Sunday 27 November 2016

UFO (1970)

                                              “UFO is Go!

Gerry Anderson’s 1970 live-action science fiction TV show comes to Blu-ray in this gloriously restored edition courtesy of Network.

         Coming after world-famous shows like THUNDERBIRDS and CAPTAIN SCARLET and paving the way for SPACE:1999, UFO was an ambitious project for Gerry Anderson. The basic plot is that in 1980, after ten years of developments, SHADO (the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation) goes live, headed by Commander Straker (Ed Bishop) and assisted by Colonel Alec Freeman (George Sewell until he left three quarters of the way through) and Colonel Paul Foster (Michael Billington who was up for James Bond) on earth, where their base is disguised as a film studio. A moonbase is staffed by purple-haired ladies led by Lt Gay Ellis (Gabrielle Drake). The aim of SHADO is to defend the earth from a dying alien race who want our organs to replace theirs.

         Remarkably adult in its plots and denouements (hollow victories, downbeat endings, and a fair bit of serious violence), UFO was nevertheless marketed as a children’s show in many ITV regions, often being shown on Saturday mornings. Dinky toys and bubble gum collector card sets also undoubtedly added to the turn-offs for what could have potentially been a solid adult audience looking for something a bit more serious that THE PERSUADERS. 

         Of course, those of us of a certain age (and certainly younger than the 12 certificate this set has been given) didn’t mind at all. Here was an SF show that was anything but childish. The lead characters smoked and drank, had affairs and got divorced, all among the backdrop of some smashing special effects including exploding flying saucers and all manner of great bits of battle equipment.

         I reviewed Network’s ‘preview’ Blu-ray, INVASION UFO, back in August. That disc consisted of edited bits of six episodes in 1.85:1 aspect ratio (boo!) but the restoration job boded well for the forthcoming series release. Here you get all 26 episodes over six discs, with the option of either mono or 5.1 sound (you really do need Barry Gray’s music in 5.1, you know). Most importantly, it gives me great relief to report that the episodes are all in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (hooray!).

         Extras on the set include From the Earth to the Moon - a brand new feature-length documentary with plenty of archive video. The Women of UFO is another new documentary, and there’s a new SHADO briefing film narrated by Matt Zimmerman.
         There are audio commentaries on two episodes: Identified with Gerry Anderson and Sub-Smash with Ed Bishop, plus an archived Ed Bishop interview from 1986. Tomorrow Today is a look at the series fashions with Sylvia Anderson, and there’s a SID voice session complete with outtakes.

         You also get textless episode title backgrounds and end titles, stock footage, extra footage from several episodes (Identified, Exposed, Timelash and The Long Sleep) and Italian trailers.
         Finally, in addition to all the video material, Network’s UFO set comes with a 600 page book on the making of the series by television historian Andrew Pixley. It’s hard to believe there will be a better presentation of UFO on Blu-ray and, for the quality of the transfers if nothing else, Network has done the fans proud.

Network's Blu-ray restoration set of all 26 episodes of Gerry Anderson's UFO is available now. 

Friday 25 November 2016

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

              “Excellent Presentation of a Carpenter Classic”

        The film that, along with HALLOWEEN (1978) earned John Carpenter the moniker of ‘the Cut Price King of Hollywood’ gets a UK 40th anniversary DVD Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight. 

        After gang members are killed in an LA ghetto shoot out, more of their kind make a blood pact of vengeance on the local police force. Converging on a police station that is in the process of closing down, it falls to just-promoted cop Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) to defend the building and those within it with the aid of convict Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston). 

          Very much a cross between a Western (John Carpenter has never been shy in citing the influence that John Ford’s RIO BRAVO has had on his body of work) and a horror picture (the gang members hardly speak and are very much in the mould of the devil worshippers in PRINCE OF DARKNESS or the ghosts in THE FOG), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 still works well despite its low budget. There are good acting turns from both Stoker and Joston, as well as Nancy Loomis in her first movie role, and Kim Richards as the little girl who gets more than an ice cream in a gunshot scene that has become infamous in exploitation cinema. The assault doesn’t actually take place on precinct 13 at all, but it’s such a good title, and the film really does live up to a fine exploitation tradition, that it can hardly be criticised for that.

          Second Sight’s presentation of John Carpenter’s pre-HALLOWEEN action thriller is second to none. The transfer looks excellent and the DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix is great - crank up the volume to hear Carpenter’s score at its best. There’s also a wealth of special features, including two commentary tracks - one from John Carpenter and another from Tommy Lee Wallace.

          There are new interviews with star Austin Stoker, producer Joseph Kaufman and future HALLOWEEN III director Tommy Lee Wallace. There’s also a new 12 minute talking head piece from Nancy Loomis where she discusses her career and why she gave up acting.

          You also get archive interviews with Carpenter and Stoker, a trailer and radio spots. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is John Carpenter’s student short CAPTAIN VOYEUR and a 53 minute French documentary on Laurie Zimmer. The limited edition box set also contains five art cards and a bonus CD of the movie soundtrack. A great package for a great film. 

John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is out on Blu-ray, DVD, Download and On-Demand from Monday 28th November 2016

Sunday 20 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 5

A talk by all-round exploitation expert Stephen Thrower on Lucio Fulci and free hot dogs were among the things on the menu today. Here are the films:


An original, working class, and very modern take on the idea of invisibility as disease. In the grimmest of grim logging towns in Canada, a man travels home to reconnect with his troubled daughter. There's the suggestion of mental illness in the family, but that's not nearly as dramatic as what's actually going on. THE UNSEEN is so slow those with less stamina may well give up on it after half an hour, but it's worth sticking with because by the end it's actually rather clever.



He's not, you know! Or is he? To find out exactly why that's such a very good title for this one you'll have to watch the film. Young John Wayne Cleaver is worried he is a psychopath. Meanwhile someone is killing the inhabitants of the small north American town where he lives. I can't say much more than that or I'll be spoiling some neat surprises. This new feature from ISOLATION director Billy O'Brien is just as quirky and worth watching at least twice.


With live score performed by Fabio Frizzi and his band! A European premiere and quite fabulous. Frizzi had rewritten and rearranged the music so there was lots more of it in this, a performance that was as much about the music as it was the movie. Encores included music from Lamberto Bava's BLASTFIGHTER and DEVOURING WAVES. If anyone had told the much younger me that one day I would be sitting in a packed auditorium listening to a live performance of any of this I would have said there was about as much chance of that as there being a horror film festival in Aberystwyth,

Saturday 19 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 4

The day kicked off with a retrospective screening of Lucio Fulci's SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK, then it was onto the new stuff! Here we go:


An Abertoir exclusive! DEADMAN INFERNO deservedly won the audience's 'Best Film' award at last year's Abertoir. This was a bit of a curiosity - an hour-long 'prequel' to the events in that Yakuza Vs Zombies picture. Because it's a prequel it features plenty of yakuza antics but no zombies. It was still extremely entertaining and came with subtitles specially translated for Abertoir by co-organiser Gaz Bailey's wife!


This hour-long documentary on the life and career of movie director Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH, CONTAMINATION) was an affectionate look at a film-maker who, as well as having had his own career, has been intimately involved in that of Dario Argento's as well.


Luigi Cozzi's first fiction movie in 27 years is an absolute delight. Cozzi himself is the star as he gets embroiled in a hugely ambitious plot about parallel universes, the entire history of film and science fiction, and the earth in mortal peril. Shot for 1000 Euros and taking two years to make, there's a bit of a home made feel to it, but that should by no means stop you from checking this out. A serious contender for my favourite film of Abertoir 2016


A live performance in which Laurence R Harvey read the short H P Lovecraft tales FROM BEYOND and THE HOUND while Lancashire-based The Duke St Workshop provided musical accompaniment with some pleasingly retro-sounding bubbling synthesised music influenced by plenty of great movie composers including Morricone, Stelvio Cipriani and Lalo Schifrin (according to the quick word I had with them afterwards). Fans of Les Baxter's early synth work for THE DUNWICH HORROR would have spotted some similar sounds as well.


A very French look at cannibalism that could easily have the word 'Metaphor' burned into the corner of every frame, this tale of a pretty young vegetarian girl starting veterinary college and finding she has a taste for human flesh is probably going to divide audiences. Lots of people love it, I have to say I found a lot of what was portrayed faintly ridiculous, and not in a good way. It's possible it's intended to be taken a great deal more light-heartedly than I viewed it, but the words 'French-Belgian Coproduction' and 'Comedy Horror' have never been easy bedfellows.


See that poster up there? This film's nowhere near as good as that. It's about par for the course in a kind of tired Part VII of a franchise kind of way, though. There's a bit of humour in the first act, and a fun bit with a medium and her helpers twisting their own heads off, but the promised smackdown climax isn't very smacky and doesn't last very long, either. One for franchise completists and the very curious only.

Friday 18 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 3

This year's traditional Abertoir off-site screening (which ended up back onsite after 92mph gales put an end to any ideas of showing a film anywhere other than inside a reinforced concrete bunker) was John Carpenter's THE FOG, which I decided to miss because I'd seen it on the big screen earlier this year during the Bristol Watershed's Carpenter retrospective. Other highlights of the day included Gavin Baddeley's talk on Sin Cities (which Mrs Probert and I attended) and the midnight premiere of KARATE KILL (which we didn't, the option of getting a good night's sleep before tomorrow's marathon being preferable). Which leaves these, the movie highlights of Abertoir Day 3:


A film from Laos that gave us plenty of background on Laotian culture and a woman's place in it. Unfortunately it's also staggeringly slow and has precious little to really warrant calling it a horror film. Twenty-something Nok gets sent by her family to look after the similarly-aged Ana in the big city. Ana is losing her eyesight, has an incompetent Estonian husband (which is where I think half the budget for this one came from, with some of the rest from a Laotian brewery) and can (possibly) see the spirits of the dead every now and then who give her lottery numbers. I'm not sure why. Nok uses the lottery numbers to buy a nice phone and a hairstyle. The servants in the house are not very nice. Nothing much happens for long periods. Then very close to the end something does. A bit. DEAREST SISTER will probably do well on the art cinema circuit but I think it will be a mistake if they market it as a horror film. As such I can't honestly recommend this one.


This was much more like it. The latest film from KAIRO and JOURNEY TO THE SHORE director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. CREEPY isn't like either of those, but it would be spoiling it if I told you much about it. Suffice to say the film is all about identity, and manages a terrific atmosphere of insidious building dread as the movie progresses. It's getting a limited cinema release from Eureka from next week and will be turning up on Blu-ray after that. I may even give the disc a fuller write up on here then.


David Durston's rabid hippy zombie picture shown as part of the Abertoir retrospective strand. I've reviewed this one before so if you fancy reading my thoughts on it click here.

Thursday 17 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day Two

So THE FLY (1959) looked great on the big screen, as did SHIVERS, and Abertoir special guest Lynn Lowry both looked great and was a fabulous interviewee, talking about her roles in I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, THE CRAZIES & SHIVERS. Arrow Films will be bringing out George A Romero's THE CRAZIES on Blu-ray and the interview was recorded to be included on the disc.
There was only one new movie during our exhausting eleven hour day, but it was a goodie:


Yes it's from the director of TROLL HUNTER and no, it's nothing like it but I suppose they have to put it on the posters. In Virginia, the investigation of a suspected multiple homicide at a family home uncovers the body of an unidentified young woman buried in the basement. She's taken to Brian Cox's mortuary for an autopsy where, as each incision is made and each organ is taken apart, he and his son (played by Emile Hirsch) find things becoming very odd indeed. Not fair to tell you anything else but this is great - virtually a two hander in a single location, making it feel like a TWILIGHT ZONE or Amicus episode but not in the least bit padded out. Filmed in the UK, not that you would ever have guessed it, and out on general release next year. Catch it when it is.

No other new pictures to review today so instead I'm going to post a picture of one of the many endearing traditions of Abertoir - the themed cocktail. Last year we had the Matool (for ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS), the Butch (for THEATRE OF BLOOD) and the Mad Monk (for Hammer's Rasputin). Needles to say Mrs Probert and I have tried all of these today: 

There was also the (infamous) pub quiz and a midnight showing of Lucio Fulci's THE NEW YORK RIPPER, which I like enough that I had seen it sufficient times already. Bed beckoned once more...

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Abertoir Highlights Day 1

It's time for Abertoir, the annual festival of all things horror film related that takes place at Aberystwyth Arts Centre during the appropriately gloomy month of November. Two things have made me decide that the festival deserves coverage here - one being that it seems a little unfair to only cover London and Glasgow Frightfest events when there's so much else going on throughout the UK. The second is that Mrs Probert & I attended Abertoir for the first time last year and it was such a great event, everyone was so friendly, and the selection of films shown was so good that it would be doing everyone a massive disservice for House of Mortal Cinema not to cover this year's festival. Here, then, is the first of my reports from the rain-lashed, mist-cloaked, isolated place in Wales that, for one glorious week in November, is the best place for any horror fan to be.

Carry on Screaming

Abertoir prides itself on having two main movie strands. As well as brand new horror pictures there's the chance to see some much-loved classics on the big screen. And they don't come much more loved than this, a movie from a golden period of British film-making, when both Hammer Films and the Carry Ons were at their peak. Director Gerald Thomas, and screenwriter Talbot Rothwell, along with the usual cast (and Harry H Corbett standing in for Sid James who was persona non grata for this one apparently) expertly carry off the difficult job of spoofing Hammer and Universal, while still making something that's uniquely their own. Some of the jokes are understandably dated now - there probably aren't too many of us who will appreciate composer Eric Rogers' skill at incorporating the theme for Z CARS into his bouncy police theme - but it's still lots of knockabout, silly fun, best watched in an atmosphere just like this. Frying tonight!!!!!

The Inerasable

Ghost story upon ghost story upon ghost story in this Japanese film that presents us with strange occurrences in a building that (surprise surprise) is all due to Something Terrible That Happened In The Past. Rather dry opening and middle acts  pile backstory upon backstory to the point of everything becoming so convoluted I was hoping this was going to present us with a clever spin on the usual Japanese ghost movie cliches but sadly not. I think everyone else in the room liked this more than I did so please bear that in mind when reading this, as well as the fact that when it comes to movie scares I often prefer a sledgehammer to a flickering a candle flame.

The Void

...and here comes the sledgehammer. Directors Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie are part of Astron 6 (MANBORG, THE EDITOR and other genre delights) and here they give us a feature length horror about a hospital besieged by cultists as mutants attack, weird pregnancies abound and something very strange indeed is going on in the basement that is causing reality to fracture (I think). The storytelling is all a bit confusing & I couldn’t quite tell if that was deliberate or not. The concept and visuals, however, are things of the best monstrous scary nightmares, less Lovecraft inspired and more Clark Ashton Smith. In fact by the end of this one I felt sufficiently weirded out that I didn’t want to go to bed and that in itself means THE VOID deserves praise. When reading this review bear in mind that grotesque mutant former human blob things from other dimensions scare me a lot more than creeping shadows & I am not ashamed of that.


A midnight showing of William Lustig's 1980 sleazy slasher or bed. Bed won.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Q Volume 1: Series 1 - 3 (1969 - 1977)

Or 5 - 7 seeing as Spike Milligan began his surreal, absurd, sometimes impenetrable sketch show with Q5, with subsequent series being called Q6, Q7, Q8, Q9 and finally THERE”S A LOT OF IT ABOUT. Apparently the BBC thought Q10 would be confusing to audiences who had already sat through an interview with the Queen’s chicken, bionic Vatman and other stuff the like of which audiences had never seen before.

Q5 aired in 1969, ahead of the first episode of MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS, and has often been cited (by Terry Jones and Michael Palin at least) as a significant influence on the show. In fact, Q producer & director Ian MacNaughton was immediately recruited by the Pythons to direct for them.

Even in its heyday, the Q series was regarded as ramshackle, risque (both because of its racially charged jokes and its sexual references) and plain barking mad. Even so, it’s difficult now to appreciate just how revolutionary this show was. Nowadays all you have to do is flick through satellite channels and you’ll come across something anarchic and insane. Back in the 1970s, Q was a lunatic breath of fresh air between DALLAS and PLAY FOR TODAY.

So is it worth watching now? Sadly, much of what was once innovative has now been done better by others - not just the Pythons but in THE YOUNG ONES, THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN and others, and you may find a lot of what's in here a bit hard going.

It’s still interesting, though, and anyone with a serious interest in British comedy history should get to grips with this immediately. Simply Media’s three disc set gives you the three remaining episodes of Q5 (two in black and white) and all six episodes of Q6 and all seven episodes of Q7. Did Q8 have eight episodes? We’ll have to wait for the rest of the Q series to be released by Simply Media in 2017. In the meantime, however, all the material here should be more than enough to fry your brain. There are no extras, and in particular no out-takes, as all the mistakes seem to have made their way into the show anyway.

Simply Media are releasing Spike Milligan's Q Series Volume 1 on DVD on Monday November 21st 2016

Thursday 10 November 2016

Powers (2015)

Here we go with Playstation TV’s (apparently that’s a thing) POWERS, an adaptation of Michael Avon Oeming and Brian Michael Bendis’ graphic novel of the same name, split up into ten episodes for its first season and now available from Sony on UK DVD.

We’re in a world pretty much like ours except that some people have superpowers, and they don’t always use them for good. Christian Walker (the always excellent Sharlto Copley from DISTRICT 9 and OPEN GRAVE) and Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) are homicide detectives working as part of the Powers Division - that part of the LA police force that investigates crimes involving those with superhuman abilities.

When they are called in to the possible drug-and-blow-job related killing of Olympia (Adam Boyer) they meet wannabe superhuman teenager Calista (Oleysa Rulin) who is herself part of drug lord Noah Taylor’s evil plans. Meanwhile, naked Eddie Izzard is supervillain Wolf, banged up in a maximum security penitentiary and responsible for draining Mr Copley of his superpowers and changing him from superhero Diamond to ordinary gun and badge-toting Christian. Diamond used to have a complex relationship with moody-looking Retro Girl (Michelle ‘Ensign Ro’ Forbes in red latex).

That’s as far as the first two episodes will get you, and I have to admit I didn’t find the storytelling terribly clear. POWERS does get a bit better as the series goes on but with so much great TV to watch out there at the moment, this one does take a bit of getting into and the setup is rather hard going. Still, it’s worth watching if only for an impressive array of acting talent and for developing several interesting ideas from a graphic novel that predates the TV series HEROES (but does feel a bit like it).
              Sony’s DVD set has all ten episodes of the first season over three discs. There’s one extra, which is the featurette ‘Policing the All Powerful: Envisioning and Filming POWERS’. 

The first series of POWERS is out now on UK DVD from Sony

Sunday 6 November 2016

Kes (1969)

“Classic British Political Cinema”

With Ken Loach’s I, DANIEL BLAKE doing well on the UK art house cinema circuit at the moment, Eureka have picked a good time to release his adaptation of Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel for a Knave on Blu-ray.

Barnsley, 1969. Young Billy Caspar is working class, fatherless (because the man has left) and lives in a filthy terraced house with his mother (CORONATION STREET regular Lynne Perrie) and older brother Jud (Freddie Fletcher). Schooldays consist of the regular mixture of bullying and humiliation that was par for the course in the UK back then.

Billy finds escape in comics before discovering a kestrel’s nest. ‘Liberating’ one of the birds in the same way he ‘liberates’ a book on training them from a second hand bookshop, Billy spends his free time caring for and training his pet falcon. English teacher Mr Farthing (Colin Welland) provides encouragement, as do some of his fellow students, but tragedy strikes.

KES was not Ken Loach’s first film (he had already made POOR COW with Carol White & Terence Stamp in 1967) but it remains perhaps his most historically significant one. The first film to give an unflinching view of English working class life, KES revolutionised an English cinema movement that had itself been soundly shaken up by social realist movies like Karel Reisz’s SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING only a few years earlier. Strong regional accents, non-professional actors, and a fine and moving story that allows the film’s subtext (which isn’t especially sub to be honest) to feel neither preachy nor hammered home. 

Eureka’s Blu-ray comes with two soundtrack dialogue options - ‘full Barnsley’ or the 'International-friendly accent' version requested by United Artists at the time. There’s also an isolated music and effects track with score by John PSYCHOMANIA Cameron that was described by Jarvis Cocker as ‘reminiscent of damp duffle coats in dusty school cloakrooms’.
There are interviews with star David Bradley, producer Tony Garnett, DP Chris Menges, John Cameron and ‘Kestrel Advisor’ Richard Hines amongst others. You also get the 1992 Ken Loach Guardian lecture, and footage from the 2006 KES reunion panel. 

Ken Loach's KES is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 7th November 2016