Monday, 14 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Four

Bullets of Justice

Unexpectedly excellent, BULLETS OF JUSTICE is a very homemade, very funny post-apocalyptic bit of daftness where mankind has been mastered by a group of genetically mutated humanoid pig creatures. Likely the only film you'll see this year where the sexy leading lady has a moustache (that changes from scene to scene), this is a delirious laugh riot from beginning to end. And I haven't even mentioned our hero's obsession with the bottom of a leading male catwalk model. MAD MAX meets ZOOLANDER! Great stuff.

Door Lock

Jaume Balaguero's SLEEP TIGHT (which gets a mention in both the opening and closing credits) is the basis for this Korean thriller about a woman who finds herself being stalked by a serial killer. This one has pacing issues and isn't half as effective as the Spanish original, sadly. 

Why Don't You Just Die?

A huge surprise. If Sergio Leone had met Ade Edmondson & Rik Mayall in the eighties then the result might well have been something like this - a spaghetti western that takes place almost entirely in someone's front room. A fantastic music score adds immensely to the hilarious and beautifully choreographed mayhem. The trailer for this one doesn't do it justice as it's far funnier and far cleverer than you may think. 


In which Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg find themselves prisoners (and sole occupants) in a housing estate from which there seems to be no escape. One day a baby is delivered in a cardboard box with the instruction 'Raise the child and be released' but who is keeping them there and why? The only film of the festival to be influenced by Sapphire and Steel, this gets grimmer and grimmer. Don't expect any happy endings.

And that's it! The closing film was Ant Timpson's COME TO DADDY which I've already written about in my Frightfest coverage. Our first Mayhem was a blast. Each day's programming was perfectly curated, right down to starting off the final day with BULLETS OF JUSTICE just when we all needed something insane and noisy as an eyeopener. We'll be back.  

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Three

The Pool

In which a man finds himself trapped in an empty disused swimming pool with only his girlfriend and a crocodile for company. What will get him first? Starvation, the hungry reptile, or his lack of the insulin he needs to keep him alive? This Thai effort does rather stretch suspension of disbelief, but it's also a rollicking good suspense piece that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of its running time. I liked it more than Alexandre Aja's CRAWL but be warned - if you're thinking of watching this and you're a dog lover you may not like one particular sequence.

She Never Died

A cannibal lady with super regenerative powers gets recruited by a hardbitten policeman to take down a local human sex trafficking ring. A companion piece to 2015's HE NEVER DIED (which I'd never heard of until now), SHE NEVER DIED is very much like the kind of pulp comic book entertainment we used to see in the 1980s from companies like Empire Pictures. In fact, while last night's THE HIDDEN (1987) actually doesn't feel that dated (and in some ways is more socially relevant than ever), SHE NEVER DIED feels as if it was made 30 years ago, with its cardboard cut out villains and loud and irritating sidekick character. That said it's a pretty entertaining cardboard cut out comic book. Some pleasantly low budget futuristic sets instead of the grim locations used would have been of immense help.

After Midnight

From the ridiculous to the sublime. An ultra low budget meditation on relationships with an added monster, AFTER MIDNIGHT manages to be both touching and surprisingly funny. Hank (Jeremy Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant) live in Hank's rambling old house in a tiny town in nowhere USA. They've been together ten years but never married. One day Abby ups and leaves for a month. While she's away Hank suffers nightly attacks by a monster with huge claws that tears his front door apart and eats the family cat. Do the monster and Abby's departure have anything to do with one another? I won't spoil it but AFTER MIDNIGHT is a lovely film with excellent acting from the leads and some very funny supporting characters. I very much suspect this will end up a festival favourite.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

There's a serial killer on the loose in South Korea. He rear ends cars and when the driver gets out he stabs them to death. He messes up when he selects as his latest victim gang boss Jang Dong-soo (Dong-seok Ma). Jang beats up the killer but still ends up in hospital needing two hours of surgery to save his life. When he gets out he teams up with the policeman investigating the case and the hunt for the killer is on. A slick, fast-paced crime drama that's apparently based on a true story and with a great lead performance from Dong-seok Ma, who's probably best known as the man who doesn't know how to change his ringtone in TRAIN TO BUSAN.

Vampire's Kiss

What in God's name is this? A late 1980s picture I never caught up with at the time, that's what. And what a very peculiar picture it is. I'm not just talking about Nicolas Cage's performance here, which is a goldfish bowl of eccentric acting all its own, but the film as a whole, which spends its running time ridiculing a man who is obviously mentally ill and believes himself to be a vampire. Was this sold as a comedy? A horror film? Or was it one of those pictures they had no idea how to push and just hoped Cage's bizarre turn would cause sufficient word of mouth? If it's that last one they were right - here we are watching it 30 years after it first hit the big screen. Only composer Colin Towns, channeling James Bernard amongst others with his fabulous gothic score, really emerges from VAMPIRE'S KISS with his dignity intact. But Nicolas Cage is the reason this film will go down in movie history. Required viewing for any serious student of 1980s cinema.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Two


The 1967 Russian version of Nikolay Gogol's tale takes a while to get going, and poses a number of questions that are never satisfactorily answered, but once we get to the final act it's pleasingly weird. A monk is sent to read the required three nights of burial prayers beside the corpse of a young girl who, before dying, requested his presence by name. But it's actually the dastardly plot of a witch the monk met earlier in the story. With some clever visual effects and a gorgeous transfer that's due to be released on disc by Severin, this was a welcome showing of this on the big screen.

Sword of God

aka THE MUTE, this one's a film in the VALHALLA RISING subgenre of medieval Christian brutality. After a disaster at sea, two men end up washed ashore on a remote island. One is fervently religious and plans to convert the pagan islanders to Christianity. The other isn't, and has his own ideas about how they should live their lives. And of course, whenever there's a bit of religious conflict, large quantities of gory violence are sure to follow. SWORD OF GOD scores points in the grim gory depressing things happening in a constantly soaking wet milieu department. Unfortunately Nicolas Winding Refn tackled the same themes rather better & I'd suggest you watch his film again instead of this.

Girl on the Third Floor

While his pregnant wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is busy breadwinning, her husband Don (C M Punk) takes their dog Cooper to the house they have bought with the intention of redecorating it. It isn't long, however, before all his good intentions are being interrupted by sexy Sarah (Sarah Brooks). Don doesn't seem to have tired himself out sufficiently plastering, hammering and generally banging things because Sarah turns out to be too much of a temptation. But what's that? The house has a grim history? And heterosexual men who live there often end up the worse for wear? Could something supernatural be going on? Travis Stevens' film works well for the first hour or so, but then he tries to cram in far too many plot elements and revelations with the result that the whole thing falls to bits, which is a shame because up until then it's all quite fun. We'll let Travis off, though, because there's some excellent scary imagery in here & it's only his first film as director. One to watch.

Color Out Of Space

The best film of the day & likely to be the best of the festival, Richard Stanley's long awaited return to feature film-making is his adaptation of H P Lovecraft's story THE COLOUR (sic) OUT OF SPACE. When a meteorite lands on the property of Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) it heralds a change in both wildlife and vegetation as whatever the rock has brought with it strives to change living things into 'something it knows'. A feast for the eyes and ears, COLOR OUT OF SPACE really needs to be seen in a cinema with a 7.1 surround system to get the most out of it. The visual effects are astounding, Cage's performance is mesmerising and Richard Stanley's direction walks the razor's edge between the fantastic and the absurd with assured confidence. Spectacular, memorable and as faithful as any modern-day adaptation could hope to aspire to be. 

The Hidden

Wow. It's been over 30 years since I saw the UK premiere of Jack Sholder's THE HIDDEN at the Scala Cinema in Shock Around the Clock & it's a delight to report that time has been very kind to this one. When an insectoid body-shifting alien with a taste for fast cars and heavy metal comes to LA it's up to 'good' alien Kyle MacLachlan to stop him / her / it. Tremendous pacing (the film hurtles along for almost all of its 96 minutes), an interesting effective but atypical score for an action film from Michael Convertino, and performances from a host of familiar faces (Michael Nouri, Claudia Christian, Chris Mulkey, the dog who goes for a wee on Freddy's grave in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 4 and many others) mean THE HIDDEN has stood the test of time. Give it another 30 years and they'll be calling this a classic if they're not already. 

Friday, 11 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day One

Nottingham's Mayhem Film Festival has been going for years but this is our (ie Mrs Probert & myself) first time attending. It's held at the rather swish Broadway Cinema (formerly the City Lights for anyone old enough to remember) and the first thing to note as part of this festival review is that the films are being shown in what must be the comfiest, plushest screen of any festival we have ever been to. Comfy seats, loads of leg room and easy toilet access almost but not quite overshadowed the cinema's excellent 7.1 surround sound system. Until the films started, that is. And talking of the films, opening night had two of them. Here's what I thought:

Extra Ordinary

A grape, a toaster and a wheelie bin are amongst the mundane items possessed by ghosts in this, a serious contender for best horror comedy of the year. Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's tale of an Irish driving instructor who can communicate with the spirit world (and exorcise ghosts from all manner of inanimate objects as well as living creatures) is a warm and funny film with added gore, reminiscent of Nick Whitfield's 2010 SKELETONS (GHOSTBUSTERS in Derbyshire). 

        Add in a plot concerning one hit wonder Christian Winter and his attempts to use satanic rituals to have another bestselling record and you have a film that even Dennis Wheatley would have found funny. Utterly charming and I hope co-director Mike Ahern's suggestion that the characters may get a TV series comes to something.

Daniel Isn't Real

...or is he? As a boy Luke had an imaginary friend called Daniel. That is until Daniel made him poison his mother - after that Daniel was banished to an old doll's house. When Luke heads off to university, various stressors cause Daniel to resurface. Luke's new / old friend helps him to be successful with women and to express himself artistically, but it all comes at a terrible price.

        With a storyline that reminded me a bit of Christopher Fowler's novel Spanky (in a good way), Adam Egypt Mortimer's movie is a delicious, mind-bending Boschian melodrama that provides plenty of nightmarish imagery along with its is-he-or-isn't-he-mad plot. 

On to Day 2!

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Legend of the Witches (1970) & Secret Rites (1971)

Hooray for the BFI's flipside series, bringing out the obscure, the fascinating and the valuable in British cinematic culture, and here's a release that's definitely all three. The BFI are bringing out the above two titles as a single release in a dual format edition. Make sense? I hope so - let's have a look at what we get!

Legend of the Witches (1970)

        Do you remember those old public information films about ancient history? The ones that got squeezed in between programmes when there was a minute to spare? I don't mean the ones about children drowning and having their souls eaten by Donald Pleasence, or how a badly wired plug could kill you. I mean the far more benign, pleasant couple of minutes spent in the company of a voice saying 'Whenever you see the symbol of the acorn there's a hundred miles of history for you to explore' or guiding you round the kind of crumbling old castle that these days is taken care of by English Heritage.
LEGEND OF THE WITCHES is a lot like that.

By which I mean we get a cultured and authoritative voice telling us about the history of witchcraft whilst rather beautifully shot pastoral scenes unfold. Yes it's in black and white and yes there are some of the promised nudie witchcraft rituals, but overall this is a calm, measured account of witchcraft through British history. I actually learned quite a bit and the intercut shots of landscapes at dawn and the sun setting are so lovely you don't mind that they go on a bit (presumably to pad the running time). I was surprised how much I liked this. Just don't go in expecting some sort of sleazy exposé of naughty practices in rural England.

Secret Rites (1971)

I dare say a sleazy exposé is exactly what director Derek Ford (THE WIFE SWAPPERS, SUBURBAN WIVES) was going for here. Instead we get quite a jolly spoof of Hammer Films as an opener, before this much shorter film (47 minutes) becomes a pseudo-documentary about witchcraft, centring very much on the self-styled King of the Witches himself, Alexander Saunders. 

The lengthy ritual footage appears to be on the same set as the Hammer spoof that opens the film. There's lots of nudity and no doubt that's the point of the film (which was released as a B feature to one of Ford's sex comedies presumably to up the titillation value). If you plan to watch both I'd suggest this first, with all its dayglo colours and plentiful jiggling bottoms, then put on LEGEND OF THE WITCHES as your chill-out A feature.


As always the BFI do us proud. Authors of that excellent volume The Bodies Beneath, Vic Pratt and William Fowler, provide a commentary track for SECRET RITES. We get several short films - THE WITCH'S FIDDLE from 1924, THE JUDGEMENT OF ALBION from 1968 and by Robert Wynne Simmons who wrote BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and GETTING IT STRAIGHT IN NOTTING HILL GATE about Notting Hill in 1970. Lots of sitars! 
There's also Out of Step: Witchcraft in which Daniel Farson (known to my generation as the author of The Beaver Book of Horror amongst others) interviews a witch on the Isle of Man. You also get an image gallery, a booklet and lovely Graham Humphreys artwork. A terrific value package of obscure British cinema. 

LEGEND OF THE WITCHES & SECRET RITES is out on dual format from the BFI on Monday 14th October 2019

Sunday, 6 October 2019

The Dark Half (1993)

"Superior Stephen King Adaptation"

The sparrows are flying again as, hot on the heels of bringing UK audiences Lewis Teague's CUJO on Blu-ray, Eureka follow it with George A Romero's adaptation of Stephen King's THE DARK HALF in a dual format DVD & Blu-ray edition.

University lecturer Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is trying hard to gain mainstream acceptance with the literary novels he has written under his own name.  Seedy Fred Clawson (Robert Joy) visits Thad in one of his lectures threatening to blackmail him and reveal that Thad is the real author behind a series of sleazy crime thrillers attributed to the pseudonym George Stark.

Rather than pay the money, Thad decides to use the situation to his advantage and 'kills off' his alter ego in a magazine photo-spread. Unfortunately, conspiring forces have led to 'George Stark' becoming rather more real than Thad wants, and Stark has no intention of staying dead.

Having spent many years trying to get an adaptation of THE STAND off the ground, and having worked with Stephen King on CREEPSHOW, George A Romero eventually ended up making THE DARK HALF, which stands amongst the best of the plethora of movies based on King's work that popped up with relentless regularity through the 1980s and 1990s. 

It's a stylish film, with good performances and a nicely understated, haunting score from Christopher Young. The only thing anyone might criticise now is the CGI which does look a little dated but it's a very minor quibble.

Eureka's Blu-ray transfer looks pretty much the same as the Region A Shout Factory disc, and all of that release's extras have been ported over (George A Romero commentary, Making of, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, storyboards, TV spot and trailer). New to Eureka's disc is the 40-minute episode of Jonathan Ross' Son of The Incredibly Strange Film Show covering Romero and Tom Savini. There's also an 'O' card slipcase and booklet with new writing on the film. 

George A Romero's adaptation of Stephen Kings' THE DARK HALF is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 14th October 2019

Friday, 4 October 2019

Toys Are Not For Children (1972)

"Sleazy But Serious Psychodrama"

There's some awful wallpaper, horrific fashions, and lashings of Brylcreem in TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN, an off-kilter mixture of serious drama and whacked-out exploitation that's being released in a new 2K restoration by Arrow Films.

Horrible wallpaper!
Twenty year old Jamie (Marcia Forbes) is obsessed by the toys her long-absent father keeps sending her for her birthday, all of which have led to an obsession with the missing man himself. So caught up in this perverse fantasy world is she that she's unable to consummate her marriage to strapping work colleague Charlie (Harlan Cary Poe). 

More horrible wallpaper!
Instead, Jamie is only able to find sexual gratification by becoming a prostitute and indulging in her Daddy fixation with older customers who can get their 'Daughter' fix. Eventually everything leads to a grim climax where the only escape is into extreme psychotic catatonia. 

A very odd film indeed, and one of only two made by director Stanley H Brasloff, TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN came out at a time when exploitation movies were becoming packed with softcore nudity and hardcore violence. This film contains very little of either, preferring instead to concentrate on Jamie's problem and how it affects her and those around her. Consequently, anyone hoping for a sleazetastic blood-splattered version of Elia Kazan's 1956 BABY DOLL is going to find TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN all rather plodding. It's aspirations are higher than either its budget or expertise, with a couple of the performances an inch away from Andy Milligan or John Waters-style hysteria, so much so that I found myself wishing this film had been a little crazier. 

Toys plus bedspread!
Arrow's package offers some excellent extras. It's always a delight to have Stephen Thrower enlighten us about some of cinema's more dark and obscure corners and here he spends 25 minutes talking about director Stanley H Bresloff's career. 'Dirty Dolls: Femininity, Perversion & Play' is a very good 23 minute video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nichols that, amongst other things, draws interesting comparisons between TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN and Todd Haynes' 2015 movie CAROL. It also introduced me to the jaw-dropping phenomenon of the 'Baby Burlesque' cinema of the early 1930s which I think I can safely give a wide berth to. Add in a commentary track from Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, a trailer and the original 45 rpm vinyl of the film's theme song transferred here as an especially bizarre extra, and you've got the ultimate package for a very obscure and peculiar film indeed. 

Stanley H Brasloff's TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN is out from Arrow Films on Blu-ray on Monday 7th October 2019