Tuesday 30 September 2014

Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

One of those movies that truly deserves to be called a 'cult film', Stephen Chiodo's KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE arrives on UK Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Arrow Films, in a transfer that allows the picture's vivid colours to leap right off the screen and either dazzle you or give you an appalling headache depending on your sensibilities.

A large, circus tent-shaped spaceship lands close to the sort of small American movie town designed for frat house comedies where breaking wind would probably be considered a bit too highbrow. The ship / tent is the vessel of an alien race whose members resemble circus clowns of all kinds of horrible varieties. It soon turns out they've come to earth to stock their larder with human victims and intend to use various clowny methods to do it. Will our heroes be able to save the day or will the giant stompy thing that turns up at the end splat them (and the human race) into oblivion?

For some reason I never saw KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE when it came out, and Arrow's Blu-ray is therefore my first encounter with it. Coming from the Chiodo Brothers, I had assumed it would be similar to CRITTERS, the New Line picture about hairy little aliens that they had contributed effects for two years previously. In fact, they couldn't be more different. Whereas CRITTERS feels like an old-fashioned monster movie with wit, style and a good heart, KILLER KLOWNS is more like what might happen if someone whose sole job was making garish Saturday morning television for the under-fives was given a drug to make them extra hyper-active and then told to go and make a horror film. 
        There's very little plot in KILLER KLOWNS but a lot of bright colours, overacting, and ludicrous methods of despatch that all involve some aspect of clown culture. Shadow puppets, clown cars, custard pies, ventriloquism and others all serve to cause the demise of various characters. The inside of the Klowns' spaceship is a riot of dayglo colours and the Klowns themselves are bizarre enough to be weird without ever actually being that scary.

I know there's a lot of love out there for KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE but I'm sorry to have to admit that I find myself unable to add to it. It's possible that whether or not you enjoy this film will depend on how much you find clowns funny and / or scary. Sadly the clown has always been one form of entertainment that has never worked for me in any shape or form, which is probably why I didn't get on with the film at all. I'm a big fan of silly films, (I loved THE TOXIC AVENGER) but this one was too much even for me. I seem to have found my limit.
If you ARE a fan, however, Arrow's new transfer is the disc for you. The colours do indeed leap off the screen, and have such a vibrancy and intensity you'll feel as if you yourself have been locked in a room surrounded by soft brightly coloured bouncy objects for 86 minutes.

The version reviewed was the DVD so one would presume the Blu-ray looks even more sparkling. As usual Arrow comes through with a wealth of extras. The original stereo 2.0 audio track is preserved with uncompressed PCM on the Blu. There's a commentary track by the Chiodo brothers, a twenty minute Making Of, and separate interviews with stars Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr, composer John Massari, and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts. There are also deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions, and a couple of featurettes showcasing the work of the Chiodo brothers. Add in a trailer, image gallery, reversible sleeve and a booklet and it all adds up to the ultimate cult film package for one of the ultimate cult films.

Arrows Films released KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE on Dual Format Region B Blu-ray & Region 2 DVD (see bottom pic), as well as a Blu-ray Steelbook edition (see top pic) on 15th September 2014

Friday 26 September 2014

Mark of the Devil (1969)

MARK OF THE DEVIL, Michael Armstrong's often banned, frequently cut witchfinding EuroHorror from 1969 finally makes its way onto UK DVD & Blu-ray uncut courtesy of Arrow Films after cinema screenings around the country at last year's Halloween FrightFest all-nighter. A movie with a troubled production history even before the censors started sharpening their scissors, MARK OF THE DEVIL is one of those film's whose reputation has caused it to be spoken of in the same breath as extreme cinema classics like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and A SERBIAN FILM.

MARK OF THE DEVIL is not a classic, but then I find it hard to believe it was anyone's intention that it should be considered such. Filmed in the wake of the huge international (and especially European) success of Michael Reeves' infinitely superior WITCHFINDER GENERAL, MARK OF THE DEVIL is nothing more nor less than a rather more violent version than usual of the European knock-off picture, complete with wholly inappropriate music, intermittent acting and dubbing, and a sense of needing to touch all the exploitation bases in order to ensure an audience. Admittedly it does the horror stuff with gusto, but whether that's enough to make you want to watch it is for you to decide.

In period EuroHorrorLand (it's never exactly clear where - or when - we are) the psychotic Albino the Witchfinder (Reggie Nalder) does pretty much what he likes, revelling in torture, sadism, and anything else he fancies perpetrating upon anyone whom he decides is a servant of the devil. Into this jolly environment comes a Proper Witchfinder - Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom) and his apprentice Christian (Udo Kier with lots of eye liner). Lord Cumberland proposes to get to the bottom of all the witchy activity in the area by even more torture while Christian gets upset because he fancies one of the accused girls. It all ends in a cataclysmic fury of rampant nihilism to rival Reeves' film, but just not as well done.

I can't admit to liking MARK OF THE DEVIL that much. Part of the problem, of course, is that it has WITCHFINDER GENERAL to live up to, which few films can, let alone a German exploitation picture directed by a Brit who then had its producer and co-star come along and change chunks of it. The violence is supremely (and, it has to be said, authentically) nasty, but the rest of the story just isn't up to justifying what we see, with the result that MARK OF THE DEVIL feels less like a satirical invective against the Catholic Church and more like a period version of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. In the US, Hallmark releasing decided to market the film with a free vomit bag, and you never get the feeling the film deserves to be treated better than that.

Arrow's Blu-ray is uncut and looks splendid - it's another terrific restoration job. There's the choice of the English dub track or German audio with newly translated subtitles. There are quite a few extras as well. Michael Armstrong provides a new commentary track moderated by Calum Waddell. It rambles for a bit at the beginning but eventually gets underway with stories about the production. There's a fun documentary, Mark of the Times, which profiles the 1970s BritHorror film industry with the aid of Kim Newman, Norman J Warren and David McGillivray wearing the same delightful pink suit he had on at FrightFest 2013. The disc details claim this to be feature length but it actually runs for less than an hour. 

         There are numerous interviews. Some, like that with composer Michael Holm, seem to have been recorded for this new release, while others (eg Udo Kier) have been ported over from a previous German version. You also get some out-takes (nothing funny, just random snippets of clapperboards and bits and pieces), a trailer, and a look at the locations used for the movie. Michael Gingold talks about Hallmark releasing in a fun little piece entitled Hallmark of the Devil, although he neglects to tell the story of how Hallmark boss Steve Minasian came up with the idea of the vomit bag for MARK OF THE DEVIL (he had to fly back from the trade screening). There's also a gallery, a reversible sleeve, and a collector's booklet.

Arrow Films are releasing Michael Armstrong's MARK OF THE DEVIL on dual format Region A & B Blu-ray and Region 1 & 2 DVD on 29th September 2014

Thursday 25 September 2014

Night of the Comet (1984)

For a short while in the early 1980s, movies dealing with the theme of survival post-apocalypse became so plentiful as to form a subgenre all their own. This was in part due to the political climate of the time (if you weren't there believe me, the potential imminence of nuclear devastation was actually pretty terrifying), but mainly because of the huge financial success of movies like MAD MAX (everywhere but the United States) and MAD MAX 2 aka THE ROAD WARRIOR (retitled in the US - you've probably guessed why). 

          Suddenly post apocalypse movies were in, with everything from movies with the worthiest of intentions (Barry Hines' THREADS) to simple money earners (virtually everything else) being churned out everywhere (unsurprisingly, Italy made quite a few). However, while almost all of these portrayed a nihilistic future of broken societies, gang warfare, and ridiculous hair, only one grabbed the last of these three essential elements, cast two personable young actresses as the leads, and ended up with quite possibly the most good-natured post-apocalypse movie ever made, if not the only good natured apocalypse movie ever made.

        Whereas MAD MAX 2 suggested we would be living in a wasteland ruled by petrol-obsessed muscle men dressed in bondage gear, and THREADS predicted we'd all be too busy throwing up from radiation poisoning to do anything other than tend our burned-beyond-recognition loved ones and have mutant babies, NIGHT OF THE COMET suggested that in the wake of worldwide disaster all you really might want to do is shop and listen to Cyndi Lauper covers.

It's the early 1980s in a world where video games consist of little more than blips and pixels, film is still something you run through a projector when it's not on quarter inch videotape, and if your hair isn't as big as your shoulder pads you're just not styling it right. It's a place where everyone wears leg warmers - especially lady scientists who work in underground bunkers, and where even the radioactive mutants have the right kind of sunglasses. When a series of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS-like cosmic flares turns most of the population of Los Angeles to dust, eighteen year old Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and her younger sister Sam (Kelli Maroney) find themselves having to fight off zombie mutants while still finding time to shop at their favourite department stores. Meanwhile in evil scientist land, Geoffrey Lewis, Mary Woronov and others are trying to find a cure but instead are draining healthy people of their blood to keep themselves going. Soon Regina and Sam are on their hit list, and with Robert Beltran busy dressing up as Father Christmas the girls realise they're going to have to save the day.

It's completely unfair, but still rather fun, to compare Thom Eberhardt's NIGHT OF THE COMET with THREADS, if only because they were made the same year on different sides of the Atlantic, and that they illustrate nicely the tremendous gulf there was between the kind of television I grew up watching in the 1970s and 1980s and the eternally optimistic, upbeat way in which I imagined Americans of my age must view life. I'm not saying either was right or wrong because neither is, but in the relentlessly depressing atmosphere that was much of what counted for British television and cinema of that period, movies like NIGHT OF THE COMET were a breath a fresh air.

And they still are. NIGHT OF THE COMET remains a bouncy, silly, good natured SF film with a witty script and enough nods for genre fans (including its casting) that's it's almost impossible not to like.
Arrow's Blu-ray transfer is their usual excellent job, and there are plenty of extras as well. These include no less than three commentary tracks - one with writer-director Thom Eberhardt, a second with stars Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney and third with production designer John Muto. There are brief interviews with the two female leads in 'Valley Girls at the End of the World' and it's good to see both have fond memories of the project. Mary Woronov is her usual delightfully off-kilter self in her interview 'End of the World Blues' and in 'The Last Man on Earth' Robert Beltran talks about turning his leading role down several times before finally accepting it. There's also an interview with makeup artist David B Miller, a theatrical trailer, and the usual Arrow reversible sleeve and booklet. A very pleasant package for a very pleasant film.

Arrow Films released Thom Eberhardt's NIGHT OF THE COMET on Region B Blu-ray on 22nd September 2014

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Red Shift (1978)

The BFI continues its invaluable and highly praiseworthy practice of releasing to disc classic television that pretty much nobody has seen since its initial broadcast with this Play for Today offering from 1978. RED SHIFT was adapted by Alan Garner from his novel of the same title, and directed by John MacKenzie, who also gave us the classic APACHES in the same year and would go on to direct THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. Nothing else in his filmography is quite as ambitious as this, though.

In three separate timelines - Roman, civil war and 'modern day' 1978 we are told three different but nevertheless inter-related stories, linked by their location (Mow Cop in South Cheshire) and a mysterious stone axe head that has a part to play in each. In 1978 Tom (Stephen Petcher) is preparing for his girlfriend Jan (Lesley Dunlop) to leave for London where she is going to train to be a nurse. They resolve to meet up at weekends, despite the objections of Tom's parents (Bernard Gallagher and Stella Tanner) to the relationship. Their plans go ahead, but things don't work out quite how either of them are expecting. 

         Meanwhile in Roman Britain, Macey (Andrew Byatt) has become attached to a couple of Roman legionaries (Ken Hutchison and Anthony Langdon). Driven to killing frenzies by the stone axe head in his possession, he begins to spend time with their female prisoner (Veronica Quilligan), a young woman who has been hamstrung for the purposes of the legionaries' pleasure and who may possess magical powers. In the seventeenth century, Thomas Rowley (Charles Bolton) is plagued by visions as he and his community, led by John Fowler (James Hazeldine) barricade themselves in a local church to withstand an attack by the royalists.

The back of the DVD box for RED SHIFT says that it's from the 'Golden Age of British television' and I have to admit, sadly, that I think that's true. It's pretty much impossible to imagine anyone these days making such a complex and ambitious work for British prime time television viewing and achieving such a successful result. I'll admit that by the time RED SHIFT had finished I still wasn't really sure what it was all meant to be about but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. Alan Garner, a writer of considerable literary merit, had had his work adapted for television before (THE OWL SERVICE) and after (ELIDOR) but it was rare for his work to be filmed with the intention of it having a principally adult audience (the PLAY FOR TODAY strand it was a part of was always broadcast after the Nine O'Clock News). Garner wrote the script himself and it's excellent. The dialogue is crisp and punchy and, needless to say, I can't imagine anyone else making a better job of adapting his novel. John MacKenzie's direction is very good as well. Fans of WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW will be delighted by the feel of the scenes set in the seventeenth century, and the Roman sequence has probably the strongest sense of Britain as a land of magic and pagan power.

The BFI's DVD looks as good as a British TV production of this period possibly could. There are a number of extras, most fascinating of which is probably One Pair of Eyes: Alan Garner - All Systems Go, a documentary about Alan Garner from 1972 in which the writer himself takes us through his daily routine and his upbringing (with the aid of an ASYLUM-era Robert Powell, as they went to the same school). There's also an interview with the 1st assistant director and editor of RED SHIFT, and a short twenty minute film narrated by Michael Hordern about sites to see in Cheshire. This is another marvellous addition to the BFI's library of previously unreleased television classics and they cannot be praised highly enough for bringing works like this back into the public eye. More please!

The BFI will be releasing Alan Garner's RED SHIFT on Region 2 DVD on 13th October 2014

Friday 19 September 2014

The 'Burbs (1989)

Is there any director whose body of work contains more quirky feel-good movies than Joe Dante? A genial satirist who started off under the auspices of Roger Corman’s New World pictures and quickly graduated to ‘A’ class projects like GREMLINS and INNERSPACE, Dante remains, along with his contemporaries David Cronenberg, George Romero and John Carpenter, a director whose sensibilities were retained, rather than compromised, following his move to larger budget studio pictures.

THE ‘BURBS was made just before arguably his best films (GREMLINS 2 and MATINEE) and benefits from a Tom Hanks on the cusp of mega-stardom, as well as the usual kind of quirky character actors Dante had established a reputation for working with from the beginning of his career (Bruce Dern, Wendy Schaal, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo). 

When the unseen Klopek family (Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore and Courtney Gains) move into the weird old house in their neighbourhood, ‘ordinary’ suburbanites Tom Hanks, irritating Rick Ducommun and raving mad Bruce Dern decide to investigate, discovering human bones, weird goings-on at night, and a huge furnace in the Klopek basement. Things reach a climax when they cause the Klopek’s house to explode and the secret of what has been going on in there is finally revealed.

Joe Dante’s THE ‘BURBS is a satire on multiple levels. The American suburb in which the film is set is not typical of real America, but its television equivalent, and its filming on the Universal backlot where many of the television programmes of Dante’s youth were made (including Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters) is significant. The film allows the viewer to side with any of the three points of view on offer - the weird Klopeks, the ‘normal’ suburbanites, or the teenagers led by Corey Feldman, who are there to watch the show put on for them by their elders-but-not-so-betters. Like much of Dante’s work, THE ‘BURBS is not strictly definable in terms of genre. Many scenes are played as a comedy of manners, but it’s just a bit too weird for the straight comedy audience. The plot is a little bit too slight for feature length, leaving the cast to do an admirable job of ad-libbing. As a result THE ‘BURBS is never less than interesting, even if it cannot be considered amongst the best of Dante’s work.

Arrow’s Blu-ray begins with a note about the pains taken to provide the transfer on the disk. There’s still a lot of grain on the image but a look at one of the extras - a feature length work print with extra scenes - shows you how cleaned up this new transfer is. As well as the work print we get an excellent documentary on the making of the film from High Rising Productions. It runs for just over an hour and includes interviews with Dante, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Courtney Gains, DP Robert Stevens and PD James Spencer. There’s also an alternate ending that’s well worth a look (I preferred it to the actual ending of the film), a trailer, a featurette comparing the differences between the work print and the final movie version, a new commentary track with screenwriter Dana Olsen, and an isolated music and effects track. 

Arrow Films released Joe Dante's THE 'BURBS in regular and limited steelbook Blu-ray editions on 15th September 2014

Thursday 18 September 2014

Countess Dracula (1971)

So, you wait for ages for an adaptation of the blood-drenched tale of Countess Bathory to be released on Blu-ray in the UK, and then two come along at once. While Walerian Borowczyk's version was a short, disturbing, visually arresting segment in his IMMORAL TALES, Network are now bringing out Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA, which is a different kind of movie altogether. 

Made during an incredibly busy year for Hammer Horror (even though the US financing had actually gone & James Carreras was calling in favours from Bernard Delfont & others to keep the company going), and with both its director and star coming off other successful Hammer gothics (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) it's a pity COUNTESS DRACULA didn't turn out better than it did.

In her castle deep in Hammerland, the Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy discovers, when striking a servant girl one day, that the girl's blood rejuvenates the skin of her cheek. Reasoning, as Hammer Films themselves probably did on more than one occasion, that if a few drops can work wonders what might an entire gallon do for one's health, soon she's bathing in the stuff and turning into Ingrid Pitt without old age makeup. She arranges for her daughter to be kidnapped and impersonates her, although how she's meant to be mistaken for a teenaged Lesley-Anne Down remains a bit of a mystery. Her lover Captain Dobi (Nigel Green) helps her gets more victims while she gallivants around with hussar Imre Toth (Sandor Eles and his fake moustache). It all goes horribly wrong at the end, of course, with Ingrid ageing lots and lots and gaining the appellation that allows Hammer to give the film its title in the first place.

The main problem with COUNTESS DRACULA is that it's trying too hard to be a sumptuous historical epic (the sets and costumes are gorgeous) and not hard enough to be a horror film called COUNTESS DRACULA. Pitt is great, and the cast has a number of interesting character actors who try hard with the material, but there's just not enough to keep the viewer interested. Harry Robinson contributes a nice music score, and Maurice Denham is good as Fabio, but this is definitely one of Hammer's lesser efforts.

Network's Blu-ray transfer is okay - it looks as if they had a fairly grainy print to work with that's actually a bit grubby at the beginning. All the extras have been ported over from the previous Network Region 2 DVD release. There's a commentary track with Ingrid Pitt, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, a TV news spot on '50 Years of Hammer' from 1999, an episode of Brian Clemens' THRILLER TV series, 'Where the Action Is' starring Ingrid Pitt, an episode of the TV series CONCEPTIONS OF MURDER, 'Peter and Maria' starring Nigel Green. There's also a series of still galleries and a trailer.The extras are all different to the US Blu-ray release from Synapse.

Network released Hammer's COUNTESS DRACULA on Blu-ray on 8th September 2014

Monday 15 September 2014

The Shout (1978)

THE SHOUT isn't exactly a horror film, even though House of Hammer magazine covered it as such back at the time of its original release, and it merited inclusion in Harvey Fenton's seminal Ten Years of Terror - his marvellous book about British horror of the 1970s. Rather, as Kim Newman says in the opening to his and Stephen Jones' commentary track on this, it belongs to the rather more non-specific genre of 'Being A Bit Weird'. But then you shouldn't really be expecting a chiller thriller from the director of the classic DEEP END and the Oscar-winning producer of movies like THE LAST EMPEROR, as well as a couple of adaptations of controversial literary works (NAKED LUNCH & CRASH - both directed by David Cronenberg).

THE SHOUT is a screen version of the Robert Graves story of the same name. Employing a wraparound narrative that's been used by everything from Robert Wiene's DAS CABINET DES DR CALIGARI (1919) to Freddie Francis' THE CREEPING FLESH (1972), the main story unfolds during a cricket match at what is quickly revealed to be an asylum. Alan Bates is Charles Crossley. Bewhiskered, well read, and manipulative, he has a strange story to tell fellow score keeper Tim Curry. "I change the order of events each time" he says, "in order to keep it interesting". The story he relates features people we have already seen glimpses of at the asylum during the opening titles. John Hurt plays Anthony, a musician who plays the organ at the village church when he's not creating experimental new sounds in his cottage. He's married to Sarah (Susannah York) and there is the suggestion that all is not harmonious between them. 

This is made worse by the arrival of Crossley (Bates), who insinuates himself into their household with a bizarre story of having spent eighteen years in the aboriginal outback. While there he murdered the children he had with his aboriginal wife, and learned how to perform a killing shout. He eventually demonstrates this to Anthony (who has plugged his ears with wax at Crossley's advice) during a morning walk across the isolated Devon countryside, producing a sound similar to an aeroplane passing overhead while sheep and seagulls drop down dead in response. Crossley usurps Anthony, taking over his home and his wife, until Anthony is able to find the stone Crossley's soul resides in and smashes it.

THE SHOUT is a peculiar little film that's certainly worth a watch, even if it isn't entirely successful. There are enough pointers here that what we are watching is intended to be ambiguous that anyone wanting an explanation of what is actually going on is going to be disappointed. Mirrors are used are lot, and there is the frequent reminder that we are being told a story by someone in a long-term mental institution. It's not a horror film, but I can't help thinking it would actually work better if it had a few more shocking moments. Instead the whole thing is a little bit too limp and weak, as if every effort has been made to make sure no-one is going to confuse this as something from a genre I suspect they considered disreputable. As a result it goes the other way and ends up a bit dull and unfulfilling, as if it's been made by people for whom any association of their project with the genre would be the most distasteful thing they could envisage. The acting is all very fine (as you would expect) and there's an interesting electronic score from Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford of Genesis.

Network's Blu-ray is gorgeous. I have never thought of THE SHOUT as a beautiful film before but the shots of the Devonshire landscape are just glorious. Extras include the aforementioned commentary by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, an interview with producer Jeremy Thomas about his life and career, and there’s a trailer, an image gallery, a booklet by Kim Newman, and a pdf of the original press materials to round off the package.

Network are releasing Jerzy Skolimowski's THE SHOUT on Region B Blu-ray on 15th September 2014

Friday 12 September 2014

The Medusa Touch (1978)

I make no apologies for stating at the beginning of this review that I love THE MEDUSA TOUCH. Partly filmed in Bristol, with one of the best and most violent orchestral movie scores ever written (courtesy of Aberystwyth’s own Michael J Lewis) how could I not love a British disaster movie in which Richard Burton pulls a cathedral to pieces with his brain?

Not that it’s a perfect film – in fact, far from it. The main problem is with the screenplay, which requires the movie to open with the savage beating of John Morlar (Burton), thus relegating his brain-damaged character to a hospital bed for the rest of the film, and his acting to flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks). Through these we learn, with the aid of John Briley’s often superbly acidic dialogue, how Burton’s character grew up believing himself to be an individual capable of causing disaster. As a child he kills his parents and causes his school to burn down. As an adult he marries but it doesn't work out – his wife ends up hating him and the child she eventually has is a monster. 

        Exasperated with the decadent endeavours of man, Morlar decides to turn his talents to creating disasters, constantly pushing himself to new heights of carnage. An aeroplane crashes, and a link-up in space fails. Once he is hospitalized, the policeman investigating the case (Lino Ventura) realizes Morlar is still gearing up for his piece-de-resistance to ‘bring the whole shameful edifice’ of ‘Minster Cathedral’ crashing down around the heads of dignitaries due to assemble there.

I’ve not read the Peter van Greenaway novel on which the film is based, and so I can’t testify to how faithful the narrative structure is. I suspect, however, that the script had to pander to both budgetary restraints and the need for highlights to rival the popular disaster movies popular at the time. Consequently, it’s easy to see that all the money went on the aeroplane crash and the destruction of the cathedral at the end, meaning that the rest of the running time is taken up with a disjointed police procedural with star turns from whichever British character actors happened to be around at the time. 

But it’s partly these star turns that keep it interesting, that and the music and the sense of creeping dread it conveys that the entire film is building towards something spectacularly horrible. And when it comes it doesn’t disappoint. THE MEDUSA TOUCH may have a clunky screenplay and underuse Richard Burton (in fact every time I watch this I forget how little he’s in it), but the dialogue is terrific and so is he when he’s allowed to unrestrainedly chew the scenery. The climactic destruction of the cathedral is a triumph of excellent model work, razor-sharp editing, and that fantastic music. In fact it’s so good it makes you immediately forgive and forget any shortcomings the movie may have.
THE MEDUSA TOUCH is presented on Network’s Blu-ray release with an transfer that is, on the whole, sparkling - replace your old DVD release of this now. There’s a commentary track by director Jack Gold with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, and some behind the scenes footage of the ‘Destruction of the Cathedral’ sequence. This goes on a bit but fast forward to the end to see them filming the mayhem. There’s also a trailer and an image gallery.

Network are releasing cathedral-crumbling epic that is THE MEDUSA TOUCH on Blu-ray on 15th September 2014

Thursday 11 September 2014

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

      The late 1960s and early 1970s produced a number of classic car chase movies, including Richard C Sarafian’s brilliant VANISHING POINT (1971), Jack Starrett’s RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) and Peter Yates’ BULLITT (1968). Aside from Yates, the other British film-maker to make a significant contribution to the genre was John Hough, who learned the ropes on THE AVENGERS TV series before directing Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL and the classic LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE for James H Nicholson. After these, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY was something of a departure for the director, but he acquitted himself admirably in making a quirky, action-packed, nihilistic feature in keeping with the cinematic trends of the time.

Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam FROGS Roarke) dream of winning NASCAR, but need money to build a car to do it. They rob a local supermarket by threatening the manager (an uncredited Roddy McDowall) with harm to his family if he doesn’t open the safe. They make their getaway but pick up an unwanted passenger in the form of Mary (Susan George), Larry’s one-night stand from a few hours previously. Soon the police are in pursuit, led by Vic BRONX WARRIORS Morrow in a helicopter. The rest of the movie is an event-filled chase across the state, with Larry and Deke trying to unsuccessfully rid themselves of Mary along the way.

A car chase movie from an era long before CGI, it’s curiously refreshing (and far more thrilling) to see real cars missing trucks, bulldozers and each other by a hair’s breadth, plummeting through billboards, and careering into freight trains, rather than today’s CGI equivalent, which has rendered the genre sterile and far less involving. Then again, it may just be me getting old, but it’s also good to see characters who are not intended to be cool or slick but instead are at best misguided and at worst completely insane. I’m not suggesting DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is meant to be in any way realistic (I can’t believe the script was looked over more than once by the writers as there's way too much daft dialogue here to suggest much care was taken with it) but there’s a rawness and a believability here that’s very hard to come by in modern Hollywood action pictures. 

       The acting is fine for this sort of thing, with George coming over as especially and deliberately annoying - a twelve year old girl in a denim-clad twenty-something’s body. The stunts and car chase sequences are splendid and there are enough of them that one can excuse any lapses in believability. So different is it from his horror films that it’s actually difficult to believe this was directed by the same man who made LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, although it would appear the cat from that movie has followed him and appears under his directorial credit. DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY features some great car chases, some even greater car crashes, and, with a sure eye behind the camera for the US landscape, has the feel of an American road movie on fast forward. All this and a gratuitous shot of J&B - what more could you ask for?
Mind you, some extras would be nice. Odyssey’s new Region 2 DVD release of DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The copy supplied for review was the film alone.

Odyssey DVD are releasing John Hough's DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY on Region 2 DVD on 15th September 2014

Wednesday 10 September 2014

The Beast (1975)

So here we finally are - the last of Arrow's current crop of dual DVD & Blu-ray releases of the work of Polish director Walerian Borowczyk, and the most recent chronologically. THE BEAST also happens to be the work of his that first brought him to my notice and, I suspect the notice of many others as well - for better or worse.
        THE BEAST is an attention grabbing, infamous film. Based around a segment originally filmed for IMMORAL TALES which was then saved to be part of a longer feature work, its original release was met with horror, outrage, censorship and outright banning. What's interesting is that, apart from some graphic scenes of horses having sex at the beginning, for the first hour or so the unsuspecting viewer may well wonder what all the fuss is about as THE BEAST bears all the characteristics of setting itself up as something approaching farce.

Lucy Broadhurst (Lisbeth Hummel) travels from England to marry Maturin L'Esperance (Pierre Benedetti). They stand to inherit a considerable fortune as a result, as long as the marriage is blessed by a specific Cardinal. Behind the scenes we learn the Cardinal is still in Rome & won't accept the L'Esperance family's calls because Maturin wasn't baptised until recently. As Lucy explores the house she finds a number of weird family heirlooms - paintings that conceal obscene images of bestiality, and a corset in a glass cabinet that allegedly belonged to Maturin's eighteenth-century ancestor Romilda. Lucy isn't entirely without secrets of her own, however. She's been busy taking Polaroid snaps of horses having sex and getting off to them in her bedroom. Maturin, on the other hand, seems to have no interest in her at all. In a dream sequence Romilda (Sirpa Lane) gets chased through a forest by a huge hairy thing with a huge hairy thing. After a prolonged sexual encounter with it, she eventually proves more than a match for its sexual potency and the beast dies. Meanwhile back in 1975 the plot is about to go completely bonkers with plenty of nudity and weird hairiness of its own.

In a decade where censorship had become significantly relaxed it’s still unsurprising that THE BEAST caused quite a lot of outrage when it was first shown. Nearly forty years later, and the sexual content still feels rather over the top, so goodness knows what viewers of the uncut version must have thought back in the day. THE BEAST is, of course, all about sex, whether it's the unfulfilled desires of Lucy, the perceived impotence (or bestial leanings) of Maturin, the predilection for teenaged boys exhibited by the priest staying at the house, the inter-racial couplings of the servants (probably a lot more shocking then than we can probably conceive) or the fact that the entire movie is taking place at what one presumes is a stud farm. In amongst all this bouncing around, Borowczyk also manages to create some beautiful images, and once again shows an exquisite sense in his choice of musical underscoring (in this case harpsichord music by Scarlatti).

Arrow's Blu-ray presentation of THE BEAST is uncut and second to none. It's rare to see a European film from this era looking this good (the most recent would have been the BFI's Blu-ray of Robbe-Grillet's SUCCESSIVE SLIDINGS OF PLEASURE). Extras include a brief introduction by film critic Peter Bradshaw and The Making of the Beast which combines behind the scenes footage of the making of the film with a commentary by camera operator Noel Very. Frenzy of Ecstasy is a featurette which displays Borowczyk's original sketches of the beast, and then provides a synopsis of the perceived BEAST sequel, MOTHERHOOD, which sounds so completely barking mad I wish he'd had the chance to make it. There's also the short VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL which features some very strange art indeed, a trailer, booklet and reversible sleeve.

As a work of film restoration on Arrow's part, and an example of the censor's current day attitude towards a movie by a director of Borowczyk's reputation, I cannot recommend THE BEAST highly enough. As an actual film I'd have to recommend it be approached with caution. It's possibly the most provocative and certainly the most outrageous of Arrow's Borowczyk Blu-ray releases. Actually, it's one of the most outrageous in the entire Arrow catalogue. Nearly forty years old, it still has the power to make you wonder what on earth was going through his mind when he made it. Which in itself should be recommendation enough.

Arrow Films released Walerian Borowczyk's THE BEAST on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on 8th September 2014