Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bloody Homecoming (2012)

The 80s slasher film gets an affectionate (the uncharitable would say derivative) tribute with this semi-professional feeling little low budget picture from director Brian C. Weed (one suspects a marine-themed pseudonym here, although imdb gives him a list of credits so for all I know I may well be wrong).
It’s the annual Homecoming dance at Winston High. Billy Corbin tries to rape his Lynn Lowry-lookalike girlfriend and gets locked in a cupboard and burned to death as a result. Three years later the classmates involved are all seniors and it’s time for the dance to take place again. This time, however, someone dressed in a fireman’s outfit and a mask is bumping them off by piercing them with a wooden stake. Is it one of the pupils? Is it the dodgy principal? Or the insane mother of Billy who’s locked in the local state mental facility? What’s that head doing in a toilet? Why is there a gratuitous shower scene for no reason featuring a girl whose only reason to be in this film is to be topless for a couple of seconds? What on earth is RADA-trained Jim Tavare, he of the stand-up act with the double bass, doing playing a janitor character more suited to the likes of Michael Berryman?
Oh yes, BLOODY HOMECOMING is very much in the tradition of so many of the slasher movies that made the VHS rental industry of the 1980s such a lucrative business to invest in. Anyone who is a fan of movies like PROM NIGHT, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME will spot the outright steals from these pictures, almost all of which have been remade in glossier, drearier versions for the twenty first century generation.
       As mentioned above, BLOODY HOMECOMING feels at best a semi-professional effort. The acting is all cheerfully amateur, and the direction feels for the most part as if it could have been tightened up quite a bit. The film is lacking the certain special something to make it a good slasher film. That said the traditional ending - unmasking, victim reveals, etc, is all well done, and I came away from this feeling my time hadn’t been entirely wasted. If the idea of a film made by a group of enthusiastic amateurs in the style of old slasher movies fills you with anticipation you’ll probably have a good time with it. 
Image Entertainment presents BLOODY HOMECOMING in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Extras are zero apart from audio options of either stereo 2.0 or Dolby Digital 5.1  - there isn’t even a menu page or scene selection. However, it is nice to see Image, a label that has released a lot of interesting stuff in the US over the years, starting up an arm in the UK.

Image Entertainment are releasing BLOODY HOMECOMING on DVD on 10th March 2014

Monday, 24 February 2014

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

A BBC Christmas favourite for a couple of years running when I was a lad (I never got the chance to see it, though) Jack Smight’s epic three hour mini-series in the days before such things had become properly established is, of course, anything but a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. However, seeing as it was first broadcast at a time when cinema versions ranged from Andy Warhol’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (marvellous) to BLACKENSTEIN (not at all marvellous), one can appreciate how some might have had a desire to do something that got back to basics.
Despite its 180 minute running time, FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY begins (and ends, for that matter) abruptly. In a series of rapid cuts that make us feel we’ve already missed an episode, we learn how Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) lost his brother William to drowning, offering this as his subsequent obsession with the desire to create life.
Travelling from his home to London on the York to London coach (did Frankenstein truly some from Yorkshire?) he bumps into local surgeon Henry Clerval (David McCallum) who has made a machine that can reanimate the kind of beetle you just never get to see in the UK nowadays. A room-sized machine and some appropriate body parts, plus the action of sunlight (a nice touch) results in perfect ‘Creature’ Michael Sarrazin. Henry’s brain has gone into Sarrazin’s skull after Henry’s health gave out, leaving Frankenstein to rent some rooms and move in with Michael so they can have a lovely time going to the opera and playing in the park. But oh no! Michael starts to ‘regress’ and Frankenstein has to break up with him...er...send him away.
But who’s that lurking in a kimono? It’s none other than James Mason with no hands and the gift for hypnosis (I don't think this bit is the 'true story' either). James is Dr Polidori, and he’s kitted out Frankenstein’s old lab so it looks like something from THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. He even has Chinese servants to complete the ensemble. Polidori wants to make a girl, not for sensible naughty doctor reasons, but to rule the world with, or something. Michael, who has survived his 400 foot plunge off the white cliffs of Dover, brings him the body of Jane Seymour, which no doctor, naughty or otherwise, could possibly object to for their experiments. Pretty soon Polidori’s convinced Frankenstein to help him and Prima is born, only to lose her head in a splendid bit at a ball.
We’re two and a half hours in and Tom Baker, toplined in the credits, still hasn’t appeared! There he is at last, as the captain of the ship intended to take Victor and his bride Elizabeth (an unsympathetic performance from Nicola Pagett) to the New World (Roger Corman's, we hope). Unfortunately everything goes pear-shaped and Victor and his creation end up at the North Pole, where they laugh and get buried in an avalanche. The End.

FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY feels very much like something made for an undemanding mainstream television audience rather than horror fans. Indeed, if your mum fancied watching a version of Frankenstein, this would be a good one to suggest. Jack Smight’s direction is workmanlike and undistinguished, Gil Melle’s music feels like it’s accompanying a Barbara Taylor Bradford adaptation, and while the locations are very pretty there’s very little sense of the gothic evinced by the best versions of this story. James Mason camps it up (possibly a bit too much) and David McCallum is excellent as the grumpy and obsessive Clerval. They should have got him to play Frankenstein. Michael Sarrazin does a good job of doing something different with the creature, and Jane Seymour makes the most of her role as Frankenstein’s second creation. In the lead role, Leonard Whiting is pretty but ineffectual, an individual who is swept along by events rather than the driven scientist horror fans had by this time become used to. Ultimately, any adaptation of Frankenstein is going to stand or fall on its central performance, and, more than its lack of gothic trappings or unimaginative direction, it's Whiting’s performance that has me yearning to watch James Whale’s and Terence Fisher’s versions again.

Second Sight presents FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY in its original TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1. You can either watch it in two episodes or run through the whole thing in one go. The only extra is the infamous introduction by James Mason where he wanders through a London cemetery to come across the grave of Mary Shelley, despite the fact she was actually buried in Dorset.


Second Sight are bringing out FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY on DVD on 10th March 2014

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Bridge - Season 2 (2013)

A grim, bleak crime thriller with a washed out photographic palette to match, the original series of THE BRIDGE was hyped as the first ever creative television collaboration between between Denmark and Sweden, combining the talents of the Danish producers of TV successes THE KILLING and BORGEN, and the Swedish team responsible for WALLENDER. It’s no surprise, then, that the plot took place in both countries, with the Oresund Bridge that connects them playing a vital role. As a result, police officers from both countries became involved in the case, led by blonde Asperger’s sufferer Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) on the Swedish side, while laid-back, scruffier, recently vasectomised Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) heading up the Danish team. These two characters, in a classic ‘Odd Couple’ pairing, provided the driving force that got us through ten episodes of an increasingly complex plot that involved murder, media manipulation and a lot more that you should really discover for yourself if you haven’t already seen it. The show was a huge success, made major stars out of Helin and Bodnia, and was remade for countries where people have trouble reading subtitles. 
THE BRIDGE SEASON TWO kicks off with a reminder of the climax of the first story, then abruptly cuts to ‘One year and one month later’. There are echoes of Fulci’s ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS as an unmanned sailing vessel runs aground against one of the supports of the Oresund Bridge. Down in the cargo hold are five trussed-up young people in extremely poor health. A couple of them are Danish, which gives investigating officer Saga Noren (Sofia Helin again) the opportunity to call in her old Danish partner Martin (Kim Bodnia again, looking slimmer and greyer) to help. Martin is still suffering from the events of the first series but sees working with Saga again as a form of therapy. Soon, however, events take a complex turn that I’m not going to reveal here as it would spoil the fun. 
As with Season One, the unrelenting grimness of THE BRIDGE may be a bit much for some, with the colourlessness of the setting making everything feel even bleaker. The term ‘Nordic Noir’ has been coined to describe the new Scandinavian wave of televised crime fiction, but if anything, where THE BRIDGE is concerned, ‘Nordic Bleached’ might be a more appropriate term. Once again it looks as if the whole thing was shot in winter, and even the interior design of people’s houses and workplaces feel like a showcase for Ikea minimalism but with all the colour washed out.

If for some reason you find yourself with Season Two in your hands before you’ve seen the first series, it’s not all that difficult to catch up. But Arrow have released a very nice box set of both series together for the uninitiated. There are no extras, but Arrow’s Blu-ray offers a very nice transfer. 

Arrow Films released THE BRIDGE Season Two on DVD & Blu-ray on 3rd February 2014. The double-pack of both series came out  on both formats then as well.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel’s violent (for 1964), nihilistic Ernest Hemingway adaptation comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films in this sparkling transfer.
The film opens with hit men Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager entering a care home for the blind where, after a bit of cruel rough stuff with the receptionist (who also can't see), they locate John Cassavetes. He’s on the staff, helping patients rehabilitate to their condition by showing them how to fix cars. That’s not for long, however, as Marvin and Gulager promptly kill him and make their getaway. Their subsequent ruminations and investigations as to why they were sent to despatch him lead to a number of flashbacks. In these we learn how Cassavetes, in his former life as a racing driver, got mixed up with Angie Dickinson and her villainous husband Ronald Reagan (very weird to children of the 1980s like me, who really only know him because of his political career). A heist is pulled and various parties end up after the money, including, as the narrative moves into current time again, Marvin and Gulager. The film reaches a climax at Reagan’s house where he and Marvin end up in a showdown.
Apparently THE KILLERS was intended as the first made for TV movie, but it was subsequently deemed too violent and got a cinema release instead. Even watching it today, you have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to consider this property as being suitable for early 1960s American TV audiences. British TV was always far and away ahead of the game when it came to dealing with ‘adult’ subjects in those days, but even the BBC probably wouldn’t have touched this until later. 
THE KILLERS also happens to be a very good film. Perhaps as a consequence of its intended TV destination, everything is very brightly lit, making this less a film noir than a film blanche, but that actually works in the film’s favour, literally shining an unforgiving light on the violence and petty vindictiveness of its lead characters. The acting is great across the board (with the exception of Ronald Reagan - sorry Ronald - who looks as if he’s wandered in from another - far less impressive - film). Lee Marvin was born to play the sort of character he is here, and this is the movie that catapulted him to cinematic stardom. Angie Dickinson scores points as the manipulative femme fatale who’s only out for herself, in an excellent and subtle performance where we only get to see the scheming seductress she really is occasionally break through her otherwise faultless veneer of charm and little-girl-lost-helplessness.

      Arrow’s Blu-ray of THE KILLERS looks absolutely excellent - on the whole. Two aspect ratios are offered: the original 1.33:1 so you can view the film as intended, and 1.85:1 for those who prefer to have their TV screen filled at the expense of loss of picture information.  There are a few tiny black blobs on the mid part of the left side of the screen image about 54 minutes in that remain for another couple of minutes before disappearing, but otherwise the print is very fine. 
       Extras include a 30 minute talking head piece Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein on Lee Marvin (he wrote Marvin’s biography) , and another 20 minute featurette on Ronald Reagan from Marc Eliot (author of Ronal Reagan: The Hollywood Years). There’s also an archival interview with Don Siegel from 1984. Overall a very nice presentation indeed of a classic piece of cinema.

Arrow Films are releasing Don Siegel's THE KILLERS on Blu-ray on the Arrow Academy label on 24th February 2014

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Robot Wars (1993)

Isn’t that a great cover? Anyone familiar with the output of Charles Band will know that the film probably isn’t going to live up to its cover art, but to be honest at least ROBOT WARS gets going pretty quickly, by opening on a stop-motion animated giant metal death scorpion. Apparently it’s one of the giant indestructible mega-robots that were used to fight a 30-year war in the early part of the 21st century. This being a Charles Band production we get to see none of that, but we do get to see the death scorpion being used to carry tourists through the resultant wasteland to the only remaining example of 1993 architecture in existence. 
      Don Michael Paul is Lane Drury, robot pilot, who’s big on hair if not on acting ability. When the death scorpion is hijacked by megalomaniac Wa-Lee and his gang of terrorists, it’s up to Lane to find one of the remaining giant robots beneath the streets of 1993-ville, get it to burst out of the tarmac, and engage in a battle with the death scorpion of Airfix-kits-being-bashed-together-by-unseen-hands proportions. 
ROBOT WARS isn’t so bad, and to a certain generation it will feel very nostalgic indeed. Barbara Crampton is on hand to ensure that at least one of the cast can act and look glamorous, and the movie doesn’t feel as cheap as zero-budget features like SHADOWZONE. Be warned, though - if you’re not used to Charles Band’s direct to video early 1990s productions, ROBOT WARS only runs about 67 minutes, and most of David Allen’s stop motion robot work is limited to very brief shots. There is indeed a stop motion smackdown at the end but it doesn’t last that long and the climax isn’t really much of one. There’s a nice gag about the anticipated success of Band’s own PUPPET MASTER series at the end of the 21st century, and a fun bit where Lane and his sidekick Stumpy (James Staley) play with toy robots that I was very tempted to post a picture of with the caption ROBOT WARS: it's not what you think. 

The PG certificate is entirely reasonable - despite having Crampton in the shower at one point there’s nothing here that’s likely to offend anyone. 88 Films’ transfer feels a bit VHS and it’s in 1.33:1 aspect which is probably what the film was shot in. Extras include a fantastic barrage of ten trailers for some unbelievable-looking Ted V Mikels films, a Videozone segment, and a ROBOT WARS trailer. 

88 Films are releasing ROBOT WARS on DVD on February 17th 2014

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Dr Mordrid (1992)

Fans of Marvel comic characters such as Dr Strange may enjoy this one, although probably not as much as people who like short films made on a low budget for the direct to VHS market. 
       Yes everyone, another Charles Band production from the early 1990s is about to get a UK DVD release. A bit like Star Trek or James Bond films, Mr Band’s Full Moon Productions are a bit of a law unto themselves, and can only really be judged against each other. DR MORDRID isn’t top quality Full Moon, but it’s not that bad either.
Jeffrey Combs stars as the title character, Dr Anton Mordrid, who has been selected to look after the people of Earth by some kind of supreme being that manifests itself as a pair of eyes superimposed over a videoclip of stars moving very quickly. Dr Mordrid is not of this earth either. In fact, he seems to come from an asteroid that has a model castle stuck on top of it, where his beardy plate-armoured friend with no eyes lives, keeping guard over the numerous (and doubtless stop-motion animated) demonic creatures that are currently trapped beneath a saucepan lid stuck on one of the castle walls.

Problems arise in the form of Mordrid’s evil nemesis from childhood (and don’t we all have one of those?) Kabal, played by ‘Big’ Brian Thompson who went on to appear in numerous TV SF shows like BUFFY and THE X FILES. Kabal wants to release the demons so they can run amok on earth. This involves him recruiting one unreliable henchman and a young lady whose only  purpose seems to be to supply the film’s sole nude scene, and therefore the only reason for this film being anything other than a PG certificate. It does sometimes mystify me why jolly romps like this film seem so obviously suited to kids only for a scene for ‘more sophisticated audience members’ to pop up, or rather out, and spoil the fun. Because if my childhood was anything to go by, you can bet that’s the point at which your parents would be guaranteed to walk in and decide that the rubbish you’d got from the video shop was, well, just as unsuitable as they had suspected.
But back to DR MORDRID. Despite being hampered by non-acting sidekick Yvette Nipar and her very big hair, Jeffrey meets Brian for a showdown at the local museum. Brian uses his powers to stop motion animate a T. Rex skeleton. Jeffrey stop motion animates some kind of prehistoric mammal thing. They fight. The stop motion mammal wins. It’s actually a lot of fun and if you like seeing animated dinosaur skeletons fighting in a museum this is definitely the film for you. The end of the film promises more adventures but sadly (because like many Charles Band productions this is all really rather good natured fun) it was not to be.
88 Films presents DR MORDRID in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. There’s not much on the way of extras  but you get the original trailer, a Videozone making of, and a collection of trailers for mostly future 88 releases that’s a real blast. 

88 Films are releasing DR MORDRID on DVD on 17th February 2014

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

      Good old Arrow Films comes through again with this glitteringly beautiful transfer of a pre-CARRIE Brian de Palma’s eccentric, wildly creative, satirical take on the Gaston Leroux classic. When Winslow Leach (William Finley) has his musical version of Faust stolen by rock impresario Swan (Paul Williams) to open his new theatre the Paradise, Winslow swears revenge, especially as Swan has intentions to cast the androgynous and frankly mad Beef (a terrific performance of, amongst other things, Oscar-worthy gurning from Gerrit Graham) instead of pretty Phoenix (Jessica Harper) in the lead role.
Swan has other plans for Winslow, however, and pretty soon our hero has had his face crushed in a record press and all his teeth pulled out during an incarceration in Sing Sing. Escaping in a cardboard box (it’s that kind of film) Winslow acquires mask, cape and electronic voicebox to become the Phantom, signing a contract with Swan in blood to ensure the completion of his cantata, mercilessly electrocuting Beef live on stage, and then living to see Swan make Phoenix his new star while he can only impotently watch. Because it's that kind of film too.
      PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a deliciously imaginative take on the music industry that’s alternately funny and bitterly angry by turns. The film has been compared to Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, but PHANTOM really is a different, and more professional, piece of eccentric mid-1970s rock opera than the pleasantly ramshackle efforts of Tim Curry at al. Performances are all excellent, with William Finley offering an appealingly complex portrayal of genius that’s close to madness, with the inherent violence that can ensue as a result. Paul Williams is memorably oily as record producer Swan, who gets the best voice-over introduction in a horror film ever from an uncredited Rod Serling. Jessica Harper is just right as the inexperienced ingenue, and Gerrit Graham is...well...irreplaceable as the no doubt over experienced Beef.
What gives PHANTOM a tremendous punch, though, is the behind the scenes talent. Paul Williams’ songs give an example of just how broad a range he has, with everything from doo wop and Beach Boys-type melodies to the heavier rock of the period augmenting the onscreen action. Brian de Palma’s direction is by turns funny (the shower scene) heartbreaking (the scene where the Phantom views Swan and Phoenix through a skylight streaming with rain sums up one of the many reasons I love horror in one beautiful cinematic moment) and immediate (the cinema verite style filming of the end sequence). PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is a superb piece of 1970s cinema, and the more times I watch it the more I appreciate just how clever it is.
Arrow’s Blu-ray transfer of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is nothing short of spectacular. The film has never looked this good, and anyone who is a fan owes it to themselves to get hold of this version. Aside from the crystal clear image (could the film have looked this good in 1974?) the audio setup offers three options: 2.0 Stereo, 4.0 DTS HD and an isolated music and effects track. Whichever option you select, the film sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before so crank up the volume.
Extras include Paradise Regained, a 50 minute interview from 2005 for the French DVD release that includes most of the major participants (Gerrit Graham even answers his questions in French!). There’s a brand new 72 minute interview with Paul Williams conducted by film-maker Guillermo del Toro, and a new featurette made by Arrow that highlights the changes that had to be made after Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant, beat the movie to it by forming Swan Song records himself before PHANTOM came out. There’s an archival (ie shot on VHS) interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton, William Finley extols the virtues of the 300 Euro Phantom Action Figure, and Paradise Lost and Found treats us to bloopers, alternate takes and deleted scenes. Finally there’s a collection of trailers, radio spots and a gallery.
Arrow are releasing PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE in both steelbook and standard formats with original writing on the picture as well. If you’re one of the many, many people who love this film this is definitely the version to get. 

Arrow Films are releasing Brian de Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE on limited edition steelbook and standard edition Blu-ray on 24th February 2014


Monday, 10 February 2014

Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Alfred Sole’s 1976 low budget US period independent horror film will be familiar to those who first saw it in UK cinemas and on television under its original title of COMMUNION. Apparently the movie’s US distributors asked for the title change to ALICE SWEET ALICE because they were worried audiences might think it was a religious picture. Sole’s film has also gone under the title HOLY TERROR but 88 Films have kept ALICE SWEET ALICE for this new DVD release. Whatever you call it, it’s a very good little horror picture that’s ripe for discovery if you haven't seen it before, especially as 88 Films are presenting it here uncut.
The moment before her first communion, little Karen Spages (Brooke Shields) is strangled and set on fire by a masked assailant wearing a yellow mac in the church sacristy. Her sister, twelve year old Alice (Paula Sheppard), owns a similar mask and coat and appears just in time to be turned away from the altar. Alice apparently has a history of ‘psychiatric problems’, and she’s certainly capable of joining in all the shouting and screaming with her nervy mother Catherine (Linda Miller) and uptight aunt Annie (Jane Lowry) in their cramped apartment. 
      She’s also rather an odd child, tormenting the immensely obese Mr Alphonse who lives in the apartment below the Spages, and doing her best to upset everyone as much as she can. When her aunt is hospitalised after being stabbed repeatedly by the same masked figure, Anne identifies Alice as the killer, and so off the little girl goes to the special psychiatric hospital for possibly homicidal children. But the murders continue until we reach the very satisfying ending that I’m not going to reveal to you here because you should see this film for yourself.
For the fan of 1970s horror who's never caught up with this, ALICE SWEET ALICE will be something of a pleasant surprise. It starts off like a giallo but becomes more and more like a Pete Walker picture as we reach the end, with its combination of dreary kitchen sink settings, brief brutal murders, and eccentric characters. By the finale, fans of Walker's work will know exactly which role would have gone to Sheila Keith, and there’s a batty monsignor in a stairlift that could easily have been played by HOUSE OF WHIPCORD’s Patrick Barr. 
For some reason the film is set in 1961 and for such a low budget endeavour a lot of effort has been put into achieving the right period feel - there are fallout shelter stickers everywhere, and a considerable number of period motor vehicles are on display. Stephen Lawrence provides an excellent music score that ranges from Herrmanesque suspense to some excellent church organ work for the religious scenes. 

88 Films DVD presents ALICE SWEET ALICE in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The colours on the print look a bit washed out, but every version of this film I have seen looks the same & I suspect the problem is with the film stock. Extras include a chatty commentary with director Alfred Sole, Bill Lustig and editor Edward Salier. There’s an alternative opening credits sequence for COMMUNION, and a trailer for HOLY TERROR that cashes in on Brooke Shields’ appearance in the film. Watch it and marvel at how distributors would never get away with trying to claim she was the star of something like this these days. There’s a still gallery and the usual extremely entertaining 88 Trailer Park. Quite possibly the best release from 88 Films yet, ALICE SWEET ALICE is a cracking little thriller that’s well worth picking up in this new version.

88 Films are releasing ALICE SWEET ALICE uncut on DVD on 17th February 2014

Thursday, 6 February 2014

88 Films Round Up



I’ve been sent quite a few movies from the UK distributor 88 Films recently, so many in fact that I’ve decided to provide capsule reviews for some of them instead of full length ones. There's a lot of fun to be had from this collection of low budget movies, most of which will probably be fondly remembered by VHS aficionados of a certain age.  If you’re an 88 Films fan, or thinking of perusing their increasingly vast catalogue of Full Moon Productions and other releases, you can find full reviews I’ve already written for the following movies by clicking on the links:

CASTLE FREAK
BEACH BABES 2: CAVE GIRL ISLAND
DEMONIC TOYS
DOLLMAN
PUPPET MASTER
SUBSPECIES
PUPPET MASTER II
PUPPET MASTER III
HIDEOUS!
THE CREEPS

But now, in an attempt to get through some of the 88 back catalogue a bit more quickly, here are briefer reviews of some of their releases not included on the above list. We start with

LASERBLAST (1978)




Apparently this one's on the imdb worst 100 list, although I'm sure I've seen at least a hundred films worse than this one. An early Charles Band production, it's certainly an odd idea for a film. Blonde Billy Duncan (Kim Milford, who, it seems, can only put his trousers on when he's lying on the floor) finds a laser out in the desert that belongs to some cute little animated aliens. The more he plays with the laser, the more he starts to look like the green-faced chap who got shot by the aliens at the start of the film. As he causes more mayhem, the aliens return in their flying saucer and sort him out. With an appearance by tragic exploitation starlet Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith, a downbeat ending, and little plasticine monsters who talk in a squawking alien language, LASERBLAST is definitely a peculiar low budget oddity that's probably worth watching once - there's certainly nothing else like it.

SHADOWZONE (1989)



Things didn't change much in ten years for Charles Band. By 1989 he was still bringing out micro-budgeted stuff like this. In an underground bunker that just happens to limit the action to a couple of sets, experiments in sleep deprivation have led to a naked girl in a box and Louise Fletcher's looking after her. A rickety monster that looks as if it's about to fall to pieces at any moment turns up very briefly at the end, but it's very much a blink and you'll miss it affair. 80s low-budget SF enthusiasts may get a kick out of this low-rent affair if they're very forgiving.

BLOODSTONE: SUBSPECIES II (1993)



More bloodsucking fun from the team who gave you SUBSPECIES. Evil vampire Anders Hove gets his head put back on by tiny creatures, only to discover that the heroine from part 1 is now being played by a different actress (Denice Duff). Denice's sister turns up (played by Melanie Shatner) and Anders then proceeds to chase her around the same picturesque locales from Part 1. If you enjoyed the first one you'll probably like this too. And the opening head reattachment scene is something you don't get to see everyday.

BLOODLUST: SUBSPECIES III (1994)


If you're a fan of the little red stop motion men from the SUBSPECIES series you'll have a bit of a wait to see them in BLOODLUST because they don't actually turn up until the final scene. Otherwise it's business as usual. Vampire Anders Hove is brought back to life when his hideously scarred mother feeds him some of Denice Duff's blood. Then it's time for more vampire shenanigans in the same lovely locations as the first two films. To give director Ted Nicolaou credit, some of the shots of the castle here are quite beautiful, and 88 Films' Blu-ray presentation is excellent. This really is the best this film has ever looked & it's the version to get if you're a fan of this series. 

ZOMBIES Vs, STRIPPERS (2012)



If you think the budgets of Charles Band productions couldn't get any lower than those for LASERBLAST & SHADOWZONE think again. Here's a zero budget, zero quality, zero everything film that somehow manages to have quite a good natured feel about it thanks to some oddly likeable performances from its ensemble cast. Don't get me wrong - this is a terrible, terrible film but fans of fun modern rubbish might find it distracting for its 75 minute running time.

MARA (2013)


Not a Charles Band production, MARA hails from Sweden and starts off quite well, with some nicely atmospheric scenes in a graveyard covered with snow. Unfortunately from there things meander rather a lot until we reach the final twist. The film-making techniques are sadly all a bit minimal, and had me yearning for the crash zooms and eccentric camera wobbling of the Euro films of yesteryear. MARA feels like a first effort and is definitely a film for Euro-completists only. It made me nostalgic for the work of Jess Franco, which unfortunately isn't a recommendation.

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991)


Let's finish on a good one. Stuart Gordon's remake can't compare to Roger Corman's classic 1961 version with Vincent Price, but it's not really intended to. A fun pseudo-historical piece filmed in Charles Band's own castle, the 1991 PIT features fun performances from Lance Henriksen, Jeffery Combs and Frances Bay, and a very special one from Oliver Reed as the cardinal who gets walled up for poking his (very red) nose into Lance's affairs. Great music from Richard Band as well. Don't expect too much, and this one's actually not bad at all.

…and there's a lot more from 88 Films on the way. Watch this space. Or watch the films. But probably watch this space first...



Monday, 3 February 2014

Nick Fury - Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D (1998)

Saturday afternoon television lives again in the form of this pilot for a show that never was. Even if you’re as unfamiliar as I am with the Marvel universe from which Mr Fury apparently hails, that shouldn’t stop you having a good time with this, a film that feels like a (slightly) updated version of an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, or any number of similarly themed SF TV programmes from the 1970s.
A post KNIGHT RIDER, mid-BAYWATCH, pre-PIRANHA 3DD David Hasselhoff stars as eyepatch-wearing Nick, forced into retirement at the end of the Cold War. When the body of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker “last of the great global boogeymen” is stolen from a cryogenics facility, government representatives track Nick down to the disused mine in the Yukon where he spends his days merrily swinging his pickaxe, presumably as some sort of anger management therapy. It doesn’t seem to have worked, however, and neither has whatever treatment he may have received to reduce his ability to deliver appalling double entendres. At least I hope they’re double entendres, but with the quality of script writing (by David Goyer, of MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN BEGINS and DEMONIC TOYS no less) it’s actually quite difficult to tell.
It turns out the Baron’s body has been stolen by H.Y.D.R.A, a terrorist organisation currently led by von Strucker’s daughter Andrea, known to her friends as Viper (Sandra Hess in deliciously manic form). Viper wears the kind of over the top outfits we’ve not seen since the heyday of Jacqueline Pearce’s Servalan from BLAKE’S 7. She cackles away as she goes about her mad plan to destroy Manhattan with a virus called Death’s Head that “makes Ebola look like a case of the sniffles”. 
Will Nick be able to stop her in time? Will he get back together with former lover and rather heavily made up colleague Valentine de Allegro Fontaine (Lisa Rinna)? Will he give his pesky bureaucrat boss a punch in the face at the end? Should he be allowed to fly a plane when everyone knows Nick has been infected with the Kiss of Death from a Columbian tree frog? 
NICK FURY - AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D is actually a lot of silly fun. Director Rod Hardy will be best known to horror fans for the 1979 Australian pic THIRST, and he keeps things moving at such a clip that even children with short attention spans would find it hard to be bored by this. Hasselhoff camps it up in all the right ways, and even manages to pull off some of the more hilariously ridiculous dialogue with something approaching aplomb. I can’t honestly say I’ve heard of anyone else in the cast, although a quick trawl of the relevant websites reveals they’re all experienced TV actors.
101 Films presents the film on DVD in its original TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1. There are no extras. The running time claims to be 120 minutes but it actually just touches on 90. NICK FURY - AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D was far more entertaining than I was expecting - an excellent timewaster for those who yearn for the halcyon days of comic book-style American television.

101 Films released NICK FURY - AGENT OF S.H.E.I.L.D. on DVD on 27th January 2014