Saturday, 22 September 2018

Eye of the Needle (1981)



"Cracking World War II Thriller"

Oh yes, Richard Marquand's really rather good adaptation of Ken Follett's novel is getting a dual format release from the BFI.


Donald Sutherland is Faber, codename The Needle. He's a German spy hiding in plain sight in England. We first meet him in 194o when his landlady (The Ash Tree's Barbara Ewing) discovers him on his portable radio in his room and pays for it with her life. At the same time we are also introduced to newlyweds David (Christopher Cazenove who had trouble with werewolves in Hammer House of Horror) and Lucy (Kate Nelligan, who had played rather a different Lucy in John Badham's DRACULA two years previously). 


While Faber is making good his escape, David & Lucy are driving off into a future of married bliss, which lasts about five minutes before they swerve to avoid a lorry, the car crashes and David no longer has legs.
Four years later. Faber has uncovered a plot to deceive the German forces and has the photos to prove it. A U boat is waiting to pick him up off the coast of Scotland. He makes his way there but ends up stranded on gloomy, craggy, generally awful Storm Island. Which just happens to be where embittered, angry alcoholic David has made his home with his son and an increasingly sexually frustrated Lucy.


That's the first act of this great British thriller. The rest details the developing (and entirely believable) relationship between Faber and Lucy. Sutherland and Nelligan evince a passionate chemistry that boosts the film immensely and the climax is a terrific game of cat and mouse that's up there with the best slasher film finales.
Miklos Rozsa contributes the kind of rousing dramatic score he'd been writing for over 40 years by now. Fans of all things British will enjoy spotting Ian Bannen, David Hayman, John Bennett (dubbed, as is Barbara Ewing), Sam Kydd, Rik Mayall and an impossibly young Bill Nighy. There are plenty of names familiar to BritHorror fans on the crew as well. 


The BFI's disc is Richard Marquand's preferred cut, but you do get the alternate ending on the disc as well. I can quite understand why he doesn't think it's as good. There's also a commentary track from Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman and Jon Burlingame, a Donald Sutherland audio Guardian interview from 1987, and three wartime propaganda short subjects. Plus you get the usual BFI booklet with new writing on the film. 


Richard Marquand's film of Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE is out from the BFI on dual format on 
Monday 24th September 2018

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)



"Beautifully Discomforting"

Paul Schrader's film version of Ian McEwan's novel (with a screenplay by Harold Pinter) gets a dual format release from the BFI. 
Colin (Rupert Everett) and Mary (Natasha Richardson) have returned to Venice for a holiday in the hope it will rekindle the passion in their relationship. They dine, drink, get lost in the alleyways of the city, and end up meeting Robert (Christopher Walken).


He takes them to a bar where he relates a lengthy story about his childhood, culminating in an explanation of how he met his wife, Caroline (Helen Mirren). The couple try to find their way back to their hotel but get lost again and spend the night sleeping in the street.   


        Next morning, very much not looking like one might, having spent a night outside in Venice, the two meet up with Robert again. He takes them to his palatial home where they meet Caroline and gradually become embroiled in a complex situation which will ultimately end in tragedy.


Beautifully filmed, meticulously written and with an exotic score from Angelo Badalamenti, THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS is one of those movies that leaves you wondering exactly what you've just watched, questioning the motives, the backstory and the trustworthiness of all concerned. It's a languid piece, designed to let the beautifully lush interiors wash over you as you almost subconsciously take in the considerably darker actions of the human characters who dwell within. Having watched it three times since its release in 1990 I still can't really say what it's all meant to be about, but I like it more with each viewing.


The BFI's disc comes with a brand new specially recorded commentary by director Paul Schrader. He doesn't sound in the best of health and provides added suspense to the listener who at times will be wondering if he's going to make it to the end of the film. 


You also get two audio extras. The first is The Paul Schrader Film Masterclass from 1982. It's a 100 minute summary of a film course he had at the time just presented in the US. The second is an 85 minute Guardian interview with Derek Malcolm from 1993.


Next are three archival short subjects about Venice, one from 1918, a glass making film from 1928 and a three minute short from 1964. Finally, there's the usual excellent booklet with new writing from THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS director of photography Dante Spinotti and others. 


Paul Schrader's THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS is 
out on dual format from the BFI on 
Monday 24th September 2018

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)


Billy Wilder's 1957 version of Agatha Christie's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION gets a dual format release from Eureka. As opposed to the 1982 Alan Gibson remake, the 1949 BBC one, or the recent (2016) mini-series.


Dashing, penniless Leonard Vole (dashing Tyrone Power) is accused of killing a rich widow he has befriended. Elderly, infirm, brandy-swigging barrister Sir Wilfred Roberts (a wonderfully endearing Charles Laughton) may be his only hope of defence. Vole's wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) provides him with an alibi, but when her story changes in court it's just the beginning of a series of revelations culminating in an ending I'm not going to tell you, and not just because the voiceover at the end begged me not to.


The last time I was witness to such a plea was at a performance of Christie's The Mousetrap which, unlike WITNESS, has yet to make an entirely successful transition to the cinema screen. Stage plays do come with the inherent problem that they are intended to be, well, stagey. Here Billy Wilder opens the action out as much as he can, but sensibly lets the actors carry the drama for the most part, especially in the courtroom scenes.


Best of the performances is Oscar-nominated Laughton, ably assisted by wife Elsa Lanchester who plays Sir Wilfred's nurse. In a story that's about deception and infidelity their relationship is played as a pleasant counterpoint to the rest of what we learn.


Fans of horror and fantasy will enjoy spotting THE BODY SNATCHER's Henry Daniell, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN's Una O'Connor (still playing the same role thirty years on!) and Torin Thatcher managing to play chief prosecutor Myers without resorting to using a Ray Harryhausen dragon or Jim Danforth ogre.


Eureka's disc comes with a Kat Ellinger audio commentary, a video interview with Neil Sinyard, archival footage of Wilder discussing the film with Volker Schlondorff, and Simon Callow discussing Charles Laughton's performance in the film. You also get a booklet that includes essays from Henry Miller and Philip Kemp.


Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is 
out on dual format from Eureka from 
Monday 10th September 2018

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965)


"Worldwide Blu-ray Premiere of A Deliciously Disturbing Cult Classic"

Yes well done to Network who are bringing out this fascinating piece of independent American 1960s cinema on Blu-ray for the first time. It's getting a digital release as well but that's not until next month.
New York City in the mid 1960s. Pretty Norah (Juliet Prowse) is being bothered by nuisance phone calls to her apartment. She alerts the police and Lt Dave Maddin (Jan Murray) takes a special interest in her case. Could the fact his own flat is filled with porn mags and textbooks on fetishism and other 'sexual deviancies' be important?  
And what about Lawrence (Sal Mineo), the very tight trouser-wearing busboy whose 19 year old sister sustained an injury to her brain as a child that might just be Lawrence's fault? Could he be the caller?


You find out pretty quickly, because while the first act of WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR makes it out to be a mystery, it's actually much more than that. Creatively shot with distorted images worthy of Polanski (I was reminded of REPULSION more than once) it's likely that giallo film-makers of the 1970s picked up a few lessons in suspense & technique from this one as well. 
But TEDDY's influence (probably) doesn't end there. The grim and grimy New York locations, with their porn cinemas and seedy back alleys, also foreshadow the 'miserabilist maniac' pictures of the late 1970s /early 1980s like Abel Ferrara's DRILLER KILLER, Romano Scavolini's NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN and of course William Lustig's MANIAC.


Network's transfer looks a bit rough in spots with scrapes and scratches here and there & what look like tiny holes in the negative in places, but this has been newly scanned from one of the few surviving 35mm prints, and according to their press release 'the restoration involved careful grain management, both automated & manual removal of film dirt & damage & correction of major instability, warping & density fluctuations. Missing frames / sections have been reinstated from a 16mm print and the image matched as far as possible.' So now you know
Extras on Network's Blu-ray include an episode of early 1960s TV show COURT MARTIAL which features Sal Mineo as guest star alongside regulars Bradford Dillman and Peter Graves. You also get an LSD public information film narrated by Mineo. 


Yes it's a total Mineo package and well worth it. More than a simple 'Who is the killer sex pervert with a twisted back story' WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is never less than fascinating and very much deserves to be more widely seen. Hopefully this release will achieve that.


WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is out on Blu-ray from 
Network on Monday 17th September 2018 and 
Digital on 15th October 2018

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Bloodstained Bulletin No.2

Oh yes it's back! For all those who thought my attempt at a newsletter / column / general roundup of what I've been watching but not reviewing formally would end after issue one here's the second. Last time I left the shit shed section till the end but I've just been to the cinema and right now I can think of no better candidate to be exiled to...

The Shit Shed - This Time On the Big Screen!

Brace yourselves for:

The Nun


        Because Bless My Soul, Jesus Christ and Hail Mary, this one's really not very good at all, and not even a real EuroGothic feel evinced during the opening twenty minutes can save it. There are some great locations, gothic sets, and a pinch of Fulci. But the screenplay is truly awful. In fact watching the movie had me wondering what the final script meeting must have been like...

A great shot that does not a great film make, sadly
Producer: Have you finished the script yet?
Writer (handing it over): Yes, here it is.
A Pause
Producer: But this is five pages long!
Writer: Yes, sorry about that.
Producer: But I specifically told you it should be no longer than four pages. What am I supposed to do now? (Looks through the document). Okay, well, we can lose any reference to who The Nun actually is, how they came to be like that and what they actually want. We'll just tell the director to make her appear out of shadow a lot, leer and then bellow like an unhappy cow to make everyone jump. Lots of times.
Writer (scribbling): How many times?
Producer: Five times. No, six. Now, this priest here, the one who's sent to investigate the suicide of the nun at the beginning...
Writer: Oh yes, the expert in supernatural matters who has done exorcisms and is the most supremely qualified for the job due to his vast experience?
Producer: Yes that's right, him. The moment he encounters anything vaguely scary of a supernatural sort he needs to scream and wave his arms about like a terrified child so audiences can relate to him.
Writer: But he's the expert.
Producer: Yes, but the expert in one of these films, which means he must act as if he has never encountered anything so scary before, even if it's terribly minor and inconsequential.
Writer (crossing stuff out): Well now we're down to three pages.
Producer: Shit. Ok. We've got a nun in it, haven't we?
Writer: Oh yes. That is what the film's called, after all.
Producer: Not THAT nun! I mean the other one, the novice one, the one the kids will relate to. She hasn't taken her orders yet, has she?
Writer: Er...no. That's an important plot point.
Producer: Exactly! So let's get every character, including the nun herself, to repeat that at intervals throughout the film. Maybe we'll be able to shift some DVDs because people will want to use it in a drinking game.
Writer: Ok (scribbles). Back up to five.
Producer: Damn. Oh, wait. What about this slightly random subplot about children killing themselves in the village?
Writer (nodding with misjudged pride): Ah, the tavern scene.
Producer: Yes let's just cut it there, shall we? No-one's going to be interested in that subplot or where it goes so let's just leave it hanging. No-one will notice. Is that everything?
Writer: Yes I think so. Hey, writing these films is easy! Nothing like Stephen Volk said it would be.
Producer: Good stuff. Ok, I'm off to the set now with my air horn that I'm going to blow every five minutes to help the director know when he has to insert a jump scare.

Happy Nuns - they haven't seen this film, then

Yes THE NUN isn't very good at all. An hour in and I had no idea what was going on. Eighty minutes in and I glanced with relief at my watch knowing it would all soon be over. I still don't know exactly what the title character was supposed to be up to or doing, or why it was conveniently kept in that one cupboard in the convent. And that lead priest role is awful and thankless. If THE NUN had been made in 1975 Paul Naschy would have played the lead, kicked the crew up the backside, slept with all the sexy nun actresses onscreen, sorted out the monster and probably turned into a werewolf while he was doing it. And now I want to see that picture instead of THE NUN. To be honest I want to see anything other than THE NUN. Fortunately this is also on release:

Other Much Better Films On At The Cinema

The Domestics


        Getting a limited showing of once a day at selected cinemas around the country, this marvellously violent post-apocalypse movie is worth catching if you can. It was filmed in Louisiana but feels more like an early 1980s Ozsploitation picture. 
There's been an apocalypse caused by poison gas. Those who have survived now all live in factions. Normal people are called Domestics and have to fend off the attacks of the various gangs that have formed. The plot details the attempt of Mark West (Tyler Hoechlin) and his wife Nina (Kate Bosworth) to travel across country to visit Nina's parents, who have stopped communicating by CB radio. 


Feeling a lot like a Brian Trenchard-Smith movie (DEAD END DRIVE-IN, TURKEY SHOOT) the script is a delight,  constantly and consistently wrong footing you. There's a fantastic performance from the ever-reliable Lance Reddick & I've just spotted that THE DOMESTICS has a well-deserved 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Here's the trailer that sold us here at HMC on going to see it:


And if some dystopian ultraviolence doesn't float your boat, then there's this:

Searching



        Continuing producer Timur Bekmambetov's fascinating and pretty much unique ongoing project to use modern social media, computer screens, etc as narrative cinematic devices. (The only other example I can think of is dear old Nacho Vigalondo's pretty decent OPEN WINDOWS from 2014). Mr Bekmambetov was also responsible for the UNFRIENDED movies as well as first person shooter movie HARDCORE HENRY and he has horror UNFOLLOWED and romantic comedy LIKED on the way. 
John Cho is David Kim who, after the death of his wife from lymphoma, has had to raise his daughter Margot (Michelle La) on his own. When she fails to return from a study date, he discovers his daughter has been living a whole other existence he never knew about. 
Best seen knowing nothing else about it, SEARCHING is still in cinemas at the moment but it's likely to vanish soon, just like Margot Kim, but hopefully it won't be as difficult to locate again.

And that's it for now! I promise Compost Corner will return if there's ever a Bloodstained Bulletin No.3. Until the next time, though, and with all the talk on social media of That SUSPIRIA Remake, here's a little clip that raised many a smile at Frightfest recently: 




Friday, 7 September 2018

Heathers (1988)



"Extremely Very"

A late 1980s comedy that's deliciously quirky and dark, Michael Lehmann's HEATHERS gets a splendid dual format DVD & Blu-ray presentation from Arrow. The film is celebrating its 30th anniversary, but fans will be delighted to learn it has dated in all the right ways. 


Veronica (Winona Ryder) has achieved her aspiration to be in the top clique in her high school, the other three members of which are all named Heather. The girls specialise in playing practical jokes on those they deem beneath them (ie everyone), wearing fabulous clothes (for the late 1980s which means they are, indeed, fabulous) and, of course, behaving like supreme bitches whenever they can.


When Veronica hooks up with loner / Jack Nicholson impersonator Jason Dean (Christian Slater) and explains how she wants to stop one of the Heathers (Kim Chandler) from telling the school about an unfortunate incident at a recent party, it's the start of a run of murders dressed up to look like suicides. How the school reacts to the suicides forms a major part of HEATHERS' satire, culminating as it does in a plot to destroy the entire school.


Which is just one of the reasons HEATHERS wouldn't get made today. In fact, according to the interview with director Lehmann on this disc, it wasn't the kind of film to get made very easily back then, either. Now, however, this tale of American school kids shooting each other and taping dynamite to school buildings is far too close to the truth for the subject matter to be treated in such a wittily acerbic manner.


And HEATHERS is very witty indeed. Daniel Waters' script is eminently quotable, and even composer David Newman pays tribute to it in his interview on the disc, saying that he composed a more textural than thematic score because the dialogue was melody enough. Michael Lehmann's direction is extremely stylish, and I especially liked the use of different coloured lighting depending on which Heather we are with.  


Arrow's Blu-ray comes packed with extras. As well as the above we get a commentary track from Lehmann, Waters and producer Denise Di Novi. There are more interviews with production designer Jon Hutman, art director Kara Lindstrom, casting director Julie Selzer, and actress Lisanne Falk. There's a new appraisal from John Ross Bowie (Kripke in The Big Bang Theory), an archival making of featurette, trailers and a reversible sleeve. 


The transfer itself is a new restoration from a 4K scan and is presented in 1080p for Blu-ray. You also get sound options of original mono and 5.1 DTS-HD.


Michael Lehmann's HEATHERS is out on dual format from Arrow Films on Monday 10th September 2018

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Miss Leslie's Dolls (1973)


"Bonkers Grindhouse Treasure"

Oh yes, if you like completely crazy low budget movies from the early 1970s that look as if they were shot for a couple of dollars because the rest of the budget went on whatever substances everyone was 'experimenting with' then MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS is just the kind of whacked out weirdo looniness for you. 
Three girls and one man end up stranded in a thunderstorm when their car breaks down. They take refuge at the only house in the area, one which is next to a graveyard filled with suspiciously wooden and uniform-looking crosses.

Careful with that axe, Eugenie
The house is owned by Miss Leslie. I can't do a better description of Miss Leslie than Network's press release does so here it is: 'less a mild mannered spinster and more an axe-wielding homicidal cross-dresser intent on transferring his spirit into the nubile body of any young girl foolish enough to come visiting'.

Can you hear me, mother?
There's the plot, then. Except, as with all the best insane movies, that's only a fraction of the appeal of this one. Miss Leslie is obviously a man dressed up, but she has been dubbed with a female voice. The dolls of the title are her failed experiments which have now been arranged in an artful tableaux like something out of an early Harrison Marks film. 

The dolls in all their glory
There's a bit of nudity, some in and out of bed shenanigans, and a dream sequence near the end that is so batshit crazy you get the feeling that was what the director actually wanted to make and just did all the other mad stuff to make the dream look not quite so mad. It almost works but not quite. 
I can quite honesly say I've never seen anything quite like MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS. Imagine if David Lynch had the technical competence of Herschell Gordon Lewis and you'll be part of the way there, and if that mixture sounds appealing this is a piece of loony obscurity you need in your life.

If you've read this far down you should be expecting something like this
Network's DVD & Blu-ray (a worldwide premiere no less) doesn't contain any extras, but considering that prints of this would hardly have been treated with any special care this looks really good for its age. A bit like Miss Leslie herself, in fact. Mad, bad and dangerous to buy. Go for it. 


MISS LESLIE'S DOLLS is out now on Blu-ray and DVD 
from Network, and it's getting a digital release on 
1st October 2018