Thursday 30 July 2015

Killing Zoe (1993)

Roger Avary’s directorial feature debut gets a new Blu-ray and DVD release from Fabulous Films and allows us to once again wonder what this film is really about: is it a treatise on the uncontrollable angst generated by nihilistic despair? Or just a day in the life of some crap French bank robbers?

Eric Stoltz is Zed, who comes to Paris to lend his safe-cracking skills to a bank job. To pass the time in his tiny French hotel room he arranges to spend a few hours in the company of call-girl Zoe (Julie Delpy). When gang boss Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade) arrives, Zoe is unceremoniously thrown out, and Zed is taken to meet the rest of Eric’s gang. The gang appears to be made up of a collection of drug addicts, lunatics, and one ex-member of Spandau Ballet (Gary Kemp).

The bank raid has been planned for the following day. Zed is shown a quick set of blueprints of the building to be raided and is then encouraged to consume a vast quantity of drugs and alcohol. Then it’s off into the nightlife of Paris, the gang’s wild night ride culminating in a visit to a sleazy basement jazz bar where Eric performs on stage, spouts a lot of drug-addled cod-philosophy, and has sex with another man in the toilets while Zed watches.

After all this excessively hedonistic and somewhat inadvisable (if you’ve got work in the morning) activity, it’s not surprising that the next day the boys are not quite up to par. Consequently the robbery goes a bit wrong and Team Rubbish ends up trapped in the bank with the police surrounding the building and a number of hostages inside, one of whom is (surprise!) Zoe. More arguments, more gunfights and more drug-taking ensues as the gang become increasingly desperate.

Roger Avary is probably better known these days for co-writing Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION and (bizarrely) the SILENT HILL movie. He was also attached to PHANTASM V for a while. Because it was released around the same time as PULP FICTION, KILLING ZOE has been compared to that film, but it’s really quite a different beast. Tarantino’s style tends toward wisecracking likeable villains, whereas Avary’s film seems more an interesting snapshot of a tiny subculture of society. He neither condemns nor condones his characters, but lets the drama play out, allowing us to decide whether this essentially nihilistic bunch of losers deserve our sympathy. That very fact makes it more interesting than either PULP FICTION or RESERVOIR DOGS, and KILLING ZOE is still a film that very much divides opinion. The film culminates in gunfights and action, but it’s the middle act in Paris the night before the raid that is the literal heart of the film.

Fabulous Films’ transfer of KILLING ZOE looks a bit washed out and faded, but having never seen this before I have no idea if this obviously low-budget production has ever looked any better. Extras include a trailer and a couple of galleries but sadly no commentary track. 

Fabulous Films are releasing Roger Avary's KILLING ZOE on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 3rd August 2015

Sunday 26 July 2015

Quatermass (1978)

Nigel Kneale’s fourth and final Quatermass television serial finally gets a well-deserved stunning Blu-ray release courtesy of Network.
It’s the last quarter of the twentieth century and civilisation is breaking down. While the superpowers squander billions on pointless space projects, on earth the increasingly disaffected youth are turning to movements like the ‘Planet People’ who are drawn to places of ancient and mystic significance where they are, in turn, being harvested by some immense alien power. Professor Bernard Quatermass, tired, worn out, and only wishing to find his grand-daughter, is drawn into the mystery & ends up fighting yet another deadly threat to mankind. 

After the huge success of his three QUATERMASS BBC TV plays in the 1950s, Nigel Kneale didn’t get around to writing the fourth Quatermass adventure until the early 1970s. It wasn’t filmed until even later in the decade, this time by Euston Films who had enjoyed considerable success with THE SWEENEY (and virtually revolutionised the television police drama after years of glamorous ITC adventures like The Persuaders and Jason King). At the time its forthcoming broadcast on ITV (in four episodes) was much heralded with posters, and you couldn’t move for the novelisation in Woolworths. Then it all went pear-shaped in the form of a strike at ITV that caused a full-scale blackout of the channel beginning on the 10th August 1979 and lasting for eleven weeks, with episode one of QUATERMASS finally being broadcast to no fanfare at all on Wednesday 24th of October.

QUATERMASS does some things well and some things not so well. It’s an interesting depiction of a Britain on the verge of social breakdown, even if the gangs who besiege our hero are probably a bit too well spoken to be believable. More than anything nowadays, it comes across as being written by a man who was a bit fed up with much of the society that was around him at the time he was writing it. You can almost imagine Kneale grumbling ‘bloody hippies’ as he tapped away at his typewriter (although he actually envisioned his ‘Planet People’ as punks rather than peace-loving). 

        Quatermass is less a noble, thoughtful, contemplative scientist in this one and more a desperate old man. In fact he admits as much in the first episode, saying all he cares about is finding his grand-daughter. In fact, QUATERMASS is all rather a depressing story about the insignificance of man’s place in the universe (and his exploitation), with only a glimmer of hope at the very end. It would have been wonderful if they had been allowed to go ahead with Kneale’s original plan and film at Stonehenge, but the crew was denied permission to film and hence Ringstone Round was born, or rather, built. 

Network’s Blu-ray transfer is nothing short of perfection. QUATERMASS has never looked this good & I’m not sure it could ever look any better. Disc one offers us all four episodes of the original ITV series in 5.1 surround and with advert break cards inserted at the appropriate places. There are mono sound and music only options as well. You also get the recaps that would have preceded each episode as a separate option, and there’s a textless (and soundless) title sequence from THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION.
Disc two gives you the edited film version THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION, in 1.85:1 and not looking quite as crisp as the television episodes. There’s also a trailer (without sound) and an image gallery. None of the extras from the previous 3 disc Clear Vision DVD release have been carried over (the Kneale interview and detailed production notes are sadly lacking) and we get nothing in the way of commentary tracks, a making of, or even a short featurette with some reminiscences of remaining cast and crew, which is probably the only way this otherwise excellent release could be improved.

Network are releasing their two-disc Blu-ray set of Nigel Kneale's QUATERMASS on Monday 27th July in four limited edition covers based on the colour of the title sequence of each episode. 

Thursday 23 July 2015

GirlHouse (2015)

Insipid, uninspired, and a prime example of unfulfilled potential in a slasher thriller, GIRLHOUSE arrives on DVD courtesy of Signature Entertainment.
Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin) is a student desperate for money to pay her tuition fees. She successfully auditions to become part of a house filled with lovely girls whose almost every move is filmed and broadcast via a subscription-only internet live feed. She quickly becomes a success and draws the attention of the socially inadequate but physically powerful Loverboy (Slaine), whom she upsets. Via a series of contrivances Loverboy discovers the secret location of the GirlHouse and turns up to kill everyone.

Did the internet make him like this?
Look at that plot - ridiculous, unbelievable, and therefore with the potential to be something utterly brilliant. In the hands of a Sergio Martino (TORSO, STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH, etc)  GIRLHOUSE could have been the stuff of sleazy exploitation gold, filled with bitchy dialogue and plenty of voyeuristically deviant behaviour in between horrible gory murders. Instead, for the most part GIRLHOUSE downplays its potential for overt eroticism, unrelenting suspense and mortifying horror to instead try and be the kiss of death for stuff like this - A Respectable Film.

I felt sorry for him
It is completely understandable that some actresses don’t want to take their clothes off on screen, but casting one as the leading lady in a film with this title and subject matter inevitably means you’re going to have to create a number of increasingly contrived setups to cover her up in the scenes where she needs to be topless, and in GIRLHOUSE these rapidly reach the comedic heights of that scene in AUSTIN POWERS with the balloons and the teapot. 

Not a teapot in sight…yet
I felt sorry for Loverboy. I presumed I was meant to feel sorry for Loverboy. I assumed, therefore, that Loverboy would not turn out to be the killer at all, and I would be allowed to feel a sense of relief that this was not the kind of film that would exploit the stereotype of the obviously unhappy, isolated, unloved fellow that he is. But I was wrong and so is GIRLHOUSE. There are no twists and no surprises, so I’m not spoiling anything by telling you this. 
I will admit that the finale of GIRLHOUSE is quite well put together, with an effective rampage by our killer. By the time we get there, however, many viewers may well have switched off and gone to find something a bit more worthwhile. And I can’t honestly blame them. I haven't even mentioned the entirely inappropriate quote that starts the film off and had me bristling before the first image had appeared. There are much sexier, scarier slasher thrillers out there than this. Give it a miss and wait for the next one to come along. 

GIRLHOUSE is being released on Region 2 DVD by Signature Entertainment on 20th July 2015

Monday 20 July 2015

Shark Killer (2015)

Look at the title! Look at that cover! It gives you the impression this is going to be such a great film, doesn't it? Perhaps it’s an action movie, with a low budget Stallone wannabe standing on an overturned boat, machine-gunning an army of radioactive mutant sharks into oblivion. Or it could be an Ernest Hemingway / Old Man and the Sea meditation on the meaning of existence, with a low-budget Harrison Ford slowing going insane as he makes the long journey home from a month of shark fishing. Or...
Actually, and sadly, SHARK KILLER is none of these. It’s actually a very low budget crime adventure romp with a shark thrown in that happens to have swallowed a diamond that various factions are after.

Admit it - I've got your interest now, haven't I?
After an animated title sequence that gives us some important and otherwise very expensive to film backstory, we seem to start about a third of the way through the film JAWS. We’re in Hawaii, where a local mayor has decreed his beach shark free, even though ginger shark hunter (him not the shark, otherwise this movie would be called GINGER SHARK. That one’s out next week. Probably) Chase Walker (Derek Theler) insists there are still beasts out there. Cue pretty girls splashing in the water, cue evil-looking shark fin, cue ginger-meets-shark smackdown in the cheapest, most cut-away-from-any-actual-action technique possible, and everyone is saved!

Explosions. On land. 

Now we’re in South Africa (??). Chase’s brother Jake (Paul du Toit) is a criminal who has lost ‘the biggest diamond ever ever ever’ by letting it be swallowed by a shark (don’t ask me). The shark has a distinctive fin which is jolly handy because otherwise we wouldn’t have a film. Chase apparently owes him a favour and getting the diamond out of the shark will cover it. One wishes that Jake had removed a favourite teddy from a mountain lion to make him owe this rather peculiar debt, but the reality is sadly less creative. 
What Jake doesn’t tell Chase is that evil, scarred other crime boss Nix (Arnold Vosloo) is also after the diamond, when he isn’t messing about in HOSTEL corner or ogling girls in their underwear (them not him) and wearing gasmasks (them again) to load drugs into fish (I think).

HOSTEL corner!!

There’s a bit of underwater action, during which you can play spot the JAWS rip-off yet again and thrill to an animated shark that swims much too quickly and might just possibly be a glove puppet in some scenes (which means, of course, that they are marvellous). Lots and lots and lots of things happen on dry land (that bit’s specifically to warn you, shark fans) and...oh I’ll let you find out the ending for yourself if you really want to.
SHARK KILLER is the kind of thing Roger Corman used to do well (and still sometimes does it has to be said). Sadly, it’s missing the lightness of touch and the sense of breezy pulpiness that this sort of thing needs to work. The actors actually try hard but there’s just no sense of style behind the camera. Still, if it’s a very slow week you might just get a kick out of this. There are no extras. 

Image Entertainment are releasing SHARK KILLER on Region 2 DVD on 20th July 2015

Thursday 16 July 2015

The Four Warriors (2015)

A brave, if ultimately flawed, attempt to give us some very low budget sword and sorcery in the wake of the success of GAME OF THRONES, director Phil (LAST SHOWING) Hawkins’ fantasy film arrives on UK DVD courtesy of Metrodome.
Returning home from the crusades, three soldiers and their prisoner come across a village devastated by an evil force that has abducted all the men and nearly all the children. The women of the village eventually manage to convince our heroes to stay and help them and pretty soon everyone is erecting barricades, organising a formal night’s watch and keeping an eye out for the mystical baddies. Despite their best efforts, the one remaining little boy gets pinched, and so off into the forest they go, minus one of their number who’s been scratched by Something Evil, with village warrior Alina in his place. 

With the help of the wizard Baliphar (Kristian Nairn) they discover the men are being put to work in nearby mines to dig out four fabulous jewels that are the actual four warriors of the title (I think). Will the gang be able to infiltrate the mine, kill the bad guys and rescue both the village people and the jewels? Will the prisoner from the start of the film come through to keep the numbers constant in a no doubt unintentional tribute to BLAKE'S SEVEN? 
FOUR WARRIORS is a bit of a curate’s egg of a film. The costumes and production design are excellent - one presumes this was filmed in one of those Museums of Rural Life but if not they’ve done an excellent job of building a medieval village. Performances are best described as coming from enthusiastic amateurs. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but one gets the feeling this is more a project put together on weekends by fantasy fans than a professional effort.

The main problem with FOUR WARRIORS however, is the pacing. It desperately wants to be GAME OF THRONES meets THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN but it could actually learn a thing or two from less worthy efforts like HAWK THE SLAYER and SWORD & THE SORCEROR. The time spent in the village is probably intended to build the characters and allow for relationship development, but the whole thing just drags when there should be more monster fights. Consequently, when we get to the end and find that there is a villainous monster king-thing, it feels like an afterthought and comes as something of a surprise, as if they suddenly realised it was supposed to be a sword and sorcery picture rather than just sword (something FOUR WARRIORS would probably have been better off doing). 
        As the above hopefully suggests, FOUR WARRIORS isn’t all bad. There’s a pleasing sense of period and every now and then the photography is really pretty good. Just don’t go looking for an adventure picture and, if you’re an undiscerning fan of period fantasy, you might well enjoy this. Metrodome’s review copy did not provide any extras, but cast and crew interviews are promised. 

Metrodome are releasing THE FOUR WARRIORS on Region 2 DVD on 13th July 2015

Sunday 12 July 2015

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015)

The Cannon Group, Inc Presents: A Golan-Globus Production. 

        If you’re a film fan who grew up in the 1980s you probably saw that credit more than a few times, usually on video rather than at the cinema, and if you were a fan of exploitation oddness Cannon's movies probably formed part of your regular viewing. Loved (by fans) and loathed (by critics, other film companies and pretty much anyone who despised their anything-goes attitude to film), there’s no arguing that the Cannon name, like Hammer before them, became a byword for a very particular and unique kind of product, one where the quality varied as enormously as the quantity of movies they produced during their existence.

Menahem Golan does Ken Russell, or at least he thinks he does

This entire review could consist of just a series of stills from the worst, craziest and most bizarre of Cannon’s output and it still would not do justice to what it was like growing up in a decade when video was young and every other cassette in the rental shop seemed to feature ninjas, breakdancing, Chuck Norris, or the promise of all three - in a sequel to a part one you’d never even heard of. Now Mark Hartley, the man responsible for the excellent documentaries NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (about Ozsploitation) and MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (exploitation cinema in the Philippines ) as well as the cracking remake of PATRICK from a few years ago, has put together what may well turn out to be the ultimate talking heads documentary on this near-legendary film company.

What Cannon thought people wanted to see in the late 1980s
We kick off with the roots of Cannon (before it was bought by the infamous team of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus), when all the company did was produce English language version of Swedish softcore porn films like Joseph Sarno’s INGA. Then it hit serious financial difficulties and was bought by the man who directed THE APPLE, and his cousin. You might like to go and read my review of THE APPLE to give you some idea of how utterly insane it was to allow someone who had that movie in their head to run a movie production company. 


After that Cannon went nuts producing everything from Chuck Norris action pictures (MISSING IN ACTION, INVASION USA, DELTA FORCE), Ninja movies (ENTER THE NINJA, RETURN OF THE NINJA, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION & AMERICAN NINJA), crazy big budget SF (LIFEFORCE), and a string of actually rather good movies (RUNAWAY TRAIN, Zefferelli’s OTHELLO) before plunging all their money into SUPERMAN IV and a film about arm-wrestling lorry drivers starring Sylvester Stallone.

A true star. The director was truly something else.

With such material to talk about it would be virtually impossible not to make a fascinating documentary about all of this, but we all know that worse has happened in the past. Happily, however, Hartley’s documentary is just excellent, relying very heavily on numerous interviewees that include actors (Lucinda Dickey, Sybil Danning, Bo Derek, and Laurene Landon actually setting fire to a Cannon film to show what she thinks of them) directors (Sam Firstenberg, Boaz Davidson, Luigi Cozzi and Pete Walker) and many others. 

Everyone wants to see Franco Nero as a ninja! 

Over the course of nearly two hours Hartley paints a picture of a remarkable, and remarkably bonkers, movie company that constantly stared up at the stars even though it barely made it out of the gutter, ending up by flushing itself down the drain with its own financial mistakes. It’s never less than fascinating, and completely essential viewing for anyone who watched and loved  Cannon product in their heyday. It may even have you hankering to watch some of Cannon's movies again, or possibly feeling relieved that you don't have to.

Metrodome are releasing ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS on Region 2 DVD on 13th July 2015

Wednesday 8 July 2015

The Voices (2015)


MANIAC played as a comedysort of

One of those rare and marvellous movies that it’s difficult to know how to describe. Is it a horror film with some seriously dark humour, or a comedy with some scenes of horror that will be too much for regular comedy fans? Even I still don’t know & I’ve seen it. What I can say is that THE VOICES keeps second-guessing you to the extent that it ends up being a genuinely disturbing viewing experience in all the right ways.

…and for those who prefer not to have the steelbook

Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) has a nice job driving his shiny pink forklift truck at the bathroom supply store where he works. He fancies Fiona (Gemma Arterton) but she isn’t interested. Nevertheless he contrives to overcome her lack of enthusiasm by inviting her out on a date. Meanwhile, back at the disused bowling alley he lives in, Jerry has other problems. His dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers both talk to him. Bosco is peace-loving, but Mr Whiskers is a psychopath with a Scottish accent. Jerry’s psychiatrist asks him if he’s been taking his medication but we already know the answer.
Jerry and Fiona’s date goes horribly wrong. Jerry ends up chasing Fiona through the woods and then stabs her to death. On the advice of Mr Whiskers he takes the body home to chop it up and dispose of it. He keeps her head in his fridge, though, and soon she’s asking for a friend to keep her company in there

Saving up for an entire set of Gemma Arterton

THE VOICES feels like MANIAC treated as a comedy, perhaps one directed by John Waters but without the filth. Jerry’s world is happy, shiny and dayglo when he’s off his meds (which is most of the time) but the murders are horrible and when we get to see flashes of what Jerry’s home really looks like, we realise we’re in the presence of a terrifying and horribly disturbed man. These broad swings from glossy comedy to splattery horror are going to be enough to turn off the less discriminating, but THE VOICES really is something special and deserves plenty of love. It’s directed by Marjane Satrapi who gave us PERSEPOLIS and she does an excellent job of giving us a new original spin on the serial killer tale. She is helped immensely by Ryan Reynolds giving us a performance that’s almost up there with Elijah Wood’s Frank Zito. Jerry is raving mad and very dangerous, but you only ever feel sorry for what he has become, a victim of his own illness and a grim upbringing.

Talking dog, talking cat, talking head. I love this film

Arrow Films’ DVD includes a number of extras including cast and crew interviews, a prank scare where a fridge with a live actress inside was left in a shopping mall, deleted and extended scenes, and a behind the scenes bit showing Ryan Reynolds recording all the different animal voices. Exclusive to the Blu-ray are animatics and more behind the scenes stuff.
         Original and touching while also being gross-out and disturbing, THE VOICES aims high and succeeds. Another one for my list of films of the year, and possibly the only one I will ever see where Jesus drives a pink forklift truck during a musical number over the end credits

Arrow Films are releasing Marjane Satrapi's THE VOICES on Region 2 DVD, Region B Blu-ray and Zavvi exclusive steelbook on 13th July 2015

Sunday 5 July 2015

Contamination (1980)

"Green Eggs and Ham Acting"

Part of the Italian boom of ‘let’s rip off everything in sight’ of the late seventies and early eighties, Luigi Cozzi’s science fiction-adventure-horror movie is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films.
When a seemingly unmanned ship drifts into a New York harbour the authorities are alerted, with NYPD cop Tony Aris (Marino Mase) heading up the team. So far, so very ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS but when they get on board in their lovely white decontamination suits that would show up even the slightest speck of red (let’s hope they don’t get any on them, shall we?), they discover several dead bodies and loads of cartons of coffee. 

Something worrying in the toilet

“Whatever killed these men it wasn’t coffee,” someone helpfully observes, before spotting one of the boxes has broken open. It’s full of balloons painted green and one of them has rolled over to settle beneath some hot pipes. It’s glowing and emitting a mournful sound. Whether it’s in pain, sad, or just embarrassed to be in this film it’s not possible to say, but the sound is curiously disturbing and could have been used to much better effect elsewhere, by which I mean an entirely different film.

The one-eyed monster responsible for the deadly seeds = ?symbolism

Someone picks the egg up. It explodes. The person who picked it up explodes. The people next to the person who picked it up explode. Only Tony is left and he quickly scarpers to alert the even-more-authorities which turn out to be Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau), who hates being called ‘baby’ but is okay with being slapped later on (as if we didn’t know this was an Italian film already). 

Tiny plasticine balls

There’s some daft nonsense about the eggs actually being collections of bacteria and Colonel Stella makes a rat explode. Could it all be something to do with that manned mission to Mars? What manned mission to Mars? Why, the manned mission to Mars that should probably have been at the start of the film, except that then CONTAMINATION wouldn’t have started like ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS before trying to be ALIEN and audiences might have got confused.

Go Ian!

Stella tracks down alcoholic astronaut Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch - hooray!) who tells her a story about seeing little green plasticine balls (or possible olives) inside a quite nicely lit model cave. She makes various and excessive references to his  presumed impotence. He slaps her. Italian soap opera theatrics out of the way, the two of them travel with Tony to South America where the nuts and the eggs come from. There the film suddenly switches into James Bond territory, complete with safari-suited villain and his ice-maiden sidekick. There’s a huge one-eyed monster that McCulloch kills (perhaps the impotence bit wasn’t so irrelevant after all). All the baddies get shot. The end.

Not coffee

CONTAMINATION is a load of rubbish, and is only intermittently entertaining. Despite a lot of gore at the start, and a fine wobbly slimy monster at the end, there are long bits where nothing happens. The scene where an egg is left in Stella’s bathroom should evoke suspense but instead one finds oneself marvelling at how long this particular bit is going on for. The plot makes no sense and everything seems to be a rip-off of something better. In that respect if no other, CONTAMINATION might be considered the apotheosis of 1980s Italian exploitation cinema, but that’s probably not enough of a reason for many people to need to watch it.

Go again, Ian!

Arrow’s Blu-ray beats the old Region 0 Blue Underground disc in every way. The transfer is better and there are more extras, including a brand new commentary track by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, who obviously loves the film and applause to him for doing so. The ‘Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of CONTAMINATION’ has been ported over, as has the graphic novel, which is easier to access on Arrow’s disc. New extras include an interview with Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini who talks about the ups and downs of working in a tempestuous 1970s rock band, the lineup seemingly changing more often than Spinal Tap. He also plays a few snippets on his piano and more of this would have been most welcome.
The best extra - which for me makes this disc worth a look - is a Q&A from last year’s Abertoir film festival featuring Luigi Cozzi and Ian McCulloch. Both talk fondly and amicably about the making of the movie, and some of the stories are jaw-dropping. There’s also a featurette about Italian ‘Mockbusters’ which is great but is far too short. In fact the credits start rolling before Maitland McDonagh has finished speaking.
         As usual you get a trailer, reversible sleeve (lovely) and a collector’s booklet. Arrow have almost treated CONTAMINATION too well. Oh, and if the terrible dubbing puts you off, watch it with the Italian dialogue track, which makes everything far more bearable. 

Arrow Films are releasing Luigi Cozzi's CONTAMINATION on dual format Region A&B Blu-ray and Region 2 DVD on 6th July 2015

Friday 3 July 2015

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

"Gloriously entertaining"

If there is one work of epic fantasy that deserves to be preserved on Blu-ray for all time, it’s probably LORD OF THE RINGS. Or GAME OF THRONES. Perhaps CONAN THE BARBARIAN (the 1982 Schwarzenegger version) would get a few votes. But the film that preceded it by a couple of years, and was the UK’s only contribution to this genre boom of the early 80s (at least until KRULL) probably wouldn’t figure highly on the list. However, there are still a few of us out there who have been waiting with barely-controlled enthusiasm for a Blu-ray release of HAWK THE SLAYER.

One of the more restrained acting scenes

It’s difficult to explain the appeal of the film to those mystified by its charm. Perhaps you had to be a certain age when you first encountered it. Tellingly, there are reviewers on Amazon who claim their children enjoyed it more than Peter Jackson’s acknowledged masterpiece, and perhaps that’s something to take note of. HAWK THE SLAYER may be cheap, it may be hokey, and it may be frequently ridiculous, but it’s packed with incident and the pacing doesn’t let up for a second. It may lack a charismatic leading man (sorry John Terry) but how can you complain when you have Jack Palance acting for two? Or three? Or possibly four? Only Shane Briant dares to match him and we all know what happens if you try and match Jack - he just turns it up from eleven to a hundred and eleven. Watch and revel! The giant may not actually be a giant or the dwarf a dwarf, but how can you complain when they’re introduced through such charming vignettes, one of them featuring Patrick Magee as a high priest wearing silver Doc Martens? Ray Charleson’s Crow the Elf  may have the most curious rapid-editing way of firing a bow and arrow, and his dialogue may be as flat as a pancake, but was Orlando Bloom really that much better? 

Going all the way up to eleven

Other fantasy epics have had the gorgeous locations of Tunisia, Malta, and New Zealand to help them create their lush and tropical environments, but only HAWK THE SLAYER somehow manages to make a Buckinghamshire forest look like something out of the end days of Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth. Kids these days may not be familiar with silly string but we certainly were - watch and marvel at the bravado of the film-makers as witchy Patricia Quinn despatches a baddie with it! 


And then there’s the music. Undoubtedly forward-thinking and cutting edge for its time, sadly this was before everyone realised (thanks to Basil Poledouris, David Whitaker and others) that the music of epic fantasy has to be epic orchestra and not tinny Jeff Wayne-style synthesisers, Morricone-esque flutes riffs and menacing zithers. That doesn’t mean it’s not great, though. In fact Harry Robertson’s ambitious (oh yes it is) music helps add to HAWK THE SLAYER’s unique charm. I own the CD and am proud to do so.

Oh yes!!!

Network’s Blu-ray is not a restoration, so expect speckles and crackles and some wonky colour stripes at points, but it IS nice to see HAWK out on this format. Special features include everything ported over from the Network Special Edition DVD (Clapperboard Special, Interviews for The Electric Theatre including a Jack Palance who clearly isn’t quite sure where he is or what film he’s in, trailer and behind the scenes footage). New to the Blu-ray are a couple of minutes of ‘Raw textless elements’ which are some more behind the scenes stuff without sound. As an added bonus you get the screenplay as a pdf, so you can recreate key scenes in your own home, if you haven’t been doing so already.

Floaty glowing sword fun

Gloriously entertaining, incredibly good-natured and thoroughly deserving of the love aficionados fashion upon it, it’s great to see HAWK THE SLAYER finally on Blu-ray. Now, where’s that sequel director Terry Marcel keeps promising us? 

Network are releasing the truly epic HAWK THE SLAYER in Region B Blu-ray on 6th July 2015

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Venom (1971)

Now here’s a curio: an obscure, rather odd and somewhat incomprehensible early 1970s British horror picture which, despite some familiar names in the technical credits, is all a bit scruffy in the presentation department. 
Now here’s another curio: the press release which accompanies Fabulous Films’ new widescreen release of VENOM is an odd little piece of entertainment all its own. In fact I’m going to transcribe their official ‘Thoroughly Confusing Synopsis’ (as they themselves call it), but include some of my own notes that I took while watching the film. To avoid any confusion, the Fabulous Films synopsis will be in blue. Ok? Here we go!

Publicity materials were scarce in them days

Whilst enjoying his holiday in a Tyrolean village, artist Paul Greville encounters a beautiful girl called Helen - with a scar in the form of a spider on her shoulder. This may be a clue! Back at the inn where he is staying, the owner ends up dead (and let's pause here. The owner doesn’t die at all, and the girl with the spider is called Anna, not Helen. Helen is someone else entirely whose father owns the local sawmill. They have also failed to mention the weird green filter and plentiful nudity we get before the credits, plus the possible BritHorror first of cows with garlands of flowers on their heads in a kind of bovine tribute to BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW) and Paul is blamed (No). 
        Now on the run, Helen takes Paul to her father’s cottage (No, Anna does, Helen's father has been split in half by one of his own tools - he who would live by the sawmill shall die by the sawmill, or rather in it, it would seem) where a diabolical series of experiments are being conducted in an effort to create a nerve gas from spider venom - funded by money from stolen paintings (This bit looks as if it needs correcting but that's actually right). Then the dead innkeeper’s friends and family turn up! (No they don’t because he’s not dead. Actually it's part of the gang who have been looking for the paintings - I think). The End.

Somewhat misleading, but a jolly nice poster

So hopefully by now you should have an idea what it’s like to watch VENOM aka THE LEGEND OF SPIDER FOREST, and not the Klaus Kinski / Oliver Reed / Nicol Williamson sprint to the bar of the same name that Tobe Hooper had to understandably resign from in 1981 leaving Piers Haggard (BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW but without cows) to clear up the mess.
Peter Sykes directed VENOM. His other directorial work is very good, including Hammer’s DEMONS OF THE MIND and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. There are a few nice shots here (with a bit of help from Pete Walker's regular DP Peter Jessop) but this does seem to have been made terribly quickly and probably without a finished script by Donald and Derek Ford (CORRUPTION). Anyone expecting a giant spider, or attacks of lots of little spiders, or anything much to do with spiders at all is going to be disappointed. However, if you’re a fan of slushy way over the top travelogue music (by John Simco Harrison) and people wandering through forests a lot, with a bit of bondage and flogging thrown in (perked your interest with that didn’t I? Trust me, you won't be impressed), then this might be the film for you.
         Fabulous Films have restored this oddity and given us a decent widescreen transfer of something that has probably never looked terribly good. There are no extras and no subtitles but the menu page does have an animated spider that bounces up and down a bit.  Now you want it, don't you?

Fabulous Films are releasing the curio cult oddity that is Peter Sykes' VENOM on Region 2 DVD on 6th July 2015