Thursday 30 March 2017

Pieces (1983) Special Edition

“Gets dafter with every viewing”

         Now here’s something I don’t think anyone was expecting. I’ve reviewed PIECES before but Arrow have just gone and given it the deluxe treatment in a three disc set and (I still find it hard to believe as I type this) a 4k transfer. Is it deserving of this somewhat stellar treatment usually only reserved for umpteen Argento rereleases? Hopefully the following will help you decide if it’s for you.

A bloody difficult jigsaw puzzle

         PIECES is one of those rare movies that really does live up to your expectations, not least because everything you have heard from anyone who has seen it is true. It is awful, it is hilarious, it is beyond belief. In fact the only truly unbelievable thing about it is that despite all the insults, accolades and scorn poured on it through the years it really is more than the sum of its parts (sorry). So if the following review of this quite insane picture suggests you might enjoy watching it then be assured that you won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps that box on the right will be useful to keep the jigsaw in

         ‘You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre!’ screams one of the great poster lines for this one. And you obviously don’t have to be Ed Wood to make something as unintentionally funny and deliriously entertaining as PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. The film opens in Boston in 1942. We know that because we’re told it by the opening caption, even though this appears to be a somewhat odd version of Boston where jigsaws of very 80s-looking nude ladies are freely available to children like the little boy we then see attempting to assemble said work of softcore naughtiness. Mum isn’t happy when she finds what he’s up to and her admonishment is all that’s needed to send junior over the edge. Grabbing a nearby axe he hacks his mother to pieces in a surprisingly graphic sequence which, if the rest of the film were remotely competent, would actually be genuinely disturbing. Two heavily moustachioed men looking like Spanish supply teachers roped in to be policemen at the annual school play turn up and turn in performances that can only be kindly described as ‘less than adequate’. 

They used to be dancers, you know

         And it’s time for the titles! Pausing only to note that the screenplay was co-written by the man who gave us FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY (about a three foot high James Bond-style superspy) and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE (no I haven’t seen it but I suspect it’s one of those movies where you can pretty much guess the plot) we can settle down and prepare ourselves for something special.

Lynda Day goes for the Oscar...

          And goodness me it is. Flash forward forty years and we are on the sort of unnamed American campus where students have sex in the university grounds while Willard the psychotic gardener (Paul Smith doing his best Jack Elam impersonation by way of Tom Baker from Blackadder) looks on; that is when they’re not getting their heads chainsawed off in broad daylight.

But there are others who want to get on that nomination list, too

        ‘The police think it’s an inside job’ says the dean’s secretary, sitting next to the biggest reddest typewriter I have ever seen. The police themselves see it somewhat differently and completely incomprehensibly “We’re just trying on clothes without labels and seeing if they fit” ‘explains’ one officer. Christopher George is in charge of the investigation and he’s even worse. “I don’t want to wait for the coroner’s opinion” he says to the local anthropology professor (Jack Taylor - Euro horror regular and veteran, or some would say casualty, of hundreds of Jess Franco and Marius Lesoeur produced low budget atrocities), as he regards the severed body parts of the killer’s latest victim, “I want yours. Could that have been done by a chainsaw like the one covered in blood lying just over there?” Professor Jack has obviously been in these sorts of films before and looks as if he’s considering everything carefully before venturing his opinion, but we know he’s actually wishing he was back at Eurocine rolling around with Lina Romay or Janine Raynaud in some softcore tat.

From the Chainsaw Safety Public Information Film
Suspicion falls for all of two seconds on Kendall James, the nominal hero and school lothario who wears awful check shirts and sky blue cardigans and has a spectacle-wearing best friend he rather unkindly refers to as ‘Goggles’. ‘Goggles’ wears exactly the same kind of clothes as his chum but in negative.
       The police are baffled and so decide to do something even more stupid by placing ace tennis pro Mary Riggs ‘undercover’ despite the fact it’s made clear from the first scene that she’s well-known to the public. Meanwhile the killer is slowly completing more bits of that jigsaw we saw at the beginning. Quite often he has a bit of trouble getting the pieces to fit because of the black gloves he’s wearing. Then it’s onto his next actual victim, an aerobics student who finds herself in quite possibly the most hilarious scene of non-suspense ever filmed. She gets into a lift and is followed by our black gloved/coated/hatted/masked villain hiding a full size chainsaw behind his back and she doesn’t notice until it’s too late.

"It's unlikely he's the killer, Inspector, as he has no arms or body"

        Kendall’s fixing his motorbike when he hears her scream, and now so do we, because Kendall has swapped his cardigan for a turtleneck sweater and the kind of anorak Primark would be ashamed to stock. His success with the ladies must presumably lie with his eloquent skills of seduction. But no! A couple of scenes later we see him berating his latest conquest for her slightly vociferous orgasm. “What do you have to make such a big production for?” he says, which is certainly an accusation that can’t be levelled at the filmmakers. This is also the bit where sensitive viewers may have to turn away as Kendall’s full frontal nude scene is by far the most disturbing thing to grace the screen during the movie’s running time. 
From the Jigsaw Safety Public Information Film
        Can it get any sillier? Mary is menaced by a professor of kung fu who promptly collapses because of ‘bad chop suey’ and more murders occur. In fact to give the film its due the special effects involved are really very good and within the context of a proper film would have been extremely effective. Unfortunately like a lot of movies from the early eighties the effects are fine, it’s just everything else that’s awful. Oh, but not quite as awful as this film’s ending – a double whammy of quite staggering proportions that I guarantee will leave you unsure as to how to react. 

From the Dept of Water Bed Safety Public Information Film. Caption from the Dept of Running Out Of Ideas

         Arrow’s 4k transfer looks stunning - PIECES was never intended to look this good. Discs 1 and 2 are Blu-ray and DVD respectively, each giving you the US cut. The Blu-ray also has the original Spanish version as well, looking just as gorgeous, and with a different music score that, if anything, makes the film ever sillier. There’s also a third score option from someone called ‘Umberto’ that has to rank a lowly third in my estimation compared to the other two, but you might want to give it a listen.

Would you trust any of these to act in your slasher film?

           Other extras include a new audio commentary from The Hysteria Continues, a new featurette with film-makers who love the movie, a new interview with art director Gonzalo Gonzalo, the career of director Juan-Piquer Simon, an interview with actor Paul Smith, an audio interview with Hallmark distributor’s Steve Minasian, image galleries and a trailer.

       Finally, disc 3 is a CD of the music score from the US version. If you watch the Spanish cut you won’t be surprised that Dick Randall et al grabbed some tracks from the Cam music library, but you might be surprised to learn they were composed by Stelvio Cipriani, Fabio Frizzi and Carlo Maria Cordio, making this a splendid curio addition to any Euro-soundtrack completists’ library.
The deliriously entertaining lunacy that is PIECES is out in a limited edition set from Arrow from Monday 27th March 2017

Thursday 23 March 2017

The Beaster Bunny (2014)

“Truly, Deeply, Terrible”

I can’t think of much else to say about this one, I’m afraid. THE BEASTER BUNNY proves they just don’t make rubbish anywhere near as good as they used to, and we should all shed tears that someone somewhere has had the nerve to charge people money to watch this. As the DVD began to play, all sense of coherent thought left me, and my mind was reduced to a series of phrases like:

“The Worst Film Of The Year. And Quite Possibly Ever”

The effects are truly astounding

Please don’t let that encourage you to watch this, though. If you’re my age and grew up in the 1970s, perhaps:

“Makes The Goodies Episode With the Giant Kitten Look Like KONG: SKULL ISLAND”

might deter you? Or if your tastes run to the more decidedly adult aspect of the movies, how about:

“Like The Worst Porn Film Ever Made, Only With No Sex”

A very…er...special film.

Perhaps a commentary track of thoughts aired at the House of Mortal Cinema during the running time might be of assistance:

Things We Said During The Running Time

1 Please make it stop

2 Why does that giant bunny have chicken’s feet?

3 Why didn’t they just have a man in a costume?

One of the better scenes. Because no one is talking.
4 Please make it stop.

5 The press release said the monster bunny was 50 feet tall. That looks barely 20.

6 Please, please make it stop.

I have no words
7 Where’s the fast forward button?

8 Shame on Second Sight for releasing this.

9 Where’s the STOP button?

10 It’s over. Thank God

And I’ll leave the final words to Mrs Probert:

“Now’s the time to show me some Jess Franco.”

This review has already had too many words devoted to it. Quite possibly my worst movie of the year. And ever. Ever, ever, ever.

As a review site House of Mortal Cinema is obliged to tell you that THE BEASTER BUNNY is out from Second Sight (what were you thinking guys?) on Monday 3rd April 2017. Run away from it. 

Saturday 18 March 2017

Ibiza Undead (2016)

“Cheery Knockabout Zom-Com”

Andy Edwards’ debut feature, which premiered at FrightFest last year, gets a DVD release courtesy of Soda Pictures. 

In a world already familiar with a plague of the undead, the island of Ibiza remains zombie free. It also remains a haven of music, drugs, sex and anything else that party-mad Alex, Az and Big Jim (Jordan Coulson, Homer Todiwala and Ed Kear) can get their hands on. What they don’t count on is nightclub owner Karl (Matt King) who brings zombies onto the island to use in stage routines, or that Karl’s soon to be ex-boyfriend Antonio (Seb Castang) has recently dumped a consignment into the sea by mistake. “Can zombies swim?” Karl asks. It turns out they can, and it’s the cue for the usual flesh-eating antics with a healthy dose of comedy mixed in.

IBIZA UNDEAD essentially does what it says on the tin. It is neither original nor one of the best examples of the curious sub-genre of the British zombie comedy. There’s an amateurishness to the proceedings (especially the acting) but somehow it all ends up quite endearing. Familiar faces include King from PEEPSHOW, Emily Atack from THE INBETWEENERS and Cara Theobald from DOWNTON ABBEY and while they try hard there’s the sense that this was shot in a hell of a rush - another couple of takes might have helped to make some of the scenes are bit less stilted (and with fewer dialogue trip ups). Even the aspect ratio feels misjudged - this movie doesn't need 2.35:1, it would be better off in a standard 1.85:1 to better suit the feeling of the television sitcom this so obviously wants to be.

That said, IBIZA UNDEAD is actually quite enjoyable in a kind of low-rent, extremely undemanding kind of way, and I can’t bring myself to be too hard on it. There are certainly enough laugh out loud moments (including a brief scene featuring a character called Gunther who should have been in this film a lot more) to compensate for the shakier bits.

         Soda’s DVD comes with a ten minute making of, interviews with writer-director Edwards and actress Marcia do Vales (who plays the appealingly crazy role of Maria) recorded at Frightfest, and the eighteen minute short HOUSE PARTY OF THE DEAD 6. There’s also a short collection of out-takes that play out over the end titles.

IBIZA UNDEAD is out on DVD from Soda Pictures on Monday 20th March 2017. Here's a clip:

Friday 10 March 2017

The Chamber (2016)

Ben Parker’s THE CHAMBER, which premiered at last year’s London Frightfest, gets a UK Digital Download, DVD & Blu-ray release through Studio Canal.

In the Yellow Sea, close to North Korean waters, a research vessel is commandeered by a Special Ops unit. The three person team, led by Commander Edwards (Charlotte Salt) needs Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) to take them down in his creaky old little submarine so they can find something ‘of great importance’ on the sea bed. 

This particular exploratory voyage involves crossing into North Korean territory and soon the research boat has been boarded and all communication between it and the submarine has been cut off. The Special Ops team find what they’re looking for, but it leads to disaster as the submarine ends up wedged in a trench one hundred metres down. With air running out and tempers fraying, it becomes increasingly unlikely that any of them are going to get out alive.

One of the producers of THE CHAMBER is Jennifer Handorf, who has been a guiding hand in some of the best British horror films of recent years, including THE BORDERLANDS aka FINAL PRAYER, Sean Hogan’s THE DEVIL’S BUSINESS, and Oliver Frampton’s THE FORGOTTEN. THE CHAMBER isn’t quite as top notch as those three films but it’s still pretty good. Most of the action takes place in the cramped, wet, claustrophobic surroundings of the submarine, and writer-director Ben Parker manages a good job of ratcheting up the tension over the film’s second and third acts. The music is by James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers fame and it’s very effective, going mainly for an avant garde, scraping, pounding sound design that adds to the cloying atmosphere.
             Studio Canal’s disc comes with a feature commentary by Ben Parker and two sound options - I’d suggest you go for the 5.1 as it does add to the experience. There’s also a little making of featurette. 

Ben Parker's THE CHAMBER is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download from Studio Canal on Monday 20th March 2017

Thursday 9 March 2017

Zombie Lake (1981)


         That’s not saying very much though, is it? And to be fair to ZOMBIE LAKE, a film vilified by many, it’s actually quite a bit better than that other piece of Eurocine tat I reviewed recently. Why is it better? Well, in another change to usual programming, I’m going to tell you why!


1         In the first scene post-credits you can see a cameraman in the mirror, but he at least tries to hide. Mind you, later on there’s a bit where we get to see both the sound man and the cameraman (who doesn’t appear to be wearing a shirt).

Tiny bit scary?
2         Both films have the same composer, but here Daniel White does a slightly better job, even if he does have to import his score from FEMALE VAMPIRE for the movie’s bizarre Nazi zombie father / daughter relationship.

3         No clucking chickens! In fact the sounds effects in general are a lot better. There’s a cat that meows a few too many times but at least with this one you feel these are the kinds of noises you’d get in a rural French village where Nazi zombies have been hiding in a lake.

Eco-friendly zombies?
4         A naked French ladies’ basketball team gets grabbed by the zombies in the lake.

5         Despite the TERRIBLE makeup, director ‘J A Lazer’ (actually Jean Rollin) actually manages at least a couple of slightly atmospheric scenes.

The one on the left is going for the BAFTA
6         Jean Rollin himself appears as one of the policemen investigating the naked basketball disappearance.

7         Howard Vernon!

The police are baffled. We are baffled as to why these are the police
8         The lake location actually looks rather nice. That’s probably a swimming pool they’re using to get the underwater shots, though. The water of a lake would never be so clear that you could get such a good view of all the young ladies' nether regions.

The director is called in to solve the mystery
9         The stock footage is slightly better.

10       It is shorter.

        For my sins I have to admit I quite liked ZOMBIE LAKE. There’s a bizarre subplot that involves one of the dead German soldiers visiting his daughter, who should be at least 25 if she was born during the war but for some reason she looks about 12. Screenbound’s DVD transfer of this looks very nice and for extras we get those ‘alternate clothed scenes’ shot for territories that found the prospect of ladies with no clothes on too scary to deal with. You also get some trailers for other films in the series.

Jean Rollin's ZOMBIE LAKE is out from Screenbound on DVD as the inaugural title in their Black House range on Monday 20th March 2017

Friday 3 March 2017

Helga, She-Wolf of Stilberg (1978)

“Nothing Like The Box Art”

In a change to our regular programming, and because Screenbound’s forthcoming UK DVD release of HELGA SHE-WOLF OF STILBERG really is a piece of utter tat from French trash specialists Eurocine, I thought the best way to review it would be to summarise the salient points and then let the reader decide for themselves whether or not HELGA is a movie to be avoided like the plague or given a treasured place on the shelf next to PLAN 9 NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. Ready? Then here we go! 

Ten Reasons to Watch / Not to Watch HELGA SHE-WOLF OF STILBERG

1 The opening title music which, rather than something sombre or even sensual, sounds more like the first track from ’20 Golden Greats’ by Go Go Sanchez and his Easy Listening Troupe. Note also how the track they’ve selected runs out well before the credits are over, and that it has to be started again in a way that can be described as ‘Not Seamless At All’.

Can you guess which one is Helga?
2 The opening scene which depicts. gathered around a board room table, the various potentates and villains of our story, including Helga herself. Not part of our story is the member of the crew who wanders into shot reflected in the huge mirror behind them, then realises he’s in shot, and runs away.

3 The only posh bedroom where they were presumably allowed to shoot the sex scenes in the (lovely) schloss location that doubles for Helga’s women’s prison. Does it have a big mirror in the corner? And do we see someone reflected in it who has nothing to do with the scene at all? Eroticism was never so poorly rendered.

4 That same bedroom in which the people who actually are having the softcore sex have to negotiate the (obvious) coils of lighting cable running across the floor.

They tripped over the lighting cables, honest
5 The sound! Namely the foley artists, who are either five years old or just decided to have as much of a laugh with this as possible. Has someone let a horse in the castle? No it’s just Helga coming downstairs in heels. Never have coconuts been more gainfully employed in a women’s prison movie.

6 More sound! See vehicles standing still but somehow making accelerating, braking and gear-changing noises! 

7 Yet more sound because this deserves its own bullet point! Yes it’s the farm where the girls get sent on work detail, a farm that seems to have every invisible animal under the sun. Why is that mooing so loud and so frequent when there are no cows around? Admittedly we see a couple of chickens and my god we hear them too. Never has a rape scene had so much clucking overdubbed onto it.

You can hear chickens in this scene
8 Inept whipping! This one's a proper point of safety, kids. The naked whipping scene looks unsafe and the girl looks as if she’s getting thrashed in all the wrong places. This is not how you do a whipping scene, or even a whipping. I expect.

You can still hear chickens in this scene
9 Shoes! Every prisoner is required to wear different styles, ranging from heels to Go Go boots. If it was my film I would have tortured the clog wearers first. Of course.

10 The smallest tank in the world. It is crap. 

Perhaps the only way to ensure someone watches this till the end
         I still haven’t mentioned the Ed Wood prison guards, who have no idea what to do with their rifles so they use them to scratch their chins, as walking sticks, etc, nor the terrible stock footage of explosions that isn’t just from another film but from another era of film-making.
HELGA SHE WOLF OF STILBERG is terrible. I laughed a lot. You might too, or you might just end up throwing the disc across the room. Either way, the informed decision is now yours.
Extras: clothed versions of the nude scenes. And didn’t we all want those to watch when this was over.

Screenbound are releasing the hilarious load of old rubbish that is HELGA, SHE-WOLF OF STILBERG as part of their Maison Rouge collection on Monday 13th March 2017

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Female Vampire aka Bare-Breasted Countess (1973)

“Classic Franco”

So where to start with this one? If you’re a fan of the works of director Jess Franco (like me) you already know you love it. If you’re not then you already know you hate it. But what to say about this for those who have yet to encounter the works of the man who pioneered the technique of ‘fade to black by crash zooming into Lina Romay’s pubes’ while at the same time creating possibly the dreamiest, most lyrical, most obsessive body of work in European trash cinema, along with about 150 other films in his filmography of nearly 200? (He’s in the Guinness Book of Records you know). 

Often the reaction when you say you like Jess Franco films
Well, how about some context. FEMALE VAMPIRE comes near the end of Franco's period of using classic horror tropes (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc) as the flimsiest excuse to fill his low budget movies with anything he wanted to (a naked birdwoman and a silver-headed Frankenstein monster, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME but done with naked women chasing each other with bow and arrow, etc etc and all glorious). 

The man himself!
FEMALE VAMPIRE is very, very loosely based on LeFanu’s Carmilla. Lina Romay (in a career-making performance that’s probably the most spellbinding I’ve ever seen from someone who gets to wear pretty much nothing for an entire film) is Irina, Countess of Karlstein, a vampire doomed to an eternal lonely existence who lives on the sexual bodily fluids of both men and women (Franco strikes yet again). Jack Taylor is Baron von Rathony (‘a poet’) who is basically the LeFanu character. When he  encounters the countess while she is staying at a hotel in Madeira he begs her to take him to ‘the other realm’. It all ends in tragedy, but not before lots of softcore encounters of Irina and her victims.

The most faithful LeFanu moment in the picture
If you’ve not seen a Franco film before FEMALE VAMPIRE might not be the one to start with, unless you’re not in a hurry to go anywhere. It’s very slow, and alternates between beautifully dreamlike and weird sequences, and softcore bits that go on and on and have your finger itching for the fast forward button. It IS important Franco, though, and if you’re thinking about seriously getting to grips with the man and his work, this one’s a must-see.

Lina and Jack - Euro Stars both.
Screenbound are releasing FEMALE VAMPIRE on DVD in the UK. Apart from a slightly better menu screen, the disc is virtually identical to the US region A Redemption Blu-ray, right down to the scratchy print (which runs 96 minutes on DVD compared with the Blu-ray’s 100 minutes, ie they’re the same) and the extras, which include an alternate ‘horror’ version of the film, EROTIKILL (70 minutes), a featurette in which Franco talks about the film, and Words for Lina - a tribute to the late actress by Jean-Pierre Bouysou. You get French and English language options and I'd suggest you go with the French as it adds to the film whereas the style of the English dubbing definitely doesn't. 

Screenbound are releasing Jess Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE on UK DVD on 6th March 2017 as the first in their Maison Rouge series of Euro Cult films.