Welcome to Hoffa’s Retro Cinema Club, right here on your local Patch!!!
If remakes, re-imaginings, adaptations, and pointless cash-cow sequels leave you feeling empty, if CGI effects just don’t do it for you, if you’re left utterly disappointed by Hollywood’s current talent pool (or lack thereof), then Hoffa has the cure that you’ve been so desperately seeking! What Opera did for book clubs, Hoffa’s going to do for film clubs! So dust off that Betamax VCR that’s hiding in your basement and follow along as your personal guide, Patch’s very own ‘James R. Hoffa,’ takes you back to film’s past to discover, review, and discuss many of cinema’s hidden gems. Who knows, you may even end up with a new all time favorite!
As many of you are probably aware, this past weekend saw the second re-release of Walt Disney Feature Animation's beloved animated musical telling of the classic French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast (1991). Offered to the public for the first time in Disney Digital 3-D ® (the first re-issue was a 2002 IMAX special edition), this re-release did fairly well during its Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday weekend opening, taking the number two spot at the box office with gross estimate ticket sales reaching $23.5M over the four day period. Billed by Disney as "the most beautiful love story ever told," the popularity of this version of the traditional fable is evident through its 8.0/10 rating on the quintessential film website, The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), earning it a 246th place ranking amongst the Top 250 greatest films ever made, as determined by IMDb user votes.
This past weekend's strong showing, especially upon consideration that this is the third wide theatrical release of the film in the last 20 years, is clearly indicative of the true timelessness of the immortal parable that is the Beauty and the Beast legend. In fact, the Disney film's current opening weekend box office haul nearly totaled the entire running gross of the recent ultra-modern and largely ignored (for good reason) 'tween digression, Beastly (2011). And while Disney's masterpiece is undoubtedly the definitive take on this adored tale, there have been several other worthy variations of the Beauty and the Beast story adapted to stage, film, and television.
Released direct-to-video and largely under the radar of mass audience awareness one year prior to the premier of Disney's film, was B-movie mogul Charles Band's unique vision on this legendary triumph of love conquering all boundaries, Meridian: Kiss of the Beast (1990) - this installment's feature film pick and part of a Filmmaker Spotlight feature on Charles Band!
Much in the vein of the celebrated Roger Corman and his New World Pictures, the undisputed heavy weights of B-grade cinema, Charles Band is a pioneering filmmaker who's two independent film companies, the now defunct Italian-based Empire Pictures and U.S.-based Full Moon Entertainment, focus(ed) primarily on producing and distributing original sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genre pictures, many titles of which have since obtained cult status and fan followings.
By the end of the '80's, nearly 55% of all U.S. households owned a VCR, with the rest of world not far behind, and the home video rental market was quite literally on fire. To capitalize on this new found consumer love affair, Charles Band founded Full Moon Productions in 1989 with the sole mission of providing low-budgeted but high quality original direct-to-video offerings, and was one of the first film production companies set-up to cater solely to the home video rental marketplace. Partnering with distributor Paramount Home Video, Band was able to gain lucrative shelf space in national start-up chains Blockbuster, Movie Gallery, and Family Video, as well as tens of thousands of local independent operations.
The first contribution from the new company was the wildly successful Puppet Master (1989), that has since spawned 9 sequels to date. With all Full Moon releases including and following the first sequel, Puppet Master II (1991), Band included a personally guided short behind-the-scenes documentary "video magazine," called "VideoZone," that included a making-of feature, interviews with cast members and notable contributors, merchandizing/promotional materials, presentation of the official trailer, and a sneak peak look at in-the-works or planned future projects from Full Moon. Keep in mind that Band was doing this for every single one of his low budget fares nearly a decade before the creation of the DVD, at a time when such 'featurettes' were extremely limited to collector-grade laserdisc presentations of only very select titles. Little did anyone realize that such 'bonuses' would come to be expected and commonplace in our present world of digital home video.
Meridian would mark the first film directed by Band under the Full Moon label, of which he also enjoys writing and production credits on. Meridian's truly unique take on the Beauty and the Beast folklore comes from its clever blending of the biblical struggles of good vs evil, the familial doppelganger adversity of Dead Ringers (1988), and the erotic sensual steaminess of Two Moon Junction (1988), together with this time-honored saga. Recruited to play the roles of our beauty and beast, respectively, are the seductively sultry Sherilyn Fenn (of television's Twin Peaks (1990) and the aforementioned Junction fame) as Catherine, the lady of the castle, and the handsome heartthrob Malcolm Jamieson, in a rare dual role, as the eternally dueling brothers Lawrence and Oliver. Set and filmed in Giove, Italy, Meridian opens with a mystery surrounding an unusual 15th century painting.
Drafted to reveal the truth behind this painting is Catherine's best friend and professional art restorer Gina, played by the stunningly beautiful Charlie Spradling. But instead of working over her weekend, Gina plans on visiting her girlfriend Catherine at her newly inherited familial estate, the hauntingly atmospheric Castello Di Giove. After showing Gina around the castle, Catherine and Gina visit the nearby village and happen upon a traveling roadside gypsy troupe performing a magic show. Intrigued by the company's leader, Lawrence, the girls go back-stage after the show to meet the performers and end up inviting the ensemble to join them for dinner at the castle.
However, the troupe proves to be anything but gracious dinner guests, resulting in the evil Lawrence drugging the girls and date-raping Gina while Oliver date-rapes Catherine, during which he turns into to the hideous namesake 'beast.' The entire scene is wholly dreamlike, aided by camp Italian composer Pino Donaggio's majestic original score, as featured in the provided official trailer, and thick with sexually erotic zeal of the kind that only Fenn, Spradling, and Jamieson are capable of. Despite the fact that both women are in fact ravaged by their male suitors, you're left with the impression that this was more of a consensual psycho-sexual encounter of uninhibited passion as opposed to an utterly detestable, unforgivable, sinful, and criminal act, as Hoffa adamantly believes all rapes to be in reality. Leave it to Band though to somehow make this "rape" appear sensually exotic, but somehow the man manages to pull it off, and convincingly so, but only under a presumed cinematic willing suspension of disbelief.
In evaluating Meridian, you must keep in mind that is a B-grade affair, and only judge it accordingly. Band didn't set out with the intention of creating a masterpiece, but rather an evocative, erotic, modest, and entertaining twist-driven deviation on the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, and to such end, he was enormously successful. The entire lead and supporting cast gives admirable performances, and the chemistry and emotion between Fenn and Jamieson is undeniably electric. The authentic Italian castle setting, colorful Victorian-era inspired costuming, excellent beast make-up prosthetic effects, and Donaggio's over-the-top, memorable, warm, and lush analog synth-driven score, all combine to create a surrealistic experience worth embarking upon!
So, how exactly does rape lead to a great "traditional" love story between Catherine and Oliver? What secrets are hidden within the mysterious painting? Just why is Lawrence so evil? For the answers to these questions and more, you'll have to watch this hidden gem to find out! For a quick preview, be sure to check out the included official studio trailer.
In North America, Meridian has been released on the VHS, Betamax, and laserdisc formats by Paramount Home Video, and on DVD by Band's Wizard Entertainment subsidiary in the multi-feature Charles Band Collection, and by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment in an 8-Movie Midnight Horror Collection, Vol. 1 and together as a double-bill with companion Band feature Decadent Evil (2005), both of which may be currently available at your local WalMart retailer. Meridian is also available for rent on DVD from Netflix.
So be sure to check out Meridian: Kiss of The Beast soon. Then, come back to Patch and let Hoffa and others know what you think about this erotically charged twist on the classic fairy tale and be sure to tune in for the next installment of Hoffa’s Retro Cinema Club!
Meridian: Kiss Of The Beast / 1990 / Color / 86 min. / Ultra-Stereo / Rated R for language, adult content, sexual content, and nudity.
Film Trailer and Poster Art courtesy of Full Moon Productions. ™ and © 1990 Full Moon Entertainment.