Wednesday 26 December 2018

House of Mortal Cinema's Films of the Year 2018

Oh yes, welcome to HMC's 7th Annual Gala Films of the Year Awards. Starting to put numbers on a thing is often the kiss of death for it unless you're a Friday the 13th sequel, but I figured HMC has been around long enough that the title deserved a slight revamp. 
Nothing else has changed, however, including the rules which are that the film must have been shown in the UK for the first time either in the cinema, on disc or at a festival. Also, films that have had a high profile over the year, have done well, or have had blisteringly good reviews are not included because chances are you'll already know about them. This means movies like AVENGERS:INFINITY WAR, A QUIET PLACE, HALLOWEEN and BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY aren't here. 
OK so let's begin, which for anyone acquainted with this annual round up means that before we get to the best we have to deal with the worst. Here are my bottom five films of the year.

The House of Mortal Cinema Bottom Five Films of 2018

5 Frightfest

In which the mayor of a small American town proposes a novel way of generating income by turning the town's long-closed asylum into a horror amusement attraction 'directed'  by coke-addled horror has-been director Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh). On opening night what nobody (least of all the actors employed in the scary 'roles' as part of the attraction) realises is that earlier in the day Spencer caused an accident that resulted in the release of a couple of dangerous psychopathic criminals who are determined to become part of Fright Fest. A truly abominable, dull, couldn't-care-less movie that premiered at this year's London Frightfest (presumably because of the name) but which didn't need to be seen by anyone. 

4 He's Out There

Look at that poster carefully, especially the four star rating that's attributable to 'Quote Author'. As well as having a questionable name, he / she also has appalling taste in slasher movies. Psycho loony threatens hopeless mother and her hopeless, awful, whiny children in their isolated forest retreat while hopeless husband turns up late and does something hopeless. Awful, badly thought through generic rubbish. My only walk out from this year's Frightfest (I didn't even walk in to FRIGHTFEST as I had been sent a screener for me to fast forward through once it had revealed it true faeculence to me).

3 The Snarling

Now here's one I was sent for review and I had to refuse as  the mere thought of having to spend time writing about this horrorless, humourless "horror comedy" was just too much to bear. A zombie film is being made in a sleepy English village and soon (it felt like ages) people are being torn to shreds. Lifeless, boring, and with scenes in a pub that seemed to go on so long it was as if it was some kind of Pinteresque subplot about the banality of Hell. 

2 Truth or Dare

Now we're getting to the big stuff, the films that got a general cinema release. This got terrible reviews but I watched it anyway, because some foolish charitable part of me believes in giving these things a chance. TRUTH OR DARE you are the reason I think twice about going to see something new and low budget that nobody likes but which could be an undiscovered gem. One day I will miss such a film and for that I already hate you more. 

1 The Nun

Could it really have been anything else? For the director of the quite good THE HALLOW comes this not at all good horror that belongs firmly in the subgenre we can call 'Shitty Gothic'. An hour in and I had no idea what was going on. Eighty minutes in and I glanced with relief at my watch knowing it would soon all be over. I still don't know exactly what the title character was supposed to be up to or doing, or why it was conveniently kept in that one cupboard in the convent. And that lead priest role is awful and thankless. If THE NUN had been made in 1975 Paul Naschy would have played the lead, kicked the crew up the backside, slept with all the sexy nun actresses onscreen, sorted out the monster and probably turned into a werewolf while he was doing it. And now I want to see that picture instead of THE NUN. To be honest I want to see anything other than THE NUN. For God's sake let's move onto some good films.

The House of Mortal Cinema Top Ten Films of 2018

10 Crowhurst

The true story of Donald Crowhurst, a man who, with his business failing and in desperate need of the prize money, entered a round the world yacht race having little sailing experience. The opening is pretty straightforward, but it's when we get on the high seas and Donald starts to go mad that director Simon Rumley's terrific visual style really comes into its own, very much depicting the 'devastating portrait of a fractured mind in fugue' with all the style and panache of movies like (executive producer) Nicolas Roeg & Donald Cammell's PERFORMANCE. It's easily Rumley's best film so far & I can't wait to see what he does next. 

9 Secret Santa

A complete change of pace and in here because you just don't see the kind of biting, acerbic, witty dialogue John Waters always excelled at in horror movies anymore. Full marks, then to director Adam Marcus and his co-writer Debra Sullivan for giving us a Christmas get together where the family are just as awful before someone spikes their punch with military grade sodium penthothal as after. Well, almost. Blackly depraved, blood soaked and very funny, I do hope Marcus & Sullivan come up with another project like this, because the genre is all the better for it. 

8 Ghost Stories

Mis-sold as an anthology film, which left quite a few disappointed fans of the old-school Amicus style scratching their heads at why the stories didn't really go anywhere, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson's movie used its flashback segments to tell a story that works well as a cohesive whole, although it requires a couple of viewings to pick up just how clever it is. Add in sequences evocative of the style of great British authors Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell and you have something very special, very British, and most importantly very evocative of a certain kind of British horror indeed.

7 Cam

Or The Porn Star Who Haunted Herself. CAM was a wholly successful updating of the doppelganger tale for the generation the concept will resonate with perhaps better than any other. Madeline Brewer is entirely believable and disturbing by turns as live action 'Cam Girl' Lola who one day discovers her feed running with an exact duplicate of herself performing on it. Mixing identity theft, social media satire and a goodly dollop of suspenseful paranoia, CAM is well worth tracking down.

6 The Laplace's Demon

Who would have thought a game of chess could be so terrifying? A group of scientists is invited to a remote island retreat. Once there they find themselves part of a bizarre experiment. Shot in grainy black and white THE LAPLACE'S DEMON feels like a very strange TWILIGHT ZONE episode, one that messes with your brain so much that by the time it's over your entire view of the world and your place in it has altered slightly. Great stuff.

5 Upgrade

This year's VENOM was fun but Leigh Whannell's much lower budget, far more entertaining UPGRADE showed how it should be done. A quadriplegic man (THE INVITATION's Logan Marshall Green) gets the chance to walk again thanks to a spinal cord implant. But then it starts talking to him and helps him plan how to find his wife's killers. Is it a good idea for him to take brutal revenge aided by technology he doesn't understand? Superb, fast-paced low budget brilliance inspired by ROBOCOP, THE TERMINATOR, DEATH WISH & any number of (good) Empire Pictures.

4 The Secret of Marrowbone

A title that wasn't very good and a trailer that seemed almost designed to put off the very people who would appreciate it most, this Spanish picture deserved to do better and hopefully its reputation will increase as the years go by. From quite a few of the team behind the similarly excellent THE ORPHANAGE (2007) this took elements of children's literary drama and sent them off in the direction of good old-fashioned British horror. Oh, and it has an ending that rounds everything off very nicely indeed.

3 Await Further Instructions

The best serious seasonal film to come along in an age, this was one of the real surprises of this year's Frightfest. A family gets together for Christmas, only to wake up the next day and find their house has been mysteriously sealed off. The only clue they have as to what has happened is their television screen displaying the film's title. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS is low budget British horror with a smart script that takes the Nigel Kneale route of doing satire through science fiction and does it well. Thought provoking and disturbing, the less you know about this one before going in the more you'll likely love it (and hopefully be blown away by what happens).

2 One Cut of the Dead

What a charming film! And another one to watch cold. Stick with the opening, unbroken 37 minute take (!) and pay close attention, because your efforts will be more than rewarded by the third act, which is just some kind of wonderful. That's all I'm saying. It's getting a deserved UK cinema release in January 2019 and then comes out on disc. Don't miss it.

1 Suspiria

Probably the most ambitious, deliciously disturbing, utterly mad film on here, Luca Guadagino's movie is as much a remake of Dario Argento's 1977 original as Franck Khalfoun's 2012 MANIAC was a copy of the 1980 William Lustig picture. Very much its own weird beast, and with a running time of just over 150 minutes I expected to hate every second before  falling asleep halfway through. In fact the very opposite happened and I found myself glued to the screen. Out of all the films I have seen this year this is the one I'm most looking forward to revisiting when it comes out on Blu-ray. 

And there we go! There were so many good films this year that for a while I was pondering doing a top 20 instead of a top 10. In the end, sense (and time) prevailed, which means I didn't have space for great movies like POSSUM, THE DOMESTICS, SEARCHING, UNSANE, WIND RIVER, KILLS ON WHEELS or PIMPED but I loved them all. As always thanks to everyone who visits the site and gets a kick out of what I've written here. Thanks also to all the PR companies who send me films and the festival organisers who work so hard to bring us all the best of what the genre has to offer. House of Mortal Cinema will be back in 2019. There's just no stopping it. 

The world will hear from House of Mortal Cinema again.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Slender Man (2018)

"Thin On Plot"

Actually, SLENDER MAN is a bit thin on everything, which is a shame because there are actually the bare bones of a good movie here, one that could have led to a franchise if it had been handled properly. As it is, anyone interested in what's here now has the chance to decide for themselves as Sony brings out SLENDER MAN on Digital, DVD & Blu-ray.

Four girls enjoying a sleepover date decide to try and conjure up the legendary Slender Man, whose raising ritual seems to be terribly easy to access via the internet. That bit of the plot dispensed with, one by one they start to see images of the titular creature and one by one some extremely low budget and unimaginative things happen to them.
That really is about it and that's a great shame, because there are some sequences in SLENDER MAN that suggest great promise on the part of director Sylvain White. Even so, probably the nicest thing I can say about the film is that it feels a bit like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET directed by Jacques Tourneur from a non-existent script and with a lot of studio interference.

In fact, I did wonder on a couple of occasions if Mr White was trying for a NIGHT OF THE DEMON approach. There's an atmospheric scene set in a library, some interesting disorientating perspective shots, and the film is at its best when it's depicting scenes of the quietest horror - dimly lit streets at night, a forest with an ominous gate, a hospital corridor where everything and everyone starts moving slightly more slowly than it should are all actually very atmospheric. There's even the line "There's something in the trees."

The problem (and it's a big one) is that none of this adds up to much. Worst of all is the poor old Slender Man himself, who barely gets featured in his own film. When he does pop up it's painfully obvious that nobody knows what to do with him, and instead of remaining an enigmatic spectral presence he ends up being turned into a bit of a daft CGI-fest.

So SLENDER MAN is really only for the most devoted of horror prospectors, those willing to sift through a whole lot of not much to get to a few good bits. Sony's Blu-ray comes with a brief featurette on the cast but that's it. 

SLENDER MAN is out from Sony on Digital on 17th December 2018 and on DVD & Blu-ray from 
Boxing Day 2018.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

The Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

"Atmospheric High Class EuroHorror"

Oh yes, this may be set in America and feature American and British actors, but a quick look at the credits and it becomes obvious that THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE is a Spanish production, and a very good one indeed. After a brief theatrical run earlier this year eOne are now bringing MARROWBONE (the film's US title) out on DVD and Download in the UK.

Rural America in the late 1960s. The Fairbairn family arrive from England, take up residence in a crumbling manor house some distance from the nearest town, and change their surname to Marrowbone. Mother has a terminal disease and father is nowhere to be seen, and soon the four Marrowbone children are on their own. Or are they? Who's that watching the house? And what's making those sounds in the attic?

Starting off bit like one of those old-fashioned children's serials the BBC used to show at Sunday teatime, THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE doesn't take long in getting to the scary stuff, providing some really splendid shivers and a climax that will have any fan of classic BritHorror nodding with pleasure. 

The film was written and directed by Sergio Sanchez. He also wrote 2007's THE ORPHANAGE and quite a few of the same crew are involved here (ORPHANAGE director J A Bayona is executive producer). The young cast is excellent, with special mention going to George Mackay as oldest child Jack, and Anya Taylor-Joy and Mia Goth (horror & weird cinema veterans both) as Jack's love interest and sister respectively.

eOne's DVD comes with 27 minutes of extended and deleted scenes, plus a short VFX clip that's well worth a look to see just how much work went into transforming the Spanish locations into American-looking ones. 

One of my favourite films of 2018, THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE didn't get the press coverage it deserved on its initial release. Hopefully it will turn out to be one of those cult sleepers that more and more will discover as the years go on. Don't miss out on it. 

Sergio G Sanchez's THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE is out on DVD from Monday 19th of November 2018. It's already out on download.  

Thursday 8 November 2018

Project A & Project A Part II (1983 & 1987)

It's time for some more knockabout martial arts comedy fun as Eureka releases Jackie Chan's colourful period adventure pictures in a special limited edition two-disc hardbound boxed set.

PROJECT A sounds like it might be science fiction, or possibly a political thriller, but in fact it's a pirate adventure set at the turn of the century. (The title was apparently Chan's attempt to stop other studios copying him before his film had been released).

This time, our Jackie is Sergeant Dragon Ma, a member of the Hong Kong Marine Police Force. Pirates have been attacking and raiding ships in the area and it's up to our hero, with the help of Sammo Hung, to get into as many highly (and possibly sometimes dangerously) choreographed fight scenes as possible. For those of you interested in Chan's stunts, this is the one where he pays tribute to silent comedian Harold Lloyd by hanging from a clock before plummeting (several times in the out-takes) to the ground, without the aid of a net but with the aid of some canopies to break his fall.

PROJECT A PART II followed four years later. Dragon Ma is still busy up against pirates, again in lengthy, sometimes breathtakingly choreographed fight scenes. This time we get a tribute to the Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and perhaps even more famously, a tribute to the classic scene in Buster Keaton's STEAMBOAT BILL JR where a house falls onto our protagonist and he escapes unscathed. 

Eureka's transfers for PROJECT A PARTS I & II are absolutely gorgeous - bright and colourful, they've done a very fine job indeed with these 2K restorations. Both films have both Cantonese & English dialogue tracks. There's an absolute stack of interviews (ten altogether), some of them new and some archival. You also get an archival featurette, Jackie's introduction to the film for the lunar new year 1984, behind the scenes footage, alternate out-takes from the Japanese version of PROJECT A, behind the scenes footage and deleted scenes. Exclusive to the box set are booklets for each film, featuring both new and archival material.

Jackie Chan's PROJECT A & PROJECT A PART II are out in a limited edition set now. 

Monday 5 November 2018

Long Weekend (1978)

"Classic Downbeat Ozsploitation Eco-Horror"

Colin Eggleston's 1978 Ozsploitation When Animals Attack picture gets a welcome UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
Bickering, shrill, annoying couple Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) decide to try and patch up their failing marriage by spending a long weekend in the country. They lose their way but end up near an isolated beach. Showing nothing but disdain for the wildlife around them, they leave a trail of casual vandalism and destruction in their wake, including the deaths of some of the creatures they encounter. But nature has decided it isn't going to take this sort of treatment from humankind any more.

A remarkable movie that is at once low-key and yet manages to achieve levels of claustrophobic hysteria unsurpassed in a subgenre that includes George McCowan's FROGS (1972), and William Girdler's DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977). However, where those movies had some sympathetic human characters, LONG WEEKEND has none, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for nature pretty much from the start. 

Second Sight's Blu-ray looks great and comes with some excellent extras, with more on here than on the US Region A disc from Synapse. The commentary track from Executive Producer Richard Brennan and Director of Photography Vincent Monton on that disc has been ported over. Nature Found Them Guilty - Examining Long Weekend is a very good panel discussion moderated by Lee Gambin who talks in depth about the film with Alexandra Heller-Nichols, Emma Westwood and Sally Christie. 

You also get interviews with star Briony Behets, DP Vincent Monton and screenwriter Everett de Roche, taken from Mark Hartley's excellent Ozsploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. There's also an archival audio interview with star John Hargreaves.

Finally you get a stills gallery and trailer. A couple of sound options are offered, the 5.1 mix giving you the feeling that you're in the middle of the nowhere with the leads for added discomfort. 

Colin Eggleston's LONG WEEKEND is out on Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 5th November 2018

Sunday 4 November 2018

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

"When Comic Book Movies Go Bad"

Oh yes, the movie that has passed into legend in terms of how much it cost compared to how rubbish the final outcome actually was gets a re-release from Fabulous Films. But is it really as bad as people claim?

The film starts with an interesting bit of action. Or at least it would be if someone hadn't decided to put the credits over it. Then we get to feel very sorry indeed for David Hemmings (the actor not the character) before we are introduced to the very very expensive indeed Sean Connery.

Sean is playing H Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain & he's been chosen (although goodness knows why) as the leader of a bunch of nineteenth century literary characters to defeat the evil scheme of the lead singer of Metallica who has presumably been injured in an amp feedback accident.

Richard Roxburgh plays 'M' (oh dear) and plays him as if he's forgotten to stop being the Duke in Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE (oh dear oh dear). He introduces the other members of the team. These include token female and Jess Franco tribute Mina Harker (a vampire who can see herself in a mirror, walk around in daylight and she wears a long red scarf. If she's not meant to be a tribute to Soledad Miranda in VAMPYROS LESBOS this film is even less interesting than I thought); a rights issue (presumably H G Wells' estate wouldn't let them use his Invisible Man); Captain Nemo (because they need a ridiculous boat that won't fit up the canals of Venice but somehow does anyway) and...oh I've forgotten the others already. Let me have a look at the picture.

Oh yes! Dorian Gray who is immortal and so are his clothes, it would seem. Dr Jekyll who can turn into the most Looney Tunes version of Mr Hyde ever shown, and Tom Sawyer because, you know, America or something (that last bit the actual words from a script conference I suspect).
Off they go to Venice!
Metallica is busy destroying the city. They save it by destroying even more buildings. But wait! One of them is a spy! And there's even more dastardly work afoot! An evil plan to...
Now this is where I began to lose track of what was going on entirely. I'm not going to spoil it for those who want to watch the film, mainly because I'm not sure if anyone really knew what was going on anyway. But there's snow and a castle and a truly daft looking monster.

Is the graphic novel any good? I don't know as I haven't read it. Is this film any good? Sadly not. In fact it's depressing to see something that looks as if a fortune was spent on every shot, every set and every costume, but not a penny was spent on sorting out a decent rip-roaring story to tell. This is not LXG's only problem - there's a real lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the cast and some genuinely startling overacting from others. 

Fabulous Films' disc also contains some featurettes and a number of deleted and extended scenes if you really want to see more of this once the film has actually finished. 

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Fabulous Films now.