Friday 31 October 2014

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

It’s hard to believe it’s now forty years since the Greater London Council felt able to grant an ‘X’ certificate to Tobe Hooper’s seminal, relentless, gut-churning horror picture, while it remained banned in the rest of the UK. Since then a lot has changed, but it’s a delight to report that Hooper’s film hasn’t. In fact if anything, the numerous sequels, retreads, revisions and remakes have only served to prove how very good a film it is. Its own director has never come close to reproducing the sense of horror some of the scenes are still capable of evoking, and the movie can in many ways be considered a career best for all concerned. Over the years since it was first released THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (as the onscreen title would have it) has become a classic, not just of the horror genre but of cinema, such that it’s hard to believe there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know what the film is about.

Sally Hardesty (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul Partain) and her hippy friends travel in their hippy bus to visit the grave of Sally’s grandfather. Something horrible has been left in the graveyard and it’s virtually the first thing we see in the film (and all the more drippy in Blu-ray). They pick up a deranged hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) whom they quickly dump, and when they run out of petrol they call at a house that just happens to be home to a family of crazed ex-slaughterhouse employees. They get bumped off one by one until only Sally is left to be served up as a potential dinner to their one hundred year plus year old grandpa. 

Imitated to well past the point when people should have just given up and never, ever equalled, all the rip-off merchants missed the point of TCM, just like they missed the point of John Carpenter’s later HALLOWEEN. Yes, there are murders and yes, the family are raving mad, but Hooper’s film gets everything right that TCM’s imitators either got wrong or couldn’t be bothered with. The killings are probably the most horrible bloodless deaths I’ve still ever seen in a film, and the true horror comes not from excessive blood and gore, but from the implication of what these people have been doing and how they lead what to them is a normal life. Some absolutely brilliant editing helps as well. Then there’s the ‘music’ - never have scrapes, atonal noises and deep synthesised buzzing sounds been so well used in a genre film. 

Second Sight’s Blu-ray is spot on. For those of you worried that a Blu-ray transfer would make the image look too clean and sparkling worry not - this is the TCM you know and love and are terrified by every time you watch it - with every bit of grain and grunge preserved. I suspect this is the best they could get the film to look and if that’s the case we can be grateful - TCM shouldn’t ever look pristine and this transfer does it perfect justice.

There are more extras than can fit on a single Blu-ray disc and so we have two. TCM has been released so many times that the extras are now starting to compete with LORD OF THE RINGS. So what’s new on this version? Well, we get two new commentary tracks - one from Tobe Hooper and another featuring Daniel Pearl (DP), Ted Nicolaou (sound recorder) and J Larry Carroll (editor). There’s also a new short interview with Carroll and another with John Dugan, who played Grandpa. Both a worth a look, with the Dugan one funny and touching by turns. ‘Horror’s Hallowed Grounds’ is a 2006 edition of a TV programme in which the TCM locations  are visited, and there are some newly found deleted scenes and out-takes as well.

Other extras ported over from previous releases include David Gregory’s documentary ‘The Shocking Truth’ and two commentary tracks - one with Hooper, Hansen and Pearl, the other with Marilyn Burns, actors Allen Danziger and Paul Partain, and art director Bob Burns. There are also interviews with Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel, Teri McMinn and production manager Ron Bozman, a tour of the TCM house with Gunnar Hansen, the ‘Flesh Wounds’ featurette and assorted deleted scenes, out-takes, trailers, TV and radio spots. Oh, and if you feel so inclined, it all comes in a lovely steelbook - what more could you possibly want? 

Second Sight are releasing Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE on Region B Blu-ray in a two-disc limited edition steelbook and two-disc standard edition formats on 17th November 2014

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

One of the best British science fiction films ever made gets a sparkling Blu-ray transfer on a disc packed with extras in this new release from the BFI.
Bomb tests by the USA and Russia tilt the earth off its orbital axis, altering the climate and causing worldwide disasters. As the situation continues to worsen, it becomes apparent that it is not just the angle of orbit that has been affected, but that the earth is heading towards the sun. A desperate attempt to correct the situation leads to a climax that is both poignant and affecting.

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE was directed by Val Guest (who also produced and co-wrote the script with Wolf Mankowitz), and he uses the same kind of style of here as he did in Hammer's classic THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, relying on location shooting and encouraging a gritty acting style that all helps to convey the idea that what you are watching is really happening. There's also some effective use of archival World War II footage that must have been all the more effective in 1961 a scant 16 years after that particular conflict had officially ended.

As Kim Newman notes in one of the new extras on the disc, while the post-apocalypse movie has become a genre all its own, it's somewhat rarer to come across a film that shows the rapid and realistic deterioration of society from absolutely normality to absolute chaos. That this happens in real London locations, with only minimal use of special effects model work and some decent matte paintings, gives it a sense of immediacy that is still surprisingly effective considering the film is now over fifty years old. 

         Guest is, on the whole, well served by his actors as well. Edward Judd does a fine job in the lead as science fiction's very own Angry Young Man. He's not exactly likeable but at heart this is an angry film, and his irascible attitude helps immensely in setting the tone. He's cushioned by pretty Janet Munro on one side and fatherly Leo Mckern on the other, but at no time do we feel they are there to reassure us - indeed, the tone of this entire film is of monumental disquiet, unrest, and disenchantment with Those Who Rule Us. The prime minister's broadcast to the nation has to be one of the most cynical moments in post war cinema of this era, and scientists do not come off much better. Probably the saddest thing about THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE is that nowadays it would be almost impossible to believe in journalists working on a popular modern newspaper (in this case the Daily Express) as heroes pursuing the truth at all costs.

The BFI's Blu-ray transfer of THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE is superb. The sepia tinting at the beginning and end has been retained, and only in a few scenes is there suggestion of some speckling or blurring. There are plenty of extras, including a new 34 minute documentary, Hot Off the Press, featuring Kim Newman, Marcus Hearne, John Oliver and Jo Botting talking about the movie. You also get an audio commentary with Val Guest & Ted Newsom, a short interview with Leo McKern from 2001, a short audio appreciation by Graham Hobbs, and the usual trailers, TV spots and still galleries. Three short nuclear films from the BFI archive are included (Operation Hurricane, The H-bomb, The Hole in the Ground) and Edward Judd's public safety film Think Bike from 1978. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is an hour long Guardian Lecture in which David Meeker talks to Val Guest about his career. Those hoping for some gossip from the latter half of Guest's career will be disappointed as the talk concentrates mainly on his earlier work and twenty minutes in his wife Yolande Dolan takes a seat to contribute as well. It's still a nice extra to have and it's a shame the talk doesn't last longer.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE is a great science fiction film. It's also a great British film. The BFI have done it extremely proud in this new edition and it deserves nothing less. An essential addition to any film library.

The BFI are releasing Val Guest's THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE on Region B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD on 17th November 2014

Monday 27 October 2014

The Visitor (1979)

How does one even begin to review THE VISITOR?
Attempting a plot summary won't do, because that way lies madness. If I were to tell you who is in it that won't help either, because there's no way the mixture of star turns this movie features could possibly help you get a feel for how insane this film is. I could say it's from Ovidio Assonitis, who gave us TENTACLES - a daft Italian film about a monster octopus, and BEYOND THE DOOR  - a daft Italian OMEN ripoff that gets more incoherent as it goes. Incoherent, now there's a word we can use to describe the film under review here. Mind you, that's a word we can also use to describe quite a lot of Italian exploitation cinema of the 1970s. But if any single movie can be described as the apotheosis of 1970s Italian incoherence, it is indeed, THE VISITOR.

In a galaxy far, far away (I think) John Huston awaits a dark shape that turns into a little girl while the sky turns the colour of tea being tipped into a glass of water. We cut to Franco Nero as Jesus addressing a room full of bald children. Enter John Huston looking vaguely normal. Just as we expect him to tell Mr Nero to get back to the psychiatric ward and leave the paediatric oncology patients alone we realise we are still on the other planet / galaxy / dimension / whatever. Jesus Franco (oh what delightful unintentional subtext) has been relating the raison d'ĂȘtre of everything we are about to watch, so we had better have been paying attention. In fact let's rewind and watch it again.

Sateen, Yahweh, flock of ravens, three survived, escape ship fell to earth, Sateen's genes, power of evil, etc etc. Got it? Never mind, we are in Atlanta about to embark on a tour of the city's highlights thanks to some sort of deal the film-makers made with the mayor and made sure to point out in the very first caption onscreen. There's a basketball game that goes on for too long, then we meet Lance Henriksen, who has been assigned by Mel Ferrer and his gang of evil lawyers (?) to get his girlfriend Joanne Nail pregnant. She carrying the genes of Sateen you see, and while she already has a foul-mouthed hawk-wielding daughter, a son is needed to...I don't know - fulfil a prophecy or something? Joanne doesn't want to get pregnant so when her daughter gets a gun for her birthday the little girl shoots mother in the back and paralyses her.

Joanne seems remarkably chipper for someone who will never walk again. Soon she's back home in her wheelchair while John Huston arrives from...I don't He's brought a group of bald men with him who proceed to erect some white sheets in a pleasing arrangement on top of a skyscraper. I still have no real idea why. Mr Huston is here to stop / get the little girl & defeat the bad guys. I think. The daughter goes ice skating and flings some men around.There were meant to be elephants in this scene as well because the director thought people liked them.

Shelley Winters turns up as the anti Mrs Baylock and proceeds to serenade everyone with a traditional Negro folk song. John Huston arrives at the house, announces he's the babysitter and everyone believes him. Some more stuff happens that's so out there I really can't assemble it into any kind of logical sequence anymore, and I've only just watched the film. It all ends with...oh, but that would be telling. Actually it wouldn't but I can't actually remember. I think Jesus pops up again and the reason for the bald children is explained. Kind of. But actually not at all, really.

Plotwise THE VISITOR is an unbelievable mess, acting-wise it's an unbelievable display of name stars giving their all to something where no-one could possibly have had any idea what was going on. There's an interview with one of the screenwriters in here that's possibly the highlight of the disc, in which you get the feeling he had to write the script based on the gesticulations of a madman who couldn't communicate in any known language. And yet despite all this, the direction is really rather stylish. Immense care has been taken to compose shots for dialogue scenes that would otherwise be utterly disposable. The other planet is rather trippy. So are some effects in the sky we get to see at the end (I wasn't sure what was happening). Lance Henriksen gets attacked by a flock of birds & I'm sure the wooden one we see pecking at him is intended to be wooden. But why?
Arrow's Blu-ray looks excellent. There's an interview with Lance Henriksen which is almost as funny as the screenwriter one and definitely worth a watch. There's also a subtitled interview with DP Ennio Guarnieri which is rather more serious.
Crazy, incoherent and trippy, THE VISITOR nevertheless makes you wish there had been more films made like this, because whatever pioneering new form of film-making it was, it needed an awful lot of refining before it could be considered a viable entertainment medium. As it is you'll probably only be able to make it all the way through THE VISITOR's nearly two hour running time once. But you'll be showing bits of it to your friends forever.

Arrow Films released the unique cinematic experience that is THE VISITOR on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 6th October 2014

Saturday 25 October 2014

Stagefright (1987) - UK DVD & Blu-ray Release

I’ve written about Michele Soavi’s excellent low-budget STAGEFRIGHT on this site before, but with the release of a splendid dual disc DVD and Blu-ray transfer of the film from Exposure Cinema last month, I thought I’d reproduce what I said about the film here and also talk about the extras that are available on Exposure’s new disc.

A surprisingly good entry in the 1980s slasher subgenre, STAGEFRIGHT defies expectations by being an Italian horror film produced by Joe D'Amato and written by his frequent collaborator Luigi Montefiore (aka George Eastman / Lew Cooper in this) that's actually well crafted, makes sense, isn't too tastelessly over the top in its portrayal of the murders and has dialogue which sounds as if it's being spoken by actors rather than the usual two or three people crammed into a Soho dubbing suite. One would be tempted to lay all the credit for this endeavour at the door of talented first time director Michele Soavi and certainly his subsequent movies makes you sorry he hasn't had a longer career in the horror genre.

Also known in different territories as DELIRIA, AQUARIUS and BLOODY BIRD (what would a EuroHorror picture be without several different titles?) the clever opening scene makes us think we're on the hideously cheap set of another Italian horror film. But no - we're actually on the hideously cheap set of an Italian stage play called 'The Night Owl'. After a couple of knowing comments about the Italian horror genre as a whole ("I know it doesn't make sense, but can you imagine the effect on the public?") Alicia (Barbara Cupisti) is off to the nearest hospital with Betty the wardrobe mistress to seek treatment for Alicia's sprained ankle. 

The nearest hospital is an Institution for the Criminally Insane which also just happens to be looking after psychopathic loony mass murderer plus actor Irving Wallace. Wallace escapes and hides in the back seat of the car (why does no-one ever check there after leaving these places?) before doing Betty in with a pickaxe. After the police have been and gone director Peter (David Brandon, who's not at all bad as the megalomaniacal director, although one wonders if having worked in Italy for some time he may have found quite a bit of inspiration to draw on) decides he's found the hook that will sell his play and locks his actors in for the night. 

Unfortunately Wallace is in there too and once he's found the owl mask and the keys to the tool and chainsaw cupboard the stage is set (sorry) for a series of well-orchestrated and quite ghastly murders, leading to the now famous scene of all the bits of the victims arranged as a tableaux tastefully augmented by swirling feathers amongst which is hidden the key Alicia has to retrieve so she can escape.

For a 1980s horror film STAGEFRIGHT hasn't dated too badly at all, possibly because the actors' hair and costumes could conceivably be part of the play they're meant to be appearing in. In the era of SAW and its ilk the murders are still quite horrible and Soavi demonstrates on this picture, as he did on subsequent projects THE CHURCH & DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, that he's a born director with a natural eye for some impressive visual compositions. As I mentioned above the acting all round seems to be rather better than many EuroHorror efforts (and in particular many Joe D'Amato efforts) and Simon Boswell's electronic music augments the proceedings nicely. I believe there was talk of a STAGEFRIGHT 2 for a couple of years after this one but perhaps it's just as well it never materialised. As it is the movie stands as the best owl-headed theatre set slasher movie there is, and it’s unlikely to be bettered.

Exposure’s Blu-ray and DVD set is limited to 3000 copies and has nearly three hours of extras. Perhaps the most important thing to mention, though, is that as well as being in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 the film is uncut. I have to throw my hands up here and say I had assumed this to always be  the case but no - a comparison on the disc between the version presented here and the old VHS Avatar release shows that there were a few cuts & that all material has now been restored.

Other extras include A Bloodstained Featherstorm, in which members of the cast and crew (including star Barbara Cupisti, director Soavi and screenwriter Montefiore) are interviewed about the making of the film; Giovanni’s Method, which is a separate interview with actor and Italian exploitation legend Giovanni Lombardo Radice; The Critic’s Take, in which Alan Jones waxes lyrical about the film, tells us some of the behind the scenes gossip and explains, for anyone who hasn’t already realised it, why it's really rather a classic; Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut is a one hour documentary about the film-maker that D’Amato completists will have already seen (it’s on the Region 1 release of ANTHROPOPHAGOUS / THE GRIM REAPER) but which everyone else will find fascinating and often quite amusing; Revenge of the Video Cassette is half an hour with people who still love the VHS format and are prepared to defend their obsession onscreen. There are also trailers, a stills gallery and a booklet. 
Exposure’s STAGEFRIGHT package is the best presentation available of arguably Michele Soavi’s best film. Apart from a sparkling transfer, the extras do the film proud. Highly recommended. 

Exposure Cinema released Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT on limited edition dual disc Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 15th September 2014

Thursday 23 October 2014

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

"A new peak in horror!" the cover of the novelisation for THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN claimed back in 1977. While the movie on which it was based isn't that by any means, you have to give it some credit for belonging to that small group of films like SNAKES ON A PLANE where everything you need to know about it is in the title. It does indeed have a man who melts and yes, the effects are actually rather incredible. The rest of the film is rather less so, but if you want to see a bloke melt into a squidgy pool then no other movie will satisfy you quite like this one.

Space Mission Scorpio 5 is out near Saturn. How it took them less than the accepted five years to get there is never explained, but then neither is the fact that the sun that they are shown looking at appears rather unnaturally bright for something that should be at so great a distance. Perhaps the astronauts went the wrong way, or are looking at another star altogether. Certainly astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) doesn't sound entirely convinced he's looking at  Saturn when he utters his one line of dialogue in the entire film. Perhaps his brain has already started to melt, though, so we should excuse him.

Something happens, Steve pulls a funny face, and then we're in a maximum security hospital with no guards and a nurse who can't run very fast and is even more hampered by slow motion and a plate glass door. It still takes Steve quite a while to catch her, though, so he must be even slower. He leaps out of bed, tears off his bandages, marvels at Rick Baker's Stage One of his prosthetic makeup effects, and then off he goes, chasing his victim very slowly down an empty corridor and out into an empty car park. He kills her and escapes and the US army jolly well deserve all that if they can't be bothered to guard him in the first place.

Funding must be poor because they can't even afford to send out troops to find him. Instead stiff as a board Dr Ted (Burr DeBenning) is assigned to wander randomly around the countryside with a geiger counter, even though it's actually easier to follow the bits of ear, nose, skin and gloopy stuff that's dotting the landscape at regular intervals. Ted checks each bit with the geiger counter, just in case one of them might have come from another incredible melting man that he's not looking for.

The melting man melts, everyone else doesn't act (in every sense of the word), Rainbeaux Smith's breasts appear gratuitously, a few people get killed, the melting man doesn't melt any more until right at the end where suddenly he becomes the consistency of some child's ghastly ice cream they've managed to spill on themselves rather than eat. He gets shovelled into a bin and another rocket takes off. The End.

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN really isn't very good. In fact without Rick Baker's marvellous effects it would actually be pretty poor, and far less watchable as bad films go than PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. However, it's unfair to criticise a film too much that has such a great title, a great concept, and actually delivers on it. The novelisation fleshes out the story a lot more (how could it not?) and remains the one book I have ever read that made me feel nauseous, mainly because of its constant descriptions of mucus.
Arrow's Blu-ray of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN looks terrific, and Baker's effects hold up very well indeed to close scrutiny. Extras include interviews with Rick Baker and writer-director William Sachs, as well as a Sachs commentary. Probably best watched by those with nostalgia for its original double-bill release across the UK with THE SAVAGE BEES. 

Arrow Films released THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN on dual format Region 2 DVD & Region B Blu-ray on 13th October 2014

Monday 20 October 2014

Unhinged (1982)

It's time for yet more period backwoods USA daftness courtesy of 88 Films. UNHINGED belongs to that very specific subgenre of movies made by independent North American film-makers who only ever turned out an average of about one film, and then went back to their ordinary everyday lives (or possibly got their day release papers revoked so they couldn't make any more - who knows?). Movies like THE CHILD (1977), THE REDEEMER (1977 as well - it was a bumper year), I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1971) and THE CHILDREN (1980) all fall into this category. Some of these movies are scary, some are dull, and quite a few are just stupid. The most tantalising are quite frequently all three and often manage to pull off the feat of being genuinely disturbing at the same time.

UNHINGED is from 1982 but feels as if it could have been made in the late 1970s heyday of backwoods mania. Three girls whose acting talents range from leaden to wooden are on the way to a music festival when, en route through a nicely scary forest (with synth music to match) they crash their car. Just before they avoid the log that appears to have been placed strategically in the middle of the road and end up in the ditch, the radio helpfully informs both them and us that 23 young women have now gone missing in the area. They wake up to find they are now in a great big scary old country house where the acting ranges from mental to completely crackers. 

          After some static and rather prolonged dialogue scenes, and some creeping around in near total darkness (this must have been unwatchable on the previously banned VHS transfer) one of the girls makes off for the nearest town and is hacked to bits by a lunatic with a scythe for her troubles. More prolonged and static dialogue scenes ensue, then there's another gruesome death scene and finally the climax where, if you're still wondering why this made the Video Nasties list back in the day, all will become gorily apparent. And if that's not reward enough for sticking with UNHINGED through the more boring bits, the film also gives us a barking mad twist of an ending you'll probably want to watch at least twice just to make sure that's actually what happened.

UNHINGED isn't a great movie, or even a terribly good movie, but as I said above, it features enough backwoods weirdness and splattery violence to make forgiving horror fans stick with it. Special mention should be made of the synthesiser score by Jonathan Newton which, with its pulsing analog rhythms, might just have inspired Rob's score to the recent remake of MANIAC.

88 Films presents us with a transfer of UNHINGED that's actually very nice indeed, especially considering that the master is no more, which is why a Blu-ray version wasn't possible. Two aspect ratio options are offered, and you want to go with the fullscreen (i.e. 1.33:1) version to get the most picture information. Extras include a new feature-length commentary with director and co-writer Don Gronquist, a trailer and the usual entertaining 88 Films trailer park.
UNHINGED absolutely isn't an undiscovered classic, but it is an engaging bit of backwoods lunacy that's worth a watch if any of the other movies I've name checked above float your boat.

88 Films released UNHINGED on Region 2 DVD on 13th October 2014

Friday 17 October 2014

Blacula: The Complete Collection (1972/1973)

It took a little while for what is now known as the blaxploitation genre to get going, but by the time Gordon Parks' SHAFT (1971) was on the streets, everyone and his brother (sorry) was looking to cash in on it. Always one to exploit a trend, American International Pictures decided that the best way to kick off a potential blaxploitation horror franchise was to do a version of Dracula. Or not, because BLACULA isn't anything like Stoker's novel (not that that ever stopped Hammer), but it is a brisk and fun movie that also says more about the age in which it was made than was probably ever intended.

We start off in Transylvania. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall) and his wife (Vonetta McGee) are visiting Dracula (a very un-Christopher Lee-like Charles McCauley, and well done to whoever decided to do something a bit different with the character). Somehow they've been led to think he might support the abolition of the slave trade rather than turning out to be exactly what we all want Dracula to be, which is an utter bastard of the highest order. Incensed that anyone would even think he would be interested in getting rid of slavery, Dracula curses Mamuwalde with vampirism and walls his wife up with him to die.

The 1970s. And not just the 1970s but the Afro-haired, gaily coloured, massive shirt collar and dayglo coloured pendant wearing 1970s. A couple of camp young male antique dealers (one with handbag and the other with cigarette holder), are in the process of buying the contents of Castle Dracula. Everything gets shipped back to their warehouse in Los Angeles. A misplaced crowbar and some ill-advised curiosity later, and Blacula is up and about and vampirising. At the funeral home where one of his victims is being prepared for burial, Blacula spots Tina (McGee again) a dead ringer for his dead wife. Kim Newman may well be right in his talking head piece included as an extra in this set, that this might be the first vampire film that features the theme of pursuit of lost love. If he is then Coppola's DRACULA did indeed rip off BLACULA, which is as amusing as it is ironic.

More deaths occur and Mamuwalde eventually gets the girl. By the end he's being pursued by the might of the LAPD and has created a warehouse full of vampire slaves. I've not seen the ending we have here done in a vampire film before this one, either, and if you've not seen the movie I'll leave you to discover it for yourselves. BLACULA is a lot of fun, and while some of the acting leaves a bit to be desired, William Marshall is excellent in the title role. Regal, majestic, commanding and at the same time extremely likeable, he gives the character a depth other actors would have had a lot of difficulty achieving. Gene Page’s music errs on the side of funk rather than horror (but that still means it's actually rather groovy) and somehow the manager of the Hues Corporation did a deal to have them singing three songs! (But no 'Rock the Boat'.)

One of the things AIP seemed effortless at (and which Hammer never really managed to do) was combine the idea of the gothic vampire with 1970s urban life. Both BLACULA and the COUNT YORGA pictures showed how a vampire of Dracula's ilk might survive in modern day America. It's unsurprising then that when William Crain, BLACULA's director, proved to be unavailable, the task of directing SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM fell to Bob Kelljan, the director of both Yorga movies. Blacula is brought back to life by voodoo to be used as an instrument of revenge. He's given a splendid buildup and introduction in one of AIP's longest-ever pre-credit sequences. After that it's business as usual, with Blacula this time building up a vampire horde at an isolated country house. All he wants is to die and he needs sexy voodoo specialist Pam Grier to help him. It all builds to a final showdown at the house with some well-orchestrated action sequences and scarier music courtesy of Kelljan's regular composer Bill Marx. SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM is actually preferred by many people to the first film, but I have to say I like the original more.

A prime slice of early 1970s exploitation, both of AIP's BLACULA movies are now presented in this fine dual disc DVD & Blu-ray set from Eureka. The transfer of BLACULA is especially excellent, with very little grain in the image. The picture quality of SCREAM isn't quite as good but presumably that's a film stock issue. The only extra is Kim Newman talking for twenty five minutes about both films. He does a good job of placing both movies in context, giving us some background, and suggesting how influential they might actually be. As well as that you get trailers for both films and a 32 page booklet with new writing by Josiah Howard and reprints of BLACULA press materials. Overall this is a very nice package indeed, and well done to Eureka for including both films in this highly presentable set.

Eureka are releasing AIP's BLACULA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on 27th October 2014 - just in time for Halloween

Thursday 16 October 2014

The Island of Dr Moreau (1977)

Here's a surprise - a late 1970s Samuel Z Arkoff production that doesn't feature giant ants or chickens but does feature some excellent acting, decent music, good makeup effects and efficient direction. Destined to live forever sandwiched between the shadows of its marvellous predecessor (Erle Kenton's 1932  ISLAND OF LOST SOULS) and the quite unbelievable 1996 Marlon Brando remake, Don Taylor's 1977 version of the H G Wells novel is actually perfectly respectable and, while it takes a few liberties with its source material, is never less than interesting to watch and deserves to be more than just the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question 'What was Burt Lancaster's only horror film?' (THE SWIMMER doesn't count although it probably should).

The screenplay, by Taylor associates John Herman Shaner and Al Ramrus (they did uncredited rewrites on the script to DAMIEN OMEN II for Taylor the following year after he took over the project from Mike Hodges), dispenses with any shenanigans aboard the Lady Vain and gets Michael York's character of Andrew Braddock to the island as soon as the credits are over. His shipwrecked companions are swiftly dispensed with and Braddock finds himself being looked after in the jungle compound of Dr Moreau (Lancaster).

Moreau, as every schoolboy knows, has been up to no good with the local animals, and also with a fair few he seems to have imported from all over the world in the very best jungle movie tradition. Also living in Moreau's house is Barbara Carrera's Maria, who is presumably another of Moreau's experiments although very little, if anything, is made of this other than a flash on some unnatural-looking eyes at the very end. Having exhausted his work turning pigs, bears and monkeys into rudimentary men, Moreau decides it would be useful to do it the other way round and turn Braddock into an animal so he can describe the process to Moreau before his speech degenerates into grunts. It all goes predictably pear-shaped and fiery at the end as the human animals rebel and Braddock and Maria escape.

Taylor's film does try to be different from ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. Burt Lancaster's interpretation of Moreau is radically different from Charles Laughton's but is no less fascinating. In fact, his low key softly spoken demeanour is possibly all the more terrifying because he seems such a nice and reasonable chap when we know what he's doing is actually obscene. It's a mis-step to downplay the panther woman (or whatever Maria might be) especially as Carrera is pretty good at evincing animal passion. Also in contrast to the Kenton picture, where much of the action took place at night, we get to see Moreau's experiments by the bright light of day and while the makeups aren't bad at all, one suspects they might have been scarier had they only been glimpsed in shadows. Even so, this is a surprisingly well made and cast film that elevates it well above similarly-themed 1970s fare such as the Schenk brothers' SUPERBEAST and Eddie Romero's TWILIGHT PEOPLE (both 1972).

        101's Blu-ray release of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU is excellent. You would never believe a late 1970s Sam Arkoff picture could look so lush and lovely. My ageing brain was convinced Ms Carrera has a nude scene when the film was shown in ITV in the early 1980s but if so then it's not present here.  Sadly there are no extras, but if you want to see Don Taylor's version of the HG Wells story looking better than it ever has before then this is definitely worth a look.

101 Films released Don Taylor's 1977 version of THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU on Region B Blu-ray on 6th October 2014

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Bad Milo (2014)

How many films do you need to make a movie category? If it's two then BAD MILO, along with the similarly-themed (if not quite as well executed) RECTUMA now make up the Monster Born From The Back Passage Of An Anxious Man subgenre. While this could be taken as a sign of the depths to which contemporary exploitation cinema has sunk, both films are actually rather funny and BAD MILO in particular is actually a very decent and well made horror comedy.

Duncan (Ken Marino) is a typical 21st Century everyman, with typical 21st century anxieties. His job is stressful enough, but then his dodgy boss Phil (Patrick Warburton) moves him to Human Resources and puts him in charge of sacking some of his co-workers. This entails having to share a toilet-cum-office with an obnoxious co-worker who wrecks the presentation Duncan has been working on for a year. As if that isn't bad enough, Duncan, in common with virtually everyone else in Hollywood movies nowadays, has father issues. Duncan's mum has recently remarried, and Duncan's new father is younger than him but insists he call him Daddy. After an excruciatingly embarrassing meal at his mother's house, Duncan's irritable bowel syndrome starts to play up, with quite unexpected results. The BAD MILO of the title is a rectal monster born of an intestinal polyp and Duncan's inner rage. Whenever things get too much, Milo pops out and kills whoever has upset Duncan on this occasion. A visit to a whacky psychiatrist (Peter Stormare) results in Duncan trying to bond with Milo, and a visit to his estranged father reveals that he has been harbouring a rectal secret too.

Despite its subject matter, BAD MILO is actually a rather sweet and good natured comedy about the stress of modern-day living. While Milo himself has been given sharp teeth and claws, the design of his face, and the noises he makes, are far more reminiscent of Gizmo from Joe Dante's GREMLINS than an anal ALIEN. Acting is fine across the board, with special mentions going to Stormare's psychiatrist and Kumail Najiani's hilarious turn as Duncan's new dad. Hang around for the end titles as well as there are a number of bloopers to keep you chuckling as the credits roll.

Sony are releasing BAD MILO on DVD in the UK. Extras include even more outtakes, a couple of deleted and extended scenes, and a couple of alternate takes. BAD MILO is a decent little comedy horror which, as we all know, is a genre that’s difficult to do well. Certainly recommended if you’re in the mood for something light and yet, well, rather twisted. 

Sony are releasing BAD MILO on Region 2 DVD on 20th October 2014