Monday 26 December 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2016

For the fifth year running it’s time for me (and everyone else who runs one of these things) to list my favourite new movies of the year. As always, this list is entirely personal and culled from various festival screenings, disc premieres and new cinema releases. I’ve done my best to stay away from films that were in the multiplexes for weeks because chances are you’ll already know if you want to see those. Likewise there are some films I have yet to catch up with (THE WAILING and THE HANDMAIDEN being the most obvious two) and some that people will consider glaring omissions that I just didn’t think were that great (for example I didn't think RAW was anywhere near as clever as it seemed to think it was). 
As is tradition, before we get to my top ten we have, for your delectation and amusement, my bottom five. Again, there are no special elements that qualify a movie for ending up on this list other than they made me feel stupid for having stuck with them to the end (and in one case not even that). Ok, here we go!

The Five Worst Films of 2015

5 Downhill

The one film I watched this year that I couldn’t make it to the end of, electing instead to leave the screening and get some lunch. From the director of the only slightly better (and no more watchable) HIDDEN IN THE WOODS this kicked off with some devil worship stuff, and then followed it with half an hour of some folks on bikes while the camera leered at the female characters in the most unsavoury way. All horrible.

4 Abattoir

Great premise. Screamy sweary leads. No sense of coherent narrative. Ridiculous ending. Confusing rubbish. Winner of the ‘Is This Still On?’ award of the year.

3 The Pack

Back in March I called this ‘A cheap and completely unrewarding waste of time, assuming audiences will put up with any old shit’. I don’t want to write any more about this. My full review is here if you want it.

2 Shark Exorcist

Winner of Most Inept Film of 2016.  The main 'feature' runs around 58 minutes and makes no sense at all, then after the end credits you get a very odd and disorientating bit involving plush toy cuddling that's so brain-numbing in its mundanity that I might actually have nightmares from it. The spirit of Ed Wood definitely lives again in SHARK EXORCIST. Oh, and if you think the cover image happens anywhere in this (or indeed that there's much sharky action at all) rest assured that the 67 minutes of unrelenting incompetence on the DVD has no such drama. If SHARK EXORCIST were even slightly better than it is I might be praising the chutzpah of the publicity team for coming up with the box art, but it isn’t. It isn’t even really a film, more a random, amateur sequence of scenes cut together that make no sense.

1 Ghostbusters

Because being a big budget multiplex monstrosity doesn’t get you out of THIS list, and because, after the (irrelevant) gender politics controversy whipped up to give it some desperately-needed publicity, this was bloody awful. Funny right up until the opening credits came on, the GHOSTBUSTERS remake quickly became excruciating, with everything feeling so strained you wonder if on-set enemas might have helped. The ending was so poke-in-the-eye tedious Stephen Sommers must have been grinding his teeth with jealously that someone had managed to come up with a hollower, emptier, more superficial piece of tedium than he could ever hope to. All I wanted was this to be reasonably funny and have ghosts. It had ghosts. The House of Mortal Cinema Film of Shame for 2016.

Right that’s enough of the rubbish. After much deliberation (there were 33 films on this list that could have easily ended up on it, it’s been that good a year) here is my Top Ten of 2016:

10 The Lighthouse

It’s been a great year for Welsh horror and fantasy, with both THE LIBRARY SUICIDES finally getting a DVD release, and the Machenesque CROW premiering at Frightfest. Best of the Welsh bunch was this, a tale of madness and death in a Welsh lighthouse in 1801. Coming across like a William Hope Hodgson story this one was actually ‘based on real events’ but certainly doesn’t need that qualification to recommend it. My full review is here.

9 The House on Pine Street

An early finalist for the list (this one got its UK DVD release in January) and it stayed on it right till the end. My review is here, and re-reading it has made me want to watch this one again. The styles of Mike Flanagan and Lucio Fulci (without the gore but with the weirdness) collide in this immensely satisfying, unsettlingly strange film that’s refreshingly cliche-free. The only bad thing about this one is the box art - ignore  it and enjoy this one.

8 Ouija 2

Mike Flanagan scores with a sequel to an original you don't need to see. Instead get stuck into the OCULUS and ABSENTIA director’s latest, proof that all you need to make me enjoy a tired and worn-out crappy old horror subgenre is a director who actually knows what he's doing. Admittedly, if Blumhouse is the new AIP then Mike Flanagan really is more of an Amicus director (like Peter Duffell or Kevin Connor) - able to craft a fine sense of suburban dread from just knowing how to light a room and then move the camera properly and oh-so-slowly. There are some (probably studio imposed) shouty jumpy bits, but for the most part sit back and revel in something well made, with atmosphere, and a pleasingly retro feel right down to the reel change marks on the print from time to time. Oh, and good understated music score too. I really like Mike Flanagan.

7 Darling

Mickey Keating made the quite good POD and the really good this. ‘A bit of late-night messing with your mind’ is how I described it in my review here in a movie that references both Polanski and David Lynch but is still very much its own black and white, claustrophobic, weird exercise in celluloid. Oh, and Lauren Ashley Carter is terrific in the lead. Let’s have more of her, please.

6 The Boy

There were some pleasingly retro-style projects in 2016 - THE PURGE 3: ELECTION YEAR was a great Enzo G Castellari-wannabe and THE REZORT was like a well-made and extremely entertaining British version of a Umberto Lenzi zombie picture. By far the best of the retros, however, was this. William Brent Bell previously made a great werewolf picture in WER and a deliriously daft possession picture called THE DEVIL INSIDE. This year he gave us THE BOY, a film that feels like a Hammer or Robert Lippert B movie of the 1960s. Nicely photographed and acted, and with a denouement some hated but which I think is absolutely in keeping with the rest of the film (I’m not giving it away) THE BOY is highly recommended, Mr Bell cements his reputation as a director to watch, and the icing on the top of this cake goes to:

House of Mortal Cinema Best Score of 2016 - Bear McCreary

(because I can’t stop playing it). 

5 The Similars

So loud it woke me up at the late night Frightfest screening. So mad it kept me glued to the screen for its entire running time. So good I want to know why it hasn’t had a disc release yet. Why are the people convening on a remote bus station during a rainstorm all growing beards and turning into the same man? Is it the rain? A government experiment? Something to do with aliens? THE SIMILARS is a deliciously raving mad Mexican film with a thunderous music score (you get the runner up for best score, Edy Lan!) and a healthy sense of genre heritage. See it when / if you can.

4 Director’s Cut

The horror comedy of the year, and a splendidly original and clever piece of film-making full stop. Adam Rifkin’s movie tells the story of what happens when a lunatic crowd funder grabs the film he’s funded, recuts it, adds a commentary track, and then kidnaps the lead actress to film his own ending. Often hilarious and managing the difficult feat of pulling off three different narratives (the movie, the re-edited movie, and the commentary) with tremendous skill, this is a very funny satire on the nature of low budget moviemaking that often had me laughing out loud.

3 The Autopsy of Jane Doe

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 really, really good - 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.

2 Train to Busan

Everyone loves this and rightly so. Criminally denied a decent cinema release in the UK, TRAIN TO BUSAN is one of the best films of this year in any genre, the best fast-moving action zombie picture ever made, the best train-set horror picture ever made, and the best film ever to close Frightfest. If you haven’t seen it yet it’s coming out on Blu-ray (hooray!) on 27th February 2017 from Studio Canal.

1 The Neon Demon

Because, of all the films that came out this year, only one paid homage to the films of Euro-sleaze kings Jess Franco and Joe D’Amato, only one managed to be a slick, stylish hymn to some of the most twisted exploitation classics of the 1970s, only one managed to be both sexy and sleazy, both horrific and beautiful, both mesmerising and bewildering, and only one managed to do this while very much retaining its own (and the director’s own) unique visual style. I love this film because I love D’Amato’s BUIO OMEGA and Franco’s CHRISTINA, PRINCESS OF EROTICISM and Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. I love it because I usually love films filled with plot and action but all I wanted to do here was soak up the images. I love it because it’s bizarre and horrible, because there’s nothing else around these days that compares, and because there should be more films like it but I know there won’t be. 

So there we are - a list culled from watching 600 films this year and formally reviewing over a hundred of them on here. You can’t list everything you loved in a top ten, and this year the list threatened to become hugely unwieldy, so I’m sorry if your favourite isn’t on here and it doesn’t mean I didn’t love it.

Ok that’s it. As always I’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has visited the site & enjoyed one of my reviews. Also thanks has to go to all the film and PR companies who have sent me discs and to the lovely, lovely people whose hard work goes into organising festivals like Frightfest and Abertoir. Thank you everyone. House of Mortal Cinema will be back in 2017. Take care, keep being nice to each other, and I'll see you then. Oh look, THE WAILING has just dropped through the letterbox...

Thursday 22 December 2016

Fright Night (1985)

“Fright Night - For Real”

Tom Holland’s directorial debut comes to UK Blu-ray for the first time as Eureka releases a dual format standard edition along with a limited edition steelbook that's coming out a couple of months earlier.

No one will believe teenaged Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) when he becomes convinced his new next door neighbour Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. With Jerry setting his sights on Charley’s girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and wise to the fact that Charley has rumbled him, the only person Charley can turn to for help is former horror movie star turned horror TV host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Will they be able to defeat Jerry and save Amanda? 

Continuing the ‘modern American vampire movie’ movement kicked off in the 1970s by Bob Kelljan’s COUNT YORGA films and William Crain’s BLACULA, FRIGHT NIGHT veers between horror and humour with the mix not always working quite as well as perhaps it could. It’s best when it’s being a good old-fashioned scary film. There are some great shots in here and at times horror aficionados may be pleasurably reminded of the best TV movies of Dan Curtis. At its worst it’s pretty much every scene Stephen Geoffreys is in. The equivalent of the kind of 1930s comic relief ‘performers' like Charlie Ruggles used to provide, while everyone else is playing along with the horror, only Geoffreys behaves as if he’s in a bad Marx Brothers movie. 

The rest of the cast are just fine, however, and whenever Sarandon or McDowall are on screen it’s pure fun horror movie gold. The special effects are state of the art for the period, but it’s interesting to see now just how the story has to be slowed down towards the end to shoehorn them in. 

It’s in the extras that Eureka’s disc is going to be a must buy for anyone who has even a passing fondness for this one. ‘You’re So Cool Brewster’ is an exhaustive making of that’s hosted, in a very nice touch, by Simon Bamford playing ‘Peter Vincent’. It lasts nearly two and half hours (!) and covers every aspect of the production. 

Exclusive to the Blu-ray are: a Fear Fest reunion panel video from 2008 that lasts nearly an hour with cast and crew and Julie Carmen and Tommy Lee Wallace from FRIGHT NIGHT 2 as well. There are also a number of featurettes including Tom Holland on writing horror, Roddy McDowall from Apes to Bats, a series of Choice Cuts from Shock Till You Drop featuring Tom Holland, the electronic press kit with on-set interviews and behind the scenes stuff, stills and trailers. Exclusive to the steelbook is a 24 page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Craig Ian Mann. Highly recommended.

Tom Holland's FRIGHT NIGHT is getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release from Eureka. The steelbook is out on Monday 26th December 2016 (although only from Zavvi & it seems to be "sold out" at the moment). The standard edition is out on Monday 10th April 2017.

Thursday 15 December 2016

The Guyver (1991)

“Manga Meets The Chuckle Brothers”

Mind you, what else might you expect from the directorial pairing of Steve Wang (who did the great masks in HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) and Screaming Mad George (who is, well, mad - but in the nicest way) who brought a US live-action adaptation of this manga and anime to the screen in 1991. 

There’s an opening crawl that ‘explains’ the background of what we are about to watch, but don’t worry too much. I caught something about Zoanoids, which are humans who can turn into monster soldiers. Their leader is the Zoalord who runs the evil Chronos Corporation (cue picture of evil-looking skyscraper with triangular windows). The Guyver of the title is a unit that acts as alien armour or boosts human abilities by lots and lots. 

Dr Tetsu Segawa steals the Guyver unit and gets chased by Michael Berryman and his comedy goons. Segawa gets killed but hides the unit. Meanwhile Sean Barker is practising his Aikido at the Wang Club before he sets off on his crappy scooter for a back alley where he’s beset by the Hilda Ogden street gang. They beat him up but he falls on the Guyver unit and behold! Lots of kicking ass!

Evil David Gale is the head of Chronos and wants the Guyver back. There is lots and lots and lots of monster smackdown action. Mark Hamill plays a cop investigating Dr Segawa’s death and he ends up in a tank before undergoing a typically icky (and quite horribly impressive) Screaming Mad George transformation. David Gale turns into some sort of dinosaur thing. There’s a massive fight. Dr Segawa’s daughter (Vivian Wu) can’t act to save her life but that doesn’t stop her being the love interest. 

The plus points of THE GUYVER are some really impressive monster costumes, prosthetics and transformations, and lots of fight sequences. The minus is that it’s often very, very silly, and I mean RENTAGHOST silly. It predates the TV series MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS but has the same laissez-faire attitude to anything other than martial arts-fighting monsters. And hey, if that’s your thing then there’s plenty of it here, plus cameos from some famous faces including Linnea Quigley and Jeffrey Combs (playing Dr East!). It’s occasionally bloody but is probably actually a pretty good way to entertain easily bored children.
            Extras are limited to a Brian Yuzna interview, a stills gallery and some trailers. 

Arrow Films are releasing THE GUYVER on Blu-ray on 19th December 2016

Thursday 8 December 2016

Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1973)

“I Did Not Laugh Once”

The DVD cover up there claims that this is “The Missing Peter Sellers Classic”. It is not. It is not a classic of any kind. Instead, it is a film that has only been heard of by a few and seen by even fewer. In fact this release by Fabulous Films is GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN’s worldwide DVD premiere.
There is a very good reason for this.
It is terrible.

Less a comedy pirate movie and more a shambles of lazy non-existent writing, appalling overacting, and utter lack of narrative cohesion aided by random bits of stock footage, the term sheer desperation came to mind many times as I watched this sad and sorry example of British comedy.
Do you want to know the plot?
Ok here goes. Peter Sellers (in probably his worst ever performance) plays ship’s cook Dick Scratcher (oh the hilarity) who kills pirate captain Ras Mohammed only to discover the man’s pirate map turns invisible upon death.  He therefore needs the captain’s ghost to tell him where it is, but only Spike Milligan (going full Q6,7,8,9 and beyond before his surreal British comedy show had been renewed after a six year hiatus and obviously itching to do some barking mad performance art / daftness) can channel the ghost.

Add in an opening half (!) of random nonsense involving appalling jokes, a giant plastic duck, and an opening theme song so sluggish and dull one can only assume it was written for something else, rejected, and then had ‘pirate words’ stuck on it for this load of rubbish and hopefully I’m conveying some of what it was like to actually watch this. The only actor who emerges with any dignity is Anthony TENEBRAE Franciosa, who actually makes a very good and endearing pirate hero, even when he’s wearing a giant plastic head and wandering around a burial ground.
All the above may have encouraged you to watch this embarrassing pile of redundant cinema. If so, then on your own head be it.There are no extras because Good God why would there be any? Instead, let me finish up with a few quotes from Fabulous Films’ own press release:

“It was an absolute living nightmare”
Antony Rufus Isaacs, producer.

“It’s the only film I can ever remember where the producers got sacked after the first week by the star”
Robin Dalton, agent.

“It turned out to be the biggest disaster of my life”
Peter Medak, director.

         Ah yes, Peter Medak, of THE CHANGELING, THE KRAYS, LET HIM HAVE IT, 2. Blame him for this less than the movie’s star. Peter Sellers apparently tried to have the film shut down, faked a heart attack so he could have tea with Princess Margaret, went water ski-ing instead of turning up for filming , and got Medak replaced by Spike Milligan (!) as director for a couple of bits that are so awful it’s obvious. 
Can I write any more about this? No I can’t. The disc is going in the bin & I’m cracking open the Shiraz. In fact I already have. Hic.

The comedy disaster that is GHOST IN THE NOONDAY SUN is out on DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 12th December 2016

Monday 5 December 2016

The Man From Laramie (1955)

“Shakespeare Rides Again”

Well, not exactly, but Anthony Mann’s final collaboration with James Stewart has been described as ‘a psychological revenge drama of Shakespearean proportions’ and there’s certainly a touch of King Lear about it. It’s getting a sparkling new dual format DVD & Blu-ray release from Eureka that’s definitely worth a look.

       Will Lockhart (James Stewart) arrives in town looking for the man who murdered his brother. He gets into trouble with local cattle baron Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), who is losing his sight and is plagued by dreams of a lean figure murdering his sadistic son Dave (Alex Nicol). Ranch foreman Vic (Arthur Kennedy) has been promised half of Waggoman’s estate when he dies but Waggoman is notorious for changing his mind. Meanwhile, someone is selling rifles to the local Apache population who perform regular raids on US cavalrymen, burning them alive.

       More a melodrama played out against the landscape of New Mexico than what one might consider a typical Western of goodies against baddies with a shoot out at the end, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE boasts a well thought out script and an excellent, measured central performance from James Stewart ably assisted by Arthur Kennedy. The other star here is Anthony Mann, who really knows how to use the Cinemascope frame (2.55:1) to show off the landscape to its best advantage, as well as composing shots that would have been completely ruined in TV pan and scan showings. 

Eureka’s disc contains a new, specially recorded commentary track by film critic Adrian Martin and an informative talking head piece by Kim Newman. You also get 2.0 and 5.1 sound options (the 5.1 is just fine) and a booklet on the film with new writing and an Anthony Mann interview. 

There’s a tendency these days to dismiss Westerns of the 1950s and earlier and instead concentrate on the works of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and the movies that came after theirs. It’s understandable because those directors have been so lauded, often at the expense of their predecessors. To do so, however, is to render the works of Anthony Mann and others a serious disservice. If, like me, you are such an offender then there is no better place to begin making amends than with Eureka’s THE MAN FROM LARAMIE Blu-ray. 

Anthony Mann's THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is out in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition from Eureka from Monday 5th December 2016

Sunday 4 December 2016

The Shallows (2016)

“Sodding Shark”

Jaume Collet-Serra’s woman vs shark movie gets an every possible format release (DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD and digital) from Sony Pictures.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is in Mexico to have fun, surf, come to terms with her mother’s death and work out what she’s going to do with her life now she’s dropped out of medical school. She seeks out the secluded beach that her pregnant mother visited back in 1991 in the hope she will find some inner peace. 

Instead she finds a great big hungry shark and not just that but a great big hungry movie shark - one of those creatures that, even though there’s a massive meal of dead whale floating right there, would rather chase our scantily clad and injured heroine into a horde of jellyfish, eat a lifebuoy to get at her, and demonstrate those jumping out of the water skills movie sharks usually employ to pull down helicopters, passing eagles and stray asteroids.

THE SHALLOWS isn’t that daft, thank goodness. In fact the opening hour isn’t bad at all. The info dump at the beginning is all a bit clunky and actually somewhat unnecessary - Nancy’s character would actually be more interesting the less we knew about her. Where the film does score is once she’s out in the sea, bitten on the leg, and struggling to survive too far from land to swim for it.

Jaume Collet-Serra gave us the interesting remake of HOUSE OF WAX (2005) and the very entertaining ORPHAN (2009). With the plethora of Daft Shark films out there, he does well to rein in any desire to go full SHARKNADO. 

Sony’s disc comes with some deleted scenes, and four short featurettes featuring Blake Lively (thank heavens she’s charismatic or that surname would be receiving all kinds of abuse from the unkinder end of the critical spectrum), entitled ‘Shooting in THE SHALLOWS’, ‘How to Build A Shark’, ‘Finding the Perfect Beach’ and ‘When Sharks Attack’.

THE SHALLOWS has been described as ‘The best shark movie since JAWS’. In fact that quote is on the box. It’s nowhere near as good as JAWS (that would be difficult). It’s also nowhere near as bad as virtually any film with the word shark in the title that you can pick up at the DVD shop at the moment. If you like shark movies, Jaume Collet-Sera’s other stuff, or Blake Lively in swimming gear then THE SHALLOWS should pass a Saturday evening quite nicely. 

Jaume Collet-Serra's THE SHALLOWS is out on Blu-ray, DVD, 4k Ultra HD and digital download on Monday 5th December 2016

Thursday 1 December 2016

Cohen & Tate (1988)

“The antithesis of buddy-buddy movies”

Eric Red’s directorial debut (he followed it up with BODY PARTS in 1991) gets a UK dual format DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films.
Nine year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross) has witnessed a mob shooting. He and his family are under the witness protection programme. But the mob want to talk to Travis and they employ Cohen (older, deafer Roy Scheider channeling icy Peter Cushing-ness) and Tate (younger, more unstable Adam Baldwin).

Got that? Because all of that is given to you in the very first few seconds of this film (credit roll included) and if you blink you might miss it. What then follows is one of the best, fast-paced, well-acted, stripped down to the bone road thrillers of the 1980s. The ‘safe’ house gets raided, everyone gets blown away and Travis is kidnapped to endure a long night drive to Houston. He tries to escape, and manages at one point, only to fall back into his captors'  hands. Realising Cohen and Tate don’t get on, Travis contrives to turn one against the other in the hope that building tension will lead to one of them killing the other.

As well as plenty of great bits of suspense, director Eric Red earns points for some imaginative set pieces, especially during one protracted scene near the end set in the Texas oilfields. With the sun rising and the weird automaton-like pumps presiding rhythmically over the violence, this could easily be something from a Paul Verhoeven science fiction film.

Red gives us a great ending, too, which I won’t give away if you haven't seen it, suffice to say it still feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the number of contrived and overly saccharine endings movies like this tend to go for. 

Arrow’s Blu-ray looks great. For extras we get an Eric Red commentary track ported over from a previous release. There’s also a twenty-minute ‘look back’ at the film with Red, director of photography Victor J Kemper, editor Edward Abroms and actors Harley Cross and Kenneth McCabe. There are two extended scenes, trailer and a stills gallery. If you get the first pressing you’ll also get a booklet with new writing on the film by Kim Newman.
        From an era when buddy-buddy cop movies were all the rage, Eric Red’s COHEN AND TATE remains a refreshing, fast-paced, unique not-at-all-buddy movie that’s well worth a look in this new edition. 

Eric Red's COHEN & TATE is out from Arrow Films in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD release on Monday 5th December 2016