Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful (2020)


"I always wanted to photograph a chicken in high heels."

How can you resist finding out more about the man who said that? Helmut Newton, controversial photographer with a unique and distinctive visual style that once seen is never forgotten, is the subject of this new documentary that's about to get a cinema and digital release from Blue Finch.

Rather than start off chronologically, telling you where Newton was born and what his parents were like, this one drops you straight into its many stars reminiscing about working with him. If you're not familiar with Newton's work, or the many famous models he worked with, you will be after the first fifteen minutes. 

It's a refreshing way to tell his story, learning about 'the legend' first from such fashion luminaries as Anna Wintour, Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Jones and Claudia Schiffer, who all provide charming reminiscences about working with him. 

Newton died at the age of 84 in 2004 in a car crash. However, sufficient video recordings and interviews were made of him that he is very much a presence in this, and pretty much gets to tell his own life story. 

HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is a fascinating, well put together and extremely watchable documentary that treats its subject with respect and sympathy. An excellent, informative and educational piece of work.

HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is out on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download on Friday 23rd October 2020

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Dementia (1953)

A curious black and white oddity that runs for just under an hour, John Parker's dialogue-free DEMENTIA is getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release from the BFI.

A young woman wakes up in a cheap hotel room, her mind still filled with vestiges of the nightmare she has just had. She leaves the building and finds herself embarking on an odyssey of sleaze and murder over the course of one night in the skid row world in which she finds herself. And that doesn't include the bizarre flashbacks she has to her life as a child.

The BFI's disc has quite a few extras, the most succinct of which in providing background to this one is Joe Dante's Trailers from Hell segment in which he explains that DEMENTIA was the only film by director John Parker, that he made it with his mother's money, submitted it to the New York Censor board multiple times only for it to be rejected, and that eventually it was bought by producer Jack H Harris who retitled it DAUGHTER OF HORROR and added narration. It's probably most famous as the film showing in Harris' THE BLOB (1957) when the titular creature attacks the cinema.

It's certainly a weird film, foreshadowing both Polanski's 1965 REPULSION and some of the grimmer, weirder moments of David Lynch's oeuvre. The sleaze quotient, the bloody deaths and a severed hand no doubt all contributed to the film being refused a certificate and there's also a fascinating score by George Antiel with vocalisations by Marni Nixon, possibly best known as Audrey Hepburn's singing voice in George Cukor's MY FAIR LADY (1964).

Other extras include the Jack Harris DAUGHTER OF HORROR version, a Kat Ellinger commentary, the short British film ALONE WITH THE MONSTERS about an elderly lady who, overcome with loneliness kills herself, a piece on the restoration and trailers for both version of the film.

If you get the first pressing there's also a booklet with new writing on the film from Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Ian Schultz

John Parker's DEMENTIA is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 19th October 2020

Friday, 16 October 2020

Eraserhead (1977)

The original release date may be 1977 but it's well known now that David Lynch's first feature took many years to make. Provocative, disturbing and wholly unique, ERASERHEAD is finally, deservedly, getting a Blu-ray release from Criterion. 

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) lives, works, and (we learn) loves in a grim industrial landscape, the events of which are controlled by the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk). Invited to the family home of his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) Henry learns that she has given birth to a monstrous baby. He and Mary move in together but she soon leaves, unable to stand the unearthly screeches of the child. Henry dreams of a world behind his radiator, inhabited by a swollen-cheeked foetus-crushing fantasy woman who becomes the love of his life after his head is turned into pencil erasers in a dream sequence.

Like the work of David Cronenberg, all of David Lynch's films, but perhaps especially ERASERHEAD, defy description. There is no way anyone can give an impression of what this film is like without adding at the end 'Really, you just have to watch it.'

Helping to establish the cult of the midnight movie along with other pictures that could be experienced in no other way than watching, including John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS and Jodorowsky's EL TOPO, ERASERHEAD is perhaps the most disturbing, most stimulating, most repulsive and most nightmarish of the lot. Those who did catch it at midnight showings probably didn't get a lot of sleep afterwards.

Criterion's Blu-ray transfer is of a new 4K restoration with uncompressed stereo soundtrack. Extras include new HD restorations of six Lynch short films with introductions by the director - Six Figures Getting Sick (1966), The Alphabet (1968), The Grandmother (1970), The Amputee Part I and Part II (1974) and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (1996). There's also the 2001 Lynch-directed documentary Eraserhead Stories, plus new and archival interviews with cast and crew.

David Lynch's ERASERHEAD is out on Blu-ray from Criterion on Monday 19th October 2020

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Driver (2020)

New Thai-shot zombie picture THE DRIVER gets a digital and DVD release from Lionsgate UK.

There's been a zombie apocalypse. Somewhere in Thailand survivors have banded together to build a community walled in with the usual wooden fencing, barbed wire and watchtowers. Bandits attack and the place is destroyed. The camp's security chief is known in the credits only as The Driver (Mark Dacascos) presumably because one of his jobs is driving those found guilty of crimes within the commune out to a gut-munching death. He survives, as does his daughter, and together they set off in his car to look for legendary zombie-free paradise Haven.

The premise plus the poster art suggests we should be in for 1971's VANISHING POINT with zombies (and wouldn't that be great?) or something along the lines of a Brian Trenchard-Smith 1980s Ozsploitation road movie (which would also be marvellous). Imagine it - a known action star (Mark Dacascos from JOHN WICK 3) in the lead, tearing down the highway running down zombies and being beset by MAD MAX-style marauders as explosions risk him and his little girl ending up being blasted into the tarmac.

But oh dear it's not. For a movie with that title THE DRIVER completely wastes its central idea, taking ages to get to the road bit of the story and then it's the same bit of road (or at least it looks like it from the scenery) over and over again combined with lots of safe careful driving. Then The Driver teaches his daughter how to drive. No montage, no clips, no hair-raising episodes, and it's all done in real time. He does the same with teaching her how to shoot. Aside from the attack on the compound it's all so dull, filmed with the air of someone who doesn't care & just wants to fill 90 minutes. The only extra is a 12 minute making of.  

Now here's the interesting part. Apparently this is the third part of a trilogy. The first, DEAD EARTH (retitled from TWO OF US) has yet to see a UK release, and the second hasn't actually been shot yet. One begins to suspect the thought processes of a Thai Richard Driscoll at work here. Expect THE DRIVER to turn up under a different title at some point, possibly with new footage edited in to make it better. Except it won't be.

THE DRIVER is out from Lionsgate UK on Digital Download on Monday 12th October 2020 and DVD on Monday 19th October 2020

Saturday, 3 October 2020

The Dare (2020)

The shouty sweary people chained to a wall and tortured by a masked madman subgenre gets another to add to its number as Lionsgate releases THE DARE on digital download and DVD.

Jay (Bart Edwards) is enjoying a night at home with his family when he is kidnapped. He wakes up to find himself in a pit, chained to a wall etc etc. There are three other people in there as well, one of whom is a sweary woman, another is a shouty man and the third might have been both sweary and shouty which is presumably why his lips have been sewn together.

A masked madman makes them torture each other. If they don't they get force fed cockroaches and other creatures that will make arthropod fans (and those with phobias of them) shut their eyes. 

Is there a reason or has their captor targeted them randomly? It all slowly comes to light through flashbacks showing our killer being raised by a sadistic backwoods loony (Richard Brake, best known to readers here for MANDY and Rob Zombie's 31 and 3 FROM HELL) and what happened to the boy as he grew up. 

Very much what could kindly be described as by the numbers torture porn, THE DARE feels in places as if it has been made by a grown up version of the little boy in school who loved to induce nausea by wandering around with an open mouth full of chewed up food, or worms, or worse. Anyone expecting twists or variations on a theme will be disappointed - this one's strictly for torture porn newcomers, or those who like their gross-out horror uncomplicated. Those who actively dislike the genre and feel horror films are just vehicles to display the depredations of vile characters doing terrible things to one another will also find themselves vindicated by watching this one. Not a film to show to your non-horror loving friend to prove how much they have misjudged the genre. 

THE DARE is out from Lionsgate on digital download on Monday 5th October 2020 and on DVD on Monday 12th October 2020. Here's the trailer:

Friday, 2 October 2020

The Deeper You Dig (2019)


"Northern Gothic EC-style Art House Horror"

After its UK premiere at 2019's Frightfest the latest project from film-making team the Adams family (father John, mother Toby Poser and daughter Zelda) gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

Driving home from a bar late one night Kurt (John Adams), the worse for alcohol, knocks down and kills fourteen year old Echo (Zelda Adams). He buries the body and tries to forget about the incident while he works on the rundown house he's renovating in the woods. But he's reckoned without Echo's mother Ivy (Toby Poser) who is a psychic, and Echo herself, who has every intention of manifesting her now dead self through Kurt's body.

A very low budget effort that is nevertheless extremely competently shot, edited, acted and scored, THE DEEPER YOU DIG's opening act is very much like an EC comics story as Echo comes back from the grave to haunt Kurt. Then things start to get weird and there are a couple of weird moments that are pleasingly reminiscent of Don Coscarelli's 1979 PHANTASM. 

The film is a slow burn, in fact in some places it's a bit too slow and could maybe have done with a good 20-30 minutes being cut from its running time. That said it's an impressive effort and far, far better than most of what is being made on similar (and higher) budgets out there at the moment (including some of this month's other releases).

Arrow's two disc set comes with a commentary track from the husband and wife directors, and a 50 minute interview with all three of the Adams family. Anton Bitel spends nearly 30 minutes contextualising the film within the Adams' filmography and examining themes within it in the video essay 'It's In the Blood'. There's also 12 minutes with special effects coordinator Trey Lindsay, the Frightfest TV interview from last year's festival, music videos, an image gallery and a trailer. As a bonus, the second disc has an earlier Adams project, THE HATRED (2018) which runs just under an hour and is worth a look after and if you enjoyed the main feature. 

THE DEEPER YOU DIG is out in a two disc Blu-ray set from Arrow Films on Monday 5th October 2020

Friday, 25 September 2020

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)

The Monty Python team's fourth feature gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Fabulous Films.

Abandoning the loose but nevertheless coherent narrative structure of their two previous films, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) and LIFE OF BRIAN (1979), THE MEANING OF LIFE saw the team returning to the sketch collection format of their first feature AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. As a consequence this one is a bit more hit and miss than what had come just before. Even so, some of Python's all-time greatest moments are in here, including the over the top musical extravagance of Every Sperm is Sacred (which apparently used up most of the budget & if so it's certainly money well spent), the nauseating special effects showcase that is Mr Creosote And His Amazing Exploding Abdomen, and the Bergmanesque Death Comes to the Dinner Party.

But there are other great moments as well. The 'B-movie' is a lovely piece of Gilliamesque surrealism that's all the better for them having it try to attack the main feature, John Cleese's sex education class is spot on in its mundane explanation and remonstrations, and even the conversation at dinner where the couple turn out to be hopeless at discussing philosophy now feels more like social commentary than was likely intended at the time.

Fabulous' Blu-ray comes with two extra audio tracks - a commentary with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, and the Audio Track for the Lonely where you can watch the film along with someone who makes noises, phones out for takeaway food and causes other disturbances you can find out for yourselves. The hour long 30th Anniversary reunion see the surviving five members discussing the movie, which apparently was pitched to Universal in the form of a poem. Eric Idle is on hand to perform it in another extra. You also get deleted scenes, advertising, and alternate versions of the songs. The film is also available on DVD but you don't get the extras.

MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 28th September 2020