Friday 30 September 2016

The Windmill Massacre (2016)

“Terrifically Enjoyable EuroHorror With A Cast of Familiar Faces”

After its premiere at this year’s London Frightfest, Netherlands-filmed supernatural horror picture THE WINDMILL MASSACRE gets a UK DVD release from Kaleidoscope.

Amsterdam. Jennifer (Charlotte Beaumont from BROADCHURCH and JUPITER ASCENDING) is working illegally as an au pair. When she gets rumbled she has nowhere to go and ends up boarding the creepy clapped out Happy Holland tour bus. The driver isn’t too bothered that she hasn’t got a ticket, which means she really should be. 

         She’s joined in the bus by an irritable business man (Patrick Baladi from THE OFFICE and BODIES) and his son as well as a cocaine-addicted art enthusiast with a shady past (Noah Taylor from GAME OF THRONES), an ex-model trying to make it as a photographer (Fiona Hampton), a Japanese tourist mourning the death of his grandmother (Tanroh Ishida) and a marine (Ben Batt) who has done something unspeakably violent to a prostitute and is on the run just like Jennifer.

Off they all go into the land of polders and windmills!
The bus breaks down.
It gets dark.
There’s a windmill.
It’s not on any maps.
Every passenger has a terrible secret and soon, something horrible is picking them off one by one. 

         A very well-made mixture of Agatha Christie and Amicus anthology movie, THE WINDMILL MASSACRE is going to remind fans of classic EuroHorror of Jean Brismée’s 1971 Belgian horror THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE in which seven tourists find themselves on a bus driven by death himself, or Leon Klimovsky’s 1974 Spanish THE VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY, where tourists on a bus encounter scary stuff in a grotty old village.

         Originally called THE WINDMILL the retitling is sensible seeing as a Dutch film with that title doesn’t immediately suggest a picture filled with gallons of stage blood (all CGI free - hooray!). WINDMILL MASSACRE is well written, well acted, well directed, and deserving of at least a couple of viewings to pick up on all the clever stuff at the beginning. The director, by the way, produced the equally entertaining FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY a couple of years ago. Kaleidoscope’s DVD offers a director’s commentary as an extra, along with a short behind the scenes piece and sixteen minutes of ‘B-Roll’ footage. 

THE WINDMILL MASSACRE is out on UK DVD from Kaleidoscope on 3rd October 2016

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Vamp (1986)

“Mario Bava meets THE MONSTER CLUB”

         Getting a new Blu-ray and DVD release from Arrow this month is Richard Wenk’s 1986 comedy horror picture that originally saw release on VHS in the UK on the Entertainment in Video label.

Actually a pretty decent opening
Keith (Chris Makepiece) and AJ (Robert Rusler) are two friends trying to get into the college fraternity of their choice. In order to do so they make a pledge that they can get a stripper for the fraternity’s party. Off they go with rich ‘friend’ Duncan (Gedde Watanabe trying his best to be the 1980s teen movie equivalent of Charles Hawtrey) to the seedy side of the closest city.

I would be very scared. In fact I was.
         They end up at the After Dark club, where AJ falls victim to stripper vampire queen Katrina (Grace Jones sans dialogue - presumably the budget didn’t stretch that far). With only waitress Dedee Pfeiffer (sister of Michelle) as a possible ally, Keith has to fight off not just all the dancers at the club and the other vampires that live in the area, but a gang of albinos led by Billy Drago as well.

It's the EIGHTIES!
         The central idea of VAMP is worthy of an EC comic strip (like Joe Orlando’s Midnight Mess) or an R Chetwynd-Hayes story (hence the reference to THE MONSTER CLUB at the top there). The film boasts some endearing acting from Makepiece and Rusler in their scenes together and some decent post THE HOWLING Greg Cannom makeup effects (it looks as if he used the same contact lenses and basic facial appliances he used on that picture as Rob Bottin’s assistant).

Not THE MONSTER CLUB. Honestly. Not like it at all
         This, plus Grace Jones as the scariest stripper (and the most believable ancient Egyptian vampire) ever, should have meant a movie as entertaining and scary as Joe Dante’s earlier werewolf picture. But somehow it just doesn’t work. Whether that’s due to a sluggish middle act, the American horror movie tradition of having incredibly boring strip routines, some bits of stilted dialogue, or just a general lack of urgency about the whole thing it’s hard to tell. I’ve seen VAMP a couple of times now and have always wanted to like it, but after a very promising start it seems to lose its way. The constant use of pink and green lighting is interesting but after a bit it gets rather wearing on the eye as well. 

         Arrow’s new ‘Special Edition’ release includes a new 45 minute making of that includes interviews with writer-director Richard Wenk and stars Makepiece, Rusler, Pfeiffer, Watanabe and Drago, a blooper reel (from what looks like blurry VHS footage), some rehearsal stuff with Grace Jones, and a daft short film about Dracula Coming to New York that makes the comedy of VAMP look restrained. You also get an image gallery, a reversible sleeve, and the first pressing will contain a booklet with new writing on the film by Cullen Gallagher. 

Richard Wenk's VAMP is getting a Blu-ray and DVD release from Arrow on Monday 3rd October 2016

Monday 26 September 2016

Slugs - The Movie (1988)

“Creepy Crawly Mutant Mollusc Horror!”

Arrow manages what no-one ever thought possible (or advisable, anyway) by releasing Juan Piquer Simon’s SLUGS on Blu-ray and DVD. Anyone familiar with the director’s 1981 loony-athon PIECES will know what to expect. For those not wise to the ways of this particular director’s work, here are some highlights of this one.

Naughty slugs
A very badly dubbed ‘teenaged’ couple are fishing. He gets pulled into the water while she fails in trying to take her top off. There’s a bit of floundering around and a load of stage blood before we get the titles, which proudly proclaim we are watching SLUGS - THE MOVIE (the TV show will still have to wait a while, I suspect).

Unaware that slugs are lurking in the toilet
         A man with trousers that are far too short for him swigs from a bottle of booze in an abandoned house before something kills him. The police arrive the next day and have a good look around the room in which he died before realising there’s a half-eaten corpse lying on the sofa. Dept of Health Bloke Mike Brady (Michael Garfield) and his specialist-in-going-down-sewers-dressed-in-yellow chum Don (Philip McHale) become concerned that all may not be well, especially when Mike is attacked by a finger puppet slug with pointy teeth in his wife’s garden (that’s not a euphemism by the way, sorry if you watch this expecting some kind of graphic genital violence).

Nudity not at all justified in terms of the plot
         The slugs are coming! Loads of them! All speeded up! See how they burst out of an ensuite toilet, completely eat a naked couple and then disappear before the police get there! Despite the vast quantities of slime everywhere the Sheriff is convinced it’s the work of raccoons.
         A man eats a slug, gets indigestion and his face explodes in a restaurant. The slugs are possibly the product of toxic waste. There’s a chap who may be a teacher and definitely works in the local school laboratory who has access to oildrum-sized quantities of lithium and arsenic which he proposes to burn the slugs to death with. Everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Men in yellow!
          Don dresses up in yellow. Mike dresses up in yellow. They go down into the sewers to find the slugs’ breeding ground (I think that was the name of the sequel). Much toilet-based humour ensues as sewage explodes everywhere. 
         Please believe me when I say I haven’t spoiled any enjoyment you might get out of SLUGS by telling you most of the plot. The true pleasure of something like this is its sheer awfulness - the stilted acting and dubbing, the ropey special effects (apart from some of the miniatures) and the frequently loud and inappropriate music score that the credits claim is performed by the Royal Philharmonic but sounds more like offcuts from an Aaron Spelling 1970s TV show. 

Explosion at jam factory. Slug tries to give assistance
         Arrow’s SLUGS package offers not one but two commentary tracks - one from Chris Alexander, and another from the author of the novel on which the film was based, Shaun Hutson. The latter is more of a chat about Mr Hutson’s career and he proves to be his usual candid and upfront self about his work and the genre. And he even mentions the infamous Pierce Nace novel Eat Them Alive!
         Other extras include interviews with special effects man Carlo De Marchis, art director Gonzalo Gonzalo, production manager Larry Evans and actor Emilio Lindar. You also get the trailer, a reversible sleeve and new writing on the movie by Michael Gingold. 
         SLUGS - THE MOVIE is rubbish. During its UK premiere at 1988’s Shock Around the Clock there was so much good-natured laughter at its ludicrousness that it quite possibly endeared me to this sort of silly film for life. And therein lies its charm. It may be awful, but it is extremely watchable. 

SLUGS is coming out from Arrow on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th September 2016

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Fedora (1978)

“Billy Wilder does EuroHorror!”

Well it certainly feels like it, at least for the first 75 minutes of this, and now you can decide if you agree with me as Eureka brings this one out in a (on the whole) sparking Blu-ray transfer.
FEDORA starts with a woman throwing herself under a train. Is it for real or a movie? The (deliberate) ambiguity continues as we cut to a TV presenter and then we realise she’s not talking about the clip we have seen, but about the death contained within it. Great and long-lived actress Fedora (one name - like Garbo or Karloff) is no more, and she has a funeral like VALENTINO in Ken Russell’s film of the same name made a year previously to show just how adored she was.  

One of the many to attend the funeral is down on his luck independent movie producer Barry ‘Dutch’ Detweiler (William Holden), who then proceeds to tell us, in a voiceover reminiscent of the way in which Wilder’s own SUNSET BOULEVARD opens, how two weeks previously he had travelled to Corfu to try and get the reclusive movie star to appear in a new film.

It’s there that the EuroHorror feel kicks in, with Fedora (Marthe Keller) seemingly being kept prisoner in an isolated mansion by the kind of people usually seen in the more bonkers early 1970s Italian horrors. Fedora doesn’t even appear to be sane, and may have been the subject of bizarre ‘youth enhancing experiments’ performed by the disgraced Doctor Vando (Jose Ferrer, having a lot more fun here than in ZOLTAN HOUND OF DRACULA which he made at about the same time).

         Miklos Rozsa’s score channels some serious James Bernard as the plot gets stranger and takes a right turn into LES YEUX SANS VISAGE territory. I’ll leave the rest of FEDORA for you to discover, suffice to say that I don’t doubt for a moment that Billy Wilder (with co-writer I A L Diamond) was aiming for a commentary on the Hollywood of the 1970s compared with the 1940s while at the same time asking the question as to what a ‘star’ really is - a person or an elaborate construct that actually destroys lives. 

          What he ended up with is something a little more lurid and unexpectedly entertaining for fans of 1970s European horror films and FEDORA turned out to be an unexpected delight that was no doubt rather ahead of its time in having actors like Michael York and Henry Fonda play themselves. 

         Eureka’s Blu-ray transfer is excellent on the whole, and one of the extras shows you how the film was restored. You also get deleted scenes and a booklet featuring two new essays on the film as well as some archival images and text. 

Eureka are releasing Billy Wilder's FEDORA on a dual format DVD and Blu-ray set on Monday 26th September 2016

Sunday 18 September 2016

Psychomania (1972)

“The word, mother, is 'Excellent'”

PSYCHOMANIA is coming out on Blu-ray.
Let’s say that again.
The BFI is bringing out PSYCHOMANIA on Blu-ray.
Once more.
As part of its invaluable flipside series of releases, the BFI is bringing out, in a newly restored print, PSYCHOMANIA, a horror film made in 1972 by British film company Benmar productions, whose only other foray into things cinematic was the equally daft and no less enjoyable HORROR EXPRESS.

The plot is only part of this film’s delirious wonder. Let’s try and summarise it now. Regular readers will understand that my love for this film coupled with my desire to describe it in detail in order to impart just how special it is means the piece which follows is rather longer than usual. 

Nicely weird
The Living Dead motorcycle gang consists of a group of young RADA-trained actors with beautiful speaking voices trying to act evil. They are aided in this endeavour by the names given them by the script which include ‘Hatchet’ (played by the chubby little ginger chap from BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW), ‘Chopped Meat’ (who ends up singing one of the strangest songs in popular horror film history but more on that in a minute) and ‘Jane’ (Ann Michelle, keeping her clothes on this time after the copious nudity of Tigon’s THE VIRGIN WITCH a couple of years previous and soon to appear in Pete Walker’s HOUSE OF WHIPCORD. All these acting choices, along with Chris Boger’s CRUEL PASSION means she is still regarded with affection by British film fanatics to this day). 

Ann Michelle, her life hanging by neither a thread nor a whipcord. This time.
Each member of the gang has their name written on their leathers, presumably in case they (or indeed the actors playing them) forget who they are. It also makes it very handy later on for the police to be able to identify the various perpetrators of any ensuing miscreant behaviour. The leader is Tom, played by Nicky Henson (Ian Ogilvy’s friend from WITCHFINDER GENERAL), whose girlfriend Abby is played by Mary Larkin. Despite being pretty much the only one left alive at the end of this as far as I’m aware Ms Larkin never went on to do anything of any significance afterwards.    

More nice and weird
The opening title sequence of this film is wonderful. John Cameron’s music theme is very seventies but it’s the right kind of seventies, and when this sequence is watched now it lends an even more haunting otherworldly atmosphere to the proceedings. The incongruous image of motorcycles riding around fog-wreathed standing stones in slow motion is at once outlandish and engaging, and is almost perfect in its atmospheric scene setting. The movie which follows is also going to be filled with standout moments, albeit on the whole for reasons other than what one could hesitatingly call quality.

The essence of pure evil, apparently.
After a little bit of road-based violence to get the film started (and to demonstrate just how nasty the bike gang is) Tom and Abby pop off to the nearest graveyard where their canoodling is interrupted by Tom’s interest in a frog who has been thrown onto the set. Popping his new ‘little green friend’ into his pocket (!) he leaves Abby to probably seriously reconsider her position in a relationship where amphibians seem to take precedence, and drives back to the manor house where he lives with mum Beryl Reid, butler Shadwell (George Sanders) and some of the most hideous seventies wall-sculptures you will ever see. 

The three stars of PSYCHOMANIA
        While Shadwell admires the frog (now housed beneath a transparent cover probably last used for a sponge cake) Tom brings us up to speed on how Shadwell never gets older, that the butler knows the secret of the living dead, and that the house has a room that’s been locked for eighteen years. A huge baguette loaded with fillings magically appears from nowhere and Tom munches on it to provide dialogue punctuation, but not as good as how Peter Cushing would probably have handled it. Brave try, though.

Off the bridge!
Needless to say, Tom’s soon in the mysteriously dust-free and highly polished forbidden chamber, finding his dead dad’s NHS spectacles and having visions of a big frog and then Beryl doing something suspiciously like signing Tom’s soul away when he was a baby to a man with a frog ring. Tom should be okay, apparently, because he’s wearing a frog pendant, which leads one to wonder if the producers spent a day in 1971 at World of Frogs buying up their unsold stock, and then got screenwriters Arnaud D’Usseau and Julian Halevy to follow-up their previous movie hit HORROR EXPRESS with “anything (and we mean literally anything) involving frogs and motorbikes”.

Triumphs instead of Harley Davidsons. I think I prefer the Triumphs for this.
The ‘big secret’ is that if you kill yourself but believe you’ll come back then you will, which if it were actually true would mean a world full of the buggers. There’s probably more to it than that but I suspect the film-makers thought it would be irresponsible to divulge anything else, although somehow I suspect it involves more frog-based shenanigans.
After some very poor shopping-centre antics and a road chase, Tom drives off a bridge and into the local river, killing himself. “We’d like to bury him our way if that’s ok” says Abby when she visits Beryl’s house. Trusting Beryl agrees without asking any more, so it’s a bit of a relief when it turns out that the gang’s ‘way’ involves burying Tom in his leathers and sitting on his motorbike in the stone circle. Rather than anything, you know, a bit silly for when he comes back

Nicky Henson assumed no-one would ever see this film
Which he does, in one of the most memorable screen moments in all of British cinema. “Do you want him back?” says George Sanders beforehand. “Yes,” says Beryl. “Yes, God help me I do.” Which is the cue, ladies and gentlemen for you to either hit the fast forward button, go and make a cup of tea, or brace yourselves for one of the most incongruous moments in movie history as this zombie biker horror picture grinds to a halt so that the gang, dressed in hippy gear, can make wreaths and other flower-based items of mourning while the song ‘Riding Free’ is mercilessly etched into your subconscious. Tom may indeed have ‘really got it on’ and may well have ‘rode that sweet machine just like a bomb’ but I am going to stop before I tell you the full horror of these lyrics in case there’s any risk of copyright infringement.

Miscreant inspiration for the writers of SUEDEHEAD and SCUM?
Tom comes back and looks remarkably clean for a man who’s been buried under a grave full of earth. He gets some free petrol and then proceeds to murder a pub full of people. Police inspector Robert Hardy, looking unsure as to how he’s meant to be playing this, keeps a straight face as the bodies start to pile up, especially when the gang cotton on and proceed to kill themselves in a montage of suicides so ridiculously over the top that the comic moments of the film so far are in serious danger of being topped by this single three minute sequence.

All in a day's work in PSYCHOMANIA land
Scarcely has the pathologist time to answer a call from his wife than the gang are up and about again, including Abby, who’s not actually dead as her overdose failed, but not before giving her a slightly trippy dream sequence where her nightmare becomes so extreme and unpleasant that she envisions herself wearing something approaching a gaily coloured African tablecloth.

Because I haven't had a shot with Beryl Reid in it yet 
Beryl finds out from the police that Tom’s told his gang the Family Secret and tells Shadwell she wishes to break her bargain. “And you know what you will be become for all eternity?” he says and she nods, figuring she might always be able to get a job presenting The Muppet Show in a couple of years.
Tom finds out Abby is still living and in a showdown with the gang back at the stone circle attempts to kill her. Fortunately Beryl has completed the ritual, acquiring a distinctly croaky voice and a Kermit-like appearance in the process, and as a result Tom and his gang turn to stone. The End. Apart from black-cloaked Shadwell approaching distraught Abby in the stone circle as John Cameron’s music plays us out in another haunting moment that almost makes up for what’s gone before.

You may feel like this after the film. But not during, oh no.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, quite like PSYCHOMANIA, and there never will be again. The film could not have been made at any other time or in any other country, and it still manages to achieve an open-mouthed response of ‘what on earth were they thinking when they made this?’ on viewing that, coupled with some memorable scenes and a haunting score, means it shouldn’t be allowed to fade into obscurity.
And now it won’t, thanks to the BFI. PSYCHOMANIA has existed in a number of DVD incarnations over the years, none of them British and all of them suffering from a dodgy and scratchy first reel. This problem has been remedied on the BFI’s disc, and there’s even an extra that describes how they did the restoration (which sounds even more complicated than usual).

I wonder how much these stills are worth today?
As for the other extras - fans will be pleased to hear that all of the extras from Severin’s previous gold standard region one DVD release have been ported over (interviews with composer John Cameron, Riding Free singer Harvey Andrews, and the Return of the Living Dead piece featuring interviews with Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor). 
       New to the BFI disc is a new, up to date interview with Nicky Henson in which he yet again makes clear how mystified he is by the popularity of PSYCHOMANIA. There’s an eight minute piece on Lewis Leathers who supplied the costumes for the film, a subtitled trivia track from the Wilson Brothers, a 19 minute short about Christian Bikers, a trailer, and a booklet with some excellent new essays on the film. Finally, any Blu-ray presentation of PSYCHOMANIA would be incomplete without John Betjeman narrating a travelogue of Avebury. No, I don’t really know why it’s here either, but it’s the perfect eccentrically British addition to this, one of the most eccentrically British movies of all time. 

The utter classic of British Horror Eccentricity that is Don Sharp's PSYCHOMANIA is coming out from the BFI in a dual format DVD and Blu-ray edition on Monday 26th September. 

Friday 16 September 2016

Ash Vs Evil Dead Season One (2015)

“EVIL DEAD Thirty Years Later - And It’s Fantastic”

And yes indeed it is, as the continuation to Sam Raimi’s classic EVIL DEAD trilogy, with Bruce Campbell all present and correct as “hero” Ash, gets a UK DVD release courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
It’s been thirty years since the events of ARMY OF DARKNESS, and never mind which ending to that film you saw or prefer (the supermarket one or the post apocalypse one) Ash is now working at the US equivalent of B&Q and living in an Airstream trailer in what might just be a clever reference to the first film’s HILLS HAVE EYES gag (Sam Raimi and Wes Craven used to swap references in each others’ movies).

Ash is still just as stupid, though, and during an evening smoking weed with one of the local ladies of the night he reads from the Necronomicon Ex Mortis (which he’s kept in a trunk in his caravan for who knows what reason, but he’s certainly that kind of guy). Needless to say all hell starts to break loose, affecting the lives of not just Ash but coworkers Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo). The series follows their attempts to put hell back where it came from, with plenty of gore and splat ensuing.

Oh yes, ASH VS EVIL DEAD doesn’t have an 18 certificate for nothing. Original Renaissance Films producers Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi (good to see their names on something again, by the way) know exactly what EVIL DEAD fans want and it’s a delight to say that this series delivers. Raimi himself directs the pilot, allowing him to indulge in a bit of knockabout three stooges stuff before the real horrors begin. 

It’s an excellent pilot episode, reassuring fans that, if anything, this show promises to be even more kinetic and even crazier than the films. The comedy settles down from the physical to just wisecracking dialogue (which is often very funny and well timed by the leads) in the next two episodes, both helmed by SOLOMON KANE director Michael J Bassett. I loved KANE and I loved these episodes, which deliver just the right amount of plot (including some delicious bookshop stuff in episode three) with action and gore in their thirty minute running time. Joseph LoDuca, the original movie composer, is back for this show as well, and if you’re a horror movie music nut you’ll spot plenty or references and developments of his themes from all three EVIL DEAD pictures. 

Fox’s double disc DVD set contains all ten half hour episodes (the pilot is a bit longer), with commentaries on every one. There are also two Ash featurettes and another on How to Kill a Deadite.  
         I’m not going to say any more as hopefully you should know if you want to check this one out now, suffice to say that everything you could want from an EVIL DEAD: THIRTY YEARS LATER is present and correct here. Bruce Campbell is great, portraying Ash as the well-loved mixture of charm, wit, selfishness and stupidity that we all love. He has one hand. It fits onto a chainsaw while the other wields his boom stick. It’s all great. I loved it. There’s going to be a second series. Life is good.

The first season of ASH VS EVIL DEAD is being released on UK DVD by Twentieth Century Fox on Monday 19th September

Thursday 15 September 2016

Dead End Drive-In (1986)

“Like MAD MAX - but more fun!”

The phenomenal success of George Miller's Australian post-apocalyptic science fiction thrillers MAD MAX (1979) and its sequel MAD MAX 2 (THE ROAD WARRIOR in the US) subsequently caused fall out of its own in the form of numerous rip-offs and imitations that all attempted to cash in on those movies' heady mix of violence, action and vehicle porn. Most of these came, unsurprisingly, from Italy (Castellari's THE BRONX WARRIORS and THE NEW BARBARIANS, Sergio Martino's 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW TORK and many others). 

While they were a lot of fun and made very much in the style of the comic books and Westerns that were their natural predecessors, most of these movies were made with a very straight face. Brian Trenchard-Smith's DEAD END DRIVE-IN, however, definitely feels as if it's been made with a twinkle in the eye. It's rather apt that this unique addition to the post-apocalypse subgenre should come from the same country that kick started it all, and now UK viewers have the chance to see it on Arrow’s new and upgraded Blu-ray and DVD release. 

Wearing its influences very much on its sleeveless torn T-shirt, DEAD END DRIVE-IN comes across as a mixture of satire, comedy and anarchic post-punk odyssey that might have been directed by John Hughes if he had imbibed a vast quantity of mind altering substances and then been pointed away from Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson and the rest of THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
In the kind of 1980s version of the future only Billy Idol would feel truly at home in, the unemployed are kept imprisoned in gated compounds that double as drive in cinemas. Given free food and drink, most of the inhabitants are happy to stay put, wasting their lives listening to electro-pop and bouffanting their hair in the very latest Toyah Willcox-inspired styles. Into one of these compounds comes the unfortunately-named Crabs (Ned Manning) and his bountiful girlfriend Carmen (Natalie McCurry who apparently went on to become Miss Australia) who don't realise the drive-in is also a prison. The police steal two of the wheels from Crabs' car and the two of them become inmates. However Crabs isn't content to live in the artificial society of DEAD END DRIVE-IN and makes plans to escape.

If the plot sounds a bit daft that's because it is, but anyone familiar with Australian current affairs of the time will be aware that there's quite a bit of satire going on here as well. There are also lots of car crashes, some nudity and enough colourful 1980s "fashions" to give you a headache if you don't look away from the screen from time to time. MAD MAX fans looking for something similar will probably find the whole thing much too silly, but if you're looking for something quirky, weird and unique this is well worth a watch. 
It’s in the extras that this new release improves considerably on the previous extra-free Arrowdrome edition. Now present and correct is the Brian Trenchard-Smith commentary track from the region 1 release. You also get a couple of Trenchard-Smith non-fiction pieces - ‘The Stuntmen’ is a TV documentary, and ‘Hospitals Don’t Burn Down’ is a 1978 public information film that stars BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB’s Mark Edwards in a decent 25 minute short that’s reminiscent of the UK’s melodramatic approach to public safety - well worth a watch! Other than that you also get a trailer, reversible sleeve, and a booklet with new writing on the film if you get the disc’s first pressing. 

Brian Trenchard-Smith's DEAD END DRIVE-IN is out on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow on Monday 19th September 2016

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Arrow Academy continues its series of film noir Blu-ray releases with this Alan Ladd / Veronica Lake picture from 1946.
         Navy officer Johnny Morrison (Ladd) returns home from the war to find his house host to a party and his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) host to rather too much booze and what looks like a lover in the form of Eddie Harwood (Howard da Silva), owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. The guests clear out and Helen confesses that she lied to Johnny about their young son dying from diphtheria. Instead he was the victim of Helen’s drunken driving.

         Understandably upset by all of this, Johnny leaves home and ends up being given a lift by Harwood’s wife Joyce (Lake) to a hotel where they end up spending the night in a totally above board separate rooms kind of way. Meanwhile, Johnny’s wife is murdered & her body is found the next day by the cleaning lady. The hunt for Johnny is on, despite it being obvious that he’s not the killer.
So who is? Could it be Helen’s lover (and Joyce’s husband)? Could it be Johnny’s chum, the unfortunately named for UK audiences Buzz Wanchek (an excellent William Bendix) who has a metal plate in his head and is driven insane every time he hears jazz? Or is it someone else entirely?

A big success in its day, and following on from THE GLASS KEY as the next Ladd/Lake costarrer, THE BLUE DAHLIA will satisfy fans of old-fashioned mainstream Hollywood detective dramas. George Marshall’s direction is competent without ever being especially creative, and the two leads have an onscreen chemistry that’s actually rather pleasant.
         If you’ve been enjoying some of the other recent noir releases I’ve been writing about (like Robert Siodmak’s CRY OF THE CITY, Byron Haskin’s TOO LATE FOR TEARS or Norman Foster’s WOMAN ON THE RUN) be warned that THE BLUE DAHLIA feels a lot more...ordinary. There’s very little visual flair, quite a few of the dialogue scenes feel a bit flat, and there’s not much music to speak of. While those other movies feel deliciously cynical and subversive, THE BLUE DAHLIA feels like much more mainstream fare. 

You’ll want to switch off your HD settings for Arrow’s Blu-ray as HD is just a bit too much for this print. Extras include a commentary by Frank Krutnik, who also provides an introduction. There’s also a 1949 radio dramatisation featuring the same stars, trailer, promo materials, and if you get the first pressing there’s also a booklet with new writing on the movie by Adrian Wootton. 

THE BLUE DAHLIA is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy on Monday 19th September 2016