Friday, 19 December 2014

Nekromantik (1988)

Where do I start with this one?
Probably in 1988, which is when I saw it for the first (and only time until now) at the Shock Around the Clock Film festival at the legendary Scala cinema in Kings Cross. In those days, festivals were all nighters, and it was probably appropriate that NEKROMANTIK was the final film, as nothing could have competed with it for shock value. So it was that I and several hundred other people were witness to Jorg Buttgereit's tale of filth and woe (and yes, necrophilia) at about six o'clock on a Sunday morning. It certainly woke us all up.

Rob (Daktari Lorenz) works for 'Joe’s Street Cleaning Agency' which specialises in tidying up the dead bodies after road traffic accidents. But Rob doesn't adhere strictly to health and safety directives, instead bringing various bits and pieces back to his squalid flat for him and his girlfriend Betty (Beatrice M) to enjoy. When a young man dies in a bizarre gardening accident (I don't think they're referencing Spinal Tap but this is such an odd film who knows) Rob brings the entire corpse home and various necrophiliac antics ensue. When Betty gets fed up with Rob and leaves, taking her dead lover with her, it's the cue for Rob to embark on an existential journey that is a mixture of arthouse and extremely uncomfortable obscene cinema as we only really get to see from European film-makers.

NEKROMANTIK is not for everyone. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's hardly for anyone. However, if such classic Euro-endurance tests as CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, A SERBIAN FILM and THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE PARTS 1 & 2 are your cup of tea then you'll probably get something out of this one as well. Just like those movies, time has not diminished its effect - NEKROMANTIK is still as weird, disgusting and shocking as I remember it. The only difference on watching it this time was I got the sense that some of it was intended to be funny but in a way that just makes it all the more disturbing. As well as all the (faked) horrors, a rabbit gets slaughtered and skinned close to the beginning so animal lovers should beware.
Arrow's presentation of NEKROMANTIK is remarkable. In fact, I was almost as shocked by the number of extras on here as I was by the film. The three disc set includes the film on both Blu-ray and DVD. Blu-ray isn't really the medium for a grungefest shot on super 8mm, but it does look a lot better than the 'Grindhouse Presentation' that's also included here.

By the far the best of these is a hugely nostalgic documentary for those of us who saw the movie at the Scala as Alan Jones and others reminisce about the difficulty of sneaking the film in under the radar and the producer having to sleep on top of the film cans in his camper van to prevent them from being confiscated. There's also a commentary from Buttgereit and co-writer Franz Rodenkirchen, a couple of short films (Hot Love and Horror Heaven), a new interview with the director who also provides a special introduction to the film, a vintage making of, a Glasgow Q&A and a whole host of other stuff as well. Perhaps the best extra (although this wasn't provided for review) is the third disc, which is a CD of the film's soundtrack. It's quite a bouncy, jolly synthesiser score that's very 1980s while at the same time avoiding the farty burpy monotone that many sleaze efforts of the period seemed to think was de rigeur. There's also an exclusive 100 page book featuring writing on the film and the whole thing is presented in a lovely packaging with five exclusive postcards.
So there you go. I hadn't seen NEKROMANTIK for sixteen years and it will probably be another sixteen before I feel I can steel myself to watch it again. But if you're a NEKROMANTIKophile, or even just casually interested in extreme European cinema, I cannot imagine there's going to be a better or more enthusiastic presentation of this film than this.

Arrow Films have released Jorg Buttgereit's NEKROMANTIK in a special limited 3-disc dual format edition (Blu-ray and DVD) on 15th December 2014 - just in time for Christmas!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Killers (1946)

German-born director Robert Siodmak moved to Hollywood in 1940 and had a bit of a rocky start (“This is not a Siodmak picture - this is Paramount shit!” he allegedly once said in an on-set interview). However, once he moved to Universal he quickly graduated from the routine but atmospheric SON OF DRACULA (1943) to the classic THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945). THE KILLERS (1946) was his next picture after that, and is as classy and accomplished an example of film noir as you can get.

THE KILLERS is adapted from a (very) short story by Ernest Hemingway in which a man sits in a room waiting for the two assassins who are going to do him in. Siodmak’s film starts with the two killers arriving at a diner where their intended hit (Burt Lancaster) eats, but when he doesn’t turn up they progress to his room where they kill him.
The rest of the movie is told in flashback as insurance investigator Edmund O’Brien tries to piece together why Lancaster’s character had a variety of aliases, what his relationship was to a famous robbery conducted six years previously, and what gorgeous femme fatale Ava Gardner has got to do with it all. I won’t say much else because this really is one of the greats and if you’ve not seen it you’ve a treat in store. Everything that makes noir great is here, from the fractured nature of the storytelling to the shady characters, none of whom are entirely trustworthy, to the wonderful atmospheric lighting that makes you want to freeze frame on every other scene. 

       The robbery is a masterpiece of single take cinema, even if you can see the camera crew in the windscreen of a lorry at one point. And of course Ava Gardner, who gets the kind of intro and lighting every Hollywood actress would have been willing to kill for. Siodmak was obviously on a roll as he went from this to THE DARK MIRROR (1947) with Olivia de Havilland which is a cracker as well.
Arrow have done their usual top notch job with THE KILLERS, with a sparkling black and white transfer that shows minimal evidence of print damage. Extras include an isolated music and effects track, which lovers of Miklos Rozsa’s work will adore as it give you even more chance to appreciate his work here and how it would influence later scores (there are traces of what would become music for THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES amongst others).

Frank Krutnik gives us a 58 minute walk through of the film, there’s another featurette on the different movie versions of THE KILLERS (including the Don Siegel version I’ve already reviewed on this site), trailers, three archive radio pieces, a stills and poster gallery with some fine shots of Ava, and a booklet and reversible sleeve.
        Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS is a classic movie given splendid treatment by Arrow. If they could get the rights to some of his other pictures and release a box set then surely it would assure them the place in Blu-ray heaven that they probably already deserve.

Arrow Academy released Robert Siodmak's THE KILLERS on Blu-ray on 8th December 2014

Monday, 15 December 2014

Left Behind (2014)

Christian propaganda films tend to be traditionally both grotty and disturbing in terms of their subtext. Anyone who has been forced to sit through A DISTANT THUNDER (1978) in a revivalist tent in South America (I know I have) or indeed any of director Donald Thompson’s awful evangelical efforts will know what I’m talking about. 
Well, the spirit seems to be alive and well and responsible for what is officially (according to Rotten Tomatoes at least) the Number One worst film of 2014. LEFT BEHIND will shortly be getting a Blu-ray and DVD release in the UK courtesy of 101 Films so you can find out just how bad it is for yourself (if you dare), but in the meantime I have already been subjected to its 110 minute running time. I have suffered on the cinematic crucifix that is Bad Cinema so that you hopefully don’t have to, and here’s what I thought.

The first thirty minutes of LEFT BEHIND is nothing more (nor less) than a poorly put together soap opera. Nicolas Cage (why?) is an airline pilot who plans to have a bit of an assignation with stewardess Nicky Whelan, complete with Princess Diana hairdo and tightly buttoned blouse (her not him). How could he possibly cheat on Bible-bashing wife Lea Thompson, who seems to have forgotten everything she learned about time travel and now wears a lot of fish-related jewellery and gets into arguments with daughter Cassi Thomson about Belief? Nic takes off in his plane filled with sinners, or at least the script tries hard to make out that business class is certainly filled with them. So far so dull, and then Something Weird happens and people everywhere disappear, leaving only their clothes, their fish jewellery and their diaries with entries like ‘Attend Bible Class’ written in big letters. 
What’s going on? Could it be that the group of American Christians who bang on about something called The Rapture were right? If all the Christians were suddenly taken away would everyone left really not be able to cope? Would they just drive their cars into shops, shoot each other, and generally cause havoc because Christians weren’t around anymore? And why is it a good idea to have heaven filled with naked people anyway? 

It’s certainly a unique take on the apocalypse. Meanwhile the aeroplane is running out of fuel and Nic has to land somewhere. Surely it’s not going to be inches from that enormous tanker with ‘Flammable Liquid’ written on it, is it? And if everyone survives surely they’re going to get as far away from there as possible and not be stupid enough to spend ages standing around relieved they’re alive while fires ignite all around them?

LEFT BEHIND is packed chock full with stupid moments, stupid dialogue, and situations that will have you either picking your jaw up off the floor or chuckling along. I have to admit I didn’t touch the fast forward button once as I was so mesmerised by what was happening. Someone has likened this to THE ROOM and they might not be far wrong. 
101 Films offers us an entirely bare bones affair, presumably because all the out-takes made it into the actual finished film. I cannot recommend this one but if you want to see Nicolas Cage explain how a paper cup with holes in it is actually the aeroplane he's in then this is the film you’ve been waiting for. 

LEFT BEHIND is being released by 101 Films on Blu-ray and DVD on 5th January 2015

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Six Gothic Tales (1960 - 1964)

Christmas has come (slightly) early for fans of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the form of this gorgeous box set that contains six of the movies he made that starred Vincent Price. We’re missing MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (because Arrow don’t have the rights to that one) and THE PREMATURE BURIAL (presumably because it starred Ray Milland instead) but otherwise the gang’s all here - a splendid smorgasbord of crumbling castles, eerie matte paintings, Daniel Haller’s elegantly creepy production design, Floyd Crosby’s smooth, economical camera setups, music that varies from adequate to absolutely marvellous, and of course the unsurpassed and unsurpassable Vincent Price, without whose central performance to anchor these pictures they would be simply be elegant exercises in low budget gothic. With him, however, they are so much more.
As I’ve said above, Arrow’s box set gives us six films, all on Blu-ray. Two of these have been released previously in separate standard and steelbook editions. The transfers and extras here are all the same so if you want to read what I thought of THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and PIT AND THE PENDULUM then click on the titles and you’ll be whisked away to my reviews. Remember to come back here when you’ve finished, however, so we can talk about the others. 
All done? Ok. Let’s start with


        Before Amicus resurrected the DEAD OF NIGHT-style anthology film (several short stories plus a framework), Roger Corman put together three Poe shorts without a linking sequence under the above title. We open with Morella, which is a bit like an entire Corman Poe film condensed into twenty minutes. Vincent Price is still mourning the passing of long-dead wife Morella in his crumbling castle when his daughter Lenora (Maggie Pearce) calls on him. Morella died in childbirth and, perhaps understandably, wants to be reborn in her daughter's body. It all ends predictably in flames, but this is one of the very best bits of Poe Corman ever made, and it’s a shame it’s not longer. Everyone seems to like the second story, The Black Cat, even though it’s actually The Cask of Amontillado with a cat in it and played for laughs. I have to say it’s the one I always skip over, but Peter Lorre and Vincent Price do have a whale of a time as rival drinkers. The Facts in the Case of M Valdemar finishes the film with Price, kept alive at the moment of death by hypnotist Basil Rathbone, liquifying all over him when Rathbone’s control fails. 
       Arrow’s transfer carries over a few scratches but otherwise is pristine and clean. Extras include a quite charming featurette by Anne Billson on cats in horror films, an hour long documentary on Roger Corman, Kim Newman talking about Poe, a short film of The Black Cat from 1993, a trailer and a reversible sleeve.

THE RAVEN (1963)

        Using Poe’s poem as a springboard, THE RAVEN immediately turns into a comedy in which magicians Vincent Price and Boris Karloff wage war while Peter Lorre watches from the wings (sorry). Hazel Court is there to egg them on. Arrow gives us another excellent transfer, and the extras here include a 1984 documentary on Peter Lorre (Harun Farocki’s The Double Face), a featurette on Richard Matheson, the short film The Trick (from the director of The Black Cat short), the promotional record that was released at the time (featuring voices of the actors, including Lorre reading the poem), a trailer, still and poster galleries, and another reversible sleeve.


       Quite often this is my favourite of the “Poe” pictures, even if it is adapted from an H P Lovecraft story. And what a fine adaptation it is. Corman’s Arkham is suitably decaying and filled with the mutated results of experiments from the palace on the hill, as well as plenty of suspicious locals with a terrible secret and monsters of their own in the attic. Possibly Vincent Price’s finest acting moment in the entire cycle occurs when he transforms from innocent Charles Dexter Ward into his evil ancestor Joseph Curwen. Sets and photography are as top notch as usual, but where THE HAUNTED PALACE goes one better is in having Ronald Stein do the music. Les Baxter is the composer most commonly associated with these films and I’ve always found his music passable, if not exactly inspiring. Stein’s score for HAUNTED PALACE, however, is a masterpiece, with the opening titles a waltz of sheer gothic perfection. 
Arrow’s transfer is, like the other films in this set, most likely the best this film is ever going to look. For extras we get a superbly chatty commentary track from David Del Valle and Derek Botelho. Kim Newman talks about H P Lovecraft in cinema, there’s an interview with Roger Corman, still and poster galleries, a trailer, and a reversible sleeve.


        The last of the Corman Poes and pretty much the least. Whether it’s the slight script, Elizabeth Shepherd’s aristocratic air of disbelief that she’s even in one of these, or the opportunity for location shooting that seems to have so overwhelmed Corman that many of the set-ups distract massively from what is actually going on, TOMB OF LIGEIA really isn’t the best by a long way. Still, it's fun to see British character actors like Frank Thornton, Richard Vernon and PSYCHOMANIA’s Denis Gilmore in one of these but otherwise it’s a pretty lame affair.
It looks lovely here, though, and the extras we get this time include two commentaries (by Corman and Elizabeth Shepherd), and a set of new interviews with composer Kenneth V Jones, co-writer Paul Mayersberg, 1st AD David Tringham and camera assistant Bob Jordan. Most of these run for around ten minutes each except for the Mayersberg which last for about half an hour. 

       As well as the six films (and the lovely box they come in) you also get a 200 page book with writing on the Poe cycle as well as three comic books published to tie in with TALES OF TERROR, THE RAVEN and TOMB OF LIGEIA. Arrow will be releasing the Blu-rays separately for those of us who already have USHER and PIT. If you haven’t, however, then grab this set now - it’s a beautifully presented example of 1960s gothic cinema at its best. 

Arrow Films released SIX GOTHIC TALES as a Region B Blu-ray set on 8th December 2014

Friday, 28 November 2014

Space 1999: The Bringers of Wonder (1977)

It’s blobtastic monster time!
There were an awful lot of monsters in the second series of Gerry Anderson’s SPACE 1999. In fact, it was almost as if someone panicked and thought the first series was just a bit too cerebral, a bit too bleak and a bit too cold. So, with producer Fred ‘The Terminator’ Freiberger brought in to cheer things up a bit, SPACE 1999 became warmer, more action packed, and filled with the kind of zipper-suited monsters all us fans of Doug McClure Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations were loving at the cinema at the time. We’re going to have to wait until Autumn 2015 for Network’s Blu-ray restoration of the entire second series of Anderson’s show, but as a taster they’re releasing this two-parter so we can see what the new transfer is going to look like.

Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) goes nuts and crash lands an Eagle near nuclear waste dumps on Moonbase Alpha. Dr Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) sedates him and hooks him up to a special brain processing machine. Meanwhile a spaceship has landed filled with people from Earth who all have some connection to one or more of the Alphans. They claim a faster-than-light drive has been developed and that return to Earth is now possible.

But wait! Could this just all be a bit too good to be true? Might these friends from Earth actually be enormous melty blob monsters, the last remnants of a dying race who need the radioactive waste stored on the moon to rejuvenate them? Have they in fact put all of Alpha under some sort of mind control to which Commander Koenig is impervious because his brain has had a good clean with that wavy machine thing?

THE BRINGERS OF WONDER is a lot of fun, even if it is fun of the daftest variety. You’ll constantly wonder how these enormous one-eyed creatures are able to get through doors, fit in the same room as even one other person, and how members of Alpha can put their arms around them. When Maya the Metamorph (Catherine Schell) becomes one it’s the cue for a blobby monster chase scene of such snail-like proportions that you’ll want to watch it again and again. I will freely admit to loving this story when I watched it on its initial broadcast. I also loved all of Series 2 more than Series 1. But I was ten years old and back then all manner of daft monster costumes were far more appealing than the more cerebral antics of what I now realise is the far superior first series.

Network did a stunning restoration job on the first series of SPACE 1999 and it looks as if series two is going to look just as good. It’s hard to believe it was made in the 1970s, and I think you would be hard pushed to find any other television series of the era that looks as glorious and as sparkling as this. The disc offers both episodes of BRINGERS OF WONDER, as well as the feature-length edit DESTINATION MOONBASE ALPHA as an extra. There’s also a trailer for it. I have to say it was immense fun to revisit one of my fondest childhood TV memories, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series looks like.

SPACE 1999: THE BRINGERS OF WONDER is going to be available exclusively through from 8th December 2014. Everyone who orders it before that date will be entered into a competition to win the entire SPACE 1999: THE COMPLETE SECOND SERIES. 

If you want to be in with a chance then click HERE to pre-order

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The genre of giallo as many of us know and love it apparently had its roots in this black and white offering from director Mario Bava. If that truly is the case, then it’s a reasonable, if fairly uninspiring, start but I suppose all such things have to begin somewhere.
Pretty Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) travels to Rome for a holiday. By the time she has got off the plane from New York and is at her Auntie Ethel’s she’s already had a pack of marijuana cigarettes passed to her by the drug smuggler who was sitting next to her on the plane, and she’s met local doctor John Saxon. Auntie Ethel dies, Nora sets off for the local hospital to tell someone, and on the way there she gets mugged and knocked out. When she wakes up she gets to see a dreamy blurry woman with a knife in her back and a bearded man tugging the knife out. No-one believes her, except of course the ‘Alphabet Killer’ who has already done away with girls whose surnames begin with A, B & C. Could Miss Davis be next?

Aping an idea first popularised by Agatha Christie in her 1936 novel The ABC Murders, which was itself made into the entertaining THE ALPHABET MURDERS by Frank Tashlin in 1965, THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH doesn’t really have that much going for it other than some stylish sequences which are so beautifully lit they’re almost worth the price of admission. Bava fans will want this anyway, but it will also be of interest to anyone who’s a fan of early 1960s black and white thrillers. Everyone else may well find it doesn’t have quite the substance of contemporary Hammer psycho-thrillers like PARANOIAC or SCREAM OF FEAR - there’s too much travelogue footage of Rome and the romantic subplot never really gels. The unmasking of the killer, which should be the climax in a film of this type, is just a bit too confusing and underwhelming for it to work.

Arrow’s Blu-ray looks good on the whole. There are a few  scratches and print damage but this is still a fine-looking version. Extras include THE EVIL EYE, which is the US cut of the film. It’s actually longer but that’s due to some not-terribly-effective comedy sequences that really are of their time. As with some of the other US versions of Bava movies, Roberto Nicolosi’s score has been replaced by one by Les Baxter. I have to say I much prefer the Nicolosi, even if the opening song sounds like The Cramps doing a send up of early 1960s Euro-crooning. Fans of Douglas Gamley’s Amicus work (VAULT OF HORROR, ASYLUM and the like) may well want to give Nicolosi’s score a listen as he uses quite a few similar musical effects and motifs and I wonder if Gamley (who had already done the music for Amicus / Vulcan’s CITY OF THE DEAD in 1960) was inspired by them later on.

You also get a commentary track by Tim Lucas, an introduction from Alan Jones, and a featurette entitled All About The Girl in which directors Richard Stanley, Luigi Cozzi, and others talk about the film. Trailers and a reversible sleeve with the usual excellent Graham Humphreys artwork complete the package. 

Arrow Films released Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 17th November 2014

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)

Yet more daftness from the house of Troma. 
If you can't remember what happened at the end of the first part of the adventures of THE TOXIC AVENGER then don't worry, because there's a helpful recap at the beginning of this, which comes after titles that would probably be too bright for an overactive five year old, as well as a bouncy theme song to match.

Toxie is still living in a toxic waste dump in Tromaville with his blind girlfriend who is now played by Phoebe Legere. Ms Legere demonstrates an acting style that can charitably be described as 'unique', but in fact that just means she seems all the more suited to this film than some of the other people in it. 
       After the recap the Tromaville Home for the Blind is blown up by a gag straight out of old Warner Bros. cartoons. The Apocalypse Corporation is to blame and, in another moment straight out of Tex Avery, endless goons pour out of a limo to attack Toxie in a bizarre fight scene-cum-dance routine that goes on for a lot too long. Apocalypse wants to rule the world (or something) by filling it with pollution, but they have to get Toxie out of the way to achieve their goals. 

Apparently Japan has the technology to destroy him, so they buy off Toxie’s sex-obsessed young lady psychiatrist who, during one of her therapy-cum-groping sessions, reveals to Toxie that his father was Japanese. Toxie heads to Japan for the kind of prolonged and 'hilarious' chase scenes fans of Troma movies will probably be used to. I have to admit that by the time Toxie was zooming down a high street in a hovercraft I was chuckling along with the completely potty action, but if you've never seen a Troma film before, you may think someone has knocked you out and filled your head with Smarties. Needless to say it all ends happily after Toxie has fought a Sumo wrestler and made it back to Tromaville where he gets to find out who is true father is and everyone can get back to the dayglo insanity that is everyday life in the strange world Lloyd Kaufman and his gang seem to have created.

88 Films give us a sparkling transfer of THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II on Blu-ray and the print looks uncut to me. There aren't as many extras as on their first TOXIC AVENGER disc, but we do get a feature length commentary from Lloyd Kaufman and two other chaps whose main function seems to be to remind him what's going on. There's also a brief Kaufman introduction and some short featurettes from various Troma acolytes and enthusiasts.

With their whacked out colour palette, insane dance routines, over the top non-acting and ludicrous, good-natured gore, the TOXIC AVENGER movies feel a bit like an attempt to make the old kids' US TV show H R PUFNSTUF for adults. They don't stand up to any serious criticism, and none should be attempted. Until 88 Films started releasing them I'd never watched a Troma film before and I have to say that, in very limited doses, they're actually quite a bit of fun. Any more than that, however, and you're liable to find yourself in the Troma Hospital for the Cinematically Insane. You have been warned. Once again, though, I have to say well done to 88 Films for making these movies available in what amount to definitive Blu-ray editions. After all, someone had to.

88 Films released the insanity that is Troma's THE TOXIC AVENGER PART II on Region B Blu-ray on 17th November 2014