Saturday, 19 May 2018

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

"Pretty Decent for a Part 4"

Because that's what this is. Despite the absence of a numeral this time around (subtitles - often lengthy unwieldy ones - are very much the in thing at the moment) this is the fourth film in a franchise that kicked off eight years ago in 2011. You can read my review of the original INSIDIOUS by clicking on that title. 

Just to get everyone up to speed, Part 2 was a direct sequel and was so awful I couldn't bring myself to write about it. Part 3 was a prequel that gave us more time with psychic investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) and her two sidekicks Specs (series screenwriter Leigh Whannell of SAW fame) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

We're still in prequel land here. The story kicks off with Elise as a child and the abuse she received at the hands of her father because of her apparent psychic abilities. We then move forward to 2010, (which raised the question in the HMC screening room of "Was that before or after the first one, then?" so now you know).

Weird things are happening back in Elise's childhood home, but when the team get there ts quickly becomes apparent that it's not a simple ghost and may even by a demon that Elise unleashed herself when she was a little girl. After a number of satisfying twists and turns we get to the root of the mystery.

Made for pennies compared with the mega budget blockbusters currently in our cinemas, unlike some who have written about this, I cannot be hard on INSIDIOUS THE LAST KEY. It does a decent job of providing us with a story that keeps you guessing, and thankfully director Adam Robitel knows what he's doing. The original was a masterclass in scary set-ups and Robitel demonstrates a skilful sleight of hand with some of his, such that if you like jump scares this should keep you happy. 

Extras include an 'alternate ending' which isn't, really. Instead it's an alternate edit from close to the end of the film but still worth a look if you liked the movie & want to see a bit more. You also get eight deleted scenes and three featurettes. The featurettes are so short they could easily have all been put together but then I suppose they wouldn't have been able to say 'and three featurettes' on the box.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is out from Sony on digital download from Monday 7th May 2018 and on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 21st May 2018


Saturday, 12 May 2018

Breakheart Pass (1975)

"Throw Bronson From the Train"

Eureka are bringing out this Charles Bronson-starring 1975 western adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel.

We're in the frontier era. A train loaded with supplies sets off for isolated Fort Humbolt in Nevada, where apparently there has been an outbreak of Diphtheria. On the train are a couple of carriages full of soldiers; a moustache-twirling, could-he-possibly-be-up-to-no-good Governor (Richard Crenna); his rather unemotive ladyfriend (Jill Ireland); a liberal sprinkling of character actors (Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, Ben Johnson, David Huddleston); and prisoner-but-actually-the-good-guy-unsurprisingly Charles Bronson.

Off they go! Choo choo! But pretty soon it's choke choke, bang bang and various other methods of despatch as passengers start to get bumped off by an unseen killer. Is the train actually loaded with medical supplies? Is the no-good Governor there for reasons other than altruism? Does Charles Bronson have a fantastic fight on top of a moving train just like in the poster?

The biggest problem with BREAKHEART PASS is that, while the action sequences are terrific (and likely all directed by prominently credited second unit legend Yakima Canutt) the stuff in between, and especially during the first act, is all rather uninvolving. 

In fact, these bits are a good example of the difference a good director can make to a script (written by MacLean himself). We don't see the murders (that plus perhaps some black-gloved hands would have been good) and Bronson is given nothing to do for the first half an hour, with the film floundering with no POV character. During all of this I have to say I did find myself wondering what someone like Sergio Martino or even Michael Winner (yes Michael Winner) might have done with this material instead of actual director Tom Gries, and I suspect we would have ended up with something a bit livelier, more interesting and better paced.

Once it gets going BREAKHEART PASS isn't bad, but everyone here either had done or would do better. Surprisingly bloodless for a 1970s Western (it gets a PG certificate here) and without the inherent nihilism and bleakness of most of the decade's best pictures in the genre, it's still a decent timewaster if you fancy a bit of adventure and trains crashing.

The only extra is a talking head piece from Kim Newman, which lasts nearly half an hour, and in which he talks at length about the MacLean properties that were adapted for the screen in the 1960s and 1970s (I had forgotten there were quite so many). He even shows us some of his MacLean paperbacks, but not the tie-in edition of BREAKHEART PASS which I remember seeing everywhere at the time and which must have been prominently positioned in every WHSmith's and Woolworths throughout the land.

Alistair MacLean's BREAKHEART PASS is out from Eureka on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 14th May 2018

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Old Dark House (1932)

"Have a 4K Potato!"

James Whale's mischievous adaptation of J B Priestley's novel gets a 4k Blu-ray and DVD dual format release courtesy of Eureka.

Lost in Wales in the midst of a terrible storm / normal Welsh weather, two groups of travellers find themselves overly challenged by the mud-choked road (most likely the A470) and end up taking refuge at the titular mansion where they encounter the bizarre collection of characters who live there, ranging from mute butler Morgan (Boris Karloff) to gin-loving potato enthusiast Horace Femm (Ernest Thesiger).

The rest of the Femm family are, if anything, even more strange than Horace. The head of the household is an old lady with a beard (Elspeth Dudgeon, but billed as John) while mad Saul (Brember Wills) is a pyromaniac. Will Gloria Stuart survive so her heart can go on (with the rest of her) & survive a trip on James Cameron's TITANIC? Will Melvyn Douglas escape to eventually end up in John Irvin's GHOST STORY? And how many potatoes will actually be consumed at dinner?

An inspiration behind pretty much every movie , TV show and newspaper cartoon of its kind that followed (THE ADDAMS FAMILY owes this a huge debt), THE OLD DARK HOUSE crackles along as a superb mixture of horror and eccentric humour. The opening half hour is probably the best, and the movie definitely loses something when Ernest Thesiger and his amazing nose aren't on screen. Also in the cast are Charles Laughton as a self-made man quoting lines taken directly from Priestley's novel and Eva Moore as Rebeca Femm - a more sinister, more restrained and far more effective version of the mad old lady character that would be essayed by Una O'Connor in 1935's THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

It's all top quality stuff and every horror fan (in fact every film fan) should watch it at least once. Eureka's 4k transfer (actually the same that's on the US Region A Cohen Media Group disc) is as sparkling as Universal have made their 1931 DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN look on Blu-ray.

Eureka have gone the extra mile with the special features,  making this the disc to own over the Region A. They've ported over the entertaining Stephen Jones and Kim Newman commentary track from the old Network DVD, and you also get two audio commentaries ported over from the old US Kino DVD - a Gloria Stuart commentary track and another by James Whale biographer James Curtis.

A brand new extra, and a highlight of the disc, is Meet the Femms -  a fantastically informative and entertaining video essay by critic and film-maker David Cairns which lasts about 40 minutes and is well worth a watch. Cairns even manages to include a plug for giant frog 3D horror picture THE MAZE (1953) so he's all right by me. 

There's also a conversation with Sara Karloff entitled Daughter of Frankenstein and an archival interview with director Curtis Harrington detailing his quite amazing efforts to preserve the film from not just obscurity but from being a 'lost' film. Both of those can also be found on the Region A Blu-ray but what isn't is the 2018 UK re-release trailer. 

Finally you get a booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp that told me things I didn't know (especially about J B Priestley) and some lovely Graham Humphreys artwork. 

James Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE is out from Eureka in a splendid dual format package from Eureka on 21st May 2018. 

The new transfer is also currently doing the rounds at selected UK cinemas. 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy (1970 - 1974)

Arrow are releasing this interesting set of early 1970s Japanese vampire movies made by Toho. For obsessives of that particular genre and / or era of film-making they're going to be a must-see. For everyone else, here's what you get:

The Vampire Doll (1970)

A curious mixture of contemporary Western horror movie genre-plundering filtered through a contemporary (for the period) cultural Japanese sensibility, Michio Yamamoto's THE VAMPIRE DOLL gives us a modern-day setting, an isolated mansion, a ghostly girl, blood-drained corpses and a disappearing relative to power the plot along. 
However, nothing is quite what it seems in Yamamoto's picture, and by the time we get to the end, with its convoluted explanation for what has been happening, the film feels more reminiscent of Italian giallo cinema than European gothic. Adding to this sense is a distinct lack of gothic atmosphere to much of it, with brightly lit sets, indifferent acting, and a perfunctory approach to a genre that, if anything, was at its most full-blooded during this period. 

Lake of Dracula (1971)

In which we have a lake that things happen near but not actually in, and a tenuous at best connection to Count Dracula. It does all feel a bit COUNT YORGA, though, with a truck delivering a crate to a lakeside town. In the crate is 'The Vampire' (Shin Kishida) who causes a bit of trouble before he meets his end (literally) in one of those 'oh my how fortunate that long sharp piece of wood was propped just so' endings. A bit more atmosphere than THE VAMPIRE DOLL but this is still one for completists. 

Evil of Dracula (1974)

Things start to perk up a bit with this one. A teacher arrives at a remote village to take up a new post at an exclusive girls' school (aha!). The headmaster is played by Shin Kishida, the vampire from the previous film (aha again!). Cries in the night lead the protagonist to a Jean Rollin-style almost naked Japanese vampire lady (am I selling this one to you yet?). 

        The vampire headmaster is keeping his vampire wife in a coffin in the cellar (oh yes!) and with her husband she helps wreak havoc including cutting the face off of a naked student she has vampirised so she can assume their identity (if you're not sold on this now you never will be). There's a bit more atmosphere, a lot more action, and I have to say I really enjoyed this one.

        The only significant extra is a talking head piece by Kim Newman where he contextualises the films into 1970s vampire cinema while admitting he has difficulty remembering which scene happened in which film. And I have to admit that having just picked out the stills above from the press pack now I can't either. The transfers look lovely, though. The first pressing also comes with a booklet by Jasper Sharp. 

THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY is out from Arrow on Blu-ray only from Monday 14th May 2018

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Pyewacket (2018)

Signature Entertainment are bringing out PYEWACKET - director Adam MacDonald's follow up to his killer bear picture BACK COUNTRY - on UK DVD. 

Teenager Leah (Nicole Munoz) is forced to move home by her unstable mother (The Walking Dead's Laurie Holden) after the death of her father. When mum threatens to take her out of school and away from her friends, Leah uses a ritual from a bestselling book on the occult she has recently bought to conjure the titular demon, intending it to punish her mother. 

However, after the ritual, odd things start to happen, Leah realises she actually might like her mother after all, and she decides to try and reverse the ritual. But can she? Or has it even worked in the first place and everything is actually all in her head?

There's a lot of love out there in reviewland for PYEWACKET, but I'm going to offer a note of dissent here as I really didn't think it was up to much. It feels like a 30 minute piece that's been steamrollered out to feature length but with the (very low) budget kept the same. 

If movies like THE WITCH (which I will admit I loved) or IT COMES AT NIGHT worked for you then you might want to give PYEWACKET a watch, but those who require something a little faster paced be warned: this is a Very. Slow. Movie. Where Not. Much. Happens. The ending reportedly takes 'some working out' so I'm guessing my straightforward take on it (which I'm not giving away because I'm not like that) isn't what they wanted me to take away. If we get many more of these I'm going to have to create a Borror (= Boring Horror) section of this site because this does seem to becoming a bit of a disturbing trend, and not in a good way.
Extras include twelve minutes of interviews and five minutes of behind the scenes. 

PYEWACKET is out from Signature Entertainment on 
Digital HD on Monday 16th April 2018 and DVD on Monday 23rd April 2018

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Baskin (2015)

"Turkish Hell"

Turkish director Can Evrenol's debut feature film finally gets a UK Blu-ray release, all nicely uncut, courtesy of Severin Films. 
Five cops get way more then they bargained for when they are directed to a crime scene at a remote house where a black mass has opened a gateway to hell. Lots of horrible things happen. But do the cops enter hell when they enter the house, or have they actually been there all along?

As anyone who has seen the director's follow-up film HOUSEWIFE (2017) will testify, Can Evrenol is developing a very nice line in weird, nightmarish, non-linear horror cinema, with ideas as ambitious and extreme as the relentless makeup effects we get to see for much of the third act of BASKIN. 

This means that if you like your horror cinema to be wrapped up nicely at the end you won't be very happy with this. However, if you like your horror extreme and the explanation for what was actually going on left to your imagination then this is the film for you.

BASKIN is based on a short film that went down extremely well when it premiered at London Frightfest a few years ago. The short film is on here as an extra, and is actually worth watching before the feature, as if there's one major criticism that can be levelled at the feature it's that the material does feel steamrollered out a bit. 

That said, there's no denying that BASKIN the movie delivers some properly disturbing nightmarish horror for much of its running time, exhibiting a relentless desire to fill the screen with the stuff of nightmares.
The other extra is a making of. For those interested, the package is exactly the same as the region A US IFC / Scream Factory release, including the 5.1 and 2.0 sound options.  The Severin disc is region free and comes with a nice slipcase. 

For those also interested, the music score (by Ulas Pakkan) is rather good, and if you buy the CD it also includes the catchy song the cops play on the radio 20 minutes in, so you can sing along on your own road to hell. 

Can Evrenol's BASKIN is out on Region Free Blu-ray from Severin Film from Monday April 12th 2018

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Jarman Volume One: 1972 - 1986

"Wonderful Unique Work From a Wonderful Unique Mind"

It's been 24 years since Derek Jarman died at the age of just 52, depriving the world of a unique, passionate, and creative visual talent. The BFI are releasing two box sets of his work. Volume One is due out very soon, and here's what you get:

Disc One: Sebastiane (1976) & In the Shadow of the Sun (1972)

        The first BFI disc is mainly given over to Jarman's 1976 hyper homo-erotic telling of the story of Saint Sebastian, from his offending of the Emperor Diocletian at the opening orgy through his banishment to a remote Roman garrison (actually Sardinia) where sexual tensions are many and the soldiers' clothes are few. 
The final execution scene is genuinely eerie, while overall Jarman's loving depictions of the nude male have definitely stood the test of time. Fans of 1973's THE WICKER MAN will be tickled to learn that it's landlord Lindsay Kemp who is the centrepiece of the giant penis dance sequence at the start (he choreographed it as well), while fans of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW may well spot Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Peter Hinwood amongst the 'party-goers'. 

IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN is a very strange, experimental piece with a Throbbing Gristle soundtrack. More an extended 'art installation' than anything resembling a narrative, you may want to give this one a watch in installments. 
Extras include: Jazz Calendar - a black and white contemporary jazz ballet rendition of the days of the week, sadly missing its original Richard Rodney Bennet score and with replacement music instead. SEBASTIANE - a work in progress is a newly restored black and white edit of the film without subtitles but with a substantially different plot construction. There's an 8mm making of filmed at the time, the short film SLOANE SQUARE - A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN, John Scarlett-Davis' memories of working on the opening scene of the picture, plus a still gallery.

Disc Two: Jubilee (1978)

In which Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre from THE CREEPING FLESH & THE FINAL PROGRAMME) tasks astrologer Dr John Dee (a post ROCKY Richard O’Brien) to conjure Ariel (David STAGEFRIGHT Brandon, here acting under the name David Haughton) who takes them to an apocalyptic extrapolation of the punk 1970s had not New Romantics & their synthesisers presumably come in to save the day. 
Pram burning and barbed-wire tightrope walking feature in a loosely-plotted narrative in which we follow Bod (Runacre again) and her gang of miscreants including arsonist Mad (Toyah Willcox) and rewriter of history Amyl Nitrate (Jordan. No, not that one). 

Littered with the kind of interesting character actors we only seemed to see in 1970s movies (Nell Campbell, Jack Birkett aka Orlando, even more Lindsay Kemp & his dancing troupe), JUBILEE was very shocking back in its day. The murders are still horrible, but what still shines oh so brightly is Jarman’s energy and style as a director. The soundtrack includes music by Adam and the Ants (Version 1.0) and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as Brian Eno. 
Extras on the BFI’s new Blu-ray include a short but interesting interview with Toyah Willcox from 2014, a much lengthier interview with Jordan (not that one) and an interview with Jarman’s helper / dogsbody on the film Lee Drysdale that’s full of juicy stories. You also get some Jarman short pieces including MESSAGE FROM THE TEMPLE (1981), TG: PSYCHIC RALLY IN HEAVEN (1981) and the William S Burroughs ‘film’ PIRATE TAPE (1983). 

Disc Three: The Tempest (1979)

If the inmates of the asylum in S F Brownrigg's DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973) put on a Shakespeare play with only Roger Corman Poe movies as their reference then the result might look something like Derek Jarman's version of THE TEMPEST. Regular readers of this site will appreciate that, far from this being considered a negative, I can actually offer no higher praise for this wondrous, Old Dark House-style adaptation that comes complete with Toyah Willcox as Miranda, Jack Birkett as a fantastic Caliban, and Heathcote Williams looking just like Charlie Chuck as Prospero. 

Oh, and of course there are troupes of dancing gay sailors, a musical number at the end from Elisabeth Welch dressed as the sun, plus Mr Jarman's distinctive and frequently beautiful visual style. As far as Shakespeare on celluloid goes, THE TEMPEST is second only to Polanski's MACBETH as a unique, creative and above all accessible interpretation of the play.
Extras include Toyah Willcox interviewed at the BFI in 2014; Stormy Weather is a lovely piece on Derek Jarman's notebooks for his productions; John Scarlett-Davis gives us a fascinating talking head piece on the making of the film; Executive Producer Don Boyd talks about the picture; production designer Christopher Hobbs looks back on his association with Derek Jarman, and finally you also get the UK trailer and an image gallery. 

Disc Four: The Angelic Conversation (1985)

        In which Judi Dench reads fourteen of Shakespeare's sonnets over Jarman's 8mm imagery accompanied by the music of Coil. Possibly the answer to the question "What's an art film?" or at least a very good example, there is no conventional narrative to the 77 minute running time, rather it is a series of images from which you have to take your own interpretation. 
Extras include James MacKay talking about working with Jarman, a fascinating look at the Jarman projects that never came to fruition including NEUTRON and AKHENATEN, for which we also get storyboards and an image gallery.

Disc Five: Caravaggio (1986)

Arguably Derek Jarman's masterpiece, CARAVAGGIO is less a biopic (it isn't one at all, really) and more a series of meticulously constructed and lit tableaux reproducing some of the artist's paintings. Fine art enthusiasts will get the most out of this, as sometimes we don't see the paintings at all, but just get in-jokes referencing them - for example, at one point Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) sustains an injury similar to that probed by Doubting Thomas in the painting of the same name. As usual, there is more anachronism than accuracy on display, and so amidst the 17th century frolics we get Sean Bean polishing his motorbike, Jonathan Hyde on a typewriter and Nigel Davenport using a pocket calculator. Best of all (and likely period-accurate) Michael Gough plays the harpsichord!

Extras include an audio commentary by DP Gabriel Beristain, archive interviews with Nigel Terry and Tilda Swinton, two pieces with production designer Christopher Hobbs, an interview with Dexter Fletcher, recording sessions, Jarman's notebook for the film, and five galleries of storyboards, production designs and notes. 
       As well as all the above you get an 80 page book with new writing on the film, reviews from the time and full credits for each film. Well done BFI.

JARMAN VOLUME ONE: 1972 - 1986 is a five-disc limited edition box set available from the BFI from Monday 2nd April 2018