Sunday, 19 September 2021

Cold War Creatures (1955 - 1957)

"Fantastic Collection of Movies By A Master Exploitationeer"

That's producer Sam Katzman I'm talking about, by the way. A man who started his career working on serials, moved onto Monogram classics like VOODOO MAN, was instrumental in giving us Ray Harryhausen classics like THE BEAST FROM 20 000 FATHOMS and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and ended his days working with exploitation legends like Joe Solomon on movies like THE LOSERS. In the late 1950s Katzman produced four black and white monster movies that have provided endearingly and understandably popular to this day, and that's what we've got here.

Most of us will already have the region one DVD set of these four films, but as usual Arrow Films have pulled out all the stops to provide a Blu-ray upgrade and a healthy set of extras for each one, so let's take a look at what we've got:

Disc One: Creature With the Atom Brain (1955)

         "Embrace your inner ten year old" suggests Kim Newman in his specially filmed introduction to this, a film whose plot would get reused quite a bit in TV series of the following two decades, most notable some of the Brian Clemens-Albert Fennell produced episodes of THE AVENGERS. A criminal takes revenge on the men who sentenced him by teaming up with a mad scientist who can resurrect the dead and turn them into remote-control slaves with the use of a brain implant. It's brisk, breezy, daft fun and as Mr Newman also points out, doubtless formed the inspiration for many of the films that subsequently satirised this particular kind of film-making.

Extras kick off with an excellent commentary track from pop culture historian Russell Dyball who provides an engaging commentary that strikes the right balance between background information and commenting on what's happening onscreen. Stephen R Bissette provides an unmissable special feature in the form of an excellent 73 minute visual essay that tells you all about Sam Katzman's career and the many projects the producer was involved with. There's plenty of SF and horror talk but I also found all the stuff about the JUNGLE JIM movies and Katzman's work on serials fascinating. All very good indeed. Finally, there are also a 19 minute 'Super 8' digest of the film, stills gallery and trailer.

Disc Two: The Werewolf (1956)

Arguably the best film on this set. Fred Sears had a lot of Westerns under his belt by the time he came to direct this and THE WEREWOLF has a very Western feel to it. Steven Ritch is the Man With A Past who comes to a lonely mountain town only to find himself hunted through no fault of his own. Gloomy, snow-bound exteriors rather than the Columbia backlot (as pointed out by Kim Newman in his introduction to this one), a tragic, hapless central character, and two 'evil doctors' who come across more like the heavies in a Cornell Woolrich novel all combine to make this one surprisingly effective.

Extras wise we have a commentary track from Lee Gambin who knows his werewolves (his definitive text on THE HOWLING is a treat) and provides us with an informative commentary that ties in with the onscreen action. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides the visual essay on this disc, spending 24 minutes taking an in-depth look at the female characters in the four films in this set beginning with THE WEREWOLF. You also get a condensed 8mm version of the movie, as well as a trailer and image gallery.

Disc Three: Zombies of Mora-Tau (1957)

We're on the coast of Africa, and a gang of bickering unscrupulous diamond thieves are searching for a treasure-filled sunken ship. Unfortunately it's guarded by the ship's crew, under a curse and now zombies, who rise from their coffins to protect it.

ZOMBIES OF MORA-TAU may be the least of the films on this set but it's an interesting movie nevertheless. As Kim Newman says in his introduction, the concept of zombies underwater was new and would be used again in Lucio Fulci's 1979 ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS and others. It's also the only film on this set to contain supernatural elements. Kat Ellinger explores and contextualises this in her commentary track which is more informal than the previous two and enthusiastically chatty, as if you've met someone in the pub who can't wait to enthuse about Sam Katzman's films. 

        The other main extra is a visual essay by Josh Hurtado that talks about how advances in science informed the movies on this set. As you might expect, if you've been watching these discs in order then you'll have heard a lot of this before but on its own it stands as a decent 20 minute piece. You also get a stills gallery and a trailer but they seem to have lost the 8mm digest version for this one.

Disc Four: The Giant Claw (1957)

"For many either the best or the worst of the set" says Kim Newman and indeed, if it were not for the (very) special effects THE GIANT CLAW might well have been a monster movie to rival IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, although even the great Ray Harryhausen might have had trouble coming up with what was required here. The cast (toplining Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday) is watchable and the plot is standard (but by no means poor) monster stuff. 

        It's the monster itself that will make or break you with this one - a gangly, hairy, totally non-aerodynamic turkey-thing with, it must be said, quite the effort having been put in to give it an expressive face. It's intended to be played dead straight but you can't help feel the film is shooting itself in the foot with scenes like the monster's reveal on photographs, with the grotty creation coming nearer until its silly face is leering right at the camera.

Extras for THE GIANT CLAW are a commentary track from Emma Westwood and Cerise Howard who have a rip-roaring time getting into all the fun of the film. Mike White provides the disc's visual essay looking at the Cold War themes in Katzman's monster movies, and you get stills, a trailer and (yes it's back!) an 8mm digest version of the film.

As well as all the above Arrow's set comes with a 60 page collector's book with new writing on the films, an 80 page art book filled with stills and artwork, two double-sided posters featuring the new artwork for the set, and each of the disc sleeves is reversible so you can either display that new art or the original posters.

Cold War Creatures: Four Films From Sam Katzman is out now on Region B Blu-ray from Arrow Films

Friday, 17 September 2021

The Paper Tigers (2021)

"Endearing Martial Arts Picture With Depth"

Quoc Bao Tran's unexpectedly charming Kung Fu picture gets a digital release from Altitude following its UK premiere at this year's Fighting Spirit Film Festival.

As kids Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) trained in Kung Fu under their master Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan), eventually as young men becoming skilled enough that he considered them his disciples. Now out of shape and having to deal with chronic injuries and family problems, they learn than Sifu Cheung has been murdered. They set out to find his killer and avenge his death. Unfortunately, they're not quite as fit as they used to be, and the odds look stacked against them.

There's a fair amount of martial arts battling in THE PAPER TIGERS, but it tends to be of a more restrained one-on-one kind than the all-in one-man-fights-an-army shenanigans of many a 1970s Kung Fu exploitationer. In between there are plenty of dialogue scenes and character development and this mix is surprisingly well balanced. While there are moments of humour (and the occasional silly bit), the film as a whole is played seriously and is more about the three men coming to terms with who they are now as opposed to revisiting the glory days of their fighting peak. The three leads work well together and by the end you feel quite endeared to them. In fact it's the kind of film a martial arts movie fan could quite comfortably show to someone who isn't a fan of the genre and maybe even convert them. Not bad at all and well worth a look.

THE PAPER TIGERS is getting a digital release from Altitude on Monday 20th September 2021

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Cape Fear (1991)

Martin Scorsese's remake of J Lee Thompson's 1962 original (you can read my review of that one here) gets a 30th Anniversary edition on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Fabulous Films.

Fourteen years ago Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) was the assigned defence attorney to Max Cady (Robert De Niro). Bowden came into possession of information that he could have used to get a more lenient sentence for Cady. Because he felt the man deserved to go to prison he failed to make use of it. 

Unfortunately for Sam, Cady turned out to be a psychopath who, as well as teaching himself to read while in prison, also got himself fully acquainted with as many texts on legal practice as he could. Now Cady is out, and he fully intends to make life a living hell for Bowden, his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis in her least weird role).

Until I received the press release for this I had no idea Steven Spielberg was originally planned to direct CAPE FEAR and that he did a swapsies with Martin Scorsese for SCHINDLER'S LIST which Scorsese felt might be too controversial. So instead of that, the director of GOODFELLAS and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (the main reason he didn't want to do another film with potentially touchy subject matter) gave us this melodramatic, wildly over the top remake.

The restraint switch is clearly off from the opening chords of Bernard Herrmann's reorchestrated score and if you're the kind of person who is going to wonder quite how Cady manages to be in just the right spot at the right time to menace and irritate the Bowden family so often CAPE FEAR might not be the film for you. But if you fancy a full-on-for-over-two-hours thriller then this is just the thing.

Fabulous Films' disc comes with an 80 minute archival making of, deleted scenes, behind the scenes , matte paintings, a trailer and photograph montages. The new cover you can see up there has art by Graham Humphreys and it's also included as a double-sided poster - one side with text, the other without.

The 30th Anniversary Edition of Martin Scorsese's CAPE FEAR is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 13th September 2021

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Monster Hunter (2021)

"Effects-Driven Monster-Filled Matinee Fun"

The spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs (and his pulpy descendants) is alive and well in writer-director Paul W S Anderson's latest video game movie adaptation, which after a minimal cinema release is now coming out on 4KUHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital from Sony.

While on desert patrol, a squad of soldiers led by Milla Jovovich encounter a weird storm and pass through a portal that takes them to another dimension filled with dragons, giant cricket things and Ron Perlman and his sand-ship. The ship has encountered a bit of bother before the opening credits, causing crew mate Tony Jaa to become stranded in the same monster-filled wilderness.

After an opening act filled with fast-paced monster action Milla's squads end up as monster food and she has to team up with Tony to cross the desert, reach Ron's ship and get to the tower that's her only chance of returning home. But there are still a lot of great big things that want to stop them all.

MONSTER HUNTER feels like the modern-day equivalent of old Amicus movies like THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974) and AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976) only with markedly better effects and a sound mix that will probably bring your house down if you play it loudly enough. In fact the only thing that stops MONSTER HUNTER being one of the best films of its type (and it's a big one unfortunately) is its script, which has a major problem with pacing. We spend over an hour getting our two heroes out of the desert and as such the rest of the movie feels horribly rushed with some fun effects and concepts all but skimmed over. Still, if you're an undemanding fan who wants to see some amazing monster effects (and these really are excellent) MONSTER HUNTER will certainly provide you with a worthwhile 103 minutes.

Extras in Sony's disc are limited to deleted scenes and three short featurettes about the making of the film and the video game that inspired it.

Paul W S Anderson's MONSTER HUNTER is out on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital rental on Monday 20th September 2021

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Wired Shut (2021)

"Hard Work"

A bestselling novelist gets more than he bargained for when his daughter visits him in his isolated mountain home in Alexander Sharp's  WIRED SHUT, now out on DVD & Digital from 101 Films.

Reed Rodney (Blake Stadel), the novelist in question, has undergone reconstructive surgery to his jaw following a car accident. He spends his days in his isolated mansion reading reviews of his latest work until his daughter Emmy (Nathalie Sharp) comes to visit. The two have a rocky history and it's about to get more complicated when Emmy's boyfriend Preston (Behtash Fazlali) turns up with intentions of robbing Reed's safe.

A film that moves so slowly it's almost standing still, the plot of WIRED SHUT would barely make 30 minutes of television, and the technique of having every line and every action performed as slowly as possible to drag it out to feature length just adds to the tedium on display here. There's decent photography and the production design is the epitome of characterless and cold, presumably to reflect Reed's soullessness. Unfortunately it also embellishes the one-note tone of the performances that make it hard to believe any of these characters are actual people. There's a swath of good horror films out there at the moment but this supremely dull effort is not one of them. 

WIRED SHUT is out now on Digital and DVD from 101 Films 

Monday, 30 August 2021

Bloodthirsty (2021)

Low Budget Werewolf Pic - With Songs!

Be advised, however, that Amelia Moses' BLOODTHIRSTY, getting a digital and DVD release from Signature Entertainment is not a musical. Instead it's the psychological (mainly) tale of vegan pop singer Grey (Lauren Beatty) who has two main problems: difficult second album syndrome, and dreams that she can turn into a wild beast with a hunger for flesh.

Blink and you'll miss him Michael Ironside plays the psychiatrist who puts her on anti-hallucination medication before she sets off to the isolated mansion of famed record producer and possible wife-killer (although he was never convicted) Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) who believes he has the ability to bring out her latent genius. 

Grey's girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King So) comes along for the ride and to do some Night Gallery-style painting, and the film becomes a virtual three-hander as Grey works on her music by day and her increasing lust for blood by night. But what's that running around and killing things at night while Grey's busy elsewhere? Could the woods already have a beast? And could it have anything to do with how she's feeling?

BLOODTHIRSTY is the very definition of slow burn but within that it achieves what it sets out to do well. Acting and direction are appropriately low key and the songs Grey writes (actually written by co-composer Lowell Boland) embellish the narrative well. Don't expect a major special effects extravaganza (although there is quite a bit of blood as we get to the end) and BLOODTHIRSTY is a quiet, unassuming but effective low budget horror picture.

Amelia Moses' BLOODTHIRSTY is out on DVD and Digital from Signature Entertainment on Monday 30th August 2021. Here's the trailer:

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Random Acts of Violence (2019)

Jay Baruchel stars (along with Jordana Brewster and Jesse Williams) as well as directs, co-writes and co-produces RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE, which is getting a Blu-ray, DVD and Digital release from Acorn Media International. It's one of a clutch of movies that have been airing on Shudder that are coming out in these formats, the others being the rather good TERRIFIED (2017) and the excellent TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2017 as well).

For the literary inclined, it's probably worth pointing out at the start that this film is not an adaptation of Jack Womack's 1993 Random Acts of Senseless Violence, rather it's an adaptation of the comic (?graphic novel) of the same name by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.

Todd (Williams) is travelling cross-country with Cathy (Brewster) and his publisher Ezra (Baruchel). They're on a tour to promote a comic book Todd created based on the real-life activities of a serial killer called Slasherman, which is nearing its final issue. But Todd's having problems. He can't come up with how to end the series, he's suffering flashbacks to a family dinner that looks as if it's going to end in disaster, and worst of all someone is killing people and leaving their bodies in the form of macabre reconstructions of Slasherman splash panels. 

If you're a fan of the giallo genre, especially the wilder ones from the early 1970s, then RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is just for you. It's got the weird murders, the flashback that we don't understand the significance of until the end, buckets of blood (especially during the climax) and a denouement that's really quite mad but makes the film all the better for it.

Baruchel's directorial style builds in its manic intensity, and the performances are all fine. In fact its nice to see some familiar faces - Jess Williams will be best known to genre fans from CABIN IN THE WOODS and Jordana Brewster will be familiar to anyone who loves the FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies. Extras include a 36 minute 'lockdown' interview with the director as well as a couple of short making of featurettes, 

Jay Baruchel's RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE is out on Blu-ray and DVD and download and keep digital from Acorn Media International now.