Thursday 29 June 2017

Doberman Cop (1977)

Hot on the heels of WOLF COP, Arrow Films are bringing us another obscure Japanese crime thriller starring Sonny Chiba. And, just in case you’re wondering (I certainly was), this one doesn’t include any low rent doberman transformation antics.

        Chiba is Joji Kano, a cop from the provinces who’s new to the big city of Tokyo. This being the heyday of US cop shows like  KOJAK (lollipop), COLUMBO (raincoat) and MCLEOD (horse), Kano wears a battered straw hat and carries a baby pig. 

        The burned body of a girl has been discovered. It’s thought she might be from Kano’s home town of Okinawa. Soon he’s on the case, investigating the sleazy nightlife district of the city to the kind of music reminiscent of AIP blaxploitation epics of a few years earlier. 

        DOBERMAN COP is a pretty standard police thriller with 1970s exploitation elements (strip clubs, drug addicted wannabe pop stars, sleazy music impresarios, gang bosses and so on). Fans of director Kinji Fukasaku (THE GREEN SLIME, BATTLE ROYALE) and Chiba will want to see it, and for the casual viewer it offers a fascinating snapshot of typical late 1970s Japanese exploitation fare.

        Extras include a new video appreciation by Sadao Yamane, new interviews with Sonny Chiba and screenwriter Koji Takada, a reversible sleeve and illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Patrick Macias. The Chiba interview is Part 2 of an interview that started on the WOLF GUY disc. 

DOBERMAN COP is out on dual format from Arrow Films from Monday 26th June 2017

Friday 23 June 2017

Slaughterhouse Five (1972)

George Roy Hill’s impressive adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel gets a UK Blu-ray release from Fabulous Films.

        Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) has become unstuck in time. What this means is that at one minute he can be at home with his wife, son and daughter, the next he can be living the moment his father threw the five year old him in the swimming pool, after that he might be in Dresden as a World War II POW and then he might be on the planet Tralfamadore with his Hollywood starlet girlfriend Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine). Billy’s existence consists of switching between these major episodes in his life seemingly at random, including what happens at the ‘end’, which the Tralfamadorians have explained isn’t actually the end at all.

        Kurt Vonnegut’s novel was partly inspired by his own experiences as a prisoner of war. He was present at the bombing of Dresden where he was a POW after being captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He was reportedly delighted with this movie which is a measured and thoughtful adaptation of a book that looks at how we view our lives and how the only way we can survive is to ‘concentrate on the good moments’. 

        A decent budget means that the World War II sequences are staged on an almost epic scale. There’s also a great sequence of car stunt work, but where George Roy Hill’s direction really excels is in his clever transitions as Billy bounces around in time. Often subtle but sometimes more overt, this is a film that deserves rewatching if only to delight in the technique on display here.

         Fabulous Films’ Blu-ray offers no extras. The transfer is very nice, though. 

Fabulous Films are releasing George Roy Hill's film of Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE on Monday 26th June 2017

Thursday 22 June 2017

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Everyone’s favourite Based On True Events That Were Most Likely Made Up To Earn A Bit of Cash movie gets a top of the line whistles and bells steelbook Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.

        The cash-strapped Lutz family believe they’ve hit the jackpot when they purchase a lovely big house for very little money, not realising that these things tend to be cheap for a reason. Is it because the house looks a bit like an evil face? Is it because someone previously went mad there and killed the rest of his family? Or is it because there might be something living in / possessing the basement?

        They move in. Minor things happen like the babysitter getting locked in a room and a window frame bashing a little boy’s hand. George (James Brolin) starts to look ill and begins to develop a meaningful relationship with his axe. The house does its best to welcome Catholic priest Rod Steiger with some friendly flies but when he spurns this act of hospitality it tells him to get out.

        Some more minor things happen - money disappears and the toilets start belching vast quantities of black fluid. The family dog leads them to a walled up room in the cellar that contains...not much, really. Eventually, tired of all this low-key stuff that could easily be explained as ‘things any family might have to deal with’ the house decides to pour blood down the stairs and have it seep out of the walls to finally get rid of the people who want to hang crosses on its walls and have lots of arguments inside it.

        As a fan of movie monsters of all kinds I can never help but root for the house in the AMITYVILLE series, and what an impressive house it is - full marks to the film-makers for coming up with something that looks nothing like the place where the events allegedly took place (according to parapsychologist Hans Holzer) but which towers both literally and figuratively over all the events in the film. Mr Holzer both introduces the film and provides a commentary track on this disc. He would probably have benefitted from a moderator but he does like to keep talking, so that’s there if you fancy it.

        Second Sight’s Blu-ray does come with a wealth of decent extras, though, so if you're a fan of the film or those involved in its making this is going to be a worthwhile investment. There are new interviews with actors James Brolin and Meeno Peluce, screenwriter Sandor Stern, and a great interview with composer Lalo Schifrin where he show on the piano how he composed the music based on augmented 4ths. Plus he plays the music from ENTER THE DRAGON!

        There’s also a feature length documentary with Daniel Lutz, an archival featurette with Brolin and Margot Kidder, trailers, TV spots and repro lobby cards included in the set. An excellent package for all fans of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. 

Second Sight are releasing their lovely limited edition Blu-ray steelbook of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR on Monday 26th June 2017

Tuesday 20 June 2017

The Magic Christian (1969)

“Potty, Decadent, Sub-Bunuelian British Satire”

    Well what else might you expect from a late 1960s movie adaptation of a novel by Terry Southern, starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr and boasting extra screenplay material from John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Spike Milligan?    

    The slight plot is as follows: extremely rich Sir Guy Grand (Sellers) adopts a hobo he sees in the park who becomes his son, Youngman (Starr). Together they embark on a project that’s ‘not easily defined’ according to Grand but seems to consist of giving people large amounts of money to do embarrassing / ridiculous things. These include Laurence Harvey performing a striptease during his Hamlet soliloquy, Spike Milligan’s traffic warden eating the parking ticket he has given Grand, and someone bringing a panther with a wig on to Crufts claiming it’s a rare breed of dog.

    The movie culminates with a trip on the luxury seafaring vessel The Magic Christian, captained by an increasingly drunk Wilfred Hyde-White and boasting such guests as Christopher Lee’s Dracula, Yul Brynner as a chanteuse and Roman Polanski as ‘drinker at bar’.

    It all goes bonkers at the end, with the craft seemingly powered by topless slavegirls rowing and presided over by Raquel Welch with a whip. A gorilla appears because anything else just wouldn’t be acceptable, and the final scene shows Sellars and Ringo back in the park where our story began.

    Less a narrative and more a series of daft sketches, how much you’ll like THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN will depend on your taste for Monty Python, Spike Milligan’s Q series, and absurdist experimental British cinema of the period (Richard Lester’s THE BED SITTING ROOM comes to mind).

    If you do like that kind of thing you’ll have a ball. there’s also a lot of fun to be had spotting familiar film and TV faces of the period, many of whom are of the blink you’ll miss them variety, so the film also rewards repeat viewings.

    Fabulous Films’ Blu-ray is the print releases stateside by Olive Films (for MAGIC CHRISTIAN obsessives who might be wondering). There are no extras. Apparently a documentary was made to promote the movie called ‘Will the Real Mr Sellers Please Stand Up’ with Spike Milligan narration but sadly it’s not included. 

THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN is out on Blu-ray from Fabulous Films on Monday 26th June 2017

Friday 16 June 2017

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

“Cracking, Twilight Zone-Type Terror Tale”

        One of the best horror films from last year’s festival circuit gets a Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Lionsgate.

        The police are called to a murder scene in a house in small town Virginia, USA. The peculiar way in which the inhabitants have died is nothing compared to what is awaiting them in the cellar - the half unearthed body of a young dead girl. The body is taken to the local autopsy room where father and son morticians Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch gradually uncover the reason for the girl being in the house.

        I’m not going to say much more because THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is best viewed with little prior information, suffice to say that the main part of the movie takes the form of a detective story based entirely around the post mortem examination of the body in question. Each stage of the procedure reveals more clues, but the real success of the clever script is how the revealing of this information makes the story ever more fascinating, taking it off into unexpected areas.

        Set in the US but shot in the UK with a Norwegian director (Andre Øvredal who made the very entertaining TROLL HUNTER) and a cast including Cox, Hirsch, Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton in GAME OF THRONES) and Ophelia Lovibond (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE benefits from an excellent script, good performances, and a fine use of its almost single location (the autopsy room). It’s safe to say if there was ever a Twilight Zone-style plot that deserved feature length treatment, this is it. 

        Lionsgate’s Blu-ray has the London premiere Q&A as an extra, in which Alan Jones interviews director Øvredal. This is good as far as it goes, but unfortunately that’s only five minutes! It’s the only extra, but don’t let that put you off. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is one of the horror releases of the year and definitely worth a watch. Grab it when it comes out. 

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE is out from Lionsgate on EST on Monday 19th June and Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on Monday 26th June 2017

Thursday 15 June 2017

The Bird With Crystal Plumage (1970)

“Beautiful PLUMAGE”

        Here it is, the one that started it all. Purists will argue that the first example of giallo cinema is Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), and that the subgenre was very much in existence prior to 1970, but Dario Argento’s debut feature is the movie that realy popularised it. THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was such a massive success that the Italian film industry went completely nuts making a huge number of films with increasingly exotic, ludicrous and over the top titles (that were explained as close to the end of the film as possible) and dotty plotlines to match. Arrow Films are releasing BIRD in a special dual format set with plenty of new extras.

        American Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is in Italy and suffering from writer’s block. One night, he witnesses what looks like a brutal attack on Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) in an art gallery. It turns out there have been a number of murders in the city recently and Monica may have been the killer’s latest target. Sam decides to investigate, uncovering a plot that soon has the killer targeting him and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). 

        For a debut feature, BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is remarkably assured and it’s not surprising it was a trend-setter. Plot takes a back seat to style, with some elegantly executed murder sequences, bizarre characters parts (all rather dated now) as red herrings, an itchy, gets under your skin music score from Ennio Morricone, and plenty of moments of genuine suspense. It’s also one of the few examples of giallo cinema to be based on an actual giallo novel (Fredric Brown’s The Screaming Mimi) and we even get to see some hanging up at a news-stand.

        There’s also lashings of J&B scotch (quickly to become a giallo standby to raise cheers on any appearance), some utterly daft dimestore psychology, and a ‘pack your bags and run’ attitude to explaining what was going on (the plane is literally taking off and the end credits starting while whoever it is is still talking as if they’re hoping you’re already on your way out of the cinema and not paying too much attention). 

        Arrow’s dual format 4k transfer does look a lot better than previous transfers. Extras are all new stuff so if you’re a fan you’ll want this. These include a commentary from Troy Howarth (knowledgeable and always good to listen to), a visual essay on Argento’s cinema, new interviews with Argento and actor Gildo Di Marco who plays the pimp, and a new, well-informed and erudite 30 minute analysis of the film from Kat Ellinger. You also get a reversible sleeve and a 60 page booklet. It’s worth noting that the only material carried over from the previous Blue Underground release is an Eva Renzi interview from 2005. The rest hasn’t (Alan Jones / Kim Newman commentary, archival interviews with Morricone, Storaro, Argento) so you might want to hang onto it. You'll definitely want this new release, though.

Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is getting a special edition dual format release from Arrow on Monday 19th June 2017

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Death in the Garden (1956)

         Luis Bunuel’s sweaty French-Mexican coproduction jungle adventure picture gets a very nice Blu-ray release as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series.

         We’re in the world of diamond mining in South America, where civil unrest is afoot. The independent miners have been told to cease activities as the (police) state is taking over. We follow the lives and daily activities of a prostitute (Simone Signoret), a priest (Michel Piccoli), a diamond miner (Charles Vanel) and his deaf daughter (Michele Girardon0 as well as a no-nonsense adventure type unjustly arrested for having a wallet full of money taped to his chest (Georges Marchal looking like a cross between Mickey Rourke and Leif Erickson). As the subsequent civil upheaval results in revolution, our central characters are forced to flee the town and enter the jungle.

         Once there their lives change as they end up starving and exhausted. Wandering through a landscape filled with false promises of salvation, they end up having to fight for their lives, and not all of them survive.

         Filmed in glorious Eastmancolor, DEATH IN THE GARDEN is very much within the ‘Up the Creek Without a Paddle’ genre later explored to a greater (and even more harrowing degree) by Werner Herzog’s AGUIRRE (1972) and Ruggero Deodato’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1979). Our central characters have been pretty much handpicked to represent different factions within society and their dreams, hopes and fears as rescue seems less certain is examined as much as might be considered possible within the jungle adventure milieu. 

         Beware, though. Anyone expecting the more assured political commentary and surrealism of movies like THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962) or even DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1964) should be aware that DEATH IN THE GARDEN is far more in the tradition of the colourful jungle pictures of the era, so just revel in the warmth of the photography in this beautiful new transfer and enjoy.

         Eureka’s disc comes with a new interview with Tony Rayns, an archival piece from film scholar Victor Fuentes and an interview with actor Michel Piccoli. You also get a trailer and a booklet featuring new writing on the film. 

Luis Bunuel's DEATH IN THE GARDEN is getting a dvd and Blu-ray dual format release from Eureka on Monday 19th June 2017

Friday 9 June 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017)

“Decent, Action Packed & Over The Top Part 6 of a Franchise”

         You can’t really ask any more of this sequel to ‘the highest grossing video game franchise of all time”, now getting a release from Sony on every available platform - digital download, 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD.

         For the uninitiated, or if - like me - you watched the original RESIDENT EVIL at the cinema in 2002 and decided to avoid all the sequels but thought this might be worth a look because after all it got a decent write up in The Observer of all places when it came out in the cinema - we get a recap of the entire franchise at the beginning of this one. Or at least I assume we do because I only watched the original back in 2002 etc etc etc.

         We are post apocalypse. There are only around 4000 normal people left in the world after the T-Virus created by the evil (naturally) Umbrella Corporation has turned everyone into zombies. Quite how this explains the big flying dragon-things or that fat grey bloke with tentacles on his face I’m not sure but I expect it got mentioned somewhere in one of the other films.

         Milla Jovovich is Alice, and very good she is too. I don’t know how much to say about Alice because some of it may actually be spoilers, but anyway, the computer that runs the Umbrella Corporation is in the shape of a little girl and wants to help Alice put the world to rights again. Very much against this is evil Dr Isaac (Iain Glen) and his enormous motorised tank filled with people and crucifixes. He wants to finish ‘cleansing’ the world while Alice and her friends (including Ali Larter) head for the Hive to destroy the baddies, save the world etc etc while getting into lots of action-packed scrapes along the way.

         There have been widely mixed reviews for this one. If you’re an obsessive fan of the series it sounds as if there are elements that might upset you. If, however, you’re like me and just want some rip-roaring action and spectacle with razor sharp editing, a superbly over the top music score, and all the elements that suggest you’re watching the final episode of a TV series that actually you wouldn’t mind going back and watching properly from the beginning, RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is actually buckets of undemanding fun. 

         Sony’s presentation give you two discs, one with the film and two featurettes - ‘Explore the Hive’ and ‘The Women of RESIDENT EVIL’. Disc two has more featurettes including a making of, from script to screen, and a piece on directing the movie. Exclusive to Blu-ray are a sneak peek at RESIDENT EVIL: VENDETTA, a piece on stunts and weaponry, and something called Retaliation Mode (the Blu-ray was not provided for review).

         A benchmark setter for Part Sixes everywhere, RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER proves that sequels don’t have to be tired, dull and unimaginative and is definitely worth a look. 

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is out on Digital Download on 29th May 2017 and on every currently available  disc format on Monday 12th June 2017

Thursday 8 June 2017

Madhouse (1981)

“Bonkers Slasher All’Italiana”

    I’m going to forego all the obvious and oft-quoted jokes about how the surname of producer-director Ovidio G Assonitis sounds like an especially painful condition of the nether regions and instead go straight to talking about this 1981 picture of his which is getting a new dual format release courtesy of Arrow Films.

    Julia (Trish Everly in her only film role) spends her days teaching deaf children and her nights worrying about her insane twin sister Mary who is locked up in a mental institution. To make matters worse (and much more Italian exploitational) Mary has recently caught a disfiguring disease that has affected her face to such a degree she could quite possibly be played by a different actress called Allison Biggers. 

    At the behest of Father James (Dennis Robertson), Julia goes to visit Mary in hospital, where her sister threatens her from her badly lit gloomy plastic curtain-surrounded bed. Understandably upset, Julia is in for some more unpleasant surprises when mad Mary escapes, seemingly hooks up with the pet Rottweiler she used to intimidate Julia with when they were children, and people around our heroine start to die. But is Mary really the one responsible or, in true Italian style, is this one going to go all bonkers and have one of those endings where nothing actually makes sense?

    Ovidio Assonitis has had an interesting genre career, from the crazy excesses of BEYOND THE DOOR (1974) to the stellar daftness of TENTACLES (1977). He also produced the supremely lunatic THE VISITOR (1979) so it's perhaps not surprising that while MADHOUSE has some interesting shots, overall it’s more of the same daft incoherence as the rest of his output. This one was banned in the UK as a Video Nasty because of the dog attacks but anyone watching it now will be bemused as to what all the fuss was about.

    Arrow’s disc is a beautiful transfer (in 2k). We also get interviews with Ovidio himself, his DP and one of the original cast members, all filmed last month. There’s also a new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues, an alternate opening title sequence featuring one of the several other titles the film was known under, a trailer, reversible sleeve, and a booklet featuring new writing on the film if you buy the first pressing.

Ovidio G Assonitis' MADHOUSE is out on dual format from Arrow on Monday 12 June 2017