Monday, 20 October 2014

Unhinged (1982)

It's time for yet more period backwoods USA daftness courtesy of 88 Films. UNHINGED belongs to that very specific subgenre of movies made by independent North American film-makers who only ever turned out an average of about one film, and then went back to their ordinary everyday lives (or possibly got their day release papers revoked so they couldn't make any more - who knows?). Movies like THE CHILD (1977), THE REDEEMER (1977 as well - it was a bumper year), I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1971) and THE CHILDREN (1980) all fall into this category. Some of these movies are scary, some are dull, and quite a few are just stupid. The most tantalising are quite frequently all three and often manage to pull off the feat of being genuinely disturbing at the same time.

UNHINGED is from 1982 but feels as if it could have been made in the late 1970s heyday of backwoods mania. Three girls whose acting talents range from leaden to wooden are on the way to a music festival when, en route through a nicely scary forest (with synth music to match) they crash their car. Just before they avoid the log that appears to have been placed strategically in the middle of the road and end up in the ditch, the radio helpfully informs both them and us that 23 young women have now gone missing in the area. They wake up to find they are now in a great big scary old country house where the acting ranges from mental to completely crackers. 

          After some static and rather prolonged dialogue scenes, and some creeping around in near total darkness (this must have been unwatchable on the previously banned VHS transfer) one of the girls makes off for the nearest town and is hacked to bits by a lunatic with a scythe for her troubles. More prolonged and static dialogue scenes ensue, then there's another gruesome death scene and finally the climax where, if you're still wondering why this made the Video Nasties list back in the day, all will become gorily apparent. And if that's not reward enough for sticking with UNHINGED through the more boring bits, the film also gives us a barking mad twist of an ending you'll probably want to watch at least twice just to make sure that's actually what happened.

UNHINGED isn't a great movie, or even a terribly good movie, but as I said above, it features enough backwoods weirdness and splattery violence to make forgiving horror fans stick with it. Special mention should be made of the synthesiser score by Jonathan Newton which, with its pulsing analog rhythms, might just have inspired Rob's score to the recent remake of MANIAC.

88 Films presents us with a transfer of UNHINGED that's actually very nice indeed, especially considering that the master is no more, which is why a Blu-ray version wasn't possible. Two aspect ratio options are offered, and you want to go with the fullscreen (i.e. 1.33:1) version to get the most picture information. Extras include a new feature-length commentary with director and co-writer Don Gronquist, a trailer and the usual entertaining 88 Films trailer park.
UNHINGED absolutely isn't an undiscovered classic, but it is an engaging bit of backwoods lunacy that's worth a watch if any of the other movies I've name checked above float your boat.

88 Films released UNHINGED on Region 2 DVD on 13th October 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

Blacula: The Complete Collection (1972/1973)

It took a little while for what is now known as the blaxploitation genre to get going, but by the time Gordon Parks' SHAFT (1971) was on the streets, everyone and his brother (sorry) was looking to cash in on it. Always one to exploit a trend, American International Pictures decided that the best way to kick off a potential blaxploitation horror franchise was to do a version of Dracula. Or not, because BLACULA isn't anything like Stoker's novel (not that that ever stopped Hammer), but it is a brisk and fun movie that also says more about the age in which it was made than was probably ever intended.

We start off in Transylvania. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife (Vonetta McGee) are visiting Dracula (a very un-Christopher Lee-like Charles McCauley, and well done to whoever decided to do something a bit different with the character). Somehow they've been led to think he might support the abolition of the slave trade rather than turning out to be exactly what we all want Dracula to be, which is an utter bastard of the highest order. Incensed that anyone would even think he would be interested in getting rid of slavery, Dracula curses Mamuwalde with vampirism and walls his wife up with him to die.

The 1970s. And not just the 1970s but the Afro-haired, gaily coloured, massive shirt collar and dayglo coloured pendant wearing 1970s. A couple of camp young male antique dealers (one with handbag and the other with cigarette holder), are in the process of buying the contents of Castle Dracula. Everything gets shipped back to their warehouse in Los Angeles. A misplaced crowbar and some ill-advised curiosity later, and Blacula is up and about and vampirising. At the funeral home where one of his victims is being prepared for burial, Blacula spots Tina (McGee again) a dead ringer for his dead wife. Kim Newman may well be right in his talking head piece included as an extra in this set, that this might be the first vampire film that features the theme of pursuit of lost love. If he is then Coppola's DRACULA did indeed rip off BLACULA, which is as amusing as it is ironic.

More deaths occur and Mamuwalde eventually gets the girl. By the end he's being pursued by the might of the LAPD and has created a warehouse full of vampire slaves. I've not seen the ending we have here done in a vampire film before this one, either, and if you've not seen the movie I'll leave you to discover it for yourselves. BLACULA is a lot of fun, and while some of the acting leaves a bit to be desired, William Marshall is excellent in the title role. Regal, majestic, commanding and at the same time extremely likeable, he gives the character a depth other actors would have had a lot of difficulty achieving. Gene Page’s music errs on the side of funk rather than horror (but that still means it's actually rather groovy) and somehow the manager of the Hues Corporation did a deal to have them singing three songs! (But no 'Rock the Boat'.)

One of the things AIP seemed effortless at (and which Hammer never really managed to do) was combine the idea of the gothic vampire with 1970s urban life. Both BLACULA and the COUNT YORGA pictures showed how a vampire of Dracula's ilk might survive in modern day America. It's unsurprising then that when William Crain, BLACULA's director, proved to be unavailable, the task of directing SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM fell to Bob Kelljan, the director of both Yorga movies. Blacula is brought back to life by voodoo to be used as an instrument of revenge. He's given a splendid buildup and introduction in one of AIP's longest-ever pre-credit sequences. After that it's business as usual, with Blacula this time building up a vampire horde at an isolated country house. All he wants is to die and he needs sexy voodoo specialist Pam Grier to help him. It all builds to a final showdown at the house with some well-orchestrated action sequences and scarier music courtesy of Kelljan's regular composer Bill Marx. SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM is actually preferred by many people to the first film, but I have to say I like the original more.

A prime slice of early 1970s exploitation, both of AIP's BLACULA movies are now presented in this fine dual disc DVD & Blu-ray set from Eureka. The transfer of BLACULA is especially excellent, with very little grain in the image. The picture quality of SCREAM isn't quite as good but presumably that's a film stock issue. The only extra is Kim Newman talking for twenty five minutes about both films. He does a good job of placing both movies in context, giving us some background, and suggesting how influential they might actually be. As well as that you get trailers for both films and a 32 page booklet with new writing by Josiah Howard and reprints of BLACULA press materials. Overall this is a very nice package indeed, and well done to Eureka for including both films in this highly presentable set.

Eureka are releasing AIP's BLACULA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on 27th October 2014 - just in time for Halloween

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Island of Dr Moreau (1977)

Here's a surprise - a late 1970s Samuel Z Arkoff production that doesn't feature giant ants or chickens but does feature some excellent acting, decent music, good makeup effects and efficient direction. Destined to live forever sandwiched between the shadows of its marvellous predecessor (Erle Kenton's 1932  ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) and the quite unbelievable 1996 Marlon Brando remake, Don Taylor's 1977 version of the H G Wells novel is actually perfectly respectable and, while it takes a few liberties with its source material, is never less than interesting to watch and deserves to be more than just the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question 'What was Burt Lancaster's only horror film?' (THE SWIMMER doesn't count although it probably should).

The screenplay, by Taylor associates John Herman Shaner and Al Ramrus (they did uncredited rewrites on the script to DAMIEN OMEN II for Taylor the following year after he took over the project from Mike Hodges), dispenses with any shenanigans aboard the Lady Vain and gets Michael York's character of Andrew Braddock to the island as soon as the credits are over. His shipwrecked companions are swiftly dispensed with and Braddock finds himself being looked after in the jungle compound of Dr Moreau (Lancaster).

Moreau, as every schoolboy knows, has been up to no good with the local animals, and also with a fair few he seems to have imported from all over the world in the very best jungle movie tradition. Also living in Moreau's house is Barbara Carrera's Maria, who is presumably another of Moreau's experiments although very little, if anything, is made of this other than a flash on some unnatural-looking eyes at the very end. Having exhausted his work turning pigs, bears and monkeys into rudimentary men, Moreau decides it would be useful to do it the other way round and turn Braddock into an animal so he can describe the process to Moreau before his speech degenerates into grunts. It all goes predictably pear-shaped and fiery at the end as the human animals rebel and Braddock and Maria escape.

Taylor's film does try to be different from ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. Burt Lancaster's interpretation of Moreau is radically different from Charles Laughton's but is no less fascinating. In fact, his low key softly spoken demeanour is possibly all the more terrifying because he seems such a nice and reasonable chap when we know what he's doing is actually obscene. It's a mis-step to downplay the panther woman (or whatever Maria might be) especially as Carrera is pretty good at evincing animal passion. Also in contrast to the Kenton picture, where much of the action took place at night, we get to see Moreau's experiments by the bright light of day and while the makeups aren't bad at all, one suspects they might have been scarier had they only been glimpsed in shadows. Even so, this is a surprisingly well made and cast film that elevates it well above similarly-themed 1970s fare such as the Schenk brothers' SUPERBEAST and Eddie Romero's TWILIGHT PEOPLE (both 1972).

        101's Blu-ray release of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU is excellent. You would never believe a late 1970s Sam Arkoff picture could look so lush and lovely. My ageing brain was convinced Ms Carrera has a nude scene when the film was shown in ITV in the early 1980s but if so then it's not present here.  Sadly there are no extras, but if you want to see Don Taylor's version of the HG Wells story looking better than it ever has before then this is definitely worth a look.

101 Films released Don Taylor's 1977 version of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU on Region B Blu-ray on 6th October 2014

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Bad Milo (2014)

How many films do you need to make a movie category? If it's two then BAD MILO, along with the similarly-themed (if not quite as well executed) RECTUMA now make up the Monster Born From The Back Passage Of An Anxious Man subgenre. While this could be taken as a sign of the depths to which contemporary exploitation cinema has sunk, both films are actually rather funny and BAD MILO in particular is actually a very decent and well made horror comedy.

Duncan (Ken Marino) is a typical 21st Century everyman, with typical 21st century anxieties. His job is stressful enough, but then his dodgy boss Phil (Patrick Warburton) moves him to Human Resources and puts him in charge of sacking some of his co-workers. This entails having to share a toilet-cum-office with an obnoxious co-worker who wrecks the presentation Duncan has been working on for a year. As if that isn't bad enough, Duncan, in common with virtually everyone else in Hollywood movies nowadays, has father issues. Duncan's mum has recently remarried, and Duncan's new father is younger than him but insists he call him Daddy. After an excruciatingly embarrassing meal at his mother's house, Duncan's irritable bowel syndrome starts to play up, with quite unexpected results. The BAD MILO of the title is a rectal monster born of an intestinal polyp and Duncan's inner rage. Whenever things get too much, Milo pops out and kills whoever has upset Duncan on this occasion. A visit to a whacky psychiatrist (Peter Stormare) results in Duncan trying to bond with Milo, and a visit to his estranged father reveals that he has been harbouring a rectal secret too.

Despite its subject matter, BAD MILO is actually a rather sweet and good natured comedy about the stress of modern-day living. While Milo himself has been given sharp teeth and claws, the design of his face, and the noises he makes, are far more reminiscent of Gizmo from Joe Dante's GREMLINS than an anal ALIEN. Acting is fine across the board, with special mentions going to Stormare's psychiatrist and Kumail Najiani's hilarious turn as Duncan's new dad. Hang around for the end titles as well as there are a number of bloopers to keep you chuckling as the credits roll.

Sony are releasing BAD MILO on DVD in the UK. Extras include even more outtakes, a couple of deleted and extended scenes, and a couple of alternate takes. BAD MILO is a decent little comedy horror which, as we all know, is a genre that’s difficult to do well. Certainly recommended if you’re in the mood for something light and yet, well, rather twisted. 

Sony are releasing BAD MILO on Region 2 DVD on 20th October 2014

Monday, 13 October 2014

Debug (2014)

The latest spin on the hoary old chestnut of Hapless Indviduals Pitted Against Superior Intelligence - In Space!, is actor-turned director David Hewlett's DEBUG, which is getting a UK DVD release by Signature Entertainment. It's a Canadian shot low budget affair with gleaming interiors thanks to crisp photography from Gavin Smith. How much you'll enjoy it will probably depend on how many versions of this story you've seen before.

In deep space six naughty young computer programmers convicted of cyber-crimes have to debug a great big spaceship as punishment for what they have done. What they don't realise is that the ship's own intelligence has become far greater than they were expecting, and that it has no intention of being switched off. By exploiting each of the programmers' weaknesses (and that of the security guard with them) it bumps them off until there are only a couple left, leading to the predictable showdown.

DEBUG starts off threatening to become a confuse-fest of SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE proportions. There's a scene-setting caption. Then each of the characters is introduced by a blink and you'll miss it computer readout of who they are and what their crimes were, but if you really want to read it you'll have to hit the pause button. After that it settles down and becomes a haunted house in space picture. The characters are constructed of the thinnest cardboard, and their demises are all the less affecting for their unlikeabilty. While it looks good, DEBUG can't compete with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for a rogue computer gone wild. I'm sure it's not trying to. The problem is it can't compete with BLAKE'S 7 in terms of acting and character development either, and by the end the viewer is left with a mental list of productions that have dealt with the subject matter so much better.

Signature's DVD is bit like the film itself, in that it looks great but is bare bones, with a lack of extras that would have been welcome to flesh out the package. 

Signature are releasing David Hewlett's DEBUG on Region 2 DVD on 3rd November 2014

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Spanish Chainsaw Massacre (2013)

Another complete unknown for the DVD player here at HMC.      
         Occasionally these movies are under-rated classics, most have something worth taking note of, and sadly a few turn out to be awful rubbish. THE SPANISH CHAINSAW MASSACRE is not rubbish, but it is completely and utterly mental and will best suit those with very short attention spans and the capacity to deal with overwhelming amounts of extremely silly hardcore gore. And terrible acting. And lots of shouting. And possibly the worst subtitle translations I have ever come across (see below for examples).

The Metal Cocks are the fattest, stupidest, fartiest heavy metal band in Spain and quite possibly the world. En route to a gig in Galicia  organised by their shouty, overacting and quite possibly dubbed record promoter, they break down in the village of ‘Gutierrez’s town’. The villagers have some strange traditions including cooking naked and dressing up as clowns to torture people to death in front of giggling schoolchildren. They are awaiting the return of the town's saint, the history of whom they attempt to explain in a garbled widescreen black and white flashback that made no sense to me. One by one the stupid band members end up mutilated and killed, after which the film just stops.

Mercifully brief at 53 minutes (and the credits at the end run for at least five of those), and filmed on a budget of 3000 Euros, the original title of THE SPANISH CHAINSAW MASSACRE was CARNIVOROS. Its UK DVD release is apparently the first anywhere in the world, and has been cut by 32 seconds by the BBFC. It's difficult to know how to describe it, but the movie has a John Waters - HG Lewis vibe with the kind of homemade feel of grotty British filth efforts like THE PERV PARLOUR and PERVIRELLA. What everyone lacks in skill here they more than make up for with enthusiasm, and if you like your horror over the top, silly and played for laughs you could do worse than watch this one. The subtitles are translated so badly that they provide an extra level of hilarity all their own. THE SPANISH CHAINSAW MASSACRE is surprisingly better made than some of the worst we've had on here (WEREWOLF RISING, BLOODY HOMECOMING) but that wouldn't be difficult. I will freely admit that at ten minutes in I was crying with laughter but by the end I had had quite enough.

88 Films have release THE SPANISH CHAINSAW MASSACRE with no extras, a jolly cover and a catchpenny title. I can't think of much else to say other than it's probably best in enjoyed in good company and followed by something better.

88 Films released the catalogue of daft atrocities that is THE SPANISH CHAINSAW MASSACRE on DVD on 22nd September 2014

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Graduation Day (1981)

Coming in the wake of movies such as John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN and Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13TH (and especially the latter), Herb Freed's GRADUATION DAY was one of many, many films that rode the wave of the success of those ground-breaking slashers. To paraphrase Stefan Jaworzyn writing in an early issue of The Dark Side, the fact that the ground they broke quickly became as fertile as a stretch of the Ho Chi Minh trail after it had been doused with Agent Orange did nothing to stop everyone from churning out a slasher picture with titles that incorporated dates (NEW YEAR'S EVIL, MY BLOODY VALENTINE), don'ts (DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE, DON'T GO IN THE WOODS) and disastrous school events (FINAL EXAM, PROM NIGHT).  

Despite that fact that it's not as well known as some of the bigger studio slashers of the time (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE), GRADUATION DAY isn't bad at all, and fans of these movies will no doubt be delighted to learn that it gets crazier as the running time progress.

We open with disco music, school track events, and Christopher George shouting at everyone. He's playing coach George Michaels, but before we can stop to wonder what he does to Bad Boys, where he was Last Christmas, or if anyone has to Wake Him Up Before He Go Gos, in fact even before the titles are barely over, bright young school running hopeful Laura has dropped down dead from a heart attack after winning what turns out to be her last race. Laura's sister Anne (Patch Mackenzie) returns from her stint in the navy to claim her sister's sporting award at the imminent school graduation day, staying with her rampantly alcoholic father and apologetic mother until the event. Meanwhile, members of the track team are being despatched in a number of creative and sometimes rather daft ways, including a flying football with a meat skewer on the end of it. Who is responsible?

Is it Anne? Is it Careless Christopher? Or could it be someone else chasing topless Linnea Quigley through the bushes to a delightfully demented rock and roll song performed by a band composed of goth versions of Kid Creole? I won't give away the ending because you deserve to see it for yourself, but I was extremely pleased at how daft the denouement turned out to be.
88 Films have released GRADUATION DAY on Blu-ray. This is a far better treatment than this or any other grotty early 80s slasher really deserves, and fans should revel in the opportunity to see this film in this pristine presentation. Extras include an insane introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, plus other Troma bits and pieces that those of a more ‘sophisticated’ disposition may find of interest (including a Cannibal Lesbian Hoedown Music Video directed by Kaufman) ported over from a previous Region 1 DVD release.       
        Most impressive of all the bonus bits is a feature length documentary entitled Scream Queens. This consists of as many female stars of horror movies from the 1980s onwards as High Rising Productions could find waxing lyrical on the subject, and was made especially for this 88 Films release. Scream Queens starts off threatening to concentrate on the stars of Fred Olen Ray films and worse, but it quickly settles down to feature a surprising number of actresses, many of whom have interesting contributions to make regarding the phenomenon of which they have all played a part. There’s also a short excellent talking head piece by Julian Kerswell about the making of GRADUATION DAY, lots and lots of trailers for other 88 Films releases, a reversible sleeve and booklet notes.
88 Films’ Blu-ray release of GRADUATION DAY, with its fine transfer of a crazy 1980s slasher film and its wealth of extras, represents a terrific package for fans of exploitation cinema. A lot better than I was expecting and well worth checking out.

88 Films are releasing Herb Freed's GRADUATION DAY on Blu-ray on October 13th 2014