Thursday 26 September 2013

Creepshow (1982)

While there have been a number of anthology horror movies that have tried to capture the look and feel of the old-fashioned horror comics of the 1950s and 1960s, none have managed to do it with quite the degree of panache or success as 1982’s CREEPSHOW. The result of  three creative horror practitioners working at the top of their game (screenwriter Stephen King, director George Romero and make-up effects artist Tom Savini), it’s hard for those of us who saw this on its initial release to accept that the film is now over thirty years old. But you can’t keep a good horror movie down, and CREEPSHOW is about to be given a new lease of life thanks to a stunning new Blu-ray transfer, available soon from Second Sight films.
Little Billy (Stephen King’s son Joe, now of course a writer himself) gets caught by mirthless father Tom Atkins reading his Creepshow horror comic. Into the bin it goes, but that’s only the beginning of the story. The creepy host of the comic appears at Billy’s window, and a freak wind blows the lid off the bin to unfurl the comic’s pages, revealing to us the five short stories that take up the majority of the movie’s two-hour running time.
First up is Father’s Day, in which dead, rotting Nathan Grantham comes back from the grave to strangle his murderer, Aunt Bedelia (a superbly mad Viveca Lindfors, an age away from Joseph Losey’s THESE ARE THE DAMNED). In search of his Father's Day cake he bumps off as many of her immediate relatives as he can as well. It’s a great opener, featuring a splendid zombie resurrection sequence, some gorgeous use of colour filters that are all the more vivid in this transfer, and a jolly ending - I got my cake indeed!
Part of the joy of anthology films is their potential to vary in tone, and The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill is by far the lightest segment on offer here. Farmboy Jordy (Stephen King himself, no actor but giving it all he’s got) gets into trouble when he touches a meteorite that crash lands in his field. Soon grass is growing everywhere, including everywhere on Jordy. Based on an aborted King novel that was to be entitled ‘Weeds’, the story is almost a solo piece and while King tries hard, he isn’t quite up to carrying it.
Something to Tide You Over is next, and is actually my favourite segment. Rich, possessive cuckolded husband Leslie Nielson buries his wife (Gaylen Ross) and lover (Ted Danson) on the beach, allowing the incoming sea to slowly drown them. Of course, to quote a King story title ‘Sometimes They Come Back’ and in a George Romero film they’re definitely going to - as zombies.
The longest story is The Crate and features Fluffy the Arctic Monster on the rampage at a small town university, once he’s freed from the box where he’s been sleeping for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Hal Holbrook sees it as the ideal opportunity to dispose of his awful wife (Adrienne Barbeau in top comedy form) but then he has to get rid of the monster, too.
There were all kinds of problems with the filming of the last tale, They’re Creeping Up On You, mainly because it involves half a million cockroaches that invade the sterile apartment of rich, villainous Upson Pratt (E G Marshall). King’s story The Hitch Hiker (that can be seen in CREEPSHOW 2) was almost substituted instead, but fortunately everything eventually went to plan, which means you get to see the story that was intended to end the movie on a decidedly over the top and horrific note. It’s then time for a brief coda featuring Tom Savini as a dustman, and Billy getting his revenge on his dad and, that’s it - possibly the most fun you can have watching a two hour tribute to the comics of yesteryear.
Second Sight’s Blu-ray is a definite step up in quality from the previous 2007 Region 2 double disc release from Universal. Detailing is clear and sharp (it’s now possible to see just how good Savini’s Creep puppet and other creations are) and, as mentioned above, the lighting in the first story (and in The Crate) is comparable with Bava. There is some dirt visible on the frame at times and during The Crate there's some noticeable speckling on the far right of the screen. The disc offers both Stereo 2.0 and DTS 5.1 sound options, and all the extras from the previous release have been ported over. These include a commentary track with Romero and Savini, a feature length making-of entitled Just Desserts, Behind the Screams with Tom Savini - a lengthy featurette looking at how the effects were achieved, fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, a trailer, a TV spot and a slide gallery. New to this 2013 release is an extra  commentary track that’s been put together by Red Shirt Productions’ Michael Felsher, who was also responsible for the extras on the 2007 disc. Felsher has done a grand job of tracking down the people who weren’t profiled in depth on the Just Desserts documentary and interviewing them. It’s these interviews with cinematographer Michael Gornick, actor John Amplas, property master Alan Green and make up effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci (he’s the chap inside Fluffy as well) that make up this second commentary track, and a very welcome addition it is too.
The movie’s gorgeous transfer, coupled with every extra fans could possibly want, easily makes Second Sight’s CREEPSHOW Blu-ray the ultimate collector’s version of this classic horror movie. Highly recommended.

Second Sight are releasing George A Romero's CREEPSHOW on Region B Blu-ray on 28th October 2013 - just in time for Hallowe'en!

Monday 23 September 2013

Spider Baby (1968)

A weird, quirky, curious and just plain odd little item from 1968, if there is one film UK cult DVD and Blu-ray company Arrow was created to release, it would be Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY. Never before afforded a release in the UK, it’s only fitting that the wait has been worth it, with a decent transfer to Blu-ray in a set that also includes a version on DVD as well as a bundle of extras.
In a crumbling old manor house situated in the California Gothic Nowhere of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, Lon Chaney Jr plays Bruno, who acts as guardian to the sole surviving members of the Merrye family. They all suffer from the syndrome of the same name. Merrye’s Syndrome is characterised by ‘mental regression’ from late childhood, resulting in adults who have gone so far back down the evolutionary scale that they become cannibals. Ralph (Sid Haig) is the most regressed of the three, now barely able to wear his Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, while teenaged Virginia (Jill Banner) believes herself to be a spider and spends her days trying to catch human prey in her makeshift webs. When Bruno has to go into town Elizabeth (Beverly Washburn) is left in charge, only for Virginia to murder the mailman (Mantan Moreland) who has brought documents announcing the imminent arrival of greedy distant relative Emily (Carol Ohmart) who intends to take possession of the property. She’s accompanied by her brother Peter (Quinn Redeker), lawyer Schlocker (Karl Schanzer) and his secretary Ann (Mary Mitchel).
What follows is a horror comedy of the blackest kind. Despite this, and despite the film being firmly on the side of the monsters, to draw comparisons between SPIDER BABY and other similar horror-family-themed black and white productions like THE ADDAMS FAMILY or THE MUNSTERS would be wrong. Far from ultimately being good-hearted family entertainment, Jack Hill’s peculiar and endearing little film is far weirder and crazier than that, even if it is essentially good natured. A one-of-a-kind project that has to be experienced for one to fully appreciate its unique atmosphere, SPIDER BABY benefits from superb, natural performances from all concerned, as well as the kind of cheerful, anarchic sense of anything goes that would subsequently inform Freddie Francis’ superb MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY & GIRLY. The two movies also share a sneaking, insidious almost mischievous sexiness that makes it anything but family entertainment. Hill directs well within the confines of an almost cripplingly low budget and manages some nice scary and disturbing visuals, especially when it turns out that older members of the family aren’t dead, but are buried down in the cellar anyway.
As mentioned above, if there was one film Arrow should have on their catalogue of cult releases it’s this, and their double disc Blu-ray and DVD set doesn’t disappoint. There is a wealth of extra material, most of which has been ported over from the Region 0 Dark Sky DVD release of 2007 which itself was an improvement over the Region 1 Image Entertainment disc from 1999. The extras include: an audio commentary by Jack Hill and Sid Haig which is constantly informative and amusing; a thirty minute documentary entitled ‘The Hatching of Spider Baby’ where an astonishing number of the cast and crew turn out to be both still alive and intelligible enough to interview; a lovely little nine minute short about the film music career of Ronald Stein (‘Spider Stravinsky’) that could and should have been longer; ‘The Merrye House Revisited’ in which Jack Hill goes back to the location of his movie; an alternate opening title sequence bearing the movie’s original title card of Cannibal Orgy, and an extended scene. 
      New to the Arrow release are a panel discussion recorded last year between Jack Hill and stars Quinn Redeker and Beverly Washburn; THE HOST(1960) - a student film made by Jack Hill and starring Sid Haig; and the usual lovely Graham Humphreys artwork gracing a reversible sleeve. Extras from the Image disc that have not been carried over include an older commentary track solely by Jack Hill, footage from a cast and crew reunion in the late 1990s at the Nuart Theatre in LA, and Joe Dante’s notes about the movie, but if you’re a SPIDER BABY obsessive you’ll probably have that disc and be hanging onto it anyway. If you’re not a SPIDER BABY obsessive well, that’s just because you haven’t seen the film yet, and Arrow’s lovely set is the perfect way to remedy that.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Squirm (1976)

Squirm is one of those horror pictures that’s always held a very special place in my heart. Even though I didn’t get to see the film until a few years ago (in the form of MGM’s Region 1 DVD, in fact) I’ve been aware of SQUIRM pretty much ever since I started loving this genre of ours. Back then, the now-iconic still of actor R A Dow waist deep in worms seemed to be in every publication of the time from House of Hammer magazine to the title page of Alan Frank’s book Horror Films. The biggest delight in finally catching up with Jeff Lieberman’s 1976 eco-horror was the fact that, despite the degree of anticipation I had for it, it still didn’t disappoint. And therein, I think, lies the secret of SQUIRM’s success - it delivers exactly what it promises. Boasting one of the best exploitation titles ever for an eco-horror movie (it’s going to make you squirm about worms, oh yes indeed it is) SQUIRM is just about to be released on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray by Arrow Films, and if you haven’t seen this one yet, this is absolutely the time to catch up with it.
Possibly the only horror film in history to feature both a ginger hero and heroine (unless of course any of you know better) SQUIRM starts, after a crawl about the story you are about to see being true (ho ho) with some skilfully edited stock footage of an electric pylon coming down during a thunder storm,. The severed cables deliver a huge electrical charge to the rain-soaked worm-filled mud, turning the creepy-crawlies into flesh eaters. At the same time, flooding cuts off the backwoods hick town of Fly Creek in Georgia, meaning that as night falls (the worms don’t like light, you see) it’s time for a fight to the death against more worms besieging a single house than could possibly ever live in the ground in one county, let alone one town.
Apparently half a million worms were used in the filming of SQUIRM - half of them real, half of them fake. It’s not difficult to tell which is which, but by the time the rubber ones turn up you won’t mind. Jeff Lieberman’s movie builds slowly and skilfully, introducing a couple of genuinely likeable leads (Don Scardino and Patricia Pearcy, cast from New York) as well as a collection of locals cast on the hoof who provide some interesting colour as well as increasing the movie’s already authentic feel due to the appropriately grotty and rain-drenched locations. Special mention has to go to R A Dow, a New York method actor who apparently immersed himself in the town where SQUIRM was filmed in order to perfect his performance as Roger the Worm Farmer’s Son. He’s also the one who gets to model one of Rick Baker’s early effects - a crawlingly unpleasant combination of prosthetics that make it look as if worms are burrowing into his face. Even with the glory of this beautiful Blu-ray transfer (which this most certainly is) Baker’s effects still look convincing enough to make you...well, you guessed it.
As usual, Arrow have gone the extra mile to make sure SQUIRM has an entertaining package of extras. Ported over from the MGM Region 1 disc is a commentary track by Jeff Lieberman that’s informative, amusing, and well worth a listen. There’s also a filmed Q&A session with Lieberman and star Don Scardino from New York’s Anthology Film Archives presentation of the movie in 2012. Kim Newman provides a thoughtful piece on the movie, and talks about Lieberman’s oeuvre and how SQUIRM fits in with other eco-horror pictures of the time, noting quite reasonably that it’s more like Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS with worms than JAWS, the movie that kick-started the whole late 1970s eco-horror boom. There’s a trailer, reversible sleeve art, and a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film. 
SQUIRM is one of the very best eco-horrors of the 1970s, a subgenre that included William Shatner trying to outact thousands of tarantulas in Bud Cardos’ KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, Joan Collins running away from enormous insects in Bert I Gordon’s EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and a giant bear fighting a helicopter in William Girdler’s GRIZZLY,  All those films are marvellous, but SQUIRM is the best of the lot. If you haven’t seen it then treat yourself to this outstanding slice of gory, wriggly mayhem.

Arrow Films are releasing Jeff Lieberman's SQUIRM on DVD &
 Blu-ray on 23rd September 2013

Saturday 14 September 2013

The Brood (1979)

At last! David Cronenberg’s classic 1979 body horror picture (his third after having made SHIVERS and RABID) receives the treatment it deserves on UK BluRay and DVD. It’s been a long time coming but hopefully, as this review will reveal, it’s been worth the wait.
Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is becoming increasingly concerned about the treatment of his ex-wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics. As if being a patient at a David Cronenberg Hospital for Body Horror isn’t bad enough, the place also happens to be run by Oliver Reed who plays institute head Dr Hal Raglan. Raglan’s experiments have centred on psychiatric patients making their symptoms, and especially their rage, physical. As Nola’s increasingly psychotic anger is vented during her sessions, brutal murders begin to befall those at whom it’s directed. When Frank’s daughter is abducted he is led to Raglan’s institute and a final deliciously gruesome confrontation that, if you are not familiar with it, is not going to be spoiled for you by this review.
THE BROOD represented an important milestone in David Cronenberg’s career. It was his first film to be made with Canada’s Filmplan International, with whom he went on to make SCANNERS (1981) and VIDEODROME (1983); it was his first film to have a reasonable budget, allowing him to employ two major movie stars; and it was the first of his films to feature the creative team he would work with on his next few projects (including art director Carol Spier whose book cover design for Raglan’s The Shape of Rage was used to illustrate pretty much everything written about the director at the time, and director of photography Mark Irwin) and in the case of Howard Shore it would result in a composer-director relationship that exists to this day.
It also garnered Cronenberg some excellent critical notices. This is hardly surprising as it was a film written and made from the heart. At the time of its release  Cronenberg referred to it as his version of KRAMER VS KRAMER, the storyline arising from his own experiences with his recent divorce and attempts to gain child custody. The script for what would end up as his next film, SCANNERS, had already been written (under the title THE SENSITIVES) but THE BROOD was the film Cronenberg had to admit to himself he needed to make next, and the integrity of his intentions permeates the film.
        THE BROOD has been treated rather badly on UK home video over the years. VHS transfers have always used the slightly trimmed UK print. The two-disc Anchor Bay DVD set released in 2005 tried to redress the problem, providing the UK cut on one disc and the uncut US print on a second. Unfortunately the US print was taken from an NTSC master which meant there was a loss of picture quality.
Second Sight’s new BluRay transfer is, therefore, exactly what UK fans of this movie have been waiting for. The print is uncut and the transfer is clean and bright, making it without a doubt the best version of THE BROOD available. The DVD Second Sight are also releasing utilises the same source print. The previous Anchor Bay release had as its only significant extra a documentary on David Cronenberg from the ‘Directors Series’. This has not been ported over to the Second Sight release but instead they’ve gone the extra mile and provided us with some BROOD-specific goodies instead. First up is ‘Producing the Brood’ - an interview with Pierre David, who explains how he ended up involved in the production of the movie and how easy it was to deal with everyone involved - except Oliver Reed. Depending on how you view the antics of dear old Olly will determine whether you’ll be chuckling with affection or shaking your head in despair at David’s tale of Mr Reed’s nude bet that caused him to end up in police custody. Fangoria editor Chris Alexander talks to stars Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds and takes them back to the school location used for the film. Mark Irwin talks about his involvement with the project and about Oliver Reed, and there’s an interview with Robert Silverman (THE BROOD, SCANNERS, EXISTENZ) which reveals him to be the unique personality many have probably always suspected him to be. Finally, David Cronenberg himself is interviewed in ‘Cronenberg - The Early Years’ and it’s a delight to see that he is still as enthusiastic about his first few projects after all this time.
THE BROOD is a classic film from a director who has seldom put a foot wrong during a long, complex, varied, and never less than interesting career. Second Sight have finally done this film the justice it deserves and their release of this film deserves to be on the shelf of every discerning Cronenberg fan.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Baron Blood (1970)

When Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) returns from medical school to his ancestral castle in Austria, he sets in motion a curse when he reads words from an ancient parchment, causing the resurrection of his ancestor, the sadistic madman Baron Otto von Kleist. Cursed by a witch to endure eternal pain and suffering, the Baron claws his way from his grave, his face and hands a tattered and bloody mess (courtesy of some nice makeup by Carlo Rambaldi) but with his hat and cloak still looking as new as if they’d just been taken from the prop department. Stopping off at a local doctor’s to get his face to stop bleeding, the Baron slashes the medic and sets off on the rampage, with every intention of once again putting to good use the entire vault of elaborate torture devices he has back at his castle.
Meanwhile, wheelchair bound Alfred Becker (Joseph Cotton) has purchased the castle in an auction while architect Eva (Elke Sommer) is convinced something is wrong, partly because she was with Peter when the incantation was read out, but mainly because she’s been chased by the Baron through a Mario Bava-lit nightscape. The parchment ended up in a fire when the Baron came back to life, so there’s nothing else for it but for Peter and Eva to visit the local psychic (Rada Rassimov) with university professor Dr Hummel (Massimo Girotti) in tow. It turns out there is another way to despatch the Baron and fortunately it involves what turns out to be a cracking finale filled with torture instruments, Elke’s torn dress, and a host of walking corpses.
Arrow’s presentation of one of director Mario Bava’s most successful films has to be the ultimate in Baron Bloodness. The attractive packaging (including artwork by Graham Humphreys) contains three versions of the film - the original ‘Export Version’, ie uncut with English dialogue; the original Italian version (GLI ORRORI DEL CASTELLO DI NORIMBERGA or THE HORROR OF NUREMBERG CASTLE) with Italian dialogue, title sequences, and English subtitles; and the American International Pictures version that was originally shown in American cinemas. The AIP cut is shorter, dubbed, and has a different music score by Les Baxter, replacing the work of original composer Stelvio Cipriani. This sort of thing was common practice for AIP in the 1970s and it’s not surprising that their ‘revised versions’ are usually considered inferior to the originals. AIP’s BARON BLOOD is well worth a look, however, as the Baxter score is certainly effective, and in quite a few instances it’s actually a lot better than the music Cipriani provided, which isn’t especially memorable and consists of intrusive wobbly Wurlitzer organ themes that spoil the atmosphere at times, as well as one of those impossible jolly sing-songy main themes that has you wanting to turn the sound down, especially at the end when it’s the last thing you want to hear.
All three prints are in HD Blu-ray (1080p) and while the image is not as perfect as modern fare this is probably the best this film is ever going to look. There is some noticeable dirt on the frame during the opening titles and in some of the dark scenes inside the castle the image looks very creaky indeed, but these are minor quibbles. Alan Jones (a man so dedicated to Italian horror cinema he was thrown up on by Lucio Fulci and told to “Fuck Off” by Riccardo Freda) provides a short video  introduction, and a commentary track is provided to the export version by Tim Lucas. Lucas wrote All the Colors of the Dark, the definitive book on Bava, and his commentary track is packed with information. In fact it’s a little bit like listening to a textbook chapter on the film while it plays in front of you. Lucas’ commentary style is  always engaging, often entertaining, and never dull, and it’s well worth a listen. 
A short interview with Ruggero Deodato about Bava and other horror directors, a photo gallery of Bava at work behind the scenes on his movies, trailers, radio spots, and a booklet by film critic James Oliver complete this absolutely splendid package. Highly recommended for fans of Italian horror cinema, Arrow have done Mario Bava proud with both this and their other recent releases of his movies. Support them to make sure we get more high quality presentations of neglected classics like this one.

Friday 6 September 2013

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

      As I’ve mentioned previously on here (in my review of Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY) Hammer Films really did do something wonderful for gothic cinema when they breathed new life into the horror film genre in the late 1950s. They didn’t just change the face of horror, they encouraged others to carry on changing it, adding their own peculiar quirks and styles. Soon film-makers from all over the world were trying to get in on an act that had proved so fabulously lucrative that for the exploitation market to ignore it would have been foolhardy at the very least.

It can only have been the prospect of vast amounts of money that convinced Sam Arkoff and Jim Nicholson of AIP to fund Roger Corman’s lavish colour version of Edgar Allan Poe’s FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER. That, and of course, Roger being a very, very good salesman. Now, 53 years later, all we can say is thank goodness he was a very good film-maker as well, something that could hardly have been suggested by previous movies like THE WASP WOMAN & IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. And now we have Arrow’s quite stunning Blu-ray restoration to show just how gorgeous a film FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is.
In a rotting manor house live the dying Madeleine Usher (Myrna Fahey) and her brother Roderick (Vincent Price) a man who suffers from a unique exquisiteness of the senses, such that loud noises and bright colours are ‘agony’. One wonders, then, why he tends to wander around in a scarlet dressing gown all day. At least he doesn’t play too many high notes on his lute.
Into this atmosphere of death and decay comes Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) sporting the brylcreemed ducktail hairstyle of the sixties (1960s rather than 1860s). His ride through a blackened forest at the beginning is superbly atmospheric, and a prime example of Corman taking advantage of whatever might be to hand (in this case, a recent nearby forest fire). Mark wants to marry Myrna, but Vincent is unhappy about it to say the least. He tells Mark that the Usher bloodline is cursed and that extending it will only prolong the agony. It all ends with bloodstained, post-cataleptic Madeleine clawing her way out of the tomb and strangling her brother while the whole house goes up in flames (actually a nearby barn due for demolition - well done again, Roger). 
FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is a cracking film for many reasons. Floyd Crosby’s photography and Daniel Haller’s production design give the movie a look that is different from, but no less lush than, the Hammer films of the time. With the exception of Price, the acting isn’t especially memorable, although it’s only by the end that you realise there are only four people in this. As well as hiring a good crew, Corman also performed a masterstroke in getting a proper writer (Richard Matheson) to put together a screenplay which made the actual Poe story its third act - something Matheson would do again for the following year’s PIT AND THE PENDULUM. As well as doing all of this, Corman acquits himself well as a director, his most startling addition to the world of the 1960s gothic being the weird dream sequence. I don’t doubt this was probably done out of necessity to help fill up the running time, but nevertheless it’s a superbly scary little vignette and you can tell Corman’s heart was totally in that bit too.
Arrow’s Blu-ray treatment of Roger Corman’s first Poe movie is just lovely. The fine detail of the lush furnishings (and even Mark Damon’s hair, if you’re so inclined) can now be more greatly appreciated, and the richness of the colours make the television screen glow.
There are a number of extras. First off is a Roger Corman commentary track that’s been ported over from the previous region 1 DVD release (although I don’t think it’s been previously available in the UK). There’s a lovely featurette in which Joe Dante talks about his relationship with Corman, and how little kids in the 1960s didn’t seem to mind sitting through endless scenes of people in frock coats and hoop skirts to get to the horror bits. Jonathan Rigby talks for over half an hour - and very well indeed, too - about the Corman cycle of Poe films and USHER in particular. Mr Rigby obviously knows a great deal about the subject and it’s always a pleasure to listen to him.
Fragments of the House of Usher is an interestingly-narrated piece by critic and film-maker David Cairns that compares Corman’s film to the original Poe story, and there’s an archival French interview with Vincent Price, fresh from making THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE, that’s a pleasure to watch.
As usual, Arrow have gone the extra mile with packaging materials (the steelbook is a thing of beauty). The so-called standard packaging has a new cover by Graham Humphreys, a man whose artwork could never be described as standard. There’s also a booklet with new writing on the movie by Tim Lucas, adding up to a quite unmissable set that’s deserving of the attention of anyone with an interest in gothic cinema.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013)

      I missed THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL when it was premiered at FrightFest last week, but those kind folks at Second Sight, who will be releasing this film on DVD in October, sent me a disc so I could see what I was missing. Unfortunately, despite the film having had quite a number of positive reviews on other sites, I have to admit that my overall impression from watching it was that I hadn't really missed very much. However, just because I didn’t get on with it doesn’t mean it might not be your cup of tea.
To give it its due, PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL does a couple of things really well. First, it does an exceedingly good job of coming across as one of those documentaries featuring paranormal investigators that you stumble across on satellite television channels at ridiculously early hours of the morning. The location under investigation here is the Bedfordshire village of Clophill, or rather the splendidly spooky ruined church that sits on top of a hill just outside it. Allegedly the site of various ‘satanic activities’ since 1963, our team of bright young things goes in armed with the usual video cameras and microphones to see if they themselves can pick up any weird supernatural goings-on.
Where the film differs from others is that I understand that, for the first hour or so, pretty much everyone who is featured is real - real alleged witnesses to events, real paranormal investigators, and real villagers being interviewed. I was able to glean this from sources other than the movie itself as it doesn't make any of this terribly clear. As a result, if you want a really good movie version of TV’s MOST HAUNTED or something like that, then for the first hour of this you’ll be in heaven, while everyone else will be screaming at the screen for something to actually happen. There’s a scary moment of note at about 69 minutes in, at which point the movie does something that, if all the above is true, isn’t exactly fair to its non-fictional participants, because having been essentially a documentary up to this point, the film throws in a couple of supernatural special effects and a late 1970s BritHorror style nudie satanic ritual for good measure, presumably to make this something more than just a documentary, and, if I was feeling unkind, I might also suggest it was to up the certificate from a PG at most to a 15. 
After this little bit of eventfulness, the movie peters out, and left me wondering if I'd missed anything significant, but I really don’t think I did. About half an hour in I was thinking the film was either being tremendously subtle, or nothing was actually happening at all, and as things went on I became more convinced that sadly it was the latter. This was all a bit of a shame, because PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL is actually very well made. Rather than do the fuzzy video shakey cam thing one usually gets in found footage-type pictures, this feels very professionally produced. The photography is clean, crisp and, at points, really quite beautiful. I suspect it would be difficult not to get good shots of the scary church, but even so directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates manage some very nice setups that left me hungry for more interesting (and certainly more disturbing) things to happen. Another reviewer has already beaten me to writing that the film would have been better off being narrated by Alan Partridge, but I have to admit that thought occurred to me about halfway through as well. 
So there you are. If you like the idea of a movie that’s 80% documentary with what looks like footage of Norman J Warren’s SATAN’S SLAVE spliced in towards the end, then PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL, is the film for you. Second Sight's very attractively packaged DVD includes two commentaries - one by the writer and director and another with the cast and crew. Deleted scenes are included as 'Tales From the Graveyard - The Clophill Archives'.

Second Sight will be releasing THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL on 14th October 2013