Monday, 29 May 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

“Unexpectedly Enjoyable”

    ...although bear in mind that in forming the above opinion that I have not seen UNDERWORLD 2, 3, or 4. Yes, BLOOD WARS is No.5 in a movie franchise I have not encountered since seeing the first at the cinema back in 2003. I’ll admit I didn’t think that much of the first one which is why I’ve steered clear since, and so when this dropped through the House of Mortal Cinema’s letterbox my expectation were understandably low. UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS (they’ve missed off the 5 or rather the V which is odd seeing as it’s all about vampires) is getting a digital download, DVD, Blu-ray, 4k ultra HD and 3D Blu-ray release courtesy of Sony.

    There’s a (very) handy recap at the start of this one that sets it up for those of us not in the know. In a world where everything is perpetually colourless and dark where it rains a lot, and where you can wear any colour you want as long as it’s black, there’s a war going on between vampires and werewolves (called lycans here in order to be a tiny bit different). 

    Selene (Kate Beckinsale in skin-hugging black latex from the look of it) is our heroine who in the last four films has fought the baddies, had a daughter, had that daughter sent away, and been betrayed by her own kind. Needless to say when bad guy Marius (Tobias Menzies) rears his lycanthropic head, Selene is called back into the fold even if not all the vampires are happy about it, especially power-hungry Semira (SHERLOCK’s Lara Pulver in possibly more outfits than scenes she’s actually in). 

    Less the next episode in some epic storyline and more eighty minutes of attractive people bashing and shooting the hell out of each other in goth fantasyland, UNDERWORLD BLOOD WARS feels as if it’s been made for undemanding audiences with little or no familiarity with previous films. That said, it’s all rather fun,  nicely shot in varying shades of black or dark blue, and the performances include nice turns from Beckinsale, Dance, and especially Pulver as one of the villains. 

    It’s the kind of film where you can’t allow yourself to question why the vampires all live in a big building that has lots of windows that can easily have holes blown in their shutters, or where all the blood must come from to keep these legions of people going (do they get it flown in to the coven in Norway we eventually end up in? By carrier bat perhaps?). The vampire dissolving effects are fun, too. The denouement isn’t so much an ending as a limp hook for yet another one of these (I think) but that’s to be expected.

    Sony’s DVD has two featurettes. There are two more on the Blu-ray and you get the official movie graphic novel as a pdf as well.

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS is out from Sony on every format imaginable now. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Short Poppies (2014)

“Smashing NZ Comedy”

         Rhys Darby’s eight part comedy series comes to UK DVD courtesy of Kaleidoscope.

         David Farrier (playing himself, apparently) is a TV journalist making a documentary series about ‘Short Poppies’ - the everyday real people whom he believes New Zealand to be ‘really all about’. However, he ends up picking as his subjects seven of the most incompetent, deranged and unpleasant characters small town life has to offer. With each episode we meet a new one, while also learning a bit more about some of the people who live in the same town, and have to put up with, the documentary subjects.

         Very much in the style of Rob Brydon and Julia Davis’ superb HUMAN REMAINS, Steve Coogan’s COOGAN’S RUN or the Richard Ayoade / Matthew Holness show MAN TO MAN WITH DEAN LEARNER, SHORT POPPIES is a showcase for the comedy talents of Rhys Darby, who gets to play a different lunatic character every week. These include a useless whale watching tour guide, a crap ufologist, a lifeguard obsessed with his own legs, an elderly lady who lives to criticise and a car parking attendant who is a terrible artist in her spare time.

         Darby is probably most widely known for his appearances as Murray in FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS (2007-2009) and one of the ‘Not Swearwolves” in WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014). One of his collaborators on those projects, Jemaine Clement, is on hand to direct a couple of episodes here. We also get guest turns from Stephen Merchant as an insurance agent, Karl Urban as a hairdresser,  Sam Neill as a crazy schoolmaster, and Bear Grylls as himself.

         Kaleidoscope’s DVD comes with all eight episodes, commentary tracks and a trailer. It’s all remarkably good fun and a worthwhile addition to the ‘docucomedy’ subgenre pioneered by shows like THE OFFICE and movies like THIS IS SPINAL TAP.

SHORT POPPIES is out from Kaleidoscope on Monday 29th May 2017

Friday, 26 May 2017

Evil Ed (1995)

“Swedish Splattery Silliness”

         Some right old gory amateur daftness gets a dual format release from Arrow as EVIL ED finds its way to disc. Despite its Scandinavian origins it’s in English by the way, in case the thought of subtitles puts you off. Be warned, though, that the dubbing is as endearingly home made as the rest of the film.

Our mild mannered hero!

         Ed (Johan Rudebeck) is a mild-mannered editor who spends his days cutting art films (we get to see one at the start of this and for some it will be a spot-on piss take of a certain type of Scandinavian cinema). He gets transferred to the studio’s ‘Splatter and Gore Department’ where he discovers his new assignment is to edit the ‘Loose Limbs’ franchise of horror films. 

There's a bloody gremlin in the fridge!

         His sleazy producer puts Ed up in a house outside town so he can work undisturbed. Traumatised by the endless scenes of sex and violence he has to run through the moviola, Ed soon starts to hallucinate, seeing an interesting collection of monsters and characters from 1980s movies, including a fat gremlin in the fridge and the big red chap with the enormous horns from Ridley Scott’s LEGEND (1985). It’s not long before anyone who comes to the house ends up messily dead. 

...and a head in the bin!

         Ed is eventually apprehended and carted off to the local hospital, where he escapes and embarks on another killing spree before the movie ends on an appropriately silly note.

Another of Ed's hallucinations - or is it?

         Directed and acted with gusto (that’s probably the kindest way to describe it), EVIL ED feels like a mashup of the styles of Peter Jackson’s BAD TASTE (1987) and Alex Chandon’s similarly enthusiastic semi-professional effort CRADLE OF FEAR (2001). There’s little in the way of plot, which takes second place to splattery deaths, ludicrous hallucination scenes, and as many horror film posters as you can possibly cram into a single film. It’s difficult to be hard on EVIL ED because it is so obviously a labour of love, and that single factor shines through every drop of ketchup and bloodstained bit of bandage.

Possibly the real editor of this film

         Arrow’s three disc set kicks off with a specially filmed introduction where two of the film-makers have difficulty keeping a straight face and suffer repeated attacks of the giggles. It’s actually the perfect way to be led into a film of this sort so make sure you pick that option. EVIL ED itself is presented in a specially extended edition that’s a bit longer than the standard run time of 93 minutes. You also get a making of, deleted scenes, details on the crew’s achievements past and present, material about the preparation of this new version, and the usual trailers and stills.
         Discs one and two are Blu-ray and DVD. Disc 3 is a Blu-ray with the original cut of the film and an extended version (by an extra two hours!) of the making of documentary. Plus (it says here as it wasn’t provided for review) other surprises - actually the press release has it in capitals so I should really say OTHER SURPRISES!
         Could they include a sequel called EVIL EDNA? Probably not but it’s good to dream. 

EVIL ED is coming out in a three disc set from Arrow Films on Monday 29th May 2017 - Bank Holiday fun for everyone!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Madame De... (1953)

Max Ophuls’ tale of extramarital dalliances amongst posh bored Parisians and the potential consequences thereof gets a lovely new dual format Blu-ray and DVD release from the BFI.

    Paris in the early nineteenth century. Louise (Danielle Darrieux) needs money to pay off debts, although she and her General husband (Charles Boyer) seem to be doing very well throughout the rest of the film & what these debts are exactly for is never explained. Unable to part with her extensive collection of fur coats she opts instead for a pair of earrings her hubby gave her on her wedding day. 

    The jeweller who buys them promptly sells them back to her husband, who gives them to his dolly bird Lola as a parting gift as he makes sure she’s on the Train Of No Return For Affairs One Is Now Bored With. Lola blows all her money on a massively depressing game of roulette (we see the number 13 a lot just to emphasise that) & has to sell the earrings. They are bought by Baron Fabrizio Donati (Vittorio de Sica) who gives them to the woman he wants to get busy with who just happens to be Louise. 

    A film of amazing camerawork, excellent screen compositions and great creativity, (film students probably have to write essays about it) MADAME DE... is, unfortunately, rather hard going story wise. None of the characters are sympathetic or easy to engage with. You get the feeling you are supposed to feel sorry for Danielle Darrieux’s spoilt, bored, rich Comtesse, regularly clutching her jewels and looking sad because she can’t fool around with the Baron because her husband keeps popping up, but you end up wondering why you should care about her at all. As such, despite some bits of breathtaking technique, the end result of this just isn’t as satisfying as perhaps it was back in 1953, when cinema audiences might have held the leads in different regard.

    The BFI’s HD transfer of MADAME DE is crisp and in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Extras include Dominque Maillet’s 2013 documentary Max Ophuls: le peintre de l’amour fatal - a 61 minute film about the director and the making of MADAME DE which also features interviews, and Working with Max Ophuls, which is a 22 minute interview with director Alain Jessua (TRAITMENT DE CHOC) about training under the director.

    Finally, you get an illustrated booklet with reprint essays by Laura Mulvey (from Film Quarterly 2009), Adrian Danks (from Senses of Cinema 2003), a 1954 review of the film by Lindsay Anderson, a 1950 interview with Ophuls and Peter Ustinov’s tribute from Sight & Sound in 1957.

Max Ophuls' MADAME DE... is out now in a dual format release from the BFI

Friday, 19 May 2017

The Resident (2015)

“Quality Horror Well Worth a Watch”

    Known elsewhere as THE SUBLET, which is a better title for this really, especially as it avoids confusing it with the limp Hilary Swank - Jeffrey Dean Morgan Hammer picture of 2011, director John Ainslie’s far superior horror picture gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Second Sight.

    Joanna (Tianna Nori) and Geoff (Mark Matechuk) move into a grim apartment with their baby, Porter. While Geoff pursues acting jobs (and possibly his obnoxious ex-girlfriend Alex), Joanna has to put up with banging on the walls, the furniture being moved around, and her baby only calming down when it is placed in a room that should be locked.

    When Joanna discovers an old diary, she begins to learn of the fate of one of the apartment’s former residents, who went insane and killed both her baby and her abusive husband. As Geoff becomes increasingly distant and occurrences in the flat become increasingly weird, Joanna finds it more and more difficult to differentiate between reality and the disturbing fantasies that either she or the apartment is creating for her.

    A very pleasing mix indeed of the atmospheric weirdness of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper plus a dash of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle that gradually builds to a reality-bending blood-soaked finale, THE RESIDENT is reminiscent of the best (and most unnerving) dramas in the 1970s BBC TV PLAY FOR TODAY series. The story is essentially limited to one location and few players, and we have no idea whether Joanna really is going mad or if there is something much stranger going on until we reach the thoroughly satisfying finale. 

    Director John Ainslie, working from a script by himself and Alyson Richards, proves there’s still plenty of life in our dear old low budget horror genre, and anyone who has despaired at the prospect of bland and tedious modern horror product like the soon-to-be-released ANNABELLE 2 should give this a watch to reassure themselves that there are still film-makers out there who can deliver an unnerving, well made, picture. 

    Second Sight’s DVD offers no extras. Don’t let that put you off. For something very low budget this is really rather good.

THE RESIDENT is out from Second Sight on DVD, On-demand and Download from Monday 22nd May 2017

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Wolf Guy (1975)

“One For the Completists”

          Sonny Chiba stars in this demented piece of mid-1970s Japanese grindhouse, now getting a dual format release from Arrow.
          Akira Inugami (Chiba) is a reporter who also happens to be the only surviving member of a werewolf clan. One night, while on a busy city street, he witnesses a man torn to pieces by an invisible ghost tiger. It turns out the man is a member of a band who raped a girl who now has syphilis and is a drug addict who also sings goth songs at a local second rate strip club. 

          Inugami decides to investigate, uncovering a plot that involves corrupt politicians and plans to harvest his lycanthropic powers by taking his blood and injecting it into someone else who then gets a serious case of the Paul Naschys before going on fire.
          WOLF GUY is bonkers, but I have to admit it’s not that much fun. The sleaze aspect is ramped up to the maximum of mid-1970s standards at the beginning, and the ‘tiger spirit’ or whatever it is, is rendered in a pleasingly cheap and daft way. From there, however, it all goes downhill. I may have missed it, but I don’t remember the WOLF GUY of the title being anything other than a guy, so don’t expect werewolf transformations every few scenes, or at all in fact. 

          The music is all waka-waka, there’s plenty of nudity, plus knickers that are too tight, some awful suits, and bollards that light up. The fact that that last item was even noticed shows how much trouble I had keeping interest in this one, which comes to a climax in the kind of quarry that double for every single alien planet on Blake’s 7. If you’re a Japanese Sonny Chiba sleaze daftness completist you’ll want to watch this, but I honestly don’t know who else will.

         Arrow’s disc gives you three new interviews as extras, with Chiba himself, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi and producer Tatsu Yoshida. You also get a reversible sleeve with new artwork. The first pressing of the disc features a booklet with new writing on the film by Patrick Macias and a piece on monster mashups by Jasper Sharp.

WOLF GUY is out from Arrow in a dual format edition on Monday 22nd May 2017

Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Entity (1982)

Sidney J Furie’s adaptation of Frank de Felitta’s novel gets a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka.

         Barbara Hershey is Carla Moran, a single mother of three who is just getting by. Her life takes a turn for the worse (and the paranormal) when she starts to be repeatedly attacked and / or raped by an invisible entity. Visits to the toughest psychiatrist on the block (“I’m gonna nail you two guys!”) Phil Sneiderman (Ron Silver) fail to convince her she’s going mad, and it’s only when she bumps into two parapsychologists at a bookshop that she finds people willing to believe her and, more importantly, willing to try and trap her attacker in a massive block of frozen helium in the gym at the local university.

         One of those supposedly-based-on-a-true-story-a-bit-well-possibly projects, THE ENTITY rode the crest of the ‘we-had-a-true-paranormal-haunting-type-thing-honest’ wave made popular by THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (both book and film). Whereas Stuart Rosenberg’s picture was firmly rooted in good old exploitation tactics, THE ENTITY seems to be trying remarkably hard to be anything but. There’s very little in the way of ghostly atmosphere, over the top melodrama, or (thankfully) titillation in the scenes of Hershey being attacked (not that you’d think that from the box art).

         This does, however, lead to a rather flat-feeling film, despite Mr Furie’s frequent Batman camera angles and overuse of split dioptre shots. Hershey is great, however, and Charles Bernstein does a fine job with the music as well - check out the bonus tracks on Intrada’s soundtrack CD if you can to see how he layered the synth lines for the attack scenes. Sadly, Eureka’s Blu-ray doesn’t have anything as useful in terms of extras - you get a trailer but that’s it. The print does look very nice, though. 

 Sidney J Furie’s THE ENTITY is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on 15th May 2017

Friday, 5 May 2017

XX (2017)

“Or rather, XXXX”

    ...because this is an anthology film with four stories, you see, so either that or something like FOUR BLOODY KISSES might have been a better title. Anyway, XX (which doesn’t really mean anything), an anthology movie whose ‘gimmick’ is that all its stories are written and directed by, and starring women, is getting a UK DVD release from Thunderbird.

         In common with many modern anthology movies, there’s nothing to link the stories, which are essentially four short films placed one after another to make something that, at 73 minutes minus the credits, is barely feature length. And that’s a shame because at least two of the stories in here could have benefitted from longer running times, or alternatively we could have had a fifth story for our money. As it stands, however, the line-up for XX is still pretty good and certainly worth a watch.

         We kick off with The Box, adapted from a Jack Ketchum story. Jovanka Vuckovic directs a tale where something glimpsed in a box stops a woman’s son from eating. Then her daughter, and finally her husband. Tapping nicely into what must be a common enough domestic fear, sadly the story doesn’t really go anywhere.    

         Things improve quite a bit with The Birthday Party from Annie Clark. Mum Mary (Melanie Lynskey from Peter Jackson’s HEAVENLY CREATURES) is preparing for her little girl’s birthday party when she finds the dead body of her husband. Some weird and stylish hilarity ensues, culminating in the birthday party itself attended by kids in some of the best children’s party costumes I have ever seen. I especially liked the little boy dressed as a purple toilet. 

         Third is Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall, in which four friends stumble on a Native American demon while on a camping trip. The monster is great and nicely visualised but the segment is far too short - an extra ten minutes here would have allowed for a bit more atmosphere and character development and turned this from something that’s merely quite good into a little classic.
         Finally we get Karyn THE INVITATION Kusama’s Her Only Living Son, which is a case of ROSEMARY’S BABY: 18 years later. Again, like in the first story, there’s the sense that this one needs an extra five minutes at the end so it actually does have an end. It’s quite good but really needs something more to make it memorable.

         The stories are linked / padded by some appealing animation that would perhaps have been even more fun if animator Sofia Carillo had been allowed to make a fifth story of her own. 
         Thunderbird’s DVD Extras include interviews with all four directors and Sofia Carillo. As anthologies movies go XX isn’t bad, and each director here is obviously talented and has interesting and scary things to show us. But the stories do need more breathing room. Let’s hope we get to see more (in every sense) in the future from everyone responsible for this project. 

XX is out on UK DVD from Thunderbird Releasing on Monday 8th May 2017

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Brain Damage (1988)

“Riotously entertaining”

         Frank Henenlotter’s second feature film (after 1982’s BASKET CASE) gets the special edition dual format DVD & Blu-ray treatment from Arrow, in another of these releases that, back in the late 1980s, we would have fallen off our chairs if we had been told you would one day be able to own a package like this.

Hello Elmer!
         The Aylmer (or Elmer as he is ‘affectionately’ known) is a smiley, winky, worm-shaped parasite that resembles what might result from an unholy union between William Castle’s THE TINGLER and one of David Cronenberg’s venereal parasites from SHIVERS. He’s been around for centuries, which is surprising considering how many brains he needs to eat. Of course, he does have a human servant to help him, whom he rewards with injections of a substance that induces euphoric hallucinations.

Is Frank saying 'Don't Do Drugs'?

         At the start of BRAIN DAMAGE, Elmer escapes from the elderly couple who have ‘adopted’ him and finds a new ‘owner’ in the form of Brian (Rick Herbst). Brian likes Elmer’s drug but he soon gets tired of having to find victims for Elmer to eat the brains of. Trying to go cold turkey after a few shots of Elmer’s joy juice leads to unfortunate side effects for Brian, however, including a scene where he hallucinates pulling his own brain out. Meanwhile, the elderly couple are in hot pursuit because they want Elmer and his happy drug back from themselves.

Scratching one brain and holding another
         Embracing the same kind of lurid trash aesthetic as the films of John Waters, but with an emphasis on monsters rather than deviant behaviour (although there tends to be a fair bit of that too), Frank Henenlotter’s movies succeed mainly on their bouncy charm and over the top enthusiasm for material that, if it were shot straight, would be unbearable on so many levels. Here, though, Elmer (voiced by John Zacherle, a US television personality virtually unknown in the UK) is lots of fun, his outrageous antics are lots of fun, and while there’s a lot of shouting and screaming and brains pulsating on a dinner plate, it’s all very much in the style of a (very twisted)  Warner Bros. cartoon brought to life. 

What's in the basket?
        Arrow’s disc contains enough extras to satiate the needs of any BRAIN DAMAGE fan. Henenlotter himself provides a very chatty commentary track, there’s a brand new making of, a piece on Gabe Bartalos’ effects, the animation of Elmer, locations for the movie, a Henenlotter Q&A, and an interview with assistant editor Karen Ogle. 

A typical Frank Henenlotter movie toilet
         Bygone Behemoth is an animated short film by Harry Chaskin featuring John Zacherle, and Tasty Memories is an interview with BRAIN DAMAGE superfan Adam Skinner who does indeed have a lot of memorabilia. If you run this through to the end the menu switches to bonus music tracks Adam put together for a BRAIN DAMAGE tribute album. 

Are you ready for the main course?
         You also get a reversible sleeve, a limited edition artwork card, a collector’s booklet with Michael Gingold writing about the film, and if you buy BRAIN DAMAGE from the Arrow store, Diabolik DVD or the Texas Frightmare weekend 2017 you also get an exclusive Elmer enamel pin badge. 

Arrow are releasing Frank Henelotter's BRAIN DAMAGE in a dual format special edition on Monday 8th May 2017