucklers he worked on are part of Sony’s new Icons of Adventure DVD set. (Thanks to Fred Blosser, a regular at Ed Gorman’s blog, for bringing these movies to my attention.)

    The first movie on the disc, 1962’s Pirates of Blood River, isn’t seaworthy. That’s not a Gene Shalit-style pun. Owing to its low budget, Blood River is the first pirate movie set completely on dry land. After some dodgy history, one cool piranha attack, and a few dull fight scenes, I gave up on it.

    But Jimmy only provided the story for Blood River. He wrote the superior Devil-Ship Pirates. He’s also got a ship this time around, even if it spends most of the movie moored near the moors. (OK, that was a Gene Shalit-style pun. What the hell’s the matter with me today?)

    Christopher Lee, in fine menacing form, plays the skipper of a privateer in service of the Spanish Armada. When the ship is damaged in battle, Lee is able to steer it to an isolated English village. The plan: convince the townspeople that the Armada has defeated the Royal Navy long enough to repair the vessel and escape.

    As plots go it’s a gem, and Sangster finds ways to complicate matters nicely. There’s the lord of the manor in full I for one welcome our new insect overlords mode. And the ship’s sole Spanish naval officer, who slowly realizes that his choices are death at the hands of the English or a life of piracy.

    The disc includes commentary from Sangster and other Hammer veterans, plus additional extras. It’s a well-produced package for some lesser-known films.

    George Carlin, R.I.P.

    I don’t have much to add to the many tributes to the late, great comedian all over the web. I can only say that I had tremendous respect for George Carlin as a writer, performer, and thinker. Particularly because he came from a sensibility I understand, namely New York Irish Catholic. Carlin made me realize it was OK to look at the world askance, to take nothing at face value. I always thought of him as the hipster uncle who’d show up occasionally and say, “Don’t sweat it, kid. It’s all bullshit anyway. You want some of my beer?”

    HBO will be rebroadcasting Carlin’s comedy specials in the coming days. And here’s Carlin’s last in-depth interview. Hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily.

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    I watched Pirates of Blood River, and while I concede that Devil-Ship Pirates may be the better film -- not seen by me, yet -- I found Blood River to be entertaining, if not deep. (No pun there, either.)

    Did you watch long enough to watch the two blindfolded pirates fight each other in a duel to the death? (Oliver Reed vs. Peter Arne.) I don't know if it was completely choreographed or if parts of it at least were ad-libbed, but it was hugely over the top. Worth the price of admission right then and there.

    I suppose to find out more I could watch the movie again with the commentary turned on, but that means watching the movie again. I'm almost ready for that, but somehow ... not yet.


    Damn, a blindfolded fight to the death? You're right, Steve. I should have stuck around for that.

    I just found the movie too slow. And the history bothered me. It opens with that title card briefing you on the Huguenots, and says they settled "the Isle of Devon." Next thing you know, piranha attack. I thought, "Hang on, where is this?" and never got over it. Although as I said, I did like the piranhas. A lot.



    You say this flick is completely on dry land, yet there is a piranha attack.

    If this movie has walking piranhas in it, I will definitely rent it.

    Please advise....



    The management apologizes for any confusion.

    Pirates of Blood River is set on dry land. But as the title indicates, there is a river. That's where the piranhas are. When they attack, we see it from dry land. This, in large part, accounts for the awesomeness of the scene.

    I would recommend Piranha II: The Spawning, which features flying piranhas, a species that has walking piranhas beat all to hell. But something tells me, TL, that you might have seen that one already.


    Seen it? I first met James Cameron when he was turning in the poster artwork for it at Lenny Shapiro's office. (Yes, Cameron even painted the damn poster. That guy can do ANYTHING!)

    I thought for a moment that this pirate movie might have pre-dated the dry land piranhas of THE SPAWNING, but alas it was not meant to be.

    "Fish! We want fish!"



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