Thursday, 23 November 2017

Abertoir 2017: Final Despatches

Yes, it's all over for another year, and Mrs Probert & I are still recovering from six fabulous days of giallo in both literature & film (yes those are genuine gialli paperbacks behind us):


...cocktails (this one is The Killer Must Drink Again, a mix of grenadine, orange juice and OF COURSE, J&B)...:


...giallo cake...(yes CAKE): 


...piss poor attempts at David Hemmings impersonations in front of paintings from classic Italian movies...:


 ...scary fridges...


...at the Metropol to watch Lamberto Bava's DEMONS (1985)...


 ...at the 'Opera' to watch Dario Argento's OPERA (1987):


...trying out for the sequel to THE WITCH (2015 which we saw at Abertoir before all the hype, thank goodness):


...and of course having a splendid time in the Abertoir screening room (Helena Markos kindly gave Mrs Probert the week off from the academy provided she made it clear she was studying there):


The final two films of the festival were two of the best films I have seen all year, & I don't doubt I'll be writing about them again at my traditional Top Ten round up on Boxing Day. First up was:

THE LODGERS (2017)


        Director Brian O'Malley's follow up to 2014's LET US PREY is a superb gothic ghost story set in the rural Ireland of 1920. Twins Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) live in an isolated, crumbing gothic mansion and are safe as long as they follow the rules set down in a bizarre nursery rhyme by the 'other' occupants of the house. 
        Exactly what these are, and what is going on, is revealed in a climax that is a creative as it is nightmarish, and I would be spoiling it for you if I said any more, suffice to say if you like subtle, original, beautifully directed (some of the 2.35:1 widescreen compositions are breathtaking) ghost stories this is your movie of 2017 to watch. 


        The director was in attendance, & we got to chat with him afterwards. Mr O'Malley cited influences such as Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), Alejandro Amenabar's THE OTHERS (2001) and J A Bayona's THE ORPHANAGE (2007). I am sure that in the future THE LODGERS will be grouped with those classics. Seriously excellent stuff.



TOP KNOT DETECTIVE (2017)


        The only way you can successfully follow one of the best horror films of the year is with the best comedy of the year. TOP KNOT DETECTIVE was a wonderful way to end Abertoir. 
        A SPINAL TAP-type mockumentary documenting the 'classic' ie raving mad TV show of the title, aka DEDUCTIVE REASONING RONIN (translated from the Japanese), the film charted the success and downfall of the show and it's lunatic creator / writer / director and star Takashi Takamoto who was utterly terrible at all those tasks and became a huge star. 
        Talking head pieces, 'news' footage, and of course, lots and lots of clips of the brilliantly awful 'show' made this the funniest film I have seen in years. Full marks to writer-directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce for creating something that's going to be getting several rewatches here as soon as it comes out on disc.

        And that's it for another year! My sincere thanks to Gaz Bailey, Nia Edwards-Behi and Rhys Thomas Fowler for organisation that was second to none and which exhibited a degree of creativity likely to remain unsurpassed until next time; plus all the new friends we made and the old friends we got to meet again, including 'Gialli' the wonder dog. We had the best time. Normal service will recommence with my next review but right now we're still buzzing.


The Fabulous Festival that is Abertoir takes place every November in windswept Aberystwyth. I'll be publicising next year's closer to the time. But only after Mrs Probert & I have secured our passes. 

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Abertoir Despatches Part 2


        Yes, Mrs Probert & I are still here in the land of the classic giallo (even the poster is yellow - isn't that great?) when we're not watching the brand new pictures the festival has to offer. At the moment we are still recovering from Friday night's traditional Abertoir off-site screening. This was the first time we had been able to attend one of these, as the previous two years were cancelled due to rain, more rain, typhoons and gales. This year however, the gods smiled, and the Abertoir audience were treated to:

Dario Argento's OPERA (1987) in an opera house!


        Well, actually the Ceredigion Museum, but as you can hopefully see from the picture it was the perfect location in which to enjoy what is arguably Mr Argento's final masterpiece, complete with plastic ravens being thrown at the audience from above during a crucial scene. Twenty minutes in & I was thinking what a fantastic film-maker he really is. Twenty minutes from the end and I wasn't the only one wondering quite how things could all suddenly turn so spectacularly daft. 

And that wasn't all.

        Upon leaving the venue, we and our festival colleagues were set upon by a steel-masked Michele Soavi lookalike who insisted we accept tickets to a private showing of a Lamberto Bava classic:



        Yes we ended up at the 'Metropol' cinema in Aberystwyth for a showing of DEMONS (1985), complete with red-haired usherette, bricked up exits, and a helicopter crashing through the roof (well not quite, but the Abertoir team tried to arrange that last bit & bravo to them for even considering it.) Quite possibly the most entertaining night's double bill I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy, I have to give full marks to the Abertoir team for making this a memorable life experience for everyone who attended. 

And now, back to some of the new stuff. Here are some more highlights:

CANARIES (2017)



         I liked this a lot when I saw it at Frightfest earlier this year, and if anything I found a second viewing even more enjoyable. A hugely impressive science fiction comedy produced on a budget of £29 000 and filmed mainly in the Welsh village of Lower Cwmtwrch, CANARIES is terrific fun and it deserves to do well.

DIANI & DEVINE MEET THE APOCALYPSE (2016)



        An utterly charming post-apocalypse movie starring, written and directed by comedy duo Gabriel Diane and Etta Devine. When something catastrophic happens in Los Angeles, our heroes hit the road along with their dog Watson and cat Mrs Peel. Along the way they encounter estate agents, cannibal cults and there's even a dance routine. In the light-hearted spirit of horror comedies like Kyle Rankin's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB (2015) this was an unexpected delight and means I now have to seek out their 2011 comedy THE SELLING.

THE ENDLESS (2017)



        Two brothers who have escaped a 'UFO Suicide Cult' return after ten years to find that things are even stranger than they realised. This one's from the directors of SPRING (2014) which made one of my year's top ten lists. They also made the weird, complex, reality-bending RESOLUTION (2012), which THE ENDLESS is kind of a sequel to. I'm not going to go into details but if you watch this, make sure you have plenty of time free afterwards to consider what it might have been about. Possibly a Lovecraftian cosmic horror piece, possibly a comment about religion in general, possibly a film about the nature of film itself (and a viewer's interaction with the medium), like RESOLUTION this asks more questions than it answers. Definitely worth a look. 


Friday, 17 November 2017

Abertoir Despatches Part 1

        Yes, once again I'm back in Aberystwyth at the International Horror Festival of Wales, and what a wonderful festival it is - six glorious days of films, interviews and performance set against the violent, passionate climatic conditions that the Welsh coast is heir to. Will the police stop us getting back to our hotel because of 'dangerous 90mph gales that are blowing wheelie bins into the windows of buildings' this year?

We shall see.

        Abertoir is always a mix of the retro and the you'll-not-see-this-anywhere-else. This year the main theme is giallo and on Tuesday we were treated to big screen showings of Sergio Martino's YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY and ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK, sandwiching a lengthy on-stage interview with the great man himself. 
        One of the great attractions of Abertoir for us is the themed cocktails. Here I am with Mrs Probert & our friend Alan Hoare (thanks to Merlyn Roberts for taking the picture) enjoying The Killer Must Drink Again (J&B, Grenadine and Orange Juice) and The Red Queen (J&B and Red Vermouth). Oh yes, all this year's cocktails have J&B in them, and J&B are sponsoring the festival - hurrah!




        My intention with these despatches is that, rather than write about films I've banged on about before, I'm going to flag up the new movies shown at the festival that are worth looking out for. So here we go, starting with:

VAMPIRE CLAY (2017)



        Coming across as a blend of the graphic novel horror of Junji Ito and the special effects lunacy of Screaming Mad George, here we have the tale of a lady who runs an academy for prospective students who want to apply for the prestigious Tokyo Art College. Unfortunately she digs up a bag full of clay that happens to be the mortal remains of an insane sculptor whose final piece was a clay boy made out of the man's own blood. The clay exhibits vampiric tendencies and is soon turning the academy students into pliable fleshy lumps. Deliriously creative despite not always successfully treading the razor blade's edge between utterly horrific and ludicrously daft, VAMPIRE CLAY deserves points for getting enough things right that it's definitely worth a look.

MON MON MON MONSTERS (2017)



        The title on the poster translates as REPORT TO THE TEACHER! STRANGE STRANGE MONSTER! which I think is still better than the Western (?) release title of this picture from Taiwan. Lin She-Wei (Deng You-Kai) is constantly bullied at school by both teachers and students. When he has to do community service with three of his tormentors, they end up capturing one of two female flesh-eating ghouls who are terrorising the city. They tie her up and torture her, extracting teeth and blood to do terrible things to, amongst others, one of their teachers. Lin tries to make friends with the creature, but is he sincere or is he just another kind of bully?
      Relentlessly nihilistic in its view of schoolchildren and humanity in general, the movie does not so much ask the question 'Who are the real monsters?' than ram 'Humans are the real monsters' in your face pretty much from the get go. Searing social satire with monsters and plenty of memorable imagery, catch this one if you can. 

THE SLEEP CURSE (2017)


        Opens with camcorder footage of a man slowly losing the ability to sleep, with audience-pleasing gory results. Then we're introduced to insomnia researcher (and potential mad scientist - he's depriving white mice of sleep after all & that's never a good sign in a movie like this) Dr Lam Sik-Ka (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong). When his research funding falls through he's approached by the daughter of the man from the opening scene. She has a huge cheque and the concern she may go the way of her father. In a (too) lengthy flashback sequence, we learn of the curse that has led to what is happening. 
        THE SLEEP CURSE does manage to go deliciously crazy at its climax, and if you fancy some uncomfortable taboo-busting gore then it's probably worth the wait. Otherwise THE SLEEP CURSE is just a bit too drawn out, with too little of the running time spent on the 'modern day' (it's set in 1990) plotline.

BETTER WATCH OUT (2017)


        Loved it at Frightfest. Loved it again on a second watch here. Best watched knowing nothing about it so I won't say any more, except that this is getting a UK cinema release at Christmas. Go and see it.

HOUSEWIFE (2017)


        Absolutely the highlight of Abertoir so far for me. Can Evrenol was responsible for nightmarish horror BASKIN (2015) and HOUSEWIFE is better. If you loved the delirious weirdness of Argento's SUSPIRIA & INFERNO and Fulci's THE BEYOND then you'll get a kick out of this as well. The deliberately 'rubber reality' plot line is graced by some terrific visual compositions and a healthy dose of disturbing imagery, culminating in a final scene that's pleasingly Lovecraftian. But is any of it real, or is it all in the central character's head as she tries to justify and explain to herself the appalling act we see before the opening titles? As with all the best art house horrors, it's entirely up to you. I can't wait to watch this one again. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Tag (2015)



"Japanese Splatterpunk Does 1970s Children's BritHorror TV"

Because that's exactly what this one felt like to me - as if director Sion Sono wanted to do something along the lines of Bob Baker & Dave Martin's classic HTV series KING OF THE CASTLE but with a schoolgirl and gallons of blood. TAG is getting a dual format release in the UK courtesy of Eureka & it's well worth catching up with.


Mitsuko (Reina Triendi) is on a school trip with her friends when the top of their coach is torn off, and so are the upper halves of all of Mitsuko's classmates. Running from the scene she finds herself pursued by an invisible force that kills anyone she comes into contact with.


...and then she finds herself back in school, with her friends. They all decide to skive off class and spend the morning at a local lake, where the talk turns to alternate realities.


When they eventually get back to school, more murder and bloodshed awaits, and a change of identity for Mitsuko as she slips into a different reality and becomes Keiko, waiting to get married. More bloodbaths and changes of identity ensue until the film reaches a conclusion.


The press release calls TAG 'ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets TOKYO GORE POLICE' but I actually think it's even more interesting than that - more 'Lindsay Anderson meets Kafka', There's certainly the feeling of Anderson's classic IF... (1968) in the use of violence in a school setting to set about the destruction of social conventions, and this is a theme that runs through the film.


The denouement is pure 1970s ITV children's drama, though, with a kind of explanation, but at the same time you're not entirely convinced by what you're just seen, because by now you've formed your own explanation of what's going on, one that is as much emotionally driven as it is by plot.



       A few years ago, I reviewed Sion Sono's GUILTY OF ROMANCE and for quite a while it was the most popular review on the site. I actually think TAG is the better film, and it certainly confirms his status as an interesting film-maker who is putting together a fascinating body of work. Eureka's disc only has a trailer as an extra, but don't let that put you off getting this one. 

Sion Sono's TAG is getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release from Eureka on Monday 20th November 2017

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Four Film Noir Classics (1946, 1947, 1948, 1955)


Four films from the classic era of film noir, from four celebrated directors of the period (Robert Siodmak, Fritz Lang, Abraham Polonsky and Joseph H Lewis), have been bundled together by Arrow in this dual format box set. Here's what's included:

The Dark Mirror (1946)


A doctor is found stabbed to death next to a smashed mirror. The evidence all points to Teresa Collins (Olivia de Havilland), but she has a cast iron alibi. Or does she? Does the alibi actually belong to her twin sister Ruth (Olivia de Havilland again).   Psychologist Dr Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres who later disappeared beneath the ice in 1978's DAMIEN OMEN II) specialises in studying twins and, using all the best daft dime store giallo analytical techniques and theories eventually solves the mystery.


While not as good as director Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) or  THE KILLERS (1946) which I reviewed here, THE DARK MIRROR is still an entertaining psycho-noir that keeps you guessing up to the end. Special features include a commentary track and a detailed analysis of the film from Noah Isenberg.

Secret Beyond the Door (1947)


Celia (Joan Bennett) marries Mark (Michael Redgrave), an architect with a penchant for adding 'murder rooms' to his country estate. But one of those rooms is constantly locked. Oh, and Mark's first wife, Elinor, might just have died under mysterious circumstances. There is rumour that Mark has now exhausted his dead wife's fortune. Celia just happens to be rich. Could she be next?


For a thriller SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR is sadly lacking in the thrill department, despite composer Miklos Rosza trying his hardest to increase the dramatic tension. Director Fritz Lang does offer us some fantastic visual compositions, though, so it's not a dead loss, but I couldn't help but feel that this would have worked better as a B picture with lesser actors but a lot more oomph. 


Extras include a commentary track from Alan K Rode, a talking head piece from author Barry Keith Grant, a visual essay on Fritz Lang's style by David Cairns, a Bluebeard radio play, image gallery, and a trailer for the Fritz Lang film HANGMEN ALSO DIE (1943).

Force of Evil (1948)


Mob lawyer Joe (John Garfield) becomes involved in New York's numbers racket, with a plan to bring together all those who run them. One of them is his brother Leo (Thomas Gomez) who doesn't want to be a part of it. The others engineer a fix (the number 776 on the fourth of July) so Joe has to pay out a fortune and can't. Joe tries to get his brother a job with the mob but Leo refuses, and it all ends in tragedy.


Probably the least of the movies on here, FORCE OF EVIL is still thought of highly, with the theory that left wing director Abraham Polonsky may have used the numbers game as a symbol of capitalism as a whole (he was blacklisted shortly afterwards.) He gave DP George Barnes a book of Edward Hopper paintings to help suggest how he wanted the film to look and, as in the other movies in this set, there are some truly awe-inspiring uses of light and dark. 


Extras include a commentary track by Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Neame, and a visual essay on the film by Frank Krutnik who also provides commentary on specific themes.

The Big Combo (1955)


Arguably the best is last. Joseph Lewis'  mid-fifties noir boasts a great cast of familiar faces (Cornel Wilde, Robert Conte, Lee Marvin, Brian Donlevy, Earl Holliman and John Hoyt amongst others) and is quite possibly the most stylish of the lot. 


Lieutenant Diamond (Wilde) is obsessed with bringing down crime boss Mr Brown (Conte). Brown is keen to bump off Diamond. Caught in the crossfire are Brown's girlfriend (Jean Wallace), Diamond's girlfriend (Helene Stanton), and Brown's wife (Helen Walker). I won't say any more about the plot because it would spoil it, but there's a creative torture scene with a hearing aid and a great bit at a classical music concert where the piano embellishes the drama going on in one of the boxes.


Extras include a commentary track from Eddie Muller, a visual essay on the director, an introduction by Geoff Andrew and the screenplay as a BD-DVD ROM.
       You also get a hardback book as part of the set with new writing on all the films, production stories, contemporary reviews and more. A great crash course if you're unfamiliar with the genre, and plugging some valuable gaps in your collection if you're after them all on Blu-ray. 


FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS is out on Arrow in a dual format set on Monday 20th November 2017

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Buster Keaton: Three Films (1924, 1926 and 1928)


"4K Keaton!"

Yes indeed, Eureka have done a fine job here in giving a UK Blu-ray release to three Buster Keaton classics, and they've never looked so good. The package comes with a wealth of extras and a 60-page book as well. I reviewed Eureka's excellent four disc set of Keaton's complete short films here just over a year ago, and it's a delight to see them bringing out some of his longer work. So what's included?

Sherlock Jr (1924)


Keaton plays a film projectionist who is studying to be a detective in his spare time. When a watch goes missing he finds himself implicated and, while trying to clear his name, he ends up falling asleep in the projection booth. Cue an ambitious dream sequence in which Keaton steps into the film playing on the cinema screen and assumes the mantle of Sherlock Jr. Like all the films in the set, SHERLOCK JR begins quite slowly, but that's just because Keaton is a master at setting up and layering his remarkably creative gags.


Extras include an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat, a tour of the filming locations, a featurette, and a video interview with film scholar Peter Kramer. 

The General (1926)


The American civil war. When Johnnie Gray is denied the opportunity to enlist in the Confederacy because they believe his skills as a train driver are more useful to the cause, he finds himself becoming involved in the war anyway when Union soldiers steal his locomotive. With virtually no dialogue for lengthy parts of it, lots of amazing chase sequence and stunts, some quite breathtaking scenes of destruction, and huge numbers of extras, THE GENERAL looks like it must have cost a fortune.


Considered by many to be Keaton's masterpiece, watching this you can totally understand why it's still on so many people's all-time cinema best lists. Keaton uses his budget to great effect and this really is the perfect demonstration of skilled and unique artist at the very height of his powers.


Extras include a touching introduction by Orson Welles and a fairly scary one by Gloria Swanson. There's also a location tour, home movie footage, plus a new 52 minute documentary 'Buster Keaton: The Genius Destroyed by Hollywood'. You also get a brand new score to the film from Carl Davis.

Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928)


The final film in the set details a steamboat captain's horror when he is reunited with his son (Keaton) who turns out to be a black beret-wearing ukelele player (both obviously activities worthy of disdain back in the 1920s). Our hero's father tries to toughen him up but to no avail. Culminating with one of the most epic scenes of actual destruction as a typhoon hits the town, this is the one where the front of a house falls on top of Keaton and he stays standing because he's positioned just right to fit through a window. So many things get destroyed or pulled to pieces that Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich must surely have this one on their all-time top ten list. And I have never laughed so much at someone trying on a hat.



Extras include a video essay on the making of the film, plus there's another brand new score from Carl Davis. Also included in the set is a book with new writing on the film by Philip Kemp, notes on each film, archival writings, and the Keaton Family Scrapbook with lots and lots of archival imagery. A superb set. 




BUSTER KEATON: THREE FILMS is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 6th November 2017