Saturday, 6 August 2022

Resident Alien Season 1 (2021)



"An Unexpected Gem"


A spaceship crash lands near a tiny town in Colorado. The sole occupant survives and makes its way to the lakeside retreat of Dr Harry Vanderspeigle (Alan Tudyk). The alien kills Harry, throws his body in the lake, and shape shifts to assume his identity. Meanwhile the town doctor is found dead under mysterious circumstances and soon the townsfolk are calling on Harry to take his place. Now Alien Harry has to find his spaceship (still buried beneath the snow), make sure the body of Real Harry isn't found, and learn how to behave like a human, all while trying to achieve the objective he was sent to earth in the first place for.



Based on a Dark Horse comic book, anyone not having read that may find it hard to believe that RESIDENT ALIEN wasn't originally conceived as the very funny comedy that it is, but Alien Harry was originally planned to be a more serious character until Alan Tudyk's audition apparently convinced the production team to go for a more comedic approach.



Not that Tudyk is the only one with the funny lines in this. Creator Chris Sheridan makes sure most of the personable cast gets their fair share of witticisms, right down to the young boy who is the only person in the town who can see the alien as he really is. 



Fabulous Films' two disc set (either Blu-ray or DVD) contains all ten episodes of Season 1 of this SyFy channel series, which has already gone to a second season and apparently there's promise of a third. It's a show that takes the fish out of water concept used by movies such as John Carpenter's 1985 STARMAN and runs with it, never missing an opportunity for a funny line or amusing character turn along the way, piling on the incident (by episode four Harry's wife has turned up) to create that rarest of things, a successful television science fiction comedy. Worth splashing out on and let's hope it runs to a few more seasons.


RESIDENT ALIEN Season 1 is out from Fabulous Films on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 8th August 2022

Friday, 29 July 2022

Get Carter (1971)



There's a story that in 1969 director Pete Walker was running his latest film in a Soho screening room when producer Michael Klinger wandered in and asked him about the subject matter. Walker duly told him, to which Klinger then replied that he intended to make something similar 'but a lot better'. The Walker film was MAN OF VIOLENCE, released on the BFI flipside label in 2009. The Klinger film was GET CARTER and while it's been released on disc a number of times the BFI are about to release a lavish extras-packed two-disc version of  what is inarguably one of the finest British films ever made.



You likely know the story. Gangster Jack Carter travels to Newcastle to investigate the death of his brother and in the process uncovers a sleazy, corrupt underworld that initially wants him back in London asap and eventually orders him dead. But he's a tough and mean and (almost, perhaps) as soulless as they are and he doesn't intend to stop until justice is done.



A great cast, a tight story, an original, ambitious and minimalist music score, terrific locations and powerhouse direction from Mike Hodges all combine to capture lightning in a bottle and create a film that somehow feels timeless despite its early 1970 trappings. Perhaps the most surprising thing about GET CARTER is how long it took for it to becomes the cult item that it now very much is.



The BFI's two disc set presents the film on disc one, either in UHD or on Blu-ray depending on which set you buy. The film comes with two commentary tracks, an archival one with Mike Hodges, Michael Caine and DP Wolfgang Suschitsky and a new one with Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, who are ideally suited to contextualise the film both in terms of the cinema of the period and the paperback thriller genre the source material belonged to. The disc also comes with a new two and half minute introduction from Michael Caine.



Disc two kicks off with Mike Hodges in Conversation recorded this year at BFI Southbank. It's an hour long interview which covers his early career in documentaries and television work, getting to GET CARTER about halfway through. He also has stories to tell about THE TERMINAL MAN, FLASH GORDON, BLACK RAINBOW and CROUPIER and well done to the audience member at the end who asks him about his involvement with DAMIEN OMEN II.



Klinger on Klinger is son Tony talking about producer father Michael for 24 minutes, covering his father's creation of the Compton cinema, his partnership with Tony Tenser, and his international film career after the two split. Don't Trust Boys is twenty one minutes with actress Petra Markham (Doreen in the film) discussing her career. Jonny Trunk, the man responsible for so many soundtrack collectors now owing the likes of PSYCHOMANIA through his Trunk Records label, discusses the life and career of composer Roy Budd and talks about the score ("Tablas for up North? And yet it works"). We also get Roy Budd himself playing the theme on three different keyboards (including the electric harpsichord).



Archival pieces include a location report from the BBC's Look North programme from 1971 presented by Michael Rodd, and The Ship Hotel Tyne Main which is a 33 minute black and white documentary about a pub on the Tyne. Finally there are trailers, and Mike Hodges' screenplay - all 91 pages of it. 



As I mentioned above, the BFI are releasing GET CARTER in two versions - UHD disc and Blu-ray or two Blu-rays. Both editions come with an 80 page book, a double-sided poster and four postcards, all housed in a rigid slipcase. Here's what it all looks like:



Mike Hodges' GET CARTER is out from the BFI in a limited edition two disc set - UHD with Blu-ray extras 10 000 copies, Blu-ray film and extras 5000 copies - on Monday 1st August 2022

Thursday, 28 July 2022

The Reef: Stalked (2022)



Writer-Director Andrew Traucki has something of an aquatic-themed CV, having previously made BLACK WATER (2007), BLACK WATER: ABYSS (2020), THE REEF (2010) and THE ABCS OF DEATH segment G is for Gravity (2013). His latest is THE REEF: STALKED and it's getting a digital and DVD release from Signature Entertainment.

Nine months after her sister is murdered by drowning, Nic (Teressa Liane) sets off with three female friends for a weekend of sun and surfing in the Pacific. However, scarcely are they paddling out to a paradisiacal-looking island than something with a big pointy fin starts swimming towards them, begging the question: how many will survive and in how many pieces?



THE REEF was a seriously decent suspense-filled little piece about a few people standing on top of a sinking capsized boat trying to escape the attentions of a Great White shark. Perhaps needless to say, THE REEF: STALKED doesn't see any characters from that returning, either because they're dead or if they're sensible they now plan their holidays somewhere appropriately dry and land-locked.

So what we have is a sequel in all but name, and while THE REEF was good, THE REEF: STALKED is pretty generic. Once again we have a great big shark with a taste for plastic and wood that, in the curious habit of movie sharks, will stop at nothing in its somewhat lunatic vendetta to pursue the same small group of people. The CGI isn't bad and it makes a change to have an all-female group being menaced, but the suspense and sense of isolation of the director's other movies listed above is a bit lacking here. One for Evil Fish completists only. Signature's DVD contains no extras to speak of but you do get the trailer for FALL which is going to be the closing film at this year's Frightfest. 





Andrew Traucki's THE REEF: STALKED is out from Signature Entertainment on digital on Friday 29th July 2022 and DVD on Monday 8th August 2022

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Pink Flamingos (1972)



Celebrating 50 Years of 'Joyous Obscenity'


Yes it's 50 years since John Waters' first colour feature film premiered in the director's hometown of Baltimore, Maryland and, while it took some time to gain its following on the midnight movie circuit courtesy of New Line Cinema, the world has never been quite the same since. To celebrate, Criterion are bringing out an anniversary Blu-ray (the film itself has been on the Criterion label since the US laserdisc release of 1997) that has, some might say miraculously considering some of the material in here, been passed uncut with a BBFC 18 certificate.




  Most people reading this review will have likely already seen it but if you haven't, be aware that, much like Sam Raimi's original EVIL DEAD, the intention of Waters to create an act of 'comedy terrorism' combined with the inexperience of all concerned, resulted in a film that's much more disturbing than was perhaps the intention.



Divine (Divine) is hiding out in a trailer in the middle of nowhere (actually a freezing Baltimore forest) with her bizarre 'family': Crackers (Danny Mills), Cotton (Mary Vivian Pearce) and Edie (Edith Massey) who is obsessed with eggs and spends most of her time confined to a playpen. Meanwhile newspaper headlines trumpet Divine as the 'Filthiest Person Alive'.



Extremely unhappy about this pronouncement are Connie and Raymond Marble (Mink Stole and David Lochary) who run a business abducting women, keeping them in a pit, artificially inseminating them by the most grungy and obscene method possible, and then selling the babies to lesbian couples. They feel they deserve the 'Filthiest' title and plan to put an end to Divine's reign. But Divine hasn't earned that title for nothing.



'We were the hate generation' says Waters in the second of two commentary tracks on Criterion's disc and perhaps that's why, amateurish as it is, PINK FLAMINGOS still works, if you can stomach it. Despite its intention to be a comedy it's difficult to ignore all the screaming and ranting, all the obscene behaviour, and all that taboo-breaking as a symptom of a very disaffected society indeed. Perhaps that's why it still feels relevant now.



Criterion's disc features a new 30 minute conversation between Waters and film director Jim Jarmusch, as well as a new 22 minute featurette of Waters visiting the movie's locations. Archival material includes the two Waters commentaries (from 1997 and 2001), '25th Anniversary Footage' which is 13 minutes of deleted scenes with a Waters linking commentary from 1997, as well as 25 minutes of outtake footage. Finally, there's DIVINE TRASH, Steve Yeager's 1998 feature length documentary about the film that features interviews and archive footage of many of the cast and crew. The package also comes with a booklet (not supplied for review) that includes an essay by Howard Hampton and an excerpt from Cookie Mueller's book Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black.


John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS is out from Criterion on 

Blu-ray in its 50th Anniversary Edition on Monday 25th July 2022

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Giallo Essentials: Black Edition (1972, 1974)




Arrow follow up their previous Giallo Essentials: Red Edition (which contained THE PYJAMA GIRL CASE, THE FIFTH CORD and THE POSSESSED) and Giallo Essentials Yellow Edition (US only and featuring STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS and TORSO) with this latest set containing three more Italian movies from the heyday of the genre. None of the films are especially well known and all have been rescued from obscurity in 2K restorations with collectors booklets and a nice box to keep them all in. So what do we have this time around?


Smile Before Death (1972)



After the apparent (to the police, anyway) suicide of her mother Dorothy, teenager Nancy Thompson (!) returns from her English boarding school to her home and the company of her stepfather Marco and her 'mother's best friend' Gianna (Rosalba Neri). It quickly becomes apparent (to us) that Marco and Gianna bumped Dorothy off and now they have the same plans for Nancy. But things don't go anywhere near according to plan.

A C-grade giallo at best, with enough twists and turns that it eventually becomes amusing, culminating in an unintentionally hilarious ending that's almost worth watching the entire film for, SMILE BEFORE DEATH is one for Italian film (and Rosalba Neri) completists only. It's blessed / cursed with an excruciating music score that include a fair bit of Hammond organ insanity, and with its essentially three-hander storyline and copious nudity this one very quickly begins to feel like a Jess Franco-style erotic thriller (Lina Romay would have either played the daughter or Neri's role depending on when it was made). 

Extras include a commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson who love the music so maybe it's just me. There's also a 23 minute interview with the son of director Silvio Amadio. It's in Italian and my copy had no subtitles so hopefully Arrow will get that fixed before release. Other than that there's an image gallery and three minutes of extended nude scenes which were shot for the film but never included.


The Weapon, The Hour, The Motive (1972)



The title makes this one sound like a poliziotteschi and in fact it is more of a police procedural in which Inspector Franco Boito (Renzo Montagnani) investigates the stabbing to death of naughty sexy priest Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia) in his church. Was the killer one of the ladies he was sleeping with? Or their jealous husbands / lovers? Or perhaps one of the nuns at the local convent who wear just a bit too much eyeliner?

THE WEAPON THE HOUR THE MOTIVE was the only directorial effort from Francesco Mazzei and that's a shame because there are some delightfully creepy sequences in this one, as well as at least one quite bizarre scene in a crypt that suggests if he'd been encouraged to go full tilt with a horror project he might have delivered something really worth watching. As it is THE WEAPON THE HOUR THE MOTIVE isn't terribly memorable but fans will find it a reasonable timewaster.

Extras include a 13 minute interview with Salvatore Puntillo who plays the inspector's sidekick, English title sequences and an image gallery. Alexandra Heller-Nicholas provides the commentary track which is more an overall chat about gialli in general rather than dealing with the film in question in depth


The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974)



A welcome English-friendly Blu-ray release for this supernaturally-enhanced giallo. A mysterious man invites nine aristocratic fur coat-wearing partygoers to an old theatre and after the usual bickering about infidelities and inheritances they start to be bumped off by a mysterious killer wearing black gloves and a mask that resembles any number of obscure British television comics. Despite the stunning location (the Gentile de Fabriano theatre) and a host of over the top characters, this is a fairly bland affair that only really comes to life at its denouement, one which is a fair bit dafter than most of the movies in this genre.

Extras include two interviews ported over from the 2013 Camera Obscura release. Hanging With Howard is 8 minutes of reminiscence about the film with actor Howard Ross, while the second is 28 minutes with co-screenwriter Biagio Proietti. Anyone expecting any detail about the writing of this film in particular will be disappointed as this is very much a career overview, but his insights into the part of the industry in which he worked are still interesting.There's also a Kat Ellinger commentary in which amongst other things she argues the case for the validity of THE KILLER as a giallo film. 


Giallo Essentials: Black Edition is out from Arrow Films in a limited edition Blu-ray box set on Monday 1st August 2022


Friday, 22 July 2022

The Witch (2015)



"First Class Presentation of a Modern Classic"


Robert Eggers' tale of folk horror and insanity in seventeenth century New England is gets a thoroughly deserved whistles and bells 4K UHD and Blu-ray release from Second Sight.



1630. Following what seems to be a religious disagreement, former Yorkshire farmer William (Ralph Ineson) and his family face banishment by the church and is forced to leave the community in which they have been living to relocate to the middle of nowhere. Scarcely have they had time to build a small compound and plant crops than disaster strikes in the form of the disappearance of Samuel, the youngest of their four children.



But that's only the beginning. As food becomes scarce, the corn they are growing becomes diseased, and pressures augmented by severe religious convictions become unbearable, there's rumour of a witch that lives in the woods, and is the family's black goat beginning to behave strangely?



Back in 2015 THE WITCH was one of my top ten of the year, where I called it 'Ken Loach makes THE CRUCIBLE' and indeed, in one of the extras on Second Sight's packed disc Robert Eggers says he wanted a film that was as if Mr Loach had gone back to the 17th century to direct a film. It's a claustrophobic, grim and unrelenting tale of an isolated family torn apart as much by their own religious beliefs as anything that may or may not be lurking in the cold damp woods and can be read in many levels, all of them pretty devastating, and all of them with the message that no matter how bad a situation might seem, having religion can make it ten times worse.



Second Sight's double disc set comes stacked with new interviews. A Puritan Nightmare is 26 minutes with Robert Eggers who amongst other things discusses writing the film, location scouting and casting. Embracing Darkness is 13 minutes with Anya Taylor-Joy whose first film this was and who still feels she hasn't come down from the experience ("I went to Sundance and never came home").



Ralph Ineson's 21 minute interview includes some entertaining stories about Charlie the goat 'actor' and who would have thought it was his role as Finchie in The Office that made Robert Eggers want him for the role? If Ineson has the goat tales, Kate Dickie has plenty to say about her scene with the raven while Harvey Scrimshaw rounds things out with seven minutes of memories about making the movie.



Also on the disc are the BFI Q&A from when the film premiered at the LFF. Taing part are Eggers, Ineson, Taylor-Joy and producer Jan Van Hoy, an archival featurette with on-set interviews, and Robert Eggers' ten minute short BROTHERS which he was encouraged to make to show investors he could 'do scary forests'.



The package also includes a 150 page hardback book (not provided for review) and collectors' art cards all housed in a rigid slipcase. More sterling work from Second Sight.


Robert Eggers' THE WITCH is out in a special limited edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray edition from Second Sight on 

Monday 25th July 2022

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Universal Terror: Karloff In...(1937, 1944, 1952)



Following on from their sets devoted to Bela Lugosi and Karloff at Columbia, Eureka are bringing out three more movies featuring Boris Karloff. From the title and artwork you'd think you were buying a set of horror movies, but actually none of what's included here is what one might consider typical horror product of the period. That said if you're a fan of crime thrillers, swashbucklers and light opera with a sinister edge these might be just the ticket. Here's what you get:


Night Key (1937)




How NIGHT KEY came to be considered a horror film is one of the many things covered in the accompanying commentary track by Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby, one which also discusses the careers of many of the actors (including pointing out bit part players!), the situation Universal was in at the time the film was made, and about how and why Universal's classic monster movies ended up being re-released by RealArt in the late 1940s and early 1950s.



As for NIGHT KEY itself, it's a very enjoyable crime melodrama in which Boris Karloff has been cheated out of the profits of a security system he's invented by (now very rich) Samuel S Hinds. But Boris has now invented a new one that threatens to supercede the old and put Hinds out of business. So Hinds swindles him again and Boris becomes 'Night Key', breaking into properties 'protected' by Hinds' old system and leaving the message 'What I Create I Can Also Destroy'. Of course it's not long before local gangsters become aware of Boris & his device and they're keen to get their hands on it. Don't go into this one expecting horror and you'll have a brisk, breezy and highly entertaining time with it. As well as the commentary the disc also includes still galleries and a trailer.


The Climax (1944)



It takes a bit of effort to get worked up over THE CLIMAX, Universal's follow-up to their sumptuous 1943 production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (the one with Claude Rains) and shot on the sets of that film to help recover some of the cost of it. On the plus side we have Boris Karloff top-lining as a doctor who has murdered his opera diva wife ten years before, keeping her body preserved in the kind of situation we'd see multiple times over in the Corman/Poe pictures of twenty years hence. When a young singer (Susanna Foster) reminds him of his dead wife, he becomes obsessed with having her sing only for him. 



On the minus side (depending on your tastes) we have a lot of singing. If you're a fan of light opera then this may be right up your street but if you're not then you'll be finding your finger straying to the fast forward button. Otherwise the Technicolor photography is glorious and we also get to see Turhan THE MUMMY'S TOMB Bey pretending to play the piano, but in the end THE CLIMAX is one for forgiving fans of the period. Messrs Lyons and Rigby return for commentary duties and turn the film into one that's more worth watching with the commentary on than off as the running time passes somewhat faster with their aid.


The Black Castle (1952)



Less a horror film and more a swashbuckling Boys' Own Adventure (as these kinds of stories used to be known), THE BLACK CASTLE gives us dashing hero Richard Greene, off to investigate the dastardly doings of an evil count in the depths of the Black Forest. Director Nathan Juran manages a nicely atmospheric opening with this one, and Joseph Gershenson makes sure there's lots of familiar Universal library music on the soundtrack. Even so, you'd be hard pushed to call this a horror film, even with the presence of Karloff as the Count's physician and a rather demeaning minor role for Lon Chaney, Jr. On the other hand if you're a fan of sword fights, panther wrestling and a pit filled with alligators this will pass the time very nicely indeed.



Stephen Jones and Kim Newman provide the commentary for this one and, like all their commentaries, not a second is wasted and at points they almost talk over each other in their enthusiasm to share as much information and opinion as possible. As with THE CLIMAX, I found THE BLACK CASTLE to be a more enjoyable watch with the commentary switched on than off so it's good to have it on here.


Universal Terror: Karloff In... is out as a two-disc Blu-ray set from Eureka on Monday 18th July 2022