Monday 30 October 2017

The Villainess (2017)

"Lady Snowblood, Korean Style"

       Receiving its UK premiere at this year's London Frightfest, Jung Byung-Gil's blood-soaked, action-packed revenge thriller gets a DVD & Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Films. 

       To avenge the death of her father, Sook-hee (Kim ok-bin) kills as many men as is humanly possible in the opening minutes of a film. She passes out and wakes to find she has been abducted by the National Intelligence Service, which proceeds to train her as a sleeper cell assassin. Pregnant when she comes to them, she and her baby daughter are given new identities, after which she starts work as an actress while awaiting various blood-spattered missions.

       All goes well until she is given an assignment on her wedding day to assassinate a crime boss who turns out to be her husband from her past life. When she bungles the mission, her life begins to fall to pieces, and things can only end in tragedy.

       Opening with an action sequence that feels like a cross between ATOMIC BLONDE (this is better) and DOOM (first person shoot-em-up), THE VILLAINESS offers regular bouts of breathtaking action, combining remarkable stunts and camerawork. Fortunately there's a good story in here as well, and the bits where the film calms down to allow character interplay are just as watchable. 

       Arrow's disc comes with a commentary track from film-makers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin, as well as a trailer. If you get the first pressing of the disc then you'll get an illustrated collector's booklet with new writing on the film by Anton Bitel. If you're a fan of South Korean cinema you'll definitely want to watch this, and if you're unfamiliar with this country's movies then this might just be the one to get you into them. 

THE VILLAINESS is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow on Monday 30th October 2017

Sunday 29 October 2017

Suffer, Little Children (1983)

"Ratty, Tatty, Homemade Satanic Kiddy BritHorror"

That about sums the whole thing up, actually. A slice of ultra-obscure British film-making gets a DVD release from Severin on the Intervision label. Is it worth a watch? I think that will depend on your tastes and, indeed, on your very definition of the word 'film'.

Desk of the Possessed!
The picture quality of SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN is 4:3 VHS, with all the drop-outs, tracking issues and occasional fits of snow the format is heir to. Older viewers will find this nostalgic, those who came of age after the video revolution will be bewildered that anyone watched movies with this kind of picture quality.

Back Garden Zombies!
The blocky, homemade pixel-generated titles tell us that what we are about to see is based on true events (aha!) that took place at '45 Kingston Road, New Malden, Surrey, England in August 1984'. We get a director credit (Alan Briggs) but that's it.

Shades of Norman J Warren?
So far, so potentially fascinating and possibly illegal snuff movie-like - sticking a bootleg of this into my old toploader would probably have had me wondering what on earth I was in for. Here's what we actually get:
A mute child arrives at a children's care home that looks more like someone's house that's been hired out for the day. She has a handwritten note that asks for her to be taken care of. Unfortunately she turns out to be 'of the devil' and starts possessing the other kids. Those who resist die horribly (within the confines of the budget). A little boy falls down the stairs and coughs up blood. A girl stabs herself to death. This film's equivalent of the popular (at the time, yes they were) beat combo Black Lace turn up to do a charity gig and all hell eventually breaks loose with nearly everyone getting killed. Then Jesus Christ himself turns up to save the day.

A very naughty girl indeed.
Shot on VHS, running a brief 76 minutes, and employing the talents of a local drama school (some of the child actors were as young as eight, apparently), SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN is one for British horror movie completists, and if like me, you are one you'll be fascinated by this. By turns professional (it's certainly more competently shot than dozens of found footage films filling the shelves at HMV) and exceedingly amateurish (Jesus Christ under a strobe light could easily do your head in), all I can say is I'm glad I watched it, but this is definitely one for the hardened obscurist.

Astounding special effects! 
Not satisfied with digging up this ultra-obscurity, Severin also give us an interview with the director, plus we get an interview with John Martin (of Giallo Pages fame and many other top quality examples of horror movie journalism) about the good old Video Nasty furore. Amazing isn't it, how it's possible to feel nostalgia now for something that was so utterly frustrating and angering back in the day. You also get a trailer.

Don't worry, Jesus will be here in a bit
Very rough around the edges (and in the middle too, actually), SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN was nevertheless made with integrity and the intention of making a serious horror film. If you love the obscure stuff, or if you're just very, very kind, it's demented enough to certainly be worth a look. 

SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN is out on DVD from Severin (even though the label says Intervision) on 
Tuesday 31st October 2017

Saturday 28 October 2017

Channel Zero: Candle Cove (2016)

"A Slice of Decent, Properly Scary TV"

Presumably aping the format of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, where every series will feature a different, serialised story, season one of Creepypasta-inspired CHANNEL ZERO arrives on UK Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Second Sight. 
      Child psychologist Mike Painter (Paul Schneider) returns to the home of his birth where, in 1988, his twin brother vanished amidst a number of disappearances of children of similar age. He becomes increasingly convinced that the occurrences were linked to an obscure children's television show called Candle Cove.

Candle Cove was broadcast only once, was impossible to record, and, we are told, made it onto TV 'under regular broadcast frequencies' in a VIDEODROME kind of way. Now it seems Candle Cove is being broadcast again but only children are seeing it, and disappearing again. 

Meanwhile, Mike has problems of his own, and may well be a more unreliable narrator / leading character than we've realised. It turns out he's only just been released from a psychiatric ward, and the bizarre opening bit to episode one makes you wonder from the off how much of what he claims is just inside his own head.

Starting off with a very Stephen King feel and quickly coming up with stuff that would scare the likes of Ramsey Campbell, CHANNEL ZERO is a far more accomplished, intriguing, and downright scary television series than AMERICAN HORROR STORY. That thing depicted on the DVD cover at the top there is made entirely of children's teeth, which it eats, and there are plenty of other nasties in here to give you some delicious, TV-inspired nightmares as well.

Second Sight's two disc set has all six episodes from Season One, plus deleted scenes and an interview with series creator Nick Antosca. 

For those unfamiliar with the concept, 'Creepypasta' is essentially abbreviated slang for 'creepy copy and paste' and describes a collection of scary stories and images put up on the internet and intended to be shared and developed by others without the constrictions of copyright. CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE has done a fine job of adapting this particular Creepypasta idea to television. It has met with generally good to excellent reviews and has done well enough that the second season, NO END HOUSE is being broadcast right now. It's all well worth catching up with if you fancy some scary TV.

CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Second Sight on Monday 30th October 2017

Friday 27 October 2017

J D's Revenge (1976)

"Surprisingly Watchable Exploitationer"

Or should that be Blaxploitationer? Either way, Arthur Marks' J D'S REVENGE, a 1970s film I'd never heard of until I received the press release, is getting a 2k dual format release from Arrow, and if you're a fan of movies from this era, you'll definitely want to catch up with it.

In the New Orleans of 1942, gangster J D Walker (David McKnight) ends up getting shot dead in a meat locker where he has arranged to meet a girl who also ends up meeting a sticky end. 
Flash forward to 'the present' (ie 1976,) and law student Ike (Glynn Turman) goes out for a night on the town with girlfriend Christella (Joan Pringle). Part of the evening's entertainment involves a stage hypnotist act. While the other volunteers end up taking off their trousers and engaging in general tomfoolery, Ike sees some rather graphic images of a cow being slaughtered, followed by the brutal killing we've already seen.

After that, Ike somehow becomes possessed by the spirit of JD. A change of clothes and hairstyle later and soon Ike/JD is beating up Christella, swearing mightily, and going in search of those responsible for his death, including born again preacher Elija Bliss (Lou Gossett, Jr), so he can see justice is done.

J D'S REVENGE bears the AIP logo at the start, and it's quite a surprise to discover that it's one of the better exploitation pictures released by that company in the 1970s. There's a bit of a KOLCHAK / Amicus feel to the opening act as Ike spots J D's old fedora in a shop and tries it on, and anyone who's a fan of 1970s US horror TV might get a kick out of this.

Be warned, though - this is still prime 1976 exploitation, which means we get slaughterhouse scenes, rape, and general political incorrectness all round. If you're willing to accept all that for the time in which it was made, JD'S REVENGE has good acting from the leads (Turman is especially good in his 'dual' role), a nicely eerie Robert Cobert-style score, and is actually a whole lot of late 1970s exploitation fun for the entirety of its running time.

You might not expect an obscurity like this to have extras, but Arrow have managed a 46 minute making of, as well as a trailer reel for other movies by Arthur Marks (if Arrow bring out some of these they're going to be must-sees), an audio interview with David McKnight, radio spots and a stills gallery. Unexpectedly watchable and well worth picking up. 

Arthur Marks' JD'S REVENGE is out on dual format from Arrow on Monday October 30th 2017

Thursday 26 October 2017

Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 2 (2017)

More Colourful, More Gory, More Monsters 

That's about the level of the appalling one-liners uttered by Ash (Bruce Campbell) in the gleefully knockabout, extremely splattery, and frequently low brow humour-y second season of ASH VS EVIL DEAD, now getting a DVD & Blu-ray release from Starz.

Ash, Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) are living it up in Jacksonville, Florida after the truce called with sexy villain Ruby (Lucy Lawless) at the end of season one. It doesn't last long, however, and this being Sam Raimi's universe that means about thirty seconds before Ruby's 'children' turn on her and try and get the Necronomicon.

She calls on Ash and his friends for help and no sooner than you can say 'The Deadites Are Coming" off we go on another cheery (seriously) splatterthon laced with a degree of innuendo and scatalogical humour that feels less Three Stooges this time and more Carry On Evil Dead. 

If you like that, plus frenetic pacing and gallons of blood, then ASH VS EVIL DEAD will absolutely be your thing. Every episode leaves you breathless and the Blu-ray will have you rubbing your eyes at the eye-popping colour palette. The actors all seem to be having a blast and there's the same sense of outrageously gory fun that the first season managed to maintain. 

There are also plenty of surprises along the way in the form of neat casting choices, returning characters, clips from the original EVIL DEAD & EVIL DEAD 2, and Joseph LoDuca is doing the music again so fans can once again have fun spotting musical quotes from those two pictures as well. 

Starz's two-disc set contain all ten episodes. You also get commentary tracks on selected episodes - the first two have Campbell, Lawless, Santiago and DeLorenzo, the third Rob Tapert, Lawless and DeLorenzo. Three more episodes on disc two get commentaries.

You also get eight featurettes, including Women Who Kick Ash, Up Your Ash (a touch of the Frankie Howerds there, methinks), Dawn of the Spawn, How to Kill a Deadite and others, the titles of which might be spoilers so I'll leave you to discover them. 

ASH VS EVIL DEAD Season 2 is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Starz. 

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Willard (1971) and Ben (1972)

Rat-Tastic Double Bill - Wholeheartedly Recommended

Calling all rat fans! A decade before Roland Rat terrorised early 1980s Britain (if you don't know what I'm talking about you're very lucky), a duet of US horror pictures from Bing Crosby Productions (!) turned thousands of rats into movie stars and delivered a couple of extremely entertaining 'When Animals Attack' thrillers along the way. Now WILLARD (1971) and its sequel BEN (1972) are getting a limited edition Blu-ray boxset release courtesy of Second Sight.

The first, WILLARD, is loosely adapted from Stephen Gilbert's novel Ratman's Notebooks. Gangly, awkward Willard Styles (Bruce Davison) lives with his mother (Elsa Lanchester) in a rambling old house. The family business has been bought by sleazy Martin (Ernest Borgnine) who employs Willard partly as a kindness and mainly to berate him. To escape his mother's awful friends Willard takes to training the rats that have wandered into the garden, and soon he has an army to do his bidding.

Considering this was marketed as 'The One Film You Should Not Watch Alone', WILLARD is surprisingly lacking in horror, especially when you consider when it was made. In fact, for the first hour or so, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a slightly demented Disney live action film. It does get a bit bloody in the final act, though, and no doubt audiences of the time were thrilled to see vast numbers of rats crashing a dinner party, scurrying through an office, and killing Ernest Borgnine.

Second Sight's 4k transfer looks marvellous. For a movie that existed for years in washed out sepia-toned bootlegs, it finally looks fantastic & if you're a fan of the film I can wholeheartedly recommend it. You also get a Bruce Davison commentary and an interview with him as well, plus a trailer, TV & radio spots and a still gallery.

WILLARD was such a success that BEN followed a year later. Detailing the adventures of rat leader Ben and his army, BEN also feels rather less horrific than perhaps it could have been. A couple of rat attacks at the beginning soon give way to some lengthy downtime as we get to know the family of young Danny (Lee Montgomery) who befriends Ben and discovers that the rats, having escaped the Stiles house, are now hiding out in the sewers. Memorable shots of a supermarket filled with rats and a fiery finale don't make BEN quite as good as WILLARD but there will be many out there who remember this as a late night ITV staple and will want to revisit it.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 'best surviving archive print' for BEN doesn't look anywhere near as crisp and clean as WILLARD, so be prepared for a drop in quality. It still looks better than the bootlegs, though, and the transfer is perfectly fine to enjoy. Extras include a chatty commentary with Lee Montgomery, who seems to have made it through being a child actor in Hollywood relatively unscathed. He's interviewed as well. You also get trailers, TV & radio spots and a still gallery.

You want more? How about that gorgeous new Graham Humphreys artwork that graces the limited edition box? You also get a poster of the art to go with it. An excellent package of a pairing of classic horrors, Second Sight have gone above and beyond to give us the best possible package with WILLARD and BEN. Well done, guys. 

WILLARD and BEN are getting released as a limited Blu-ray boxset, and as separate Blu-ray and DVD releases, on 30th October 2017

Friday 20 October 2017

George Romero: Between Night and Dawn (1971 - 1973)

In Memoriam: George A Romero 1940 - 2017

On July 16th 2017 we lost George Romero, one of the most influential film-makers of the last fifty years. Best known for his DEAD trilogy, horror fans also loved him for MARTIN (1976), CREEPSHOW (1982), and THE DARK HALF (1993) amongst others. Planned before his death, but only just now coming out, is this new box set dual format release of three Romero projects from the early 1970s, two of which have always been hard to locate in any format, and all three of which will hopefully help cement his reputation as an important film-maker in the eyes of the mainstream. So let's tale a look at what we've got here:

There's Always Vanilla (1971)

The set kicks off with the most obscure of the bunch. Romero's first film post NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1969) was this romantic comedy drama. Chris (Raymond Laine) returns from Vietnam and bums around, refusing his father's offer of a 'vanilla' job in a factory because it doesn't suit his free and easy lifestyle. He moves in with an older woman on whom he starts to become dependent. 

Horror fans might find THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA a bit hard going, but anyone with a penchant for movies from the 'happy hippy' / dropout subgenre that existed mainly in the US for a couple of years might enjoy this colourful movie, and Laine makes for an engaging lead.
Extras include a commentary track from Travis Crawford, a brand new making of featuring key personnel (some of whom worked on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), a location gallery, an archive interview with Romero about this and SEASON OF THE WITCH and a trailer.

Season of the Witch (1972)

Otherwise known as HUNGRY WIVES (the onscreen title) when it was repackaged for the soft porn market (!), Romero's follow-on from THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA opens with a fantastic dream sequence in which a woman is led through a misty forest to a set of buildings. She has a leash fitted to the collar she is wearing and is then placed in a cage. Nothing else in the movie comes close to this dreamy, lurid opening sequence that's reminiscent of the works of Jess Franco. The rest of the movie is not without interest, though. It's essentially a character study of bored housewife Jan White, who finds herself dabbling in witchcraft. Her exploits lead to an extra-marital affair, tragedy and death. 

Arrow have given us a 4k restoration of the original 90 minute print, and the 104 minute version is included as an extra. You also get a Travis Crawford audio commentary, an archive interview with Jan White, a location gallery, and a conversation between Romero and Guillermo del Toro.

The Crazies (1973)

What for many is going to be the highlight of this set, what's perhaps most disturbing about THE CRAZIES is how it feels like a more realistic, angry, and relevant picture than its rather glossier 2010 Breck Eisner remake. A plane carrying a bacteriological weapon crashes and releases the infection into the local water supply, either killing the nearby town's inhabitants, or driving them insane. The military is disorganised and unprepared, and because of its own blunders it looks like there's no hope for humanity (there isn't). 

Arrow's 4k restoration looks great, especially if you only remember this from its BBC2 late night double bill showings. There's a location featurette, an audio interview with producer Lee Hessel, behind the scenes footage, and two interviews with Lynn Lowry, one of which was conducted at last year's Abertoir. That's me asking her about Paul Schrader, by the way. You also get a commentary by Travis Crawford, trailers & alternate opening titles.

Each of the discs come with reversible sleeves and you also get a 60 page booklet featuring new writing on all three films by Kat Ellinger, Kier-La Janisse and Heather Drain. A valuable and vital piece of restoration and preservation work from Arrow here, which will be treasured by film scholars and Romero fans alike. 

GEORGE ROMERO: BETWEEN NIGHT AND DAWN is out on dual format from Arrow Films on Monday 23rd October 2017

Tuesday 17 October 2017

The Mummy (2017)

"See Tom Cruise try to be Paul Naschy!"
"See Russell Crowe try to be Oliver Reed!"
"See Sofia Boutella win the award for 'Actress Bound in Strappado for the Longest Time in a Major Hollywood Movie!'"

Oh yes, the time has come to talk of Tom Cruise's THE MUMMY, a film released to universally (sorry - well, not really) bad reviews and less than stellar box office. A film poorly received and intended as just the first of Universal's utterly misguided attempt to rip off the comic book concept of a 'Universe' by uniting characters from gothic fiction so disparate in origin, background and incompatibility that only a fool or a genius could give the idea less than a moment's thought. The writers of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) must be chuckling in the graves in between their lipless mouths uttering 'We told you guys this sort of thing isn't easy.'

Shall we talk about the film? Is it really as crappy, as nonsensical, as stupid, as hateful, as tear-sheddingly-downright-sad-for-what-might-have-been awful as every single other review has suggested?
I approached the film with an open mind. After all, that attitude is what has led me to enjoying, amongst others, the films of Jess Franco and Paul Naschy - more about Mr Naschy in a bit, by the way. Might THE MUMMY be an unappreciated trash classic? 
The first half an hour isn't terrible. 

For a start we have Sofia Boutella, the only actor in this who emerges with any kind of credibility intact and I really hope this doesn't harm her career. With any luck her recent turn in ATOMIC BLONDE will help people forget about this. Anyway, Sofia is an evil Egyptian princess, and very good she is in the role, quickly becoming the only character for which we develop any real sympathy. I don't think that's the intention of the film, mind. Sofia gets buried in an unmarked tomb for killing her entire family in style probably deemed unreasonably sexy for the period. 

Flash forward to modern day, and Tom Cruise and his friend are Bob Hope / Bing Crosby style soldiers / looters who I think we are supposed to like but we just don't. Some big explosions open up a pit in the town they are planning to exploit and the tomb of Sofia is revealed! Up pops archaeologist Annabelle Wallis and after some horribly awkward, and presumably contractual, dialogue "banter" to establish that Tom is Not Gay we enter the tomb. Cue terrible dialogue from Annabelle, the kind of awful, non-researched dialogue that a five year old writing a story about archaeologists might use before being sent back to their desk by their teacher with lots of red pen all over the story. 

Tom releases the mummy, because, in a sense, that's all Tom is there for - to perform this one action and then spend the rest of the movie talking about himself a lot. In fact as the film goes on you get the distinct impression that Tom has either been told (or has decided) to Act Tom Cruise without any consideration for or interaction with the film he's actually in. It's a bizarre, self-contained, goldfish bowl of a performance and is probably the one thing more than any other that sinks this. Except for his co-star who we'll come to in a minute.
The mummy is put on a plane. Tom's friend dies. Tom's friend comes back to life. Tom shoots his friend. There's a fantastic bit where crows bring down the plane and it crashes near Oxford. 
Then the movie goes horribly wrong. 

While Sofia does the LIFEFORCE thing to give herself form, Tom enjoys a bit of Austin Powers-style nudity that I'm sure isn't meant to be funny before being taken to something called the 'Prodigium'. The 'Prodigium' is possibly the most contrived, godawful, poorly thought out idea in modern big budget cinema to date. 
Russell Crowe is in charge of it. 
He play Dr Henry Jekyll for no other reason than at one point he changes into Mr Hyde because our five year old has got stuck at that point in the script and has decided to chuck in another monster. The teacher has suggested he go back and make the man Dr Jekyll so the story isn't entirely complete and utter bollocks. It says that on our five year old's script, by the way. In red capitals. When Jekyll becomes Hyde it's like watching Oliver Reed being told that's his last drink of the day, but with nowhere near the sincerity. 

Does THE MUMMY have any good features apart from Ms Boutella? Well, the special effects are excellent. If you've ever wanted to see Sainsbury's destroyed by a massive sandstorm this is the film for you. All the opening stuff looks lovely, and some of the production design will have you shedding a tear that so much gothic beauty has gone to such senseless waste. Brian Tyler's music score is fantastic and deserves a far, far better movie to go along with it. Get the CD and listen to it by itself.

Universal's Blu-ray comes with a commentary track from director Alex Kurtzman, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis & Jake Johnson. If you can bring yourself to watch the film again it does contain some interesting insights into what it was like to work with Tom Cruise. Mr Cruise is also all over the making of featurettes, and, like the film, these leave you with a sense of sadness, this time at all these people talking so seriously and earnestly about making the biggest load of old rubbish since Stephen Sommers' VAN HELSING (2004). I liked THE MUMMY more than VAN HELSING, by the way.

Ultimately, THE MUMMY reminded me of a terrible attempt to emulate the films of horror icon Paul Naschy - colourful 1970s Spanish monster movies which chucked in everything including the kitchen sink and usually featured its star as a monster, who pretty much had it in his contract that he got to go to bed onscreen with his gorgeous co-star. At its best THE MUMMY is not as good as Naschy's worst. There is no heart, no soul, no love, no sense, only a sense of desperation on the part of a studio trying to ride the crest of someone else's wave, and star who really shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near this. 

THE MUMMY is out from Universal on Blu-ray & DVD and probably all the other platforms as well from Monday 23rd October 2017