Friday, 19 May 2017

The Resident (2015)

“Quality Horror Well Worth a Watch”

    Known elsewhere as THE SUBLET, which is a better title for this really, especially as it avoids confusing it with the limp Hilary Swank - Jeffrey Dean Morgan Hammer picture of 2011, director John Ainslie’s far superior horror picture gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Second Sight.

    Joanna (Tianna Nori) and Geoff (Mark Matechuk) move into a grim apartment with their baby, Porter. While Geoff pursues acting jobs (and possibly his obnoxious ex-girlfriend Alex), Joanna has to put up with banging on the walls, the furniture being moved around, and her baby only calming down when it is placed in a room that should be locked.

    When Joanna discovers an old diary, she begins to learn of the fate of one of the apartment’s former residents, who went insane and killed both her baby and her abusive husband. As Geoff becomes increasingly distant and occurrences in the flat become increasingly weird, Joanna finds it more and more difficult to differentiate between reality and the disturbing fantasies that either she or the apartment is creating for her.

    A very pleasing mix indeed of the atmospheric weirdness of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper plus a dash of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle that gradually builds to a reality-bending blood-soaked finale, THE RESIDENT is reminiscent of the best (and most unnerving) dramas in the 1970s BBC TV PLAY FOR TODAY series. The story is essentially limited to one location and few players, and we have no idea whether Joanna really is going mad or if there is something much stranger going on until we reach the thoroughly satisfying finale. 

    Director John Ainslie, working from a script by himself and Alyson Richards, proves there’s still plenty of life in our dear old low budget horror genre, and anyone who has despaired at the prospect of bland and tedious modern horror product like the soon-to-be-released ANNABELLE 2 should give this a watch to reassure themselves that there are still film-makers out there who can deliver an unnerving, well made, picture. 

    Second Sight’s DVD offers no extras. Don’t let that put you off. For something very low budget this is really rather good.

THE RESIDENT is out from Second Sight on DVD, On-demand and Download from Monday 22nd May 2017

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Wolf Guy (1975)

“One For the Completists”

          Sonny Chiba stars in this demented piece of mid-1970s Japanese grindhouse, now getting a dual format release from Arrow.
          Akira Inugami (Chiba) is a reporter who also happens to be the only surviving member of a werewolf clan. One night, while on a busy city street, he witnesses a man torn to pieces by an invisible ghost tiger. It turns out the man is a member of a band who raped a girl who now has syphilis and is a drug addict who also sings goth songs at a local second rate strip club. 

          Inugami decides to investigate, uncovering a plot that involves corrupt politicians and plans to harvest his lycanthropic powers by taking his blood and injecting it into someone else who then gets a serious case of the Paul Naschys before going on fire.
          WOLF GUY is bonkers, but I have to admit it’s not that much fun. The sleaze aspect is ramped up to the maximum of mid-1970s standards at the beginning, and the ‘tiger spirit’ or whatever it is, is rendered in a pleasingly cheap and daft way. From there, however, it all goes downhill. I may have missed it, but I don’t remember the WOLF GUY of the title being anything other than a guy, so don’t expect werewolf transformations every few scenes, or at all in fact. 

          The music is all waka-waka, there’s plenty of nudity, plus knickers that are too tight, some awful suits, and bollards that light up. The fact that that last item was even noticed shows how much trouble I had keeping interest in this one, which comes to a climax in the kind of quarry that double for every single alien planet on Blake’s 7. If you’re a Japanese Sonny Chiba sleaze daftness completist you’ll want to watch this, but I honestly don’t know who else will.

         Arrow’s disc gives you three new interviews as extras, with Chiba himself, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and producer Tatsu Yoshida. You also get a reversible sleeve with new artwork. The first pressing of the disc features a booklet with new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a piece on monster mashups by Jasper Sharp.

WOLF GUY is out from Arrow in a dual format edition on Monday 22nd May 2017

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Entity (1982)

Sidney J Furie’s adaptation of Frank de Felitta’s novel gets a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka.

         Barbara Hershey is Carla Moran, a single mother of three who is just getting by. Her life takes a turn for the worse (and the paranormal) when she starts to be repeatedly attacked and / or raped by an invisible entity. Visits to the toughest psychiatrist on the block (“I’m gonna nail you two guys!”) Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver) fail to convince her she’s going mad, and it’s only when she bumps into two parapsychologists at a bookshop that she finds people willing to believe her and, more importantly, willing to try and trap her attacker in a massive block of frozen helium in the gym at the local university.

         One of those supposedly-based-on-a-true-story-a-bit-well-possibly projects, THE ENTITY rode the crest of the ‘we-had-a-true-paranormal-haunting-type-thing-honest’ wave made popular by THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (both book and film). Whereas Stuart Rosenberg’s picture was firmly rooted in good old exploitation tactics, THE ENTITY seems to be trying remarkably hard to be anything but. There’s very little in the way of ghostly atmosphere, over the top melodrama, or (thankfully) titillation in the scenes of Hershey being attacked (not that you’d think that from the box art).

         This does, however, lead to a rather flat-feeling film, despite Mr Furie’s frequent Batman camera angles and overuse of split dioptre shots. Hershey is great, however, and Charles Bernstein does a fine job with the music as well - check out the bonus tracks on Intrada’s soundtrack CD if you can to see how he layered the synth lines for the attack scenes. Sadly, Eureka’s Blu-ray doesn’t have anything as useful in terms of extras - you get a trailer but that’s it. The print does look very nice, though. 

 Sidney J Furie’s THE ENTITY is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on 15th May 2017

Friday, 5 May 2017

XX (2017)

“Or rather, XXXX”

    ...because this is an anthology film with four stories, you see, so either that or something like FOUR BLOODY KISSES might have been a better title. Anyway, XX (which doesn’t really mean anything), an anthology movie whose ‘gimmick’ is that all its stories are written and directed by, and starring women, is getting a UK DVD release from Thunderbird.

         In common with many modern anthology movies, there’s nothing to link the stories, which are essentially four short films placed one after another to make something that, at 73 minutes minus the credits, is barely feature length. And that’s a shame because at least two of the stories in here could have benefitted from longer running times, or alternatively we could have had a fifth story for our money. As it stands, however, the line-up for XX is still pretty good and certainly worth a watch.

         We kick off with The Box, adapted from a Jack Ketchum story. Jovanka Vuckovic directs a tale where something glimpsed in a box stops a woman’s son from eating. Then her daughter, and finally her husband. Tapping nicely into what must be a common enough domestic fear, sadly the story doesn’t really go anywhere.    

         Things improve quite a bit with The Birthday Party from Annie Clark. Mum Mary (Melanie Lynskey from Peter Jackson’s HEAVENLY CREATURES) is preparing for her little girl’s birthday party when she finds the dead body of her husband. Some weird and stylish hilarity ensues, culminating in the birthday party itself attended by kids in some of the best children’s party costumes I have ever seen. I especially liked the little boy dressed as a purple toilet. 

         Third is Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall, in which four friends stumble on a Native American demon while on a camping trip. The monster is great and nicely visualised but the segment is far too short - an extra ten minutes here would have allowed for a bit more atmosphere and character development and turned this from something that’s merely quite good into a little classic.
         Finally we get Karyn THE INVITATION Kusama’s Her Only Living Son, which is a case of ROSEMARY’S BABY: 18 years later. Again, like in the first story, there’s the sense that this one needs an extra five minutes at the end so it actually does have an end. It’s quite good but really needs something more to make it memorable.

         The stories are linked / padded by some appealing animation that would perhaps have been even more fun if animator Sofia Carillo had been allowed to make a fifth story of her own. 
         Thunderbird’s DVD Extras include interviews with all four directors and Sofia Carillo. As anthologies movies go XX isn’t bad, and each director here is obviously talented and has interesting and scary things to show us. But the stories do need more breathing room. Let’s hope we get to see more (in every sense) in the future from everyone responsible for this project. 

XX is out on UK DVD from Thunderbird Releasing on Monday 8th May 2017

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Brain Damage (1988)

“Riotously entertaining”

         Frank Henenlotter’s second feature film (after 1982’s BASKET CASE) gets the special edition dual format DVD & Blu-ray treatment from Arrow, in another of these releases that, back in the late 1980s, we would have fallen off our chairs if we had been told you would one day be able to own a package like this.

Hello Elmer!
         The Aylmer (or Elmer as he is ‘affectionately’ known) is a smiley, winky, worm-shaped parasite that resembles what might result from an unholy union between William Castle’s THE TINGLER and one of David Cronenberg’s venereal parasites from SHIVERS. He’s been around for centuries, which is surprising considering how many brains he needs to eat. Of course, he does have a human servant to help him, whom he rewards with injections of a substance that induces euphoric hallucinations.

Is Frank saying 'Don't Do Drugs'?

         At the start of BRAIN DAMAGE, Elmer escapes from the elderly couple who have ‘adopted’ him and finds a new ‘owner’ in the form of Brian (Rick Herbst). Brian likes Elmer’s drug but he soon gets tired of having to find victims for Elmer to eat the brains of. Trying to go cold turkey after a few shots of Elmer’s joy juice leads to unfortunate side effects for Brian, however, including a scene where he hallucinates pulling his own brain out. Meanwhile, the elderly couple are in hot pursuit because they want Elmer and his happy drug back from themselves.

Scratching one brain and holding another
         Embracing the same kind of lurid trash aesthetic as the films of John Waters, but with an emphasis on monsters rather than deviant behaviour (although there tends to be a fair bit of that too), Frank Henenlotter’s movies succeed mainly on their bouncy charm and over the top enthusiasm for material that, if it were shot straight, would be unbearable on so many levels. Here, though, Elmer (voiced by John Zacherle, a US television personality virtually unknown in the UK) is lots of fun, his outrageous antics are lots of fun, and while there’s a lot of shouting and screaming and brains pulsating on a dinner plate, it’s all very much in the style of a (very twisted)  Warner Bros. cartoon brought to life. 

What's in the basket?
        Arrow’s disc contains enough extras to satiate the needs of any BRAIN DAMAGE fan. Henenlotter himself provides a very chatty commentary track, there’s a brand new making of, a piece on Gabe Bartalos’ effects, the animation of Elmer, locations for the movie, a Henenlotter Q&A, and an interview with assistant editor Karen Ogle. 

A typical Frank Henenlotter movie toilet
         Bygone Behemoth is an animated short film by Harry Chaskin featuring John Zacherle, and Tasty Memories is an interview with BRAIN DAMAGE superfan Adam Skinner who does indeed have a lot of memorabilia. If you run this through to the end the menu switches to bonus music tracks Adam put together for a BRAIN DAMAGE tribute album. 

Are you ready for the main course?
         You also get a reversible sleeve, a limited edition artwork card, a collector’s booklet with Michael Gingold writing about the film, and if you buy BRAIN DAMAGE from the Arrow store, Diabolik DVD or the Texas Frightmare weekend 2017 you also get an exclusive Elmer enamel pin badge. 

Arrow are releasing Frank Henelotter's BRAIN DAMAGE in a dual format special edition on Monday 8th May 2017

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Survivor (1981)

An Australian horror movie with a distinctly British flavour, David Hemmings’ film of James Herbert’s source novel gets a Blu-ray release courtesy of Severin Films.

         A 747 takes off from Sidney, but as soon as the flight is in the air a bomb explodes. Pilot Keller (Robert Powell) manages to bring the plane down in a field, but a fireball chain reaction causes everyone on board to be killed except him. In fact, he walks away with not a scratch nor a scrap of memory as to what happened in the moments before the crash.

         Meanwhile, psychic Hobbs (Jenny Agutter) is being contacted by the spirits of those who were killed, driving her to meet with Keller. She explains that they want him to discover how the crash came about. Together they uncover the mystery of how the bomb ended up on board, but not before others have died as a consequence of the tragedy.

         THE SURVIVOR is a frustrating film. The central idea is actually very good, but the handling of it gets seriously fumbled by both the script and the direction, resulting in a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It could either have been an over the top Italian-style shocker with deaths that make no sense, or those bits could have been cut out and instead this could have been an attempt at a more serious (and at times, seriously ponderous it has to be said) drama. 

         Sadly, THE SURVIVOR is a mishmash of the worst aspects of both. Powell and Agutter are their usually excellent selves, but you can see in some of the scenes that poor old Jenny seems quite bewildered by some of the clunky awkward dialogue she’s been given. Also, there’s a worrying lack of Agutter nudity, a mark of quality control regarding her 1970s and 1980s movie appearances in the same way that Sean Bean dying in a film is today - ie, if it doesn’t happen, the movie probably isn't worth bothering with either.

         Severin’s Blu-ray transfer is 2k and makes the film look as good as it probably can. They’ve also gone out of their way to provide some extras, my favourite of which was probably Chris Cooke and David Flint taking us for a stroll down memory lane as they talk about the works of James Herbert. There are also interviews with Ozsploitation producer par excellence Antony I Ginnane and DP John Seale, Robert Powell on James Herbert, and some archival interviews with Joseph Cotton (who plays a priest), David Hemmings and Robert Powell. You also get a Ginnane trailer reel, a TV spot and an extended final scene. 

         Despite coming up with some of the best exploitation horror subjects of the 1970s, poor old James Herbert never had a decent film made of any his books from that decade. THE SURVIVOR could be described as an interesting attempt, but the truth is with that amount of talent on board it really should have been better. 

THE SURVIVOR is out now on UK Blu-ray from Severin Films

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Broadchurch Series 3 (2017)

        Chris Chibnall’s West Country-set coastal crime drama returns for a final series, now getting a Blu-ray and DVD release from Acorn Entertainment.

         This time, DI Alex Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) are called in to investigate the brutal sexual assault on a local woman, Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh). 

         From the off things are not quite as they seem, as it turns out Trish is reporting the crime several days after it occured. The fact that it took place at a party where seemingly most of the town were in attendance means that soon the suspect list is looking longer that the credit roll at the end of the programme.

         Meanwhile, the shadow of previous events still hangs over the town, as Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan), father of murdered son Danny, is still determined to achieve justice for his son. 

         I reviewed the first two series of BROADCHURCH two years ago here. Anyone worried that the show has continued the decline in quality that was series 2 can rest assured - this is top notch melodrama that has the distinct feel of a British countryside giallo to it, albeit without the murders but definitely with a collection of suspicious characters, any one of whom could be responsible for the crime.

         As before the acting is great, with Tennant and Colman continuing to be an appealing team. There are a number of new cast members, many of whom seem to have been culled from the ranks of the British TV comedy hall of fame. These include Roy Hudd (who was also in Tigon’s THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR), THE FAST SHOW’s Charlie Higson, and Lenny Henry (who would have thought TISWAS would eventually lead to this?).

        The whole show is engrossing and, despite some over the top moments, all played admirably straight, although anyone who has seen Charlie Brooker’s wonderful TOUCH OF CLOTH spoofs may have trouble keeping a straight face on occasion. 

         Acorn Media’s disc release comes with ten minutes of deleted scenes, a making of and a piece on Broadchurch Style. Anyone familiar with the part of the country in which it was filmed will have loads of fun spotting Books on the Hill, Murrays, The Salthouse and other Clevedon landmarks.
         All very fine stuff indeed, BROADCHURCH Series 3 puts this show back on top where UK crime drama is concerned. And yes, let’s end it now and go out on top, shall we?

BROADCHURCH Series 3 is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Acorn Media on Monday 24th April 2017. There's also a box set of all three series out that looks like this: