Sunday 31 August 2014

Immoral Tales (1974)

        Fans who like their Euro art-house weirdness to have a healthy dose of erotica can rejoice as Arrow releases rather a lot of the work of Walerian Borowczyk. They’re putting out a box set which has already sold out on pre-order, but if you haven’t managed to snag yourself a copy worry not - each of the titles in the set is being released individually, and a series of write-ups on this site is going to tell you all about them.
First up is his erotic anthology movie from 1974. I will freely admit that the only reason I tracked down IMMORAL TALES originally was because of its celebrated Erzsebet Bathory episode, widely lauded as the best cinematic version of the story of the countess who bathed in the blood of virgins in an attempt to keep herself young. Mind you, with the only real competition being Hammer’s sub-par COUNTESS DRACULA and a ponderous adaptation starring Anna Friel (2008‘s BATHORY COUNTESS OF BLOOD) it’s always been onto a winner anyway.

But what about the rest of the film? We begin with ‘The Tide’ in which a young man takes his teenaged cousin to the kind of windswept beach Jean Rollin would love in order to make her perform fellatio on him while the tide comes in. It’s a strange, bleak, sexy episode, with a quality to it akin to that found in the fictions of Robert Aickman. The rough sea, bleak cliffs, grey shale and ever-present seagulls combine to produce a weird atmosphere and the story is certainly strong on style if not on plot. 

Second is ‘Therese Philosophe’ in which a young girl is locked in a room after staying late in church to misbehave with various bits of christian iconography. Perhaps needless to say, she finds things to amuse herself with in the room as well. 

Third is the Bathory segment which, apart from featuring an abundance of female nudity, numerous shower sequences, and imagery redolent of an erotic renaissance painting, also has the best blood I’ve possibly ever seen in a film. Paloma Picasso plays the title role and gets to drench herself with it in a scene that is both repellent and obscenely erotic. It was recreated rather inferiorly by Eli Roth in HOSTEL II but if you want the genuine article, Borowczyk’s your man.

The final tale ‘Lucrezia Borgia’ is probably a bit (or actually a lot) of a pop at the catholic church, with the daughter of Pope Alexander VI getting up to all kinds of misbehaviour with her male relatives. While ‘The Tide’ is weird, and ‘Erzsebet Bathory’ horrific, this is the story that struck me as the most satirical and playful, and is as good a story as any with which to end the film.
Arrow’s Blu-ray is the usual stunning transfer, and comes with a wealth of extras. IMMORAL TALES was originally released with a fifth segment which was taken out of the finished product and developed into a full length film of its own entitled THE BEAST. Arrow have included the entire five-story version of IMMORAL TALES as an extra on the disc. There’s also an introduction to the disc by Daniel Bird that places the film in the context of the time when it was originally released, a new making of that runs for about 16 minutes, a crew reunion, a trailer and the short film A PRIVATE COLLECTION that details a whole load of peculiar bits and pieces of erotic art. 
As with so many of Arrow’s releases, this really is the best version of IMMORAL TALES out there, and if you’re a fan of the director this is the one to get.

Arrow Films are releasing Walerian Borowczyk's IMMORAL TALES on dual format Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD on 8th September 2014

Friday 29 August 2014

Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

        One of the many cult films made in the USA in the early 1970s, James William Guercio’s sole directorial credit gets a new DVD release from Odyssey. I must confess to being aware of the title and a little bit about the film, but I’d never had the chance to catch up with it until now. The title comes from the Electra Glide, which is a brand of motorcycle presumably used by the US police in the days when this was made.

        Robert Blake (who until this I only knew as ‘Mystery Man’ in David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY) plays John Wintergreen, a highway patrol cop in Arizona who is short on stature but big on dreams. His ambition is to be transferred to homicide. His chance comes when an apparent suicide turns out to be a case of murder, and he is assigned to assist Detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan) in investigating it. Keen to learn from his senior, it soon transpires that Poole’s methods and ways of thinking are not the high and mighty ideals Wintergreen had been anticipating, and he finds himself back on the highways by the end of the movie.

I’m not going to give away any more than that, but suffice to say that there is a lot more going on in the film’s 114 minute running time. Rather than a straightforward police procedural, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE uses its fairly thin plot to depict and explore a variety of social attitudes of the period. Blake’s Wintergreen is relentlessly upbeat, even in the face of failure, which makes the movie’s finale - one of the all-time great endings of 1970s cinema - all the more poignant.

       Conrad Hall’s photography is quite wonderful, with the gorgeous Arizona landscape also enhanced by the use of the widescreen format. The acting is fine but it’s Guercio’s show, as he creates a fascinating, thoughtful and frequently mesmerising movie. Someone on imdb has claimed they have seen it over a hundred times and having seen it only once I can now understand why. Perhaps not as well known as Dennis Hopper’s EASY RIDER, or Antonioni’s ZABRISKIE POINT, ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is nonetheless just as vital a movie from that period and in some ways it surpasses both of those. 

Odyssey’s DVD presents ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE in widescreen format. The disc provided for review had no extras and none are listed on the press release. A previous Optimum UK DVD release apparently has an introduction and commentary from director Guercio.

Odyssey are releasing James William Guercio's ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE on Region 2 DVD on 15th September 2014

Wednesday 27 August 2014

The Top Ten Movies of Frightfest 2014 (and Some of the Worst As Well)

A move to the Vue Multiplex that was nowhere near as painful as anyone was expecting and a fantastic programme of movies meant that FrightFest 2014 turned out to be my favourite so far of those I’ve attended. Quality was high, with many of the best films being shown on the smaller ‘Discovery’ screens. That didn’t mean there wasn’t some right old rubbish in there, though, if you looked hard enough. The award for Film On The Main Screen Everyone Can Delight in Despising went this year to SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE 3D. I was fortunate enough to dodge that particular bullet, which means that, after careful consideration, my own award for Most Rubbish  FrightFest Film 2014 is a tie between Lucky McKee’s woeful ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, which boasted elements of THE CRAFT and some rubbish about floaty, shiny stones; and Jessica Cameron’s TRUTH OR DARE, which reminded me of Joel M Reed’s BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, or the worst films of Herschell Gordon Lewis for its sheer mean-spirited gross-out gore - all shot on a single ‘set’ where the walls looked as if they were made of bin liners. Both of these were of a type of film I thought no-one made anymore, and not in a good way. 
         Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO wasn’t much better, being a ‘homage’ to the kind of cannibal film that film-makers could get away with in the late 1970s but which now feel xenophobic and exploitative. Roth is in danger of building a CV of movies that suggest he is either terrified of absolutely anywhere abroad, or he wants you to be, neither of which can be considered exactly laudable. VHS 3 - VHS VIRAL was a bit of a mess, offering lots more wobbly-cam, an Amicus-style ‘cloak’ opener, a decent story from Nacho Vigalondo (definitely my favourite film-maker of the festival) and some quite terrible ones otherwise. The theme of a wraparound that makes absolutely no sense at all and ends up as a confusing waste of time also continued, and one story had been left out altogether resulting in a truncated running time.    
           SIN CITY 2 - A DAME TO KILL FOR at two hours was about 119 minutes too long and offered more grunty growly men in ludicrous situations and Eva Green with no clothes on a lot. NYMPH was a great idea for a Euro-Horror about a KILLER MERMAID (retitled as such for the subtle and discerning US market) living on an island. Franco Nero is in that one, and he completely unbalances the movie with a great performance that shows everyone else up. The festival closed with SF OUTER LIMITS episode-wannabe THE SIGNAL, which was all right.
Other than that, by my count Larry Fessenden only managed to appear in one film this year (werewolf picture LATE PHASES) and it really wasn’t the festival for dog lovers, with poor old canines getting beheaded (THE SAMURAI), shot (LATE PHASES) twisted in half (THE BABADOOK), eaten by zombie beavers (ZOMBEAVERS - of course) and spiked through the head (VHS 3). Other recurring themes included weird things going on behind a crack in the wall (at least three films), and the saving of screaming children under the age of ten. 
OK, that’s enough of the stuff I wasn’t blown away by - now on to everything I really liked.

First off, the honourable mentions. HOME was the new film from Nicholas McCarthy (it's been retitled AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR for its US release). While it wasn’t quite as good as THE PACT, there were plenty of extremely well-orchestrated scares, a deliciously creepy atmosphere, and a bottle of J&B at the beginning. If nothing else, it helps to consolidate McCarthy’s position as the new king of suburban horror and a worthy successor to Wes Craven in the ‘Horror comes to your house’ subgenre. 

           ZOMBEAVERS scored points for sheer bravado in its use of glove puppet beavers that were turned into glove puppet zombie beavers by toxic waste. There was also a very catchy end title song sung by a Sinatra soundalike that I’m having difficulty getting out of my head. 
         STARRY EYES was a Hollywood satire with a great synthesiser score (analog was very much in this year) and a stellar central performance from Alex Essoe as the struggling actress who finds that tinseltown is even nastier than Robert Bloch suggested in TORTURE GARDEN. THE SAMURAI featured a man in a dress wielding a very big sword (in more than one meaning of the term) in this German art-house picture that was a splendid allegorical tale of one man’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality. THE SLEEPING ROOM was the new British horror from the producers of PANIC BUTTON and while it wasn’t as good it featured a fascinating premise with its Victorian mutograph used to make turn of the century snuff movies and a gloomy Brighton setting. 
          And nowthe top ten!


A British-made werewolf Western filmed in Kent and set in 1887 Colorado sounded like a recipe for disaster but I couldn’t resist it. And how pleasantly surprised I was. Jeremy Wooding’s picture feels like a Hammer film from the good old days, with fantastic production values (including Black Park location shooting with stagecoach!), a likeable ensemble cast and a great monster. A genuine surprise and a film that deserves lots of love and attention. There’s also the suggestion at the end that Shaun Dooley’s monster-hunting gunslinger might be back for more adventures and I for one think that would be an excellent idea.


Not the classic Michele Soavi picture but an American slasher musical billed as a cross between FRIDAY THE 13TH and GLEE. I have never seen the latter, but this was the best of the horror comedies shown this year. A summer camp for ‘talented children’ is staging a production of the ‘classic’ THE HAUNTING OF THE OPERA but setting it in feudal Japan for no real reason other than to give the killer a scarier mask. Great songs (the killer sings heavy metal riffs) and a fine sense of both horror and comedy made this one a breath of fresh air - highly recommended if you’re a fan of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE-style craziness. Meat Loaf is the star and Minnie Driver gets killed before the credits roll.


I very much suspect THE BABADOOK will be the standout film at FrightFest for many. A mature, considered horror movie for grownups about a single mother having to cope with a six year old son who has behavioural difficulties. The arrival of a mysterious storybook allows for fear, guilt, horror and regret to be expressed in the form of the titular creature. Well made and acted and with thoughtful production design suggestive of a mature Tim Burton film, this was the antithesis of movies like TRUTH OR DARE.


Has Mary Elizabeth Winstead been brainwashed by a cult? Or is something far more sinister going on? It’s the job of Leland Orser’s cult de-programmer to sort her out in this terrific movie that, for the most part, is pretty much a two-hander filmed on a single set. I loved it and I’m not going to say anything else about it other than you should watch it at the soonest opportunity.


Director Adam Green implored the FrightFest audience not to give too much away about this one. What I will say is that it begins as a documentary about monster-based art with Green playing himself. Then Ray Wise turns up playing a man who claims monsters are real and he can prove it. MARROW starts off as comedy but then gets darker and weirder. It was one of the few films on this list to properly scare me, and well done to Mr Green for doing so.


Another film on this list I imagined lasting for ten minutes of and then leaving.  Ten minutes in and I was absolutely hooked. I think the original title must have been PEACHFUZZ (see poster above) which makes no sense until you see the movie. Now if you mention the word  you’ll still get a shiver out of me. A found footage, mumblecore improvisational piece featuring only two actors, one of whom is also the director, CREEP is about a man answering an advert to go to the isolated house of a complete stranger who claims he is dying of cancer and wants a video diary of one day to leave to his unborn son. It quickly gets very weird with an ending that was a candidate for most horrible and disturbing in the festival. Now, who’s for ‘Tubby Time’?


I liked Nacho Vigalondo’s clever TIMECRIMES a lot, and OPEN WINDOWS confirms that he is one of the most deliciously manic and original film-makers working today. Elijah Wood runs a website devoted to actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). When the competition he believes he has won to meet her turns out to be a hoax and he is contacted by someone who claims he can help Wood get revenge that’s just the beginning of a hugely complex plot that eventually collapses in on itself but is still rather brilliant anyway. Another film I loved and I can’t wait to watch again.


The biggest shock of the festival for me - an Adam Wingard film that I adored. I’ve never been a huge fan of his wobbly-cam mumblecore aesthetic but THE GUEST is a revelation. Inspired by John Carpenter movies and THE TERMINATOR, and with a fantastic analog synthesiser score to match, THE GUEST stars Dan Stevens from DOWNTON ABBEY (I’ve never seen it) as a soldier who arrives on the doorstep of the Peterson family, claiming he was friends with their recently-deceased son. What he doesn’t mention is that he’s been part of a military experiment that’s turned him into an unstoppable killing machine. A great film in its own right, but watch out for gags related to HALLOWEEN III, HALLOWEEN IV (!) and YOU’RE NEXT.


After last year’s THE BORDERLANDS and the previous THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS, any horror movie producer Jennifer Handorf has a hand in is going to get my undivided attention, and THE FORGOTTEN is another winner. I’m not usually a fan of movies set on deserted council estates but this won me over with one of the saddest ghost stories I’ve seen in many a year. It was a delight to discover afterwards that both director Oliver Frampton and writer James Hall admitted MR James and Henry James as influences, and special mention should be made of the sound design which makes the already terrifying location feel like HELL HOUSE for hoodies.


This played directly after THE FORGOTTEN, which had already managed a good job of scaring me silly. The reason it deserves the number one spot is that almost anything coming after THE FORGOTTEN would have been on a losing streak and THE CANAL succeeded in terrifying me. A film archivist moves into a house that was the scene of a murder in the early 1900s. He discovers newsreel footage of the case just as his life starts to fall apart and he enters a world where the horrors he is experiencing might be of his own imagining. Terrific, terrifying imagery, great acting and a downbeat tragic ending make THE CANAL my favourite in a festival loaded with great movies. Well done writer-director Ivan Kavanagh.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Bound (1996)

The Wachowski brothers (as they were when they directed this latest Arrow release) will probably always be best known amongst fan circles for THE MATRIX series of films. However, the project that got them that gig with Warner Bros wasn't a science fiction film at all, but BOUND, their first directorial effort and as stylish and engaging a debut as one could wish for. BOUND is a modern-day noir, but with several variations on the tried-and-true themes of the genre, mixed in with a big dollop of style that makes it never less than riveting viewing.

Gina Gershon plays Corky, an ex-con who is employed doing various plumbing and decorating jobs in a fashionable Chicago apartment building. Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) and Violet (Jennifer Tilly) live in the apartment next to the one in which Corky is working. Violet contrives to get Corky over to her place and it's not long before the two are embarking on an affair (tastefully and sensually done, in case you're wondering). It turns out that Caesar launders money for the mafia and he just happens to be taking care of close to two million dollars for them at the moment. Needless to say, once the two girls put their plan into action to steal the money, things quickly get bloody and complicated.

  With career best performances from its three leads, creative, careful and frequently fascinating set-ups from its directors, and a score from Don Davis (THE MATRIX, William Malone’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) that echoes Bernard Herrmann and any number of 1940s melodramas while still very much having its own distinct identity, BOUND is a perfect example of how much can be achieved on a very low budget. The film is essentially a three hander, but there’s able support from, amongst others, John P Ryan (IT’S ALIVE, RUNAWAY TRAIN) in his last role, and Richard C Sarafian, the director of the classic VANISHING POINT (1971) as crime boss Gino Marzzone. The photography and production design combine to give you 1990s chic filmed in noir style, and the whole endeavour is just a delight.

Arrow’s new release gives you BOUND in a dual format DVD and Blu-ray edition. The Blu-ray looks fantastic - the sharply angular mise-en-scene benefits immensely from the crispness the format allows. There are a host of extras, including Modern Noir: The Sights and Sounds of Bound, a new set of interviews with composer Davis, DP Bill Pope and editor Zach Staenberg. There’s a commentary track by the directors, the three stars, and consultant Susie Bright who also appears in a scene in the film. There are also separate interview featurettes with actors Gershon, Tilly, Pantoliano, and Christopher Meloni, trailers, TV spots, a stills gallery and the usual new sleeve artwork and a booklet by James Oliver.
Original, slick, and stylish, with believable characters - BOUND is the kind of crime film Quentin Tarantino probably wishes he could make but never will. If you’ve not seen it before, or even if you have, Arrow’s new release is the one to keep. 

Arrow Films released BOUND on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 18th August 2014

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Branded to Kill (1967)

         THE PRISONER meets the Yakuza movie in this crazy stream of consciousness black and white Japanese crime picture from 1967. Any attempt at describing the plot of this one is going to fail to convey the sheer random anything-goes feeling of the 'narrative' (if it can be called that) but I'm going to have a go anyway.

      Jo Shishido stars as Goro Hanada, the No.3 killer in the weird world he inhabits. His aim is to become No.1. He knows who No.2 is, but the top assassin remains a mystery. We never actually find out who goes round creating these top ten lists of Japanese hit men but they all take it very seriously, and therefore so must we.
      It's quite difficult to take Goro seriously though, with his cheek implants that make him look like a hamster in dark glasses and his bizarre fetish for getting turned on by sniffing boiling rice.

The first half an hour of BRANDED TO KILL makes some sense, with Goro starting off having to act as an escort for a client. Then a hit goes spectacularly wrong when what looks like a large cardboard butterfly distracts his aim, and he meets a mysterious woman with a moth fetish and a desire to be a corpse. After that it's weirdness all the way, with a disjointed timeline with flashbacks and flashforwards (I think), quite a bit of sex and nudity, lots of moths and butterflies, and above all some breathtaking and quite brilliant bits of direction that mean even if you have no idea what's happening you'll find it difficult to stop watching this one. When Goro finally comes face to face with No.1 they have a stand-off of literally wetting themselves proportions. The whole thing ends in a boxing ring but I'm by no means spoiling this film for you by telling you that.

Director Seijun Suzuki was famously sacked by Nikkatsu for making this film when what the company wanted was another straightforward crime drama. To be honest, I can see their point, as there's no way BRANDED TO KILL could be sold as anything other than completely bonkers arthouse. It's certainly a unique project, and one which Suzuki apparently made up as he went along. I suspect the entire thing probably does make sense, in a kind of MULHOLLAND DRIVE MEETS HAMSTER-SAN kind of way, and it probably needs several viewings before you can even begin to work out what's going on.

Full marks to Arrow then for the lovely, crisp widescreen transfer we get on this double disc Blu-ray and DVD set. There isn't a commentary (more's the pity - I'd love to listen to someone having a go at this one) but we do get interviews with director Suzuki and star Shishido (minus his cheek implants but with two hefty-looking scars by which they were presumably removed). A major bonus is TRAPPED IN LUST (1973), an extra full-length feature that's actually a softcore ('roman') porn version of the title feature. This one's in colour, makes a bit more sense, and has a lot more naked ladies in it. As extras go it's the perfect complement to the main attraction, and should rightfully set a trend for all movies released on Blu-ray to have their porn rip-off versions included as extras, although somehow I doubt it will. Otherwise you get trailers for both movies, a reversible sleeve boasting new artwork and a booklet by Jasper Sharp.
BRANDED TO KILL is a very weird film, but it also feels like a very influential one, with scenes reminiscent of Kubrick, Polanski, Lynch and others that make me wonder if this is where they got them from. Worth watching if you fancy something different and brilliant that might just fry your brain.

Seijun Suzuki's BRANDED TO KILL is out now on a double disc DVD and Blu-ray set from Arrow Films

Monday 18 August 2014

The Boy From Space (1971 / 1980)

Daytime TV in the UK used to mean something very different from what it does now. Rather than interminable Jerry Springer ripoffs and numerous How To Make Money From Your Old Tat programmes, the schedules prior to evening television used to be employed to run educational programmes for broadcast in schools and colleges. Both BBC and ITV did this for many years, with a lot of the programmes shown being so successful they were sold abroad.
One such example was LOOK & READ. Designed as teaching aid to help develop simple reading skills, the format consisted of what was known as a ‘teaching middle’ topped and tailed by a drama serial. I watched lots of these when I was very young - JOE & THE SHEEP RUSTLERS (1973) was a favourite, but none of them ever came close to the quality of THE BOY FROM SPACE.

Of course, I have to admit that I first watched this, now released on DVD by the BFI, in 1971. I was four years old, so I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking John Woodnutt’s Thin Space Man to be the scariest thing I had ever seen. The programme was shown in black and white but filmed in colour, as the BBC intended to sell it as a movie abroad. While that never happened, financial cuts later in the decade meant the film footage was reused. The original tapes had been wiped so new ‘teaching middle’ material was recorded, a new, more upbeat, score was recorded, and the new version of BOY FROM SPACE went out in 1980.

That’s the version of LOOK AND READ that’s on the first of this two disc set - ten twenty minutes episodes complete with songs, teaching bits and other stuff suitable for early learners. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating and valuable record of how kids were taught to read back in the day.
If you just want to watch the filmed drama, then that’s present on disc two. The plot involves two pre-teens, Helen and Dan (Sylvestra Le Touzel and Stephen Garlick) who have to help the alien boy Peep Peep (Colin Mayes) escape from the alien Thin Man (John Woodnutt) and get home after he’s stranded on earth. 

Written by the hugely talented Richard Carpenter, who was only allowed to use a very limited vocabulary, THE BOY FROM SPACE is going to be a tremendously nostalgic viewing experience for those of a certain age (of which I’ll admit I’m one). It’s reminiscent of productions from the Children’s Film Foundation, as well as other early 1970s British SF shows like DR WHO. 
Disc two of this new BFI releases also includes the soundtrack of the BBC Records LPs released to tie-in with the original broadcast, as well as downloadable pdfs of the students’ pamphlets that accompanied the series. There’s also a booklet with a fascinating article about the production of the series, as well as composer Paddy Kingsland’s memories of writing music for the show. 
Oh, and I still think the Thin Man is still scary. Well done, John Woodnutt.

The BFI is releasing Richard Carpenter's THE BOY FROM SPACE on a double-disc DVD set on 25th August 2014

Sunday 17 August 2014

The Cabin (2013)

Here’s yet another very nice DVD box with a card slipcase and some fine artwork (well done whoever’s responsible - it’s really nice work). You’ll notice the blurb at the top says that THE CABIN is "CABIN IN THE WOODS meets INSIDIOUS". That’s a bold claim for any film to make and so I hope it won’t surprise too many reading this review that THE CABIN (aka BLOODLINE in other territories) isn’t quite the action-packed top quality scarefest that less experienced horror film viewers might take it to be.

It is, however, quite professionally made, which is always something of a relief to discover with these low-budget unknowns. It even has a rather ambitious prologue. In 1779 a group of American settlers end up cursed by the local native Americans’ shaman for killing one of their kind. There’s even authentic-sounding local language with subtitles, some good special effects, and a promise that this is going to turn into a cracking EVIL DEAD-style possession romp in the woods.
Then the film proper starts.

Brett Ethos (Matt Thompson, who also writes and directs and therefore has to shoulder the blame for this one) is about to be ordained into the Catholic Church but decides to have one last trip of mayhem and debauchery at his isolated cabin in the woods - the one his friends have just helped him discover the location of by breaking a picture frame and finding a map and the keys hidden in the back of it.
A couple of girls added to the car later (including Brett’s ex-girlfriend) and we’re off into the woods. So far so good. It’s when they get to the cabin that everything slows right down and nothing really happens for far too long. Exploitation staples like shock, gore, nudity and suspense are sacrificed to allow earnest conversations about relationships and lots of shots of Thompson looking moody. The first couple of deaths occur offscreen, but rather than engendering what one presumes the film-makers hoped would be an atmosphere of subtle suspense, the viewer is left wondering why we couldn’t get to see them. 

      Things do pick up, with members of Brett’s party being picked off by the thing that’s after him because of his settler heritage. There are some nice optical effects, and there’s an attempt at a stinger of an ending, but overall it never feels as if anyone’s heart is really in any of this. It’s a shame because, as I said, the film is very competently made, but it lacks the sense of urgency, the sense of menace and, dare I say it, the style to make it an enjoyable piece of backwoods menace. There are a couple of nice ideas here, but if you’re familiar with CABIN IN THE WOODS and INSIDIOUS you’ll still be better off watching either of those again instead of this. 101 Films presents THE CABIN in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It’s a nice transfer and there are no extras. 

101 Films released THE CABIN on Region 2 DVD on 11th August 2014

Friday 15 August 2014

Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1973)

It’s time once again to ride the Ted V Mikels roller coaster of rubbish, as 88 Films allows UK trash film enthusiasts to get our brains fried with this little number from 1973. Your tolerance of this one will depend very much on how you got on with previous 88 Films Ted releases THE CORPSE GRINDERS and THE DOLL SQUAD. If you haven’t seen those, you may need your loins girding further before you leap in.

Cue animated swirls, a girl’s eyes and some weird moaning noises as the credits play out. Then we’re witness to what was probably advertised as ‘an exotic satanic ritual’ but isn’t. A man in a nappy is speared by several lovely young things presided over by Mara (Lila Zaborin and pretty terrifying in her own right) and a bloke who looks a bit like Patrick Troughton in a Viking costume. There are some more women with insanely big 1970s hair, a boom mike shadow, and then we’re privy to a plot to assassinate the Rhodesian ambassador to the UN by means of black magic. For some reason these plot machinations cut abruptly to a man strangling a girl to the sound of a cuckoo clock going off. No, I don’t know why, either.

The next day. “Young” couple Mark and Lorraine (Tom Pace and Leslie McRae) discuss “all that occult stuff” while completely ignoring what looks like a dead koala bear that’s presumably fallen out of an aeroplane on its way from Australia and landed on their picnic rug (see above). Mara plunges a doll into the biggest brandy glass ever shown on film and the ambassador chokes to death. The baddies don’t want to leave any loose ends and so everyone at Mara’s castle is shot dead. Mara turns into a cat, brings her servant back to life, and wreaks revenge. The gunman suffers a voodoo death of what looks like a terminal rectal injection of chilli powder followed by an unconvincing fall through a window while his boss gets pins stuck in him.

There are some long conversations about witchcraft and a flashback to “the seventeenth century” where men with 1970s sideburns torture a witch and another is stoned with foam rubber rocks. There’s another ritual, Ted’s LA castle (doubling as Mara’s lair) glows greeny-blue, and some experts are called in to solve the problem. Everyone dies which leads to a fairly grim ending where the experts wander about among the bodies. The End.

BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS lasts just under 80 minutes but feels longer. However, there are enough moments of jaw-dropping unintentional mirth that if you’re an enthusiast for the so-bad-it’s-good it’s definitely worth a look. 88 Films’ DVD preserves the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and there’s a commentary by Ted as an extra. Otherwise you get a Ted V Mikels special 88 trailer park reel and a very good essay on the movie by Calum Waddell that’s actually worth spending more time on than the film itself. As good a version of one of Ted’s films as you could hope for, trash fans will love it. Just watch out for the falling koala.

88 Films are releasing Ted V Mikels' BLOOD ORGY OF THE SHE DEVILS on Region 2 DVD on 18th August 2014.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

You Are Not Alone (2011)

Here’s another film with lovely box art and a nice cardboard sleeve, something which is becoming a bit of a warning sign for quality in films I’ve never heard of before. The cover of YOU ARE NOT ALONE is intriguing for two reasons, however. There’s a picture of Glastonbury Tor on the front (the film is indeed set in and around Glastonbury), and the credits boast Mark SLAUGHTER HIGH Ezra as the writer and director. Seeing as I’m a sucker for British horror films, especially ones set locally and from a director with a pedigree in trash cinema, I couldn’t resist this one. 
Also known as HOUSE TRAP and HOUSE SWAP in different territories, Ezra’s movie is a found footage home invasion horror. Personable American couple Matt Powsey (Nathan Nolan) and Ginny Baker (Evie Brodie) move to Glastonbury for creative reasons - he’s writing a screenplay about King Arthur, and she is a composer. They’ve arranged their move by swapping their Californian residence with the Somerset couple who own the house. As soon as they get there strange things start happening. There are weird noises in the night, objects go missing, and for some reason the previous residents have installed security cameras for what they subsequently reveal was a problem with a stalker. 

I won’t say any more in case you fancy watching this yourself. YOU ARE NOT ALONE starts off very well indeed, with an act of casual local violence that will have you wondering if this is going to turn into a Somerset version of STRAW DOGS. It doesn’t but it certainly helps to rack up the suspense straight away. The house in which all the mayhem occurs is a deliciously authentic Tudor mansion, and a dream of a creepy location that Ezra makes the most of. In fact, the first ten minutes of this are a neat summary of why American tourists might be petrified of ever venturing into rural England. The acting is decent and Ezra makes good use of the found footage style to spring a few genuinely suspenseful shocks during the running time. Don’t be expecting a classic, however. The pace is sluggish at times, which is a shame because, with a little more incident, YOU ARE NOT ALONE could have been a halfway decent little thriller. As it is it’s not at all bad. Sadly, the film can’t quite overcome that old bugbear of this genre - the need to carry a camera everywhere to document what’s happening - and it’s begging for more of a punchy ending. As it is, the killer’s lair is pleasingly twisted and there’s obviously a bit of inspiration here from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2.
         There are no extras, which is a shame as I wouldn’t have minded a featurette on the making of it, but otherwise YOU ARE NOT ALONE is actually a reasonably well made micro budget effort with some decent scares and a genuine sense of uneasiness. 

Mark Ezra's YOU ARE NOT ALONE is out on Region 2 DVD from 101 Films. 

Monday 11 August 2014

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

First up a confession: until previewing this sparkling new 88 Films Blu-ray, I had never seen a Troma film. Critically reviled during the 1980s and 90s, and usually released in the UK in severely truncated forms, it just didn’t seem sensible to watch terrible movies with all the best bits taken out. So Troma passed me by, the delights of SERGEANT KABUKIMAN NYPD and RABID GRANNIES (although they only released that one) consigned to the file marked ‘when I have the time’.
The time would appear to be now, helped immensely by the release of the first in Troma’s flagship TOXIC AVENGER franchise uncut and with a wealth of extras. Was it worth the wait? For me I have to answer with a resounding yes. How appealing you will find it will depend very much on your sense of humour.

At a health club in Tromaville, the ‘Toxic Chemical Capital of the World’, nerdy janitor Melvin (Mark Torgl) upsets the local beefcakes and their girlfriends and a prank is plotted. Seeing as their leader Bozo’s hobbies include running children over while he swigs from a Jack Daniels bottle filled with what suspiciously looks like orange squash it’s not going to end well. A lorry loaded with open canisters of toxic waste stops outside the gym so its driver and his pal can fill their noses with cocaine. Melvin, tricked into wearing a tutu and cuddling a sheep wearing a bra, ends up falling from the building and landing in the glowing green goop. A quick bath later and Melvin metamorphoses into the titular hero.

It’s not long before Toxie is cleaning up the streets, killing bearded drug-trafficking transvestites, armed robbers who look like Lionel Richie crossed with Adam Ant, and getting a blind girlfriend with whom he sets up home at the local toxic waste dump. The local mayor, a serious contender for fattest movie character ever, is in on all the local crime rackets and wants Toxie stopped. The National Guard is called in (where the hell did Troma get all those tanks from?) and the scene is set for a showdown outside Toxie’s tent.

Cheerfully tasteless and never, ever boring, THE TOXIC AVENGER feels like what would happen if John Waters was asked to direct a super-hero film. The entire movie has a consistent, weird, almost dayglo style, with bizarre acting to match. I’m sure Troma supremo Lloyd Kaufman would be delighted to hear that the opening scenes reminded me of Beckett or Pinter in the off-kilter weirdness of the performances. Like I said above, whether or not you’ll enjoy this will depend on whether or not you find all of this funny, and I hope the stills I’ve included here will help. I can honestly say I haven’t cried with laughter so much since previewing Bob Clark’s PORKY’S. Troma may have had a bad press, and they certainly don’t make movies that could be considered ‘good’, but the makers of a lot of the hand-held direct to DVD rubbish that some companies have the nerve to release could learn a lot from this bouncy little company.

There are a load of extras, most of which seem to have been ported over from previous US releases of the film. I’m not going to go through them all here, but I would suggest you watch at least the introduction to the slightly longer Japanese cut (also on the disc and not as good quality) where the dialogue has been translated into Japanese subtitles and then translated back into extra English subtitles that are also provided. Otherwise there’s lots of Lloyd Kaufman (commentary, introductions, him living in a cardboard box), a Troma studio tour and featurettes on Toxie as well as lots more.

I have to take my hat off to Troma - they may make rubbish but it’s hugely enthusiastic rubbish and Kaufman (whom I presume must be independently wealthy as I can’t imagine anyone giving him money for this stuff) enters into the spirit of things wholeheartedly. THE TOXIC AVENGER is stupid, silly and tasteless. It’s also hilarious and rattlingly entertaining. Congratulations to the always-reliable 88 Films for bring THE TOXIC AVENGER to our shores in a fantastic Blu-ray transfer that must be the best this film has ever looked, and with all the extras you could ever want. 

88 Films are releasing Troma's THE TOXIC AVENGER on standard Blu-ray (picture at the top) steelbook (picture near the bottom) and HMV exclusive (card sleeve with new artwork - picture at the bottom) on 18th August 2014. Grab whichever version you can.