Sunday, 19 May 2019

Killer Weekend (2018)


"Genuinely Funny & Likeable Horror Comedy"

Shown at last year's Frightfest under the title FUBAR, Ben Kent's horror comedy is getting a release on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment.
Sam (Sean Verey) is on his stag weekend. Along for the ride are his closest friends, plus his prospective father-in-law Gerald (Mark Heap from SPACED. BIG TRAIN, GREEN WING and lots of other more recent stuff). they're all off on a Zombie Apocalypse Weekend organised by a company consisting of ex-squaddies. After a bit of training they're sent off into lonely English countryside, but things don't go according to plan.


That's about all the Frightfest festival summary said when I leafed through the programme last year. Consequently, to my folly, I gave FUBAR / KILLER WEEKEND a miss because the last thing I wanted to watch at that point was yet another zombie comedy (I also missed ONE CUT OF THE DEAD which just reinforced my suspicion that I have to watch everything). 


But KILLER WEEKEND isn't that at all. Instead it's a lot like a British version of US comedy horror hit TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL. In that film we also encounter some hapless but likeable individuals who through accident and incompetence end up causing multiple unintentional deaths. And that's exactly what happens here. Sam and his friends end up mistakenly killing one of the squaddies and soon the other ex-soldiers are out for revenge. The bodies begin to pile up and KILLER WEEKEND becomes an entertainingly hilarious take on RIO BRAVO and any number of John Carpenter siege movies. 


This kind of ensemble comedy (and especially horror comedy) can easily go horribly wrong, but Kent is blessed with a group of actors who have excellent chemistry together, and who manage in their performances to straddle skilfully the line between making their characters likeable whilst also behaving like idiots.


Kent himself acquits himself admirably in his debut as a director, with set-ups and timing that make you feel as if he's been doing this for years. Watching KILLER WEEKEND I wondered if Kent perhaps had the same kind of background as Stuart Gordon, whose similarly funny and horrific REANIMATOR was the work of a man who had accrued plentiful experience in theatre before turning to film.


KILLER WEEKEND is another cracking release from Frightfest Presents that proves the low budget British horror comedy is still alive and kicking and tripping and pratfalling onto something sharp and pointy at just the right moment. Recommended. 

KILLER WEEKEND is out on the Frightfest Presents label on VOD now. 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Siren (2019)


"Touching Folk Horror Love Story"

Yes that's right. Perry Blackshear's THE SIREN (shown earlier this year at Glasgow Frightfest under the title THE RUSALKA) is all of the above and more. It's coming out as part of the Frightfest Presents series from Signature Entertainment, and it might just be the best film they've brought out on this label so far.


Tom (Evan Dumouchel from THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, another House of Mortal Cinema favourite) has been unable to speak since an accident he had while swimming. He rents an isolated cabin next to a lake with the intention of taking a break from the stifling religious community he is a member of. When he arrives at the cabin he finds a note warning him not to go swimming in the lake because of the number of people who have drowned there recently.


One of the drowning victims is the husband of Al (MacLeod Andrews) who believes his lover was pulled under the water by a Rusalka, the reincarnated spirit of a girl who drowned herself in the lake and is now a demon who cannot leave the water and is cursed to hunt for new victims.


The Rusalka's name is Nina (Margaret Ying Drake). She sets her eyes on Tom but ends up falling in love with him, and he with her. But with Al on the prowl with a variety of garden tools at his disposal, can their love survive? 


THE SIREN is beautifully filmed, sensitively acted and very well directed indeed. Each of the three main characters are so well rounded and developed that you feel the pain and joy of each of them. It's a very difficult feat to evoke a measured balance between loving tenderness and 'monster' horror but writer-director Perry Blackshear makes it look effortless. 


Don't expect lots of blood, gore, or nudity, however. THE SIREN is much more a horror fan's 'chill-out' picture. It's lovely to look at, lovely to take in, and the whole experience is actually rather lovely for the soul. I thought it was excellent. Highly recommended and one of my House of Mortal Cinema films of the year. 

Perry Blackshear's THE SIREN is out on DVD and Digital HD on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment on Monday 20th May 2019


Friday, 10 May 2019

The Annihilators (1985)


"Terrific Trash Entertainment"

DEATH WISH 3 meets THE A TEAM in this movie that any bad film club would be proud to show, and which Arrow has just now gathered the nerve to release on Blu-ray.

A metaphor for how THE ANNIHILATORS was directed?
We start off in the Vietnam war, where our crack team of five soon-to-be vets have to defeat a couple of enemy soldiers in surroundings that look less like the forbidding jungles of APOCALYPSE NOW and more like a nice field that might easily be accessed by a main road out of Los Angeles.

A villain!
We flash forward to the present and a caption tells us we are in the town of Atlanta Now. One of the team, in saving his buddies back in 'nam, has ended up in a wheelchair and now lives in a rundown part of town where gang violence is rife. One gang in particular is threatening his neighbourhood through a combination of bad acting and ludicrous appearances. One has a silly voice, one looks like Charles Dance on steroids, and their leader appears to be the son of Worzel Gummidge.

Worzel and his gang
Worzel Jr kills our hapless legless veteran with a meat tenderiser and soon the old team are getting back together to take on organised crime in downtown Atlanta, roping in all the locals to give them a hand. 

A tense moment
None of the above really does justice to what a marvellously entertaining bit of daft old rubbish THE ANNIHILATORS is. It's not just that the direction is stilted, that a lot of the acting is delivered with all the passion of a frozen leg of lamb or that the music sounds like someone who doesn't know very much trying out the keyboards in his local music shop.

A tiny vest
Thrill to all that weird graffiti! The bizarre product placement! The frequent obvious spelling mistakes on signs! Can you spot the camera crew in the reflection of our heroes' van? We could! 

Product placement!
The extras on Arrow's disc are a couple of ten minute featurettes. one where star Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is interviewed, the other is a piece on director Charles E Sellier Jr by film-maker Davil O'Malley. You also get a rather absurdly drawn out 'censorship comparison' showing the two seconds of a stab wound that was cut by the BBFC some time back but which has since been restored.


Action!
There's the usual reversible sleeve with artwork by the always excellent Graham Humphreys but no booklet, presumably because anyone asked to do it sat as open-mouthed as you will by the time THE ANNIHILATORS is over. 


The riotously enjoyable daft-fest that is THE ANNIHILATORS is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 13 May 2019

Monday, 6 May 2019

November (2017)


"Compellingly Beautiful Weird Art House Fantasy"

Beautifully shot black and white fairy tale weirdness abounds as Eureka brings out Rainer Sarnet's film version of Andrus Kivirähk's bestselling novel Rehepapp on Blu-ray.


We're in the pagan Estonian equivalent of Brothers Grimm fairytale land. Plague roams the land - literally, when it isn't asking to be carried across a river in the form of a beautiful girl or taking on various animal forms. When a young Baroness comes to visit the local chateau owned by Dieter HUMAN CENTIPEDE Laser, young village lad Hans falls head over heels in love with her. 


Young village lass Lina is in love with Hans and soon both of them are making deals with shady witches and possibly even Satan himself in exchange for love potions and spells to make things even more complicated.


Meanwhile it turns out you can escape the plague if you wear your trousers on your head because then the pestilence will be confused and think you have two bottoms. And then there are the supernatural kraats - creatures made from discarded bones and tree branches - who have to be kept busy or they turn nasty.


NOVEMBER is two hours of gorgeous, hypnotic, compelling black and white cinematography. The plot doesn't exactly take centre stage here but the imagery is so glorious it doesn't really matter. As you may have gathered from the above the movie has a Terry Gilliam by way of Carl Dreyer feel - a bizarre and off-kilter mix of scatological gags and dreamlike shots that make you want to freeze frame.


Eureka's disc offers you the option of switching off the subtitles and there's a trailer. Purchasers of the first pressing will also get a booklet with an essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. 


NOVEMBER is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 13th May 2019

Friday, 3 May 2019

In the Aftermath (1988)


"Curious New World Pictures Mash-Up Job"

Some time back on here I reviewed Arrow Films' release of one time New World Pictures boss Roger Corman's 1966's production BLOOD BATH, a film made by taking bits of another film, shooting some new footage, and cobbling the whole thing together to make a (sort of) sense.


Well here's another example of that practice, albeit one that manages it far less successfully. Carl Colpaert's IN THE AFTERMATH starts off with scenes from Mamoru Oshii's 1985 anime ANGEL'S EGG, a film about a young girl carrying an egg she has been tasked with protecting through a desolate and mysterious city. 


We have a bit of this and then we switch to live action footage of two men in gas masks crossing a post-apocalyptic landscape. One of them, Frank, keeps having visions of the girl holding the egg. Sometimes these are footage from Oshii's movie, sometimes it's more live action stuff. Is it possible that the egg could hold the key to saving both worlds?


IN THE AFTERMATH is a curious 72 minutes. It's nowhere near as successful in melding its plundered elements with the 'new' footage as BLOOD BATH is, and anyone familiar with Oshii's work (GHOST IN THE SHELL is probably the best known) will find it rather peculiar to see bits of another film of his chopped about in this way. 


Extras on Arrow's disc include new interviews with producer Tom Dugan and star Tony Markes, and an appreciation of Mamoru Oshii's work by anime expert Andrew Osmond. Purchasers of the first pressing also get a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Jon Towison.



IN THE AFTERMATH is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 6th May 2019

Friday, 26 April 2019

Cujo (1983)


"Nice Doggy.....?"

Lewis Teague's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's CUJO gets an impressive two disc Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka.
Cujo the St Bernard is out chasing bunnies when he gets his nose stuck in an old tree stump. Unfortunately it leads into a cave of rabid bats. Soon poor old Cujo's had his nose bitten and he's developing a severe case of the runny eyes, the drools, and the being covered in what looks like muds.


This is bad news for Cujo's car repairman redneck owner (Ed Lauter) and his friend, and it spells trouble of the trapped in the car with her six year old son kind for Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace), who finds herself under siege in her broken down old banger while a great big drooly powerhouse tank of a mad dog waits outside to get her, when he's not ramming the car doors.


The early 1980s was the era of Stephen King adaptations. Most of them weren't very good, but CUJO actually is, thanks to good performances and a skilled team behind the scenes who went all out to make the best film they could. 
Eureka's 1080p presentation looks a bit better than the Lionsgate 25th anniversary region free Blu-ray 2007 release. Ported over is the 47 minute making of, but you don't get the Lewis Teague commentary that came with that disc.


You do however get a new commentary track from Lee Gambin, who wrote the book on the making of and does a fine job of packing as many facts about the production in as he can. It certainly made me want to take a look at his book Nope Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of CUJO.
New to the Eureka disc are over three hours (!) of new interviews with Dee Wallace, composer Charles Bernstein, stuntman Gary Morgan, stuntwoman Jean Colter, casting director Marcia Ross, dog trainer Teresa Miller, visual effects artist Kathie Lawrence, and special effects designer Robert Clark.


On disc two you get 100 minutes of Lee Gambin interviewing Dee Wallace at the Cinemaniacs and Monster Fest 2015 convention. It's slightly fuzzy and shot from one angle only but it's good to have. Also on the second disc is nearly half an hour of Kim Newman talking about Stephen King adaptations in general and CUJO in particular and it's up to his usual excellent standard. 


There's also a 60 page booklet with new writing on the film by Lee Gambin (does the man have anything left to say?), Scott Harrison and Craig Ina Mann, and the entire package is boxed within a hardbound slipcase with a Graham Humphreys cover. A superb release. 


Lewis Teague's CUJO is released in a special two disc set (4000 units only) on Monday 29th April 2019

Monday, 22 April 2019

George Hilton - The World Belongs to the Daring (2019)


"Excellent Documentary of a Living Legend of Italian Cinema"

Here's something of a House of Mortal Cinema exclusive - a film so hot off the presses (or rather the digital editing suite) that it's still at the stage of being considered for festivals prior to securing a distribution deal. 
GEORGE HILTON - THE WORLD BELONGS TO THE DARING (GEORGE HILTON - IL MONDO E DEGLI AUDACI) is a feature-length documentary about the life and career of one of the most famous and ubiquitous stars of Italian cinema's heyday. Best known nowadays for his starring roles in Westerns (SARTANA'S HERE... TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, GUNS FOR DOLLARS) and gialli (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL), Hilton's movie career started in 1959 and continues to the present day. 


Daniel Camargo's excellent documentary has Hilton himself telling us his life story, added to and embellished by interviews with a whole array of stars, directors and producers from his career. You'll want to know why Hilton got thrown out of a restaurant he went to with Klaus Kinski, plus his memories of other co-stars including Carroll Baker, Van Heflin, Anita Strindberg and of course Edwige Fenech.
At one point Sartana star Gianni Garko pops in to chat and he and George enter in some fascinating reminiscences about working in the Italian Western genre. We also get thoughts and memories from directors such as Enzo G Castellari, Sergio Martino and Luigi Cozzi, as well as contributions from family members.


Shot with a crisp style and edited sensitively, GEORGE HILTON - THE WORLD BELONGS TO THE DARING manages to pack an enormous amount of information into its 106 minute running time. I certainly learned plenty of things I didn't know, and was made aware of quite a few films I'd never heard of before. 
There are plenty of clips from Hilton's filmography throughout but Camargo's film-making skills ensure that the natural charm, charisma and likeability of its subject takes precedence. And full marks for including that terrific poster gallery that plays out next to the end credits. Essential viewing for any student of Italian cinema and anyone interested in an era of movie making that sadly is no more. Definitely catch this one at festivals if you get the chance. 


My thanks to director / writer / producer Daniel Camargo for enabling me to view GEORGE HILTON - IL MONDO E DEGLI AUDACI. Here's the trailer: