Sunday, 13 June 2021

Parallel (2018)

     Director Isaac Ezban's latest feature, which premiered at Halloween Frightfest a couple of years ago, finally gets a DVD and digital release from 101 Films.

Four friends are developing a parking app. An investor is interested but wants a working prototype in days, something the team is unable to do but which a rival of theirs claims he can. Frustration turns to curious happenstance as a hole is knocked in the wall of the place where the four live, revealing a hidden flight of stairs leading to the attic.

The attic is filled with equipment, and in particular a mirror that enables an individual to enter randomly any one of numerous parallel universes where, importantly, time moves much more slowly.


So they get their app done. But then they start to misuse their newfound discovery, with the expected disastrous consequences.

PARALLEL is nowhere near as manic, intense, or just plain loud as Ezban's previous, terrifically entertaining feature THE SIMILARS (2015). It does look more polished, though, and a lot of Ezban's camerawork is inspired, especially his transition devices. The film does rather fall down in its plotting, which starts off with a fascinating idea but doesn't follow it to the crazy logical conclusions one is expecting, with the story running out of steam as we get to the end. It's nice to see the comic book from THE SIMILARS turn up in one of the parallel universes.

The cast features some familiar faces including Martin Wallström from TV's MR ROBOT, Georgia King from COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES and Aml Ameen from Idris Elba's YARDIE. The music is by SIMILARS composer Edy Lan.

101 Films' DVD release contains no special features.

Isaac Ezban's PARALLEL is out on DVD and Digital from 101 Films on Monday 14th June 2021

Saturday, 5 June 2021

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

From the team that brought you 1919's classic THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, star Conrad Veidt and director Robert Wiene got together again in 1924 to bring to the screen an adaptation of Maurice Renard's tale of surgical horror, now getting a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka.

Paul Orlac (Veidt) is a famous concert pianist. Returning home from his latest series of concerts, the train he is on crashes. Orlac survives, just, but his hands are mangled beyond use. However, in a handy (sorry) coincidence, a murderer hanged on the same day is brought the hospital where Orlac is a patient so the killer's hands can be used in a transplant. Discharged home, Orlac is already experiencing strange visions and the conviction that his hands are not his own. When his rich father is found dead with the fingerprints of the executed murderer all over the crime scene who is the culprit?

It's a rare delight to discover a film nearly a hundred years old that's capable of blowing you away, but if, like me, you're new to THE HANDS OF ORLAC that's just what it might do. The films exhibits one of the most sustained levels of insane intensity in cinema throughout, with everyone's performance of 'mad' turned up to eleven. The opening train wreck must have seemed spectacular in its day and the subject of hand transplants a gruesome, if ridiculous, conceit. Veidt is brilliantly manic in the lead and while this is a different film from CALIGARI it's no less engrossing thanks to Wiene's direction. 

Eureka's Blu-ray release of the film is  a 1080p presentation of the original 94 minute version by Film Archiv Austria. The presentation is also helped immensely by a deliciously disturbing full-blooded avant-garde music score that sounds as if James Bernard helped himself to a generous dose of LSD before sitting down to write it. The person responsible is actually German composer Johannes Kaltizke.

Extras include the usual superior commentary track from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, a 30 minute video essay on the film and its descendants that's both well written and well narrated, plus an alternate 110 minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer. You also get a piece highlighting the differences between the two versions. Finally, there's a booklet featuring new writing on the film from Tim Lucas and Philip Kemp.

Robert Wiene's THE HANDS OF ORLAC is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 14th June 2021

Friday, 4 June 2021

The Stylist (2020)

"Very Stylish Indeed"

Jill Gevargizian's elegant serial killer movie gets a special edition Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hairdresser who also happens to be a serial killer, drugging and scalping her victims and storing her trophies in a basement room where she can try them on from time to time in the same way she tries on the personalities of those the scalps belong to. Olivia (Brea Grant) desperately needs a stylist for her wedding and begs the reticent Claire to fill the role, which she agrees to.  And so the scene is set for a wedding day everyone will remember.

A supremely stylish, gorgeously photographed, well-acted horror movie about a female serial killer (and there aren't many of those around) director Jill Gevargizian's THE STYLIST will inevitable draw comparisons with MANIAC - both the 1980 William Lustig original and the Franck Khalfoun 2012 remake. Both killers scalp their victims but whereas Frank Zito does it to create a collection of fantasy women, Claire uses them to fantasy role play. In both films there are suggestions that their mothers are to blame - Claire claims her mother changed her hairstyle so frequently that as a little girl she never knew who was coming home, whereas little Frank never knew what new "boyfriend" his mother would be bringing home.

THE STYLIST was Thana Niveau aka Mrs Probert's film of the festival at the Frightfest it premiered at. Her thoughts include, as well as the MANIAC comparison, the film being "a spiritual sister to Lucky McKee's MAY, a brilliant and heartbreaking character study flawlessly brought to life by Najarra Townsend - the pained smile, the desperate desire to please, to belong, to be someone else. It's also a brilliant portrayal of the minefield of female relationships. The trust given to a stranger, the casual way those who 'serve' in some way are taken for granted, the strict boundaries of who belongs where and what their 'place' is."

Arrow's special edition includes a Gevargizian and Townsend commentary, a twenty minute video essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on female serial killers (both in fact and cinematic fantasy) and the depiction of women's labour, six minutes of out-takes, behind the scenes footage, a scouting featurette, the kickstarter video, the original THE STYLIST short film and another Gevargizian short PITY as well as trailers and an image gallery.

The second disc in the set offers us 32 minutes of music from the film. Seven out of the eight tracks are songs with only the first being taken from composer Nicholas Elert's atmospheric music score and several being those used in the nightclub scene.

Jill Gevargizian's THE STYLIST is out from Arrow Films in a special two disc Blu-ray and CD set on 

Monday 7th June 2021

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Lake Mungo (2006)

Writer-director Joel Anderson's first and so far only feature gets an extras-loaded limited edition Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

Sixteen year old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns while swimming in a nearby lake (not the lake of the title). Her body is eventually found by police, her father confirms that it is her, and the Palmer family begin the long road to recovery from their tragic loss. But pretty soon strange phenomena start to occur. Is that really Alice's image that'a appearing on photographs and on video footage filmed both near where she drowned and in the Palmers' house? Is her ghost trying to communicate with them? And what really happened during her school trip to the titular Lake Mungo, a dry dustbowl of a place that, like Wolf Creek, is another Australian location named after water but boasts not a drop of the stuff?

LAKE MUNGO is, as directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are at pains to point out in one of the excellent accompanying interviews on Second Sight's Blu-ray, less "found footage" and more "fake documentary". Filmed in such a way that its subject matter is never sensationalised and with natural performances, the film never let's its mask slip that the whole thing is, in fact, fiction. 

The realistic documentary feel is just one of many things to comment LAKE MUNGO. There's a real M R Jamesian 'corner of the retina' sense of things lurking in the corner of the frame, especially once the film itself starts to point them out. By halfway through you'll be searching every shot but Anderson's direction is clever enough that you only ever see what he wants you to.

He also only explains so much, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks and reach their own conclusion as to what other horrors may have happened and the actual truth behind Alice Palmer's death. Add in the weird Australian location of the title that may possess supernatural qualities providing a PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK vibe, plus a young girl called Palmer who lives a secret life and meets a horrible death but isn't a TV series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and there's still plenty in the 87 minute running time of this one to unpack and reward future viewings.

Second Sight's Blu-ray is packed with extras. As well as the  informative Benson & Moorhead interview there are two commentary tracks - a new one by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood as well as a ported over one from David Rapsey (producer) and cinematographer John Brawley. There are also interviews with Brawley, Rapsey and actors Carole Patullo and James Lawson. HOST director Rob Savage is also on hand to give his opinion of the film, and there are video essays by writer Josh Nelson and film-maker Joseph Wallace. 

Finally, there's a booklet with new essays and an interview with actor James Lawson, three collector's art cards and the whole package is housed in one of Second Sight's beautifully decorated slipcases. An excellent presentation of a film that deserves to be much better known than it is. 

Joel Anderson's  LAKE MUNGO is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 7th June 2021

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Duel (1971)

"Man is Chased by Truck"

That's pretty much the plot of DUEL, Stephen Spielberg's feature debut which is getting a deserved 50th anniversary release on DVD & Blu-ray from Fabulous Films. If you've never seen it the only other thing you really need to know is that it's brilliant - a true horror road movie where the only thing that matters is whether or not the central character - David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is going to survive being chased by the massive smoke-belching oil-dribbling articulated lorry whose driver takes a dislike to him when he overtakes it on a desert highway in California.

If you are a DUEL fan you'll already know it was made to be shown on US television and as such had to run 74 minutes to fit into a 90 minute time slot with commercials. However it very quickly achieved such a fine reputation that it was released theatrically in Europe where it had to run 90 minutes. Spielberg was allowed to go and shoot some extra footage (which doesn't feel extraneous at all and if it were not for the 35 minute interview with him included on the disc you'd never guess which bit it is). But that leads to the question - which version of DUEL is on this disc? The 74 minute TV version in 1.33:1 aspect ratio or the 90 minute cinema version in 1.85:1.

It's the cinema version, and no we don't get the TV version as an extra (and to be honest you don't really need it). Other extras include 9 minutes of Richard Mathesoin talking about his story and screenplay, and another 9 minute piece about Spielberg's work for American TV, some of which helped him secure the DUEL directing gig. 

An acknowledged classic that did wonders for its director's career and no doubt influenced artists like Stephen King (Trucks!) and George Miller (when MAD MAX came out it was lauded for its placement of the camera on or so close to the vehicles but Spielberg uses many of those tricks here) Fabulous Films' transfer is sparkling and you even get some Graham Humphries artwork on the sleeve, reproduced on the free fold-out poster that comes with the disc. Very nice indeed.

Stephen Spielberg's DUEL is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Fabulous Films on Monday 31st May 2021

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection (1965 - 1988)

First it was Herschell Gordon Lewis, then William Grefe, and now Wisconsin-based Bill Rebane finds himself the latest low-budget independent director of exploitation films to be the subject of an Arrow blu-ray box set. Who amongst us who caught Mr Rebane's exceedingly memorable THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION (1975) when it was shown in UK cinemas would ever have thought we would one day be holding in our hands such an item? SPIDER INVASION is probably still the film he's best known for, but sadly it's not included here, which is a bit of shame, but let's take a look at what we do get, spread over four discs:

Disc One

Monster A Go Go (1965)

Not strictly a Rebane film as he only shot some of it, then Herschell Gordon Lewis bought the footage, added a bit & then released the result as the support feature to one of his own films. Consequently it's not surprising that this ultra low-budget version of Hammer's THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (or even Richard Gordon's FIRST MAN INTO SPACE) is a bit of a ragged affair in which an astronaut returns to earth abnormally tall (and played by the improbably named Henry Hite) and proceeds to go on a tiny rampage before the film pretty much just stops. As entertainment it barely meets the trades descriptions act but as a footnote in the history of H G Lewis and exploitation cinema of the period it's certainly worth watching once.

Invasion From Inner Earth (1974)

Bill Rebane's 'official' first feature has three characters living in a cabin in the woods trying to survive the aftermath of an alien invasion. There's very much a 'make it up as you go along' feel to it and even Kim Newman admits on this disc that he's never been able to get all the way through it without falling asleep. Fans of wacky endings would be well advised to keep those eyelids propped open, however, because this one will cause much head scratching and late night debate if you've got friends round & you've all had enough to drink (coffee rather than alcohol).

Extras on disc one include two ten minute interviews with Rebane (one on each film), three Bill Rebane short films and a fifteen minute piece by Kim Newman which, if you're not familiar with Bill Rebane's filmography (and I'll admit I wasn't, apart from THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION) I would suggest watching before you embark on any of the films.

Disc Two

The Alpha Incident (1978)

Bill Rebane's take on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN sees a space probe bringing an infectious organism to earth from Mars. Due to a fair bit of incompetence the organism escapes at a railway station, resulting in those who are there having to isolate themselves indoors. Slow to the point of being ponderous, this nevertheless does offer a horrible mode of death by which the organism kills its victims when they fall asleep, and a genuinely bleak, grim tone that makes one wonder what people thought who saw this when it was released as the B feature to STAR WARS. 

The Demons of Ludlow (1983)

The tiny town of Ludlow (population 47) is celebrating its bicentennial when a piano is delivered from England. Apparently it belonged to the town's founder and just happens to harbour his ghost. I think. Because this one is a bit muddled and despite playing the scene where 'all is explained' twice I'm still not quite sure what was going on or why a 200 year old piano should sound like a synthesiser when it's played. But never mind that -  it's not the plot (which is basically John Carpenter's THE FOG with a piano. Yes that's right) that's the reason to watch this, but some peculiar and occasionally downright unsettling scenes involving the ghosts the piano somehow seems to harbour / conjure up when it's played. One suspects the gruesome effectiveness of these bits is by accident rather than design but if the films of Andy Milligan appeal to you (and they do to me) then you'll want to see this one. 

Extras include two more Bill Rebane 'Sharp Shooter' interviews about each film, trailers, and a video essay by Richard Harland Smith about THE ALPHA INCIDENT who makes some interesting connections to the COVID pandemic as well as revealing the film played as the B feature to not just STAR WARS but a number of other films as well. 

Disc Three

The Game (1984)

Three very rich people invite a disparate group of individuals to their isolated island mansion in order to take part in a game. The only rule is that if for any reason you leave the property your right to the prize money that's at stake is forfeit. Of course plenty of reasons for leaving the place have been planned by those in charge.

THE GAME boasts a reasonable idea and a very peculiar ending but as with the other films in this set, how well you'll get on with it will depend on your tolerance for the quality of the film-making (not that great) balanced against the concepts and ideas the film presents us with. Sadly there's not enough of the latter to make THE GAME worth sticking with unless you're forgiving, or planning to steal the idea to mount your own, better version of it.

Twister's Revenge! (1988)

Here we go with Bill Rebane's version of Knight Rider but with a talking monster truck and a bunch of hillbillies. Three incompetents decide to steal it, fail and so instead they kidnap the wife of the man who owns the truck and hold her to ransom. If you're a monster truck fan this will still only be the film for you if you like lengthy scenes of one driving all over the countryside and occasionally squashing something. TWISTER'S REVENGE is the kind of film that makes The Dukes of Hazzard TV series look like something by Christopher Nolan. Possibly useful as something to make children sit and watch if they've seriously misbehaved.

Extras on disc three include more of Mr Rebane's reminiscences on the above two films and one of the best extras on the set in which Stephen R Bissette gives us a video essay and talks about what it was like to discover Rebane's films as each one of them came out. 

Disc Four

It's all non-fiction on this disc, starting with Who Is Bill Rebane?  - a new feature length documentary on the film-maker, followed by King of the Wild Frontier in which Stephen R Bissette spends close to two hours talking about the director's films. You also get out-takes from THE ALPHA INCIDENT, THE DEMONS OF LUDLOW, and a trailer for THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, plus stills from the films that aren't included on the other discs.

Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection is a four disc Blu-ray set that's coming out from Arrow Video on Monday 24th May 2021

Friday, 14 May 2021

Radio On (1979)

"A Very Different, Very British Art House Road Movie"

Nowadays director Christopher Petit is best known as a documentary film-maker but back in 1979 he was a film critic about to make the move into feature films. This would lead to his 1982 adaption of P D James' AN UNSUITABLE JOB FOR A WOMAN and 1984's FLIGHT TO BERLIN, which was one of the early 'Film on Four' productions that premiered on the then-new Channel 4. First off, though, he made the fascinating RADIO ON in black and white, which is now getting a Blu-ray release through the BFI, who also originally made it in a co-production deal with a West German film company.

Robert (David Beames) lives above an art house cinema (showing Oshima's EMPIRE OF PASSION) in London and works as a DJ. When he learns of his brother's death he travels to Bristol to find out what happened, meeting a variety of characters both on the way and at his destination. These include Sting as an Eddie Cochran-obsessed garage attendant and Sandy Ratcliffe (best known for appearing in Eastenders and for playing the piano naked in Robert Fuest's THE FINAL PROGRAMME) as his brother's girlfriend. 

RADIO ON is very much a meditative odyssey through late 1970s Britain, its emphasis on both image and sound design not unlike that employed by David Lynch. The sound is frequently supplied by the songs of innovative musicians of the period including David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Wreckless Eric and Lene Lovich. Don't expect any big revelations or anything much resembling a plot because that's not the point. Instead it's more about what Britain was like then, both in terms of landscape and attitudes, both of which feel an age away now for those of us who were around at the time. The Bristol Robert ends up in little resembles the Bristol of today. 

The BFI's Blu-ray also includes, as extras, a new, nearly hour-long interview with the director by Vic Pratt, a detailed 54 minute analysis of the film by Jason Wood, a 2008 interview with Chris Petit by Keith Griffiths, a RADIO ON August 1998 'remix' of the soundtrack by Wire's Bruce Gilbert, Viv Albertine's short film COPING WITH CUPID, two public information films, L FOR LOGIC and THE MOTORWAY FILE, plus a trailer and image gallery.

Christopher Petit's RADIO ON is out on Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 17th May 2021