Thursday 30 June 2016

The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974)

“They’re not the only thing swinging in this picture!”

That could have been on the poster, couldn’t it? A mid-1970s tagline for a mid-1970s movie. Whether or not those words raise a smile or a frown will probably dictate whether or not you’re going to enjoy this, as Jack Hill strikes again with a jaunty piece of sexploitation from 1974, now released on UK Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Films.

Intrepid reporter Kate (Jo Johnston) goes undercover as a cheerleader as research for an article she’s writing on the exploitation of women in contemporary culture. She uncovers a scheme to fix games, has a relationship with one of the footballers, and helps her cheerleading colleagues when they end up in all kinds of exploitation trouble. 

Perhaps needless to say in a film with a title like this, none of the plot elements get in the way of the abundant nudity and sensational situations. A bit like a cross between VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS involves its leads in numerous amorous / melodramatic / sleazy situations, with the outcomes ranging from grindhouse unpleasantness to almost slapstick comedy. 

The movie benefits immensely from Jack Hill’s direction, which does its best to keep everything light and bouncy (and it is, on the whole) while coming through with the action scenes. The screenplay is credited to Jane Witherspoon and Betty Conklin, but apparently that’s just Jack Hill again (as Jane), along with co-writer David Kidd as Betty. “Betty” also wrote Bob Kelljan’s ACT OF VENGEANCE the same year. 

Arrow’s transfer of THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS gives it far less of a grindhouse look than this picture has probably had in the past. Extras include a new commentary track from Jack Hill, as well as a new interview with the director. There are also archive interviews with Alfred Taylor (the DP) and another with Hill and Johnny Legend. You also get a Q&A with Jack Hill and actresses Colleen Camp and Rosanne Katon recorded at the New Beverly Cinema in 2012. 

While perhaps not as interesting as PIT STOP, or as gloriously entertaining as BIG DOLL HOUSE or Hill’s Pam Grier pictures, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS is still a cheerfully entertaining slice of political incorrectness from a time sufficiently long ago that it can now be regarded with interest if not nostalgia.

Jack Hill's THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 4th July 2016 

Wednesday 29 June 2016

Wizards (1977)

Ralph Bakshi’s 1977 animated fantasy gets a DVD and Blu-ray re-release from Fabulous Films.
The future. Way, way into the future. So far into the future the world has been destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse and evolved into the kind of place a sleep-deprived, caffeine and acid-fuelled J R R Tolkien might have dreamed up if he’d been an animator at the Filmation studios in the mid-1970s. 

A listless narration (from an uncredited Susan Tyrell) establishes, over what look like storyboards, a rather convoluted backstory that eventually gets us to the rather basic-looking animation that's going to tell a reasonable amount of our tale. I say reasonable because quite often it’s back to the storyboards and the spaced-out voiceover from Ms Tyrell who sounds as if she had to be poked with a stick at regular intervals to keep her going. 

          When it’s not that it’s rotoscoped stock footage of World War II, Cy Enfield’s ZULU (yes really) and I’m guessing other war movies, all rendered in such a way that it would work well as the Ludovico treatment in Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Who knows? Perhaps in the future that’s what this film will be used for.

The plot involves our team of heroes - bumbling “likeable” wizard Avatar, large-breasted skimpy costume-wearing fairy princess Elinore, heroic elf-like Weehawk and warrior villain Peace - travelling to defeat Avatar’s evil brother Blackwolf, who wants to enslave the world. Along the way they encounter various fairies, creatures, get into and out of scrapes, and you can probably guess the ending if you don’t want to sit through all the sanity-threatening rotoscope stuff. 

It’s not that WIZARDS is terrible, but it does all feel terribly amateur. If you cut out the storyboard and rotoscope stuff there’s not much actual animation. Probably the biggest problem, aside from the appallingly unfunny ‘comic relief’ is that (Weehawk being a noteable exception) all the voiceover artists perform as if they couldn’t care the slightest about what’s going on. Honestly, people react with more vigour when they receive their gas bill than the characters threatened with the extinction of their entire planet here. That, combined with the lacklustre visuals (some of the backgrounds are a few listless swipes of a pencil that haven’t even been coloured in) means that unless you have fond memories of this one, WIZARDS is strictly for students of the history of movie animation. 

Extras include a half-hour-plus interview with Bakshi, and he also supplies a feature-length commentary if you want to learn more about how the film ended up the way it is. 

Ralph Bakshi's WIZARDS is out from Fabulous Films on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 4th July 2016

Tuesday 28 June 2016

The Beast With a Million Eyes! (1955)

“The film with a million things wrong with it”

         Well, possibly not that many, but seeing as executive producer James H Nicholson came up with that title and that poster, both of which are so over the top and unlike the finished film, I think I’m allowed to go a little bit over the top with my review as well.

The weird title sequence is probably the best bit of this film. Which isn't difficult
         A farty fizzy pop-bottle of a spaceship buzzes its way to a paper plate earth in an opening shot that even Ed Wood would have considered ‘a bit cheap’. A voice over explains that the creature on board lives off fear and hate and that by using animals and some humans it will have a million eyes through which to see as it tries to take over the planet.

Best acting in the film. Which isn't difficult
I would love to know what happened in cinemas at the time after this bit. Did people demand their money back? Throw stuff at the screen? Go back to snogging their underage girlfriend in the back row in between puffs on cigarettes as they tried not to stick to the horrible stained velveteen seats?
         Sorry - back to the film.

Nothing happening.
         Apart, that is, from some terrible acting (other than Duke the dog, who is great), and the sight of birds and cows ‘going mad’ (they seem a bit miffed through the somewhat incoherent editing but that’s about it.)

Nothing still happening.
The Beast is tracked down to the pit in which he landed. His spaceship looks like a dustbin with a twirling coat hanger on top (I hope I’m not giving away any special effects secrets here). The Beast itself is a coffee percolator (according to numerous articles I remember reading about this film many years ago) filmed through a haze which is not so much a camera filter as James Nicholson taking a razor blade and scratching the film to bits so you couldn’t see how bad the effects were.
         The Beast falls over.
He is declared dead.

Dustbin Coat Hanger Horror!

         If you really want to watch this one (and I’ll admit I did), then Fabulous Films’ transfer isn’t bad at all, considering this movie is from AIP’s ‘especially awful’ era that also gave us CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, THE WASP WOMAN, and other black and white quickies that look absolutely terrible on public domain prints. There’s the option of stereo or mono sound mixes (I only tried the stereo as I couldn’t bring myself to watch this twice) but that’s it for extras.

The Beast From Percolator Hell
I love some of AIP’s monster pictures from this period. ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS is a little gem. BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES is, however, a little lacking. Or rather a lot lacking. But you have to admit that poster is fantastic. 

THE BEAST WITH A MILLION EYES! (Their exclamation mark, not mine. Oh goodness me no) is getting a UK DVD release from Fabulous Films on Monday 4th July 2016

Sunday 26 June 2016

Reptilicus (1961)


Oh yes indeed, Denmark’s sole contribution to the giant monster on the rampage subgenre is a very grotty beast indeed. But now you don’t have to take my word for it - Fabulous Films are releasing it on DVD in the UK.

Effects that really are special

Long before Lego, another Danish giant sought to take over the world (it says here on the press release). While searching for copper ore, miners inadvertently dig up the frozen tail of a massive and previously unidentified prehistoric beast. 

Even the local bathroom accessories shop isn't safe!

       It’s taken to Copenhagen aquarium where thankfully nobody sings Danny Kaye songs (that bit for our older readers) and the Danish answer to Adam Sandler is employed to keep an eye on it.

Denmark's answer to Adam Sandler gets taken unawares!

Pretty soon it’s thawing out and regenerating into (according to the press release) a giant, acid-spitting monster that can fly (we never see that), swim (by which they mean sink), walk (erm...not really - it’s more sort of dragged around by ‘unseen’ wires) and has impenetrable scales. 

Cartoon Danish farmers watch out too!!

       UN appointed military general Mark Grayson (played by Carl Ottosen, star of SOLDATERKAMMERATER PĂ… EFTERĂ…RSMANOVRE (1968) and GULD TIL PRAERIENS SKRAPPE DRENGE (1971), neither of which will probably get reviewed on here but you never know, and THE RELUCTANT SADIST (1967) which just might) thinks he knows a way to penetrate the creature, in what is the last of a string of unintentionally innuendo-laden lines for those of you who are amused by such sophistication. (And if you enjoy that you’ll be delighted at the young blonde-haired scientist’s assertion that he’s ‘firm’ earlier on). The problem with REPTILICUS is, if you blow him up, he turns into lots of little Reptilici. Will the budget stretch to it? Perhaps in the final shot? Should I even be getting your hopes up? 

REPTILICUS: the pantomime! Can you see him boys and girls?

REPTILICUS is credited to producer-director Sid Pink, who was also responsible / to blame, along with Ib Melchior, for THE ANGRY RED PLANET which Fabulous Films are also putting out. Actually the original REPTILICUS was shot in Danish by Poul Bang, then Sid filmed a second version in ‘English’ which had to be reworked by Ib.

Military attempts to thwart REPTILICUS fail because their vehicles are far too small

As monster movies go REPTILICUS isn’t very good, but as cheesy Friday night after the pubs have closed and fifteen pints are enough really and it’s either this or inspecting the living room carpet for the painful eternity of a hangover that will stretch well into Saturday, it’s actually a lot of fun. Fabulous Films’ DVD contains no extras, but chances are if you've enjoyed the stills here you'll enjoy the film as well. With or without the enhancing effects of a heavy Friday night out.

REPTILICUS gets released on UK DVD in all its glory by Fabulous Films on Monday 4th July 2016

Saturday 25 June 2016

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

"Tomatoes, tomatoes - everywhere!"

The sequel to the original silly vegetables-on-the-rampage picture ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1978) gets a Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Arrow.

Following on from the events in the first film, where it appears that giant beachball-sized tomatoes terrified the nation until they were destroyed by an awful pop song called ‘Puberty Love’ (I haven’t seen it but there are enough flashbacks and silly special effects to certainly suggest this), RETURN kicks off with Professor Gangreen (John Astin) creating an army of Rambo tomato men while his tomato girlfriend Tara Boumdeay (oh dear) looks on.

Actually it doesn’t. Instead the movie begins in the cinema showing RETURN OFTHE KILLER TOMATOES but they get the film wrong and start showing something else instead. The fourth wall-breaking continues about halfway through when the film runs out of money and everyone has to resort to product placement to keep the picture going.

Meanwhile, in the now tomato-free land that is America, pizzas have to be made with raspberry jam instead of tomato sauce. When a mutant fluffy tomato is created, Tara runs away with him and takes refuge with pizza-store chef Chad (Antony Starke) and his chum Matt (George Clooney. Yes that George Clooney only looking much younger and with much more 1980s hair).  

Professor Gangreen plans world domination. Our heroes, plus a very strange collection of FBI agents, track him down and stop his evil plans while various silly sight gags abound.

Anyone unfamiliar with this film should be warned that, despite the promise of the title, there’s very little tomato action indeed in this, and I don’t think anybody gets killed by one. RETURN has a cheerful, AIRPLANE-made-at-home feel and starts well, but it does all get a bit desperate by the third act. The movie deserves points, however, for a lot of gags that were probably very original at the time, as well as for some very silly songs and an extremely silly end credit roll that fans of extreme daftness would be well advised to stay around until the end of. 

Arrow’s Blu-ray makes RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES look remarkably good. You also get a feature-length commentary by writer-director John deBello, a new interview with star Anthony Starke, a trailer and collector’s booklet with new writing on the film. A cheerful enough timewaster for fans of very silly 1980s films. And George Clooney. Perhaps. I meant fans of George Clooney. Not George Clooney himself. I wonder if he remembers this? 

RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES is out on dual format UK DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 27th June 2016

Friday 24 June 2016

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

That bat-rat-spider thing is back!
If you’re a fan of THE ANGRY RED PLANET and its arachno-rodent puppet centrepiece then worry no more - the US region 1 DVD of this may go for silly money nowadays (upwards of £60) but if you didn’t manage to get that here come Fabulous Films with a region 2 DVD release that will be out in a bit.

The first manned flight to Mars returns minus two of its crew and with one chap covered in green goo. The only one who seems to be unharmed is ‘biology expert’ Dr Iris Ryan (Nora Hayden). She can’t remember what happened until she’s subjected to drugs and patronising words by her attendant medical team. Then it all comes back.

Somewhat less impressive
The team set off for Mars taking with them items essential for space exploration. These include socks and slip-on shoes, make-up and science fiction magazines. There are four of them: a bloke who looks like he owns the local Italian restaurant and has wandered onto the ship by mistake is in charge of radar and guns, a former Nazi war criminal is pretending to be the science expert, Dr Iris probably makes a bit on the side as a low-rent Maureen O’Hara lookalike that any chap fancying his chances as John Wayne for the evening can pop over his knee, and in command is a man whom you wouldn’t trust with your daughter because you’d never get her back from the white slave traders he would inevitably sell them to.

There's quite a bit of this at the start. Make some tea or something.
They travel to Mars.
They land on Mars.
Mars is red, and somewhat...drawn.
It’s also full of splendidly tatty monsters that I don’t doubt would have scared the living daylights out of me when I was eight. Best of all is our bat-rat-spider friend. He’s meant to be forty feet high but was actually a fifteen inch marionette. It still looks...unnerving, even if the effect has been massively diminished by the passing of nearly sixty years. 

Let's see him again! Yes!!!!!
Pizza/Radar man gets done in. Captain Pervo gets green goo on his arm. Dr Nazi dies, leaving Iris to get the ship back to earth and go all hysterical. She calms down in time to hear the Martians’ warning to never come back and instead that Earthmen should stay home and destroy their own planet. Which to be honest is exactly what they did.
Fabulous Films’ DVD looks as good as MGM’s Midnight Movies release (because of course I’ve seen both). There’s a trailer as an extra and that’s it. 

Fabulous Films are releasing Ib Melchior and Sid Pink's delirious THE ANGRY RED PLANET on Region 2 DVD on Monday 4th July 2016

Thursday 23 June 2016

i-Lived (2016)

“Another decent horror picture from the director of the MANIAC remake”

Oh yes indeed it is. i-LIVED might not be quite as good as Franck Khalfoun’s crackingly good 2012 slasher picture, but it certainly helps cement his growing reputation as one of the most promising horror film directors of the 21st century.

Nerdy, incredibly annoying Josh (Jeremiah Watkins) is in his 20s. Despite his Stanford university degree his life since graduating has been a dead loss. He has no money to pay his rent, and he spends his time reviewing apps online on his ‘J-Tech’ site. When he signs up to a new self-help app called ‘i-Lived’ his life suddenly takes a turn for the better. His ailing mother’s health improves, he acquires beautiful new girlfriend Greta (Sarah Power) and the likes for his site increase to the point where big business becomes interested. But when he unsubscribes from the app, things start to go horribly wrong, and he finds himself having to commit increasingly gruesome crimes to maintain the life he wants. 

         i-LIVED takes a while to get going, but even at the beginning there’s a fun 13 SINS / 13: GAME OF DEATH vibe to the challenges Josh has to meet in order to achieve his next life success. It’s when things get considerably darker that the style Khalfoun evidenced in MANIAC comes to the fore - clinical, coldly stylish and glitteringly cruel. Plot-wise, it’s unlikely any seasoned horror fans are going to be surprised where things are going, but style-wise the movie keeps you watching as you go there. 

         Full marks to Khalfoun for making the proceedings increasingly disorientating and nightmarish as we reach the climax as well. I’ll admit I still can’t work out if the character of Josh was intended to be almost unbearably annoying for the first two acts, thus making it all the more likely that he would need help to achieve his goals, or not, but don’t let the performance put you off. Second Sight’s DVD offers no extras, but go for the 5.1 surround sound option instead of standard stereo. 

I really liked i-LIVED. If it had been shown at something like Frightfest I don’t doubt it would have ended up in my top ten of the festival. Stylish and entertaining, it’s made me all the more enthusiastic for Franck Khalfoun’s AMITYVILLE: THE AWAKENING, and while it’s not quite a good as MANIAC, it confirms that he’s definitely a director to watch. 

Franck Khalfoun's i-LIVED is being made available to view in the UK as follows:

Download to own from Monday 27th June
On-demand from Monday 4th July
DVD from Monday 11th July

Monday 20 June 2016

Doomwatch (1972)

One of the last films to be made under the auspices of producer Tony Tenser before he sold Tigon pictures to the Laurie Marsh Group, the movie version of the BBC TV series DOOMWATCH gets a DVD & Blu-ray release courtesy of Screenbound.

         On an isolated island off the Cornish coast people are suffering a strange affliction that is causing them to attack one another and stay indoors once things become too bad. Into this community comes Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen wearing a colourful range of hats and polo-neck jumpers of which much was made in the reviews of the time). He’s there to investigate whether or not there have been any long-term effects from an oil tanker spill a year ago. What he discovers is something very different altogether.

I reviewed the TV series of DOOMWATCH a while ago on here. A gritty, eco-angry slice of early 1970s British science fiction, the film version doesn't quite capture the doom-laden dread of the best episodes, but it still does a pretty good job, with a scientific basis for what's going on and an ending that’s suitably downbeat. The main problem with DOOMWATCH the movie is that it's often thought of as a horror film when it's actually more of an Eco-SF piece. 

You can understand why people think it's a horror picture, though. The first thirty minutes feels like a combination of Hammer meets Pete Walker, with director Peter Sasdy giving us a nicely grim and threatening island community with a Deep Dark Secret. John Scott’s music score helps immensely here as well.

  The reason many of us in our youth thought DOOMWATCH  was a horror picture was because while we didn't know the TV series, we were very familiar with all the stills of lumpy-faced Michael Brennan in Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Alan Frank's Monsters and Vampires, and Monster Mag. It was a bit of a disappointment when DOOMWATCH turned out not to have the kind of exploitation elements other Tigon product such as WITCHFINDER GENERAL and BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW were famous for. But once you realise that's not the point of it, the film can definitely be enjoyed on its own merits. 

Fans of DOOMWATCH the TV series might have felt a bit short changed going to see this at the cinema on its release as well. The usual team are kept well in the background to allow presumably bigger name stars like Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson to take centre stage. These days that's not such a problem, even if George Sanders seems to have taken quite a bit of valium before being wheeled on for extended cameo. For fans of British cinema of the period, DOOMWATCH remains a must-see.

Back in the day I saw the first showing on British television of DOOMWATCH. It looked absolutely sparkling - a pretty much new movie as it was then. Therefore I’m guessing time has not been kind to the vault elements. Screenbound did a fantastic job with Antony Balch’s HORROR HOSPITAL (it’s well worth catching up with their Blu-ray if you haven’t). Unfortunately a rather washed-out print seems to have been used here, with the brightness turned right up so there’s lots of picture noise, even on a very low resolution monitor setting. There are no extras apart from a trailer. 

Tigon's DOOMWATCH is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Screenbound on Monday 20th June