Friday 22 June 2018

The Lodgers (2017)

One of the best horror films from last year's festival circuit gets a UK DVD release courtesy of Thunderbird.

Rural Ireland in the 1920s. Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner) are fraternal twins who live in a remote, crumbling mansion. They share the house with things unseen, who have imposed three rules on them: that they must never open the doors to strangers, that they must never leave each other completely alone, and that they must be in their bedrooms by midnight. 

On their eighteenth birthday their world changes with the arrival in the nearby village of Sean (Eugene Simon) a war veteran, who sparks a sexual awakening in Rachel. What he doesn't realise is that Rachel and her brother are the latest to suffer a curse that is ultimately going to impact on him as well. 

A fine gothic ghost story with a terrific sense of atmosphere, THE LODGERS benefits from excellent performances, beautiful and often clever photography, an intelligent script (by David Turpin) and assured direction by Brian O'Malley, who admits in the extras his ambition had always been to film a gothic ghost story.

THE LODGERS received its UK premiere at Abertoir last November, & Mrs Probert & I were lucky enough to get the director on his own afterwards for a lengthy chat. Mr O'Malley proved to be an extremely affable and knowledgeable individual who cited Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS (1961), Alejandro Amenabar's THE OTHERS (2001) and J A Bayona's THE ORPHANAGE (2007) as influences on his own picture. 

The director meets House of Mortal Cinema & Mrs House of Mortal Cinema

He also explained that both he and screenwriter David Turpin had wanted to write a ghost story set in that period that boasted a female lead, as so many of the stories from that period by writers such as M R James always featured men. He also told me the prosthetic limb we see in the movie was authentic for the time and that yes, all of those marvellous widescreen compositions we see in the picture were deliberately constructed to look like classical paintings. It was a delight to talk to someone so enthusiastic for the ghost story genre and I'll be interested to see what Brian O'Malley does next. 

Thunderbird's disc also contains a 22 minute making of, deleted scenes and a trailer. THE LODGERS is well worth a watch if you're a fan of subtle, understated but deliciously creative ghost stories. 

Brian O'Malley's THE LODGERS is out on DVD from Thunderbird Releasing on Monday 25th June 2018

Thursday 21 June 2018

The Complete Sartana (1968 - 1970)

"Or...If you Meet Sartana, the Angel of Death, Light the Fuse, Pray for Death, Trade Your Gun For A Coffin, and Have a Good Funeral...Sartana Will Pay!" 

Oh yes indeed - Spaghetti Western fans rejoice! For here we have, presented beautifully by Arrow Films for your entertainment, the five movies that make up the 'official' series of Sartana films made between 1968 and 1970. Let's dig in:

Disc One: If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Death (1968)

The first in the series, and the only one directed by Gianfranco Parolini ("Frank Kramer"), who after this went on to make the great SABATA trilogy with Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner. An enormous box of gold is stolen, but when it's opened there are rocks instead of the loot, which pretty much everyone in the cast wants, including William Berger, Klaus Kinski and a host of others. Gianni Garko plays Sartana, our Clint Eastwood wannabe title character who has a better costume (I think) but nowhere near the charisma. It's still fun watching him getting embroiled in a plot that becomes so complex by the end you'll wonder if it's possible for anyone left alive to double cross anyone else. For the second or third time. 

Extras include a commentary track by Mike Siegel, a new 22 minute interview with the director, and a useful and very well put together visual essay on the principle cast members of the series. 

Disc Two: I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969)

Giuliano Carnimeo ("Anthomy Ascott") takes over directing chores for this and the other films in the series. The second Sartana film boasts such colourful character names as Slim Shotgun, Tracy Three Aces, Shadow, Buddy Bill, Butch Dynamite and Hot Dead (played by Klaus Kinski) and takes place in the towns of Hot Iron and Poker Falls. Everything is, of course, played completely straight, and this, combined with signs with mis-spellings and grammatical oddities lend a slightly Zucker brothers air to the proceedings.

Someone pretends to be Sartana and robs a bank. Every bounty hunter in Spaghetti Western land wants the $10 000 offered for Sartana's head. Will he prove his innocence? Will the denouement be more complicated than it really needs to be? Will Buddy Bill turn out to be the Artful Dodger 30 years on and badly in need of a shave? 
Extras include an interview with Italian screenwriting god Ernesto Gastaldi (who wrote this and one other in the series). There's also a commentary track by C Courtney Joiner and Henry Parke and a 24 minute interview with cast member and stuntman Sal Borghese. 

Disc Three: Sartana's Here - Trade Your Gun for a Coffin (1970)

George Hilton plays Sartana in this one & he's joined by fellow giallo standby Erika Blanc. It's all to do with stealing gold again, and this time Sartana, another bounty hunter called Sabata (!) in the Italian version (Charles Southwood), evil town boss Spencer (Piero Lulli) and the usual gang of Mexicans this timer led by Mantas (Nello Pazzafini) are after it. This film's gimmicks for Sartana are the number of places he finds to conceal his gun, and the fact that he has a penchant for boiled eggs. Neither as satisfying plotwise as the first nor as fun as the second, SARTANA'S HERE - TRADE YOUR GUN FOR A COFFIN is still a reasonable Sunday afternoon timewaster for spaghetti western aficionados. 

Extras include new interviews with actors George Hilton, Erika Blanc and actor and agent Tony Astin

Disc Four: Have A Good Funeral My Friend...Sartana Will Pay (1970)

Gianni Garko is back in the title role, and this time he's helping Daniela Giordano avenge the death of her uncle and preventing her from selling her 'worthless' land to the villains who know there's gold on it. Spanish horror star Helga Line is also in this one, and it has the best music score of the lot courtesy of Bruno Nicolai. In fact, everyone seems to have upped their game with this one, so that surprisingly the fourth Sartana film is easily the best of the lot. There's far less talk, a lot more action, plenty of creative fight choreography, and the plot just belts along. If you're planning to introduce someone to the Sartana series this might well be the one to start with.

Extras on this disc include a commentary track by C Courtney Joyner and Henry Peake, and an interview with screenwriter and stuntman Roberto Dell'Acqua

Disc Five: Light the Fuse...Sartana Is Coming (1970)

If you've been watching all the Sartana films so far or if you're just a fan of 1970s European exploitation films in general you'll spot a lot of familiar faces in the fifth Sartana film. Gianni Garko takes on the title role for the final time, getting himself locked up in prison so he can break out a chap called Grand Full who knows where half a million dollars in gold (aha!) has been stashed - in the very Spaghetti Western-sounding town of Mansfield.

With a weird clockwork robot called Alfie and possibly my favourite climax to a spaghetti western ever (it's so ludicrous it really is wonderful) LIGHT THE FUSE...SARTANA IS COMING is a fine way to end the series. It's not quite as good as the previous entry but both these final films are tremendously entertaining, and we get another Bruno Nicolai score to round things off nicely. 
Extras include more Ernesto Gastaldi, more Sal Borghese and archive interviews with Gianni Garko and Giuliano Carnimeo. 

So in summary. If you're a spaghetti western fan you're going to have a great time with this set, and if you're a spaghetti western obsessive you'll be in heaven with it. The transfers all look wonderful and you get the option of either Italian or English dialogue tracks with each film (and subtitles if necessary). 

The Complete Sartana is out from Arrow Films in a limited edition 5 disc Blu-ray set from Monday 25th June 2018

Wednesday 20 June 2018

It Came From the Desert (2017)

"It's THEM! From THERE!"

After having its UK premiere at last October's Frightfest, Thunderbird Releasing are bringing out this cheery low budget monster movie on UK DVD.

It's based on a 1980s video game, apparently, but if you don't remember it don't worry - hang around for the end credits and you'll get an entertaining run through of what the game was like in all its pixellated, blipping and burping glory.

We're in a desert somewhere in America (but actually Spain which is somehow appropriate). Something has gone wrong with project T.H.E.M (aha!). "We combined alien DNA, ant DNA and tarantula DNA and blew them up to massive size for the good of mankind" says scientist Dr Renard (Mark Arnold). There we are, then. 

And of course the ants have escaped, killed everyone in the research complex, and are now looking for a source of ethanol so they can breed. Cue a party in the desert attended by the usual collection of teens. Biker boy Lukas (Alex Mills) and his mechanic brother Brian (Harry Lister Smith) wander off and find the complex. Video game style they also find weapons, armour and motorbikes to help them defeat the giant ant horde.

An affectionate and good-natured giant insects on the loose movie, IT CAME FROM THE DESERT proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. One of the first things we see is Doug McClure's name on a movie poster (for AT THE EARTH'S CORE) and there are plenty of references to films we all know and love without the practice ever becoming nudging and annoying.

The actors are likeable even though some of them are likely 'starting out' (to be charitable) and the special effects are of SyFy channel CGI quality, which means they're passable but in this case the film is fun enough that it doesn't matter. 

Extras are just a VFX bit and a trailer, but who cares in a film that contains a scene where a giant ant bangs his head and then tells his colleague to stop laughing at him. Is this the first film ever to feature ant subtitles? Or indeed insect subtitles of any kind? Recommended for giant ant fans everywhere. 

IT CAME FROM THE DESERT is out on UK DVD from Thunderbird on Monday 25th June 2018

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Xtro (1982)

"Xtro With Xtras!"

       Second Sight performs an invaluable service for fans of this bizarre 1982 British SF horror everywhere by releasing it on Blu-ray with plenty of extras and including the soundtrack CD in the package!

So what's the movie all about? For those who have yet to sample its whacked out delights, there's this family on a farm. Dad throws a stick for the dog. The stick explodes and Dad disappears for three years. His son is caught in the blast which presumably explains why the child only seems to age by the amount of time it might take to shoot a low budget British exploitation film. 

       Anyway, three years later, an alien with his head on back to front lands near London, impregnates a young lady and in a splendid bit of creative lunacy, she gives birth to Dad, fully formed!
Dad wants his son back and is prepared to use any means to get him, including a clown, a human-sized Action Man, a live panther and turning pretty Maryam D'Abo into some kind of alien ovipositor thing in the bathroom. Eventually things make even less sense, culminating in a couple of different endings you can flip between to your heart's content on this new disc.

XTRO is crazy, but it wasn't until this viewing that I understood (from Mrs Probert's comments while viewing and on the extras as well) that the brief was to try and do something like 1979's PHANTASM. It certainly has that movie's feeling of distorted reality where anything can happen, leaving you both scratching your head and feeling quite weirded out.

Second Sight's Blu-ray offers us four versions of the film - the original cinematic ending, the VHS ending, the 'video version' and a new director's version. That last one is introduced by director Harry Bromley-Davenport himself. "Maybe I've made it worse," he says. He's certainly made it bluer and darker so I'd suggest watching one of the two pristine 'original' versions first.
Extras include a nearly hour-long documentary with Bromley-Davenport (who gets to play the piano!), producer Mark Forstater, stars Bernice Stegers, Susie Silvey and Tik aka Tim Dry (the alien) and Tok aka Sean Crawford (Action Man) and others. Even Alan Jones pops up.

'The World of XTRO' is a featurette with XTRO's 'number one fan' Dennis Atherton who proves the film does indeed have a cult following in the same manner as the PHANTASM pictures. 'Beyond XTRO' gives us footage from the planned XTRO 4 - THE BIG ONE, planned by the same director and producer. There's a Brian May music tribute to deceased star Philip Sayer and a book with new writing on the movie. You also get the soundtrack CD which means I can now say goodbye to my played-to-death-in-the-1980s XTRO vinyl on the TER label. Excellent package, guys. XTRO would be proud, just before he did something horrific and probably daft. 

XTRO is getting a UK Blu-ray release from Second Sight with a book and CD on 18th June 2018

Sunday 17 June 2018

The Children's Hour (1961)

William Wyler's second film version (the first was THESE THREE in 1936) of Lillian Helman's controversial 1934 Broadway play gets a dual format UK disc release from the BFI.

Karen Wright (Audrey Hepburn) and Martha Dobie (Shirley MacLaine) run an exclusive private school for young girls in a small American town. One of their pupils, the bored, spoilt, badly behaved Mary (Karen Balkin) tells her grandmother, the rich and influential Amelia (Fay Bainter) that she has overheard a conversation that strongly suggests the two teachers are lesbians.

Soon parents are taking their children away and the school is empty. Karen is due to marry a local doctor (James Garner) and their relationship comes under threat. The two women lose a libel case when the one person who could defend them, Martha's aunt Lily (played by Miriam Hopkins who was also in the 1936 version) doesn't turn up to the hearing. But the greatest tragedy is yet to come.

Wyler's earlier version of THE CHILDREN'S HOUR had to cut out all references that didn't adhere to the Hays Code, which makes you wonder why they bothered. It does mean that he directs this with real gusto, however, and while it is by its nature very dialogue heavy, Wyler opens the story up so its presentation never feels stagey.

The two leads are excellent and well cast. Up to this point both Hepburn and MacLaine were better known for playing comedy, and having them star in this ensured the audience would be on their side. Karen Balkin who plays the vindictive Mary may go a bit over the top with her facial expressions but she's still very much the forerunner of evil pre-teens that would become popular in 1970s horror films.

The BFI's Blu-ray is from an original 35mm fine grain element and looks crisp and clear. Extras include a commentary track from Neil Sinyard and a booklet with useful essays by Sarah Wood, So Mayer and Neil Sinyard.

William Wyler's THE CHILDREN'S HOUR is out on dual format from the BFI on Monday 18th June 2018

Sunday 10 June 2018

The Defiant Ones (1958)

"More Kramer Excellence From Eureka" 

Eureka brings out another Stanley Kramer classic on UK dual format with this release of his 1958 classic prison break movie.

When a truck transporting convicts crashes in the American South, John Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) find themselves on the run. The only problem is they're chained together  - 'because the warden had a sense of humour' says a character at one point. 

Unable to break the chain and harbouring hatred and prejudices for each other, the only choice the two men have if they are to survive is to work together. Aiming to get to a railway line they have to evade a bloodthirsty posse equipped with guns and tracker dogs, survive both hunger and the elements, and they're only going to be able to do it if they put aside their differences.

Like with INHERIT THE WIND, Stanley Kramer doesn't pull any punches here. This one is a plea for racial tolerance and during the 96 minute running time we get to know both men, understand them, and sympathise with both.

Both leads are excellent. Curtis is all rage while Poitier is more the thinking man. Again as with INHERIT THE WIND we get some interesting casting in the smaller roles, including Theodore Bikel in a thoughtful performance as the sheriff pursuing them, and Claude Akins and Lon Chaney as workers in a turpentine plant.

There are plenty of long takes which make what's happening on screen all. the more engrossing, whether its Curtis and Poitier talking near a fire, or the scene where they are threatened with being lynched. 

Eureka's transfer is 1080p and as an extra you get a new video interview with Kim Newman. Classic stuff. I don't need to sell this one to you, do I?

Stanley Kramer's THE DEFIANT ONES is out on dual format from Eureka on Monday 11th June 2018

Sunday 3 June 2018

Inherit the Wind (1960)

"Still Relevant Today (Sadly)"

Stanley Kramer's no punches pulled, in your face, based on true events courtroom drama gets a dual format release courtesy of Eureka.

In the Tennessee town of Hillsboro, teacher Bertram Cates (Dick York) teaches his kids the theory of evolution. That is, until he is arrested and locked up for going against the law that only creationism is to be taught in state-funded schools.

The story goes nationwide and Hillsboro town officials are concerned their town is becoming a laughing stock. They believe salvation (of all kinds) has arrived when famous fundamentalist attorney Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) comes to town to take the case.

Not to be outdone, Baltimore reporter E K Hornbeck (Gene Kelly) convinces his paper to employ equally famous non-fundamentalist attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) to argue for Bertram's side.

And argue these two titans of cinema do, turning the rest of the running time into the courtroom version of KING KONG VS GODZILLA. In fact you can almost see actors like Brian Blessed and Oliver Reed watching this and nodding sagely at the thought that sometimes you can never go too far over the top. 

Director Stanley Kramer certainly doesn't seem to think so either. He portrays much of the Hillsboro townsfolk as aggressively violent religious obsessives, egged on by their preacher (Claude Akins perhaps going even more over the top than anyone else). This, combined with what is at the bottom line a plea for tolerance, means INHERIT THE WIND is probably the only film that could be comfortably double-billed with both WITCHFINDER GENERAL and FOOTLOOSE. 

Based on a real case from the 1920s, this 1960 film version was also intended as a blistering satire on McCarthyism. Sadly the story is still horribly relevant today. INHERIT THE WIND may be Kramer's best film. It certainly may be the most timeless one. 

Eureka's disc comes with a 25 minute interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard who contextualises both the film and the historical case it was based on. You also get a trailer and, of course, the usual excellent transfer (1080p in this case). 

Stanley Kramer's INHERIT THE WIND is out on dual format from Eureka now