Sunday, 29 May 2022

Vampyr (1932)

"Superb Package For a Uniquely Strange Film"

Carl Dreyer's strange, fascinating, highly influential vampire picture gets a 90th anniversary Blu-ray release of a 2K restoration by the Danish Film Institute (that apparently took ten years) from Eureka.

'Dreamer' (so the opening text informs us) and H P Lovecraft lookalike Allan (or David depending on the version) Gray arrives in the small French village of Courtempierre, only to become immediately involved in strange goings-on. One of the two daughters of a rich family is sick. The cause may be an old lady who is in fact a vampire and aided by a weird doctor. Reality becomes blurred as Gray becomes more involved, imagining himself being buried alive and eventually discovering the tomb of the vampire, whom he stakes with a metal spike. 

Based on not just Carmilla but apparently Carl Dreyer's response to the entire collection of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's stories in which that novella first appeared (In a Glass Darkly), VAMPYR is a unique piece of genre film-making that, a little like the events its protagonist experiences, seems itself to exist somehow out of time. Released the year after Tod Browning's DRACULA (1931) had set the template for 'mainstream' horror. Dreyer's film is stubbornly experimental, light on both plot and action, and very much the art house piece.

Despite its poor distribution and lack of commercial success, watching it today  it's easy to see just how much many celebrated horror film-makers (especially Europeans) were influenced. One can imagine Jean Rollin viewing that narrow grandfather clock and thinking how he'd like to see a very thin vampire lady emerge from it (he also pinched the swivelling skull for his 1971 LE FRISSON DES VAMPIRES), and the cracked vampire's tomb at the end looks a lot like Dr Freudstein's at the climax of Lucio Fulci's 1981 HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY.

Eureka's disc comes packed with extras. There are two commentary tracks, one by film critic Tony Rayns and the other by film-maker Guillermo del Toro. Kim Newman has a 22 minute talking head piece in which he compares VAMPYR to Robert Eggers' THE WITCH, stating that if you're in the wrong mood when you watch these films you'll find them tedious but if you're in the right mood they'll haunt you for the rest of your life, and I'd definitely agree with him on that.

David Huckvale offers a superb and detailed breakdown of Wolfgang Zeller's music score, and Mr Huckvale is back to tell us more about In a Glass Darkly and its influence on the film. The Baron is a short film about Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg, VAMPYR's star, who essentially funded it in return for the lead role (and he's not bad at all), and Jorgen Roos' 1966 Dreyer documentary is on here too. Don't forget to watch the censored scenes, which offer more footage of the staking and of the evil doctor's climactic suffocation in the grain mill. Finally, you get a 100 page book featuring stills, interviews, and essays and the entire package is housed in a hardbound slipcase. 

The 90th Anniversary 2K Restoration of Carl Dreyer's VAMPYR is out from Eureka on Monday 30th May 2022

Saturday, 28 May 2022

Revolver (1973)

"A Cracking Oliver Reed Performance"

Following releases by Arrow, 88 Films and Fractured Visions, Eureka are also getting in on the poliziotteschi act by releasing Sergio Sollima's REVOLVER, which is out now on Blu-ray in a 1080p presentation from a 4K restoration.

Anna Cipriani (Agostina Belli), wife of prison warden Vito Cipriani (Oliver Reed) is kidnapped by a gang who demand the release of prisoner Milo Ruiz (Fabio Testi), but Milo seems to have no idea who would want to do this. Vito grudgingly arranges for Milo to escape but picks him up outside the prison and together the two form an unlikely team trying to puzzle out what's going on. Could it be to do with that politician we saw assassinated at the beginning in the film's only bit of unintentional hilarity?

Lacking the kind of outrageous stunts and car chases that make the best of the poliziotteschi genre so entertaining, Sergio Sollima's film goes for social commentary and the idea that even people like Vito are pawns in the machinations of people much higher up. Unfortunately this makes for a rather bland film. Thank goodness, then, for Oliver Reed, who delivers a fantastic, riveting performance that alone makes REVOLVER a must-see. He won't let you take his eyes off him when he's on-screen and more than makes up for the somewhat more wooden performances of his co-stars.

REVOLVER is presented on Eureka's Blu-ray in both Italian and English language versions. In terms of special features, the first thing worth pointing out is that there are two sets of subtitles, because the menu doesn't, so toggle around with your subtitle control to get the one you prefer. One is a direct transcription of the English language dub, the other is newly translated from the Italian. 

Other extras include the always listenable Stephen Thrower talking about both the film and the career of Sergio Sollima for just over twenty minutes, a new Kim Newman - Barry Forshaw commentary track, an archival commentary with Fabio Testi, trailers and radio spots. The first 2000 copies come with an 'O' card slipcase and a booklet with essays on the making of the film and Ennio Morricone's Eurocrime soundtracks.

Sergio Sollima's REVOLVER is out on Blu-ray from Eureka now

Friday, 20 May 2022

Ghosts of the Ozarks (2022)

"A Weird Western?"

And there just aren't enough of those, are there? So it's nice to see GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS getting a UK Digital release from Signature. 

We're in Arkansas just after the American Civil War. James (Thomas Hobson) is a medical man who has been invited by his uncle Matthew (Phil Morris) to come to the remote, isolated village of Norfork where a doctor is badly needed, the previous one having left under mysterious circumstances.

One evening James is beset in the forest by a man who tries to rob him of precious gems he doesn't have. Escaping he encounters a red smoke that seems to contain monsters, after which he almost immediately finds himself at the walled town of Norfork.

It's an odd place. David Arquette keeps trying to sell James hats. The bartender is blind and his wife (genre favourite Angela Bettis) plays the piano in a bar displaying paintings of people dancing in a ring and watched over by horned demons  Pretty soon James comes to realise that there's a lot that's weirder and more sinister going on in Norfork than just eccentric behaviour.

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS isn't bad at all. The central idea is sound and the acting is fine. The problem lies with the direction and photography, both of which are flat and uninspired, giving the endeavour a 1970s TV episode look but without the graininess. As a result it's very difficult to think you're looking at anything other than actors on a set or a backlot. And that's a shame because with a bit more style and panache GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS could have been something with a very pleasingly weird atmosphere indeed. 

Better music would also have been an immense help, especially at the climax and I cannot help but point the finger and Director of Photography, Composer and Co-Director Matt Glass who may have just taken on a bit more than was strictly a good idea. One suspects budgetary constraints made it a necessity, because for all the professionalism on the acting front GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS still feels less a production by experienced film-makers and more a super ambitious student project. You can't fault them for trying, though, and despite what I've said above I actually found GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS well worth a watch, both for its ideas and the extent of its ambitions. Here's the trailer:

GHOSTS OF THE OZARKS is out on Digital from Signature on 23rd May 2022

Monday, 16 May 2022

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse (2022)

Back in 2015, writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner's Australian zombie apocalypse horror comedy WYRMWOOD received its UK premiere at Glasgow Frightfest, where I said it had 'excellent pacing, superb characters and an original take on a well-worn theme'. Seven years later we have the sequel. WYRMWOOD:APOCALYPSE also premiered at Glasgow Frightfest and is getting a Blu-ray and Digital release from 101 Films.

If you haven't seen WYRMWOOD you may want to give that a watch first because the sequel follows straight on, featuring many of the same characters (and actors, although sadly no Leon Burchill as Benny). After an action-packed opening we meet Luke, who powers his shack using zombies on exercise bikes and spends his days finding specimens for the Surgeon (Nicholas Boshier from the excellent TV sketch show The Moth Effect).

Ostensibly these specimens are being used to find a cure for the zombie plague, but all is not as it seems. Luke joins forces with Barry and Brooke, the brother-sister team from the first film (Brooke is some kind of hybrid zombie, by the way), makes other allies along the way, and the whole thing comes to an ultra-gory climax.

For a film that looks like its budget was even lower than its predecessor (most of the action takes place outside and the only sets are a couple of tin sheds and a trestle table), WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is a well made, vigorous action picture that never stops except to blow even more arms and legs off. It's clear that a lot of enthusiasm was put into making it and that sense of joy in creating all the mischievous mayhem is infectious. There's not a lot of plot, or character development, or anything other than gore and action, but WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is fun, which is exactly what it's there for.

WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE is out from 101 Films on Digital and Blu-ray on Monday 16th May 2022

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror (1941, 1957, 1958)

Three classic Universal monster pictures have finally found their way onto UK Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka. All three have been available on Region A in the US for some time but even if you have those versions the new extras here may well tempt you to double dip. So let's see what we've got:

Man Made Monster (1941)

'Dynamo' Dan (Lon Chaney Jr) is a circus performer whose act has him playing with electricity and having sparks jump between his fingers. That's all the incentive Mad Dr Paul Rigas (the unparalleled Lionel Atwill who is always Mad with a capital 'M') needs to use Dan as a guinea pig in his experiments to create a race of electrically-powered supermen who can kill with just a touch. They just need to be careful of sharp metallic objects that can earth said electricity.

         Titled THE ELECTRIC MAN on its original UK release (the censor objected to the use of the word 'Monster'), MAN MADE MONSTER is a brisk (the running time clocks in at about an hour) and thoroughly entertaining mad scientist picture. 

The extra on Eureka's disc is a commentary track from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman which is entertaining, fact-packed and compliments the commentary by Tom Weaver and Constantine Nasr that can be found on the US Blu-ray as part of Volume Three of Scream Factory's Universal Horrors Collection. 

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Universal had forsaken gothic horror for science fiction a couple of years prior to the arrival of THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, which offered a different kind of threat from giant arthropods or bug-eyed space monsters. This time mankind has to fight rocks that grow rapidly into tall columns when they come into contact with water. The columns fall, the rock shatters and the process begins again. THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is an interesting and successful attempt at depicting a different kind of alien invader, and it's all helped immensely by everything being played dead straight.

The new commentary here is from Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby. Those who already have the US disc with its two commentaries should be advised that  Lyons and Rigby manage to include enough different material to make this track invaluable too and as always with their work it makes for engaging and entertaining listening.

Monster on the Campus (1958) 

The least of the films in Eureka's set has Arthur Franz's college Professor discovering a specimen of prehistoric fish. Through the usual 'mad science' (this time it's gamma rays) the blood of the fish causes him to turn into a hairy apeman who goes on the rampage. Not Universal's finest 77 minutes, MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS nevertheless benefits from the direction of Jack Arnold (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, TARANTULA and many others) and if nothing else is a good example of the kind of 'B' movie programmer that tended to be the inspiration for later satirical subjects. 

Stephen Jones and Kim Newman are back for the commentary track for this one and approach the material with just the right mix of respect and irreverence. Again, their track nicely compliments the two available on Scream Factory's Region A disc.

The bottom line: If you don't have these films and harbour any love for or interest in the old black and white Universal monster movies then this set is essential. If you already have the US discs then you may well want this set as well as there's enough material here to make them worthwhile double dipping for. The set also comes with a slipcase and a booklet with new writing on the film from Craig Ian Mann.

Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror is out from Eureka in a 
     two-disc Region B Blu-ray set on Monday 11th April 2022

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Father of Flies (2021)

After its UK premiere at Grimmfest Ben Charles Edwards' weird, unnerving and ultimately discombobulating fairy tale horror piece gets a digital release courtesy of 101 Films.

Two children live with their father in an isolated house in the forest. There's the implication that their mother is now in a mental institution. The father, Richard (Nicholas Tucci) has a new lover, Coral (Camilla Rutherford) who has moved in and is pregnant. Teenaged daughter Donna (Page Ruth) acts out while younger son Michael (Keaton Tetlow) starts having visions of something lurking in the house. One night the mother, Linda (Sandra Andreis) returns for her children. Or does she? And why does Coral wear that strange mask? And only intermittently? What's actually going on? Are things unfolding in real time, or is an event from the past now haunting the present?

I don't have any answers because FATHER OF FLIES doesn't seem to either. The fractured narrative suggests a disaster that happened in the past but what's happening in the present just doesn't tie up with it. There's certainly a strong vibe of the traditional fairy tale here (house in the woods, wicked stepmother, father has to go away on a trip) and at at least two points the television is showing documentaries about how cuckoos and parasitic insects usurp a household to replace it with their own young. 

Ultimately, the reason to watch FATHER OF FLIES is because of its imagery which is strange, scary and deliciously disturbing. If Ben Charles Edwards had sorted his narrative out, or at least made it a bit clearer, then this could have been a minor classic, but at least by the end the title makes sense. As it is we have a film with plenty of weird stuff that doesn't really add up, but does make for a cracking trailer. And here it is:

FATHER OF FLIES is out on digital from 101 Films on Monday 11th April 2022

Friday, 8 April 2022

You Are Not My Mother (2022)

"Gritty, Grim, Childhood Nightmare Art House Horror"

Fresh from its UK premiere at Glasgow Frightfest, Kate Dolan's YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER is getting a UK cinema and digital release this month.

When Char (Hazel Doupe) was a baby, her grandmother Rita (Ingrid Craigie) tried to burn her alive in a ritual in the nearby forest. Now a teenager, it's Char's mother Angela (Carolyn Bracken) who is Char's greatest concern. Only occasionally surfacing from the near-coma of profound depression, things reach crisis point when Angela disappears. But a few days later she's back, and a brighter, happier Angela she seems to be. But is it her mother that has returned, or something else?

Meanwhile Char has other problems. She's doing well at school but is repeatedly bullied by a group of girls on her way home, and on one occasion she accidentally interrupts their scavenging for material for the imminent Halloween bonfire. Is everything going to tie together? Are supernatural forces at work? And what's Char's grandmother actually up to in that opening scene?

YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER is slow burn, possibly a bit too slow for some. But those who have shorter attention spans are advised to stick with it because the final act is excellent - scary, unnerving, and with all kinds of implications. For older readers of this site, it's the kind of story that would have been ideal as part of the BBC's Play For Today strand with its combination of social commentary, coming of age story, and a good dose of the weird as well. Dolan knows how to set up (and build up to) some properly disturbing sequences, and there's imagery in here that will stay with you long after the film is over. Good stuff. Here's the trailer:

YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER is out from Signature Entertainment in UK Cinemas and on Digital on Friday 8th April 2022