Sunday, 14 October 2018

Down a Dark Hall (2018)

"Ambitious YA EuroGothic That Nearly Gets 
It Right"

I think that about covers it. The 18 certificate you can see on the box cover up there is certainly unwarranted - if I was the BBFC I would have given this a 12. Perhaps the girls' school setting and classic EuroHorror feel to this one had the particular censor in question reminiscing for older, ruder and gorier times. 

So yes, DOWN A DARK HALL is neither sexy nor gory (in case you were wondering and now hopefully you won't be disappointed if / when you watch it). The story concerns naughty teenager Kit Gordy (AnnaSophia Robb) who gets sent to an out of the way boarding school where she discovers the only other students are four girls of around the same age.

The headmistress is Madame Duret (Uma Thurman at her most Alida Valli-esque) and she encourages them in their studies of music, maths, art and poetry. Pretty soon each girl is starting to excel at one of these disciplines, with Kit becoming a surprisingly good pianist.

Are the constant references to a talented composer who died before finishing his masterwork relevant? Why is another girl driven to paint masterpieces and sign them with someone else's initials? And are those ghosts that we're seeing in a corner of the retina kind of way actually real?

DOWN A DARK HALL boasts a screenplay that's lots of good old gothic supernatural fun and an intriguing cast with some familiar faces including Rebecca Front (BBC comedy stalwart), Pip Torrens (A View From a Hill), Jim Sturgeon (71) and Rosie Day (every Paul Hyett film). It's also got a fabulous old-school classical music score courtesy of Victor Reyes (GRAND PIANO).

Unfortunately the one problem the film has is the direction. DOWN A DARK HALL is a film that would really have benefitted from a Dario Argento approach, because the story is daft enough and the setting glorious enough that a considerable degree of stylistic panache is needed to put all that together to best effect. Sadly Rodrigo Cortes (BURIED) does a thoroughly reasonable workmanlike job, but that's about it, and that's a shame because with a truly mad film-maker this could have been a work of genius. 

As it is, DOWN A DARK HALL is still worth a look, if only to imagine what might have been. Lionsgate's UK DVD is bare bones.

Rodrigo Cortes' DOWN A DARK HALL is out on DVD from Lionsgate on Monday 22nd October 2018

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Schlock (1973)

"John Landis' Monkey Business"

A few years (well, eight) before they collaborated on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, writer-director John Landis and special effects maestro Rick Baker combined their talents to make this low budget comedy, which is now getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow.

The Southern Californian police are baffled by a spate of murders that now total in the hundreds. At the site of each massacre the only clue is the large number of banana skins left strewn around. 

It soon becomes apparent that the killings are the work of a primordial ape man dubbed the Schlockthropus (Landis himself in a Rick Baker suit). The Schlock goes on the run and a series of comedic encounters ensue. 

These include Schlock visiting a cinema (which is showing executive producer Jack H Harris' THE BLOB), meeting a blind girl who thinks he's a dog, and joining in on a piano duet.

It's all fairly lowbrow, silly fun. A lot of the set pieces spoof scenes from classic films - Kubrick's 2001 and James Whale's 1931 FRANKENSTEIN are just two, and the film ends with the predictable KING KONG-style climax on the roof of a gymnasium.

If you're a John Landis fan you'll want to see this. If not, be warned this is probably more of historical interest now than actually funny, especially as the idea of spoofing other movies has been done to death. In 1971 (when the film was actually shot) it must have seemed fresh and new, though.

Arrow's 4K transfer looks great. Extras include a Landis / Baker commentary, a 2017 interview with John Landis, a new talking head piece from Kim Newman and an archival interview with Director of Photography Bob Collins. You also get trailers and radio spots, a reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the film by Joe-Bob Briggs. 

John Landis' SCHLOCK is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 15th October 2018

Friday, 5 October 2018

City Hunter (1993)

"Very Silly Indeed"

Eureka continues in its efforts to bring as many Jackie Chan films to the UK viewing public as possible with the release of this knockabout slapstick outing from 1993.

Jackie Chan is the City Hunter of the title. He has his own (silly) theme song, a male partner who dies in the opening (very silly) montage, and when he's not working at city hunting he spends his days swinging on a hammock and having (extremely silly) Benny Hill-type dreams about girls in red swimsuits.

When he gets hired to find the daughter of a wealthy publishing tycoon, our Jackie finds himself on a posh cruise liner with the daughter of his old partner in tow and encountering more silly dance sequences, outrageous outfits, annoying pop songs and ridiculous fight scenes than I could cope with. 

Oh yes, CITY HUNTER is extremely silly. There are a few good stunts (a skateboard chase near the beginning is impressive) but these are greatly outweighed by its star indulging in dressing up in women's clothing, swinging from an inflatable dolphin and other acts of slapstick high hilarity that quickly become rather wearing if you don't have a great enthusiasm / high tolerance for this kind of thing.

Eureka's transfer is absolutely gorgeous it must be said. If only all early 1990s pictures could be made to look like this. It's a 2K scan and the colours virtually leap off the screen. There are five (!) audio options, three of which are Cantonese and two English. I couldn't tell a lot of difference between the two English tracks but one is listed as 'alternate dub' and is apparently the original home video version.

Other extras include archival interviews with Jackie Chan, plus interviews with stuntman Rocky Lai, actor Richard Norton and actor Gary Daniels (who does the remarkable splits routine in the film).

There's also an outtake montage, more archival footage, stills, trailers, TV spots and Japanese closing credits. Plus you get a booklet with new writing by James Oliver. 

Jackie Chan in CITY HUNTER is out from Eureka on 
Blu-ray now

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Halloween 4K Ultra HD (1978)

The Night He Came Home in 4K!

Yes indeed, as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter's ground-breaking classic horror, Lionsgate are releasing his HALLOWEEN in the 4K Ultra HD format, with a package that also includes the film on Blu-ray.

Is there anything left to say about HALLOWEEN? Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution. Pursued by his psychiatrist he returns to the town where he committed murder on Halloween night when he was aged 5 with the intention of doing more of the same. Does it matter who he is, or where he comes from? Not according to Carpenter, who in interviews at the time said that none of that was important (are you listening, Rob Zombie?). 

What did matter was the style, and HALLOWEEN has lashings of that, from Carpenter's widescreen compositions that are likely taught in film school now (if they aren't they should be), to Dean Cundey's gliding camerawork, to Carpenter's prickly theme music that's repetitive without ever becoming annoying (very clever, that).

HALLOWEEN has been sequelised (pretty painfully on the whole), remade (oh dear) and it's now up for a reboot, the trailer of which looks promising. We shall have to see. Meanwhile, here's the version I want to see, the version nobody has yet told. The version from Michael Myers' point of view. So when you watch the film again, here's a different take on what the film might be about:

Nervous, shy Michael Myers breaks out of the hospital where he was incarcerated just because when his parents came home one night he happened to be standing outside the house holding a large knife. He travels back to his home town of Haddonfield to prove his innocence. Once there he steals his sister's gravestone to prove how much his misses her and vows to help the teenagers of Haddonfield enjoy Halloween and feel safe. 

He helps a young man get back on his feet but lifts him up a bit too high and kills him. Knowing the man's girlfriend will be distressed by this he tries to break the news gently to her by doing his famous 'ghost with specs' routine. It all goes a bit wrong and in the excitement he loses his voice so that when another girl calls all he can do is breathe heavily. 

Meanwhile evil psychiatrist Dr Loomis has pursued him to Haddonfield. Dr Loomis isn't very good at psychiatry ("The evil is gone!" I mean what kind of psychiatrist says that?) but Michael wants him to feel good about himself so when Dr Loomis fills his gun with blanks by mistake Michael pretends to be shot. Fortunately his balcony plunge is onto a soft surface. He leaps up and thinks maybe a game of hide and seek might cheer Dr Loomis up but by then it's time for the film to finish. Never mind, maybe he can make it up to that scared girl who he was only trying to help by visiting her at the local hospital.

Lionsgate's 4K transfer looks terrific, with deeper blacks that make Michael's emergence from the shadows seem even more impressive. The Blu-ray disc is the 35th anniversary one, so you get the Carpenter / Jamie Lee Curtis commentary, two featurettes - 'The Night She Came Home' and 'On Location 25 Years Later', TV version footage, TV and radio spots and a trailer. 

John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is out from Lionsgate in 
4K Ultra HD now.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)

"One for the Completists"

That John Carpenter film his fans don't tend to mention gets a new UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Fabulous Films.

After meeting Alice Monroe (Daryl Hannah) at a bar one evening, stockbroker Nick Halloway (Chevy Chase) goes on a bender and ends up so hungover the next morning he falls asleep in a room in the research facility where he's supposed to be attending a symposium.

A freak accident caused by a spilled cup of coffee turns half the building invisible and Nick along with it. Pursued by David Jenkins (Sam Neill) and his gang of CIA agents who want to recruit Nick as an assassin, will our hero find love and escape the bad guys?

A critical and commercial failure on its release, I'd like to be able to say that time has been kind to MEMOIRS, but I can't. There's something about this film that's just tonally off. Chevy Chase makes a reasonable leading man in pretty much a non-comic role, Daryl Hannah does what she had been doing best in the 1980s (blonde likeable but nothing special heroine) and Sam Neill plays Damien Thorn yet again.  
But it just doesn't work. It's neither funny enough nor suspenseful enough, and while setting a movie in the world of stockbrokers and their rich friends (with us expected to feel sympathy for them) might have appeared glamorous in the early 1990s, certainly now that approach feels all wrong.

It's an odd film for John Carpenter to have made, and perhaps that's the key. The characters in Carpenter's best films are resolutely working class (THE THING, THEY LIVE) academics (PRINCE OF DARKNESS) or middle classers who are just about getting by (HALLOWEEN, THE FOG). What MEMOIRS really needed was someone who could perhaps have had more fun with the upper class world the film is set in, like Joe Dante, or someone who could have gone a far more serious route - imagine if David Cronenberg had treated the subject the way he did THE FLY.

As it is we're left with a film the main appeal of which is for completists of the works of Carpenter, Chase et al rather than for the film itself. And if you fancy seeing Father Ted's Bishop Brennan (Jim Norton) as a physicist. 

        For those who are interested, Fabulous' transfer does indeed look fabulous. As extras you get deleted scenes and a featurette on the special effects. 

John Carpenter's MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Fabulous Films on Monday 1st October 2018

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Eye of the Needle (1981)

"Cracking World War II Thriller"

Oh yes, Richard Marquand's really rather good adaptation of Ken Follett's novel is getting a dual format release from the BFI.

Donald Sutherland is Faber, codename The Needle. He's a German spy hiding in plain sight in England. We first meet him in 194o when his landlady (The Ash Tree's Barbara Ewing) discovers him on his portable radio in his room and pays for it with her life. At the same time we are also introduced to newlyweds David (Christopher Cazenove who had trouble with werewolves in Hammer House of Horror) and Lucy (Kate Nelligan, who had played rather a different Lucy in John Badham's DRACULA two years previously). 

While Faber is making good his escape, David & Lucy are driving off into a future of married bliss, which lasts about five minutes before they swerve to avoid a lorry, the car crashes and David no longer has legs.
Four years later. Faber has uncovered a plot to deceive the German forces and has the photos to prove it. A U boat is waiting to pick him up off the coast of Scotland. He makes his way there but ends up stranded on gloomy, craggy, generally awful Storm Island. Which just happens to be where embittered, angry alcoholic David has made his home with his son and an increasingly sexually frustrated Lucy.

That's the first act of this great British thriller. The rest details the developing (and entirely believable) relationship between Faber and Lucy. Sutherland and Nelligan evince a passionate chemistry that boosts the film immensely and the climax is a terrific game of cat and mouse that's up there with the best slasher film finales.
Miklos Rozsa contributes the kind of rousing dramatic score he'd been writing for over 40 years by now. Fans of all things British will enjoy spotting Ian Bannen, David Hayman, John Bennett (dubbed, as is Barbara Ewing), Sam Kydd, Rik Mayall and an impossibly young Bill Nighy. There are plenty of names familiar to BritHorror fans on the crew as well. 

The BFI's disc is Richard Marquand's preferred cut, but you do get the alternate ending on the disc as well. I can quite understand why he doesn't think it's as good. There's also a commentary track from Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame, a Donald Sutherland audio Guardian interview from 1987, and three wartime propaganda short subjects. Plus you get the usual BFI booklet with new writing on the film. 

Richard Marquand's film of Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE is out from the BFI on dual format on 
Monday 24th September 2018

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)

"Beautifully Discomforting"

Paul Schrader's film version of Ian McEwan's novel (with a screenplay by Harold Pinter) gets a dual format release from the BFI. 
Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson) have returned to Venice for a holiday in the hope it will rekindle the passion in their relationship. They dine, drink, get lost in the alleyways of the city, and end up meeting Robert (Christopher Walken).

He takes them to a bar where he relates a lengthy story about his childhood, culminating in an explanation of how he met his wife, Caroline (Helen Mirren). The couple try to find their way back to their hotel but get lost again and spend the night sleeping in the street.   

        Next morning, very much not looking like one might, having spent a night outside in Venice, the two meet up with Robert again. He takes them to his palatial home where they meet Caroline and gradually become embroiled in a complex situation which will ultimately end in tragedy.

Beautifully filmed, meticulously written and with an exotic score from Angelo Badalamenti, THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS is one of those movies that leaves you wondering exactly what you've just watched, questioning the motives, the backstory and the trustworthiness of all concerned. It's a languid piece, designed to let the beautifully lush interiors wash over you as you almost subconsciously take in the considerably darker actions of the human characters who dwell within. Having watched it three times since its release in 1990 I still can't really say what it's all meant to be about, but I like it more with each viewing.

The BFI's disc comes with a brand new specially recorded commentary by director Paul Schrader. He doesn't sound in the best of health and provides added suspense to the listener who at times will be wondering if he's going to make it to the end of the film. 

You also get two audio extras. The first is The Paul Schrader Film Masterclass from 1982. It's a 100 minute summary of a film course he had at the time just presented in the US. The second is an 85 minute Guardian interview with Derek Malcolm from 1993.

Next are three archival short subjects about Venice, one from 1918, a glass making film from 1928 and a three minute short from 1964. Finally, there's the usual excellent booklet with new writing from THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS director of photography Dante Spinotti and others. 

out on dual format from the BFI on 
Monday 24th September 2018