Sunday 29 July 2018

Flesh & Blood (1985)

"Sword 'N' Sleazery"

Paul Verhoeven's first English language film gets an uncut dual format release courtesy of Eureka. So here's a chance for you to see the film Michael Parkinson hated almost as much as Dario Argento's PHENOMENA when he reviewed it on BBC1's Film 85 programme (praise indeed) in all its unedited Blu-ray glory.

No-one expects the...oh hang on.
A medieval epic made with the kind of laissez-faire approach beloved of Italian horror cinema of the period, the opening caption of FLESH & BLOOD tells us we're in 'Western Europe' in 1501. Rich Arnolfini (Fernando Hilbeck) employs a band of mercenaries to get his captured castle back for him, then refuses to pay up when they do, throwing them out. 

NOT the current meaning of 'Swingers'
A bit miffed by this, their leader Martin (Rutger Hauer) swears revenge and, by sheer coincidence, they end up kidnapping Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the fiancee of Arnolfini's son Steven (Tom Burlinson). Agnes is raped by Martin and forms a bond with him (it's that kind of film). But she's actually in love with Steven and his blow-dried hair. We know this because of their previous scene of romantic banter beneath two hanging rotting corpses (because it's that kind of film).

Monty Python in pursuit
In a bit worthy of Ken Russell, the team end up being 'led' by a statue of St Martin they've found buried in the ground at the instigation of their priest (the very Ken Russell-esque Ronald Lacey). They capture a castle and set up within, but Steven with his improvised Leonardo Da Vinci-style devices has other ideas.

'They dressed me up like this"
A rather odd film, FLESH & BLOOD boasts some gorgeous visuals (Jan De Bont was director of photography) and rousing music from Basil Poledouris. Desperate to present its period setting as vicious and amoral, it suffers from not having a point of view character whose eyes we can witness this through. Rutger Hauer's Martin never comes across as anything other than a bit of an arse. Leigh's character may well be doing what she has to in order to survive, but a lack of depth of characterisation means her reaction to abuse becomes open to interpretation. Perhaps most damaging of all, quite a few scenes are reminiscent of MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL (1975), a film that managed to evoke the filth and desperation of the period better than FLESH & BLOOD does. 

"We shall take the castle armed only with this drum. And a flag."
Eureka's disc comes with a ported over Basil Poledouris interview, a commentary by Paul Verhoeven, a documentary on the director, an interview with screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, a somewhat rambling audio interview with Rutger Hauer and a trailer. The first pressing comes with a booklet and a limited edition slipcase. 

Paul Verhoeven's FLESH & BLOOD is out on dual format from Eureka on Monday 6th August 2018

Sunday 22 July 2018

Cannibal Ferox (1981)

"A Sleazy Kind of Wonderful"

Oh yes indeed. One of the best / worst / of the infamous video nasties (because if you saw it back in the early 1980s it didn't take long to realise why lots and lots of people would think banning this wasn't such a bad idea), CANNIBAL FEROX comes to UK Blu-ray courtesy of Shameless.

Ah, but does it? Those picky individuals who, despite the film being available elsewhere if they really want it, won't be satisfied unless every single frame of a film is restored (and look pristine to boot, mind you, or very, very stern messages will be left on the label's website / facebook page / any forum that hasn't banned them yet) should probably be aware (and to be honest they should be able to guess) that the animal cruelty that seemed to be de rigueur for these sorts of things is still not present. Actually, even that's not strictly true. Anyone not keen on seeing scenes of graphic scenes involving animals should be warned: there's still a fair bit of real animal-on-animal violence as well as the killing of a turtle so it can be cooked.

After the success of Ruggero Deodato's infamous CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, a film I will admit had me on the edge of my seat for much of its running time, the job of creating the ultimate ripoff, the film that would be nastier, grosser, sillier and do away with any concept of subtext, was given to the man responsible for kicking off the whole cannibal sub-genre with THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER (1972) as well as films with titles like SPASMO, EYEBALL, EATEN ALIVE and NIGHTMARE CITY. Yes, Umberto Lenzi, a man not known for restraint, sensitivity or tact in his horror film executions, was sent off into the jungle with a small cast and crew and some 16mm cameras.
The producers were not to be disappointed.

CANNIBAL FEROX is quite possibly the sleaziest, daftest, grossest cannibal film ever. Which makes it perhaps the ultimate grindhouse film. It exists solely to shock, to titillate, to nauseate, to leave 1980s audiences open-mouthed in a 'I can't believe they just did that' kind of way. It has a music score that is both potty and perfect. It also moves at a clip and has some utterly terrible dialogue. It is a strange and sleazy kind of wonderful.

The worst equipped team in the history of Italian anthropology set off into the Amazon rainforest with only a crate of White Horse whiskey and a red polka-dot neckerchief to get them through. Oh, and a jeep that gets driven straight into a pond so they have to walk. The team, consists of PhD student Gloria Davis (Lorraine de Selle), beefcake fashion victim Rudy (Danilo Mattei) and Elizabeth Berkeley's character from SHOWGIRLS (Zora Kerova). 

Traipsing through the jungle after their pond-vehicular interface they meet up with limping Joe (Walter Lucchini) and his friend Mike (Giovanni Lombardo Radice). Mike seems to be having some terrible allergic reaction to the jungle because he has to keep using his Vicks Sinex nasal inhaler. He and Joe claim they've been attacked by cannibals but in fact it was they who attacked a village and tortured some of the inhabitants when Mike overdosed on his nasal medication. 
Our motley team of hopeless wanderers find themselves back at the very same village where they decide to stay because that's exactly what should happen in a film like this. Cue returning natives and lots of gory revenge stuff.

There's a little note at the start of Shameless's transfer that tells us they have done their best with their 2K scan to make Lenzi's grainy 16mm film look the way it was intended. Seeing as nobody involved probably cared how it looked as long as people paid to see it, we do get a pretty good, grainy transfer that evokes the feel of watching this in a more upmarket grindhouse cinema with a projector that has a decent bulb, making the jungle locations look like the kind of place nobody would ever want to visit for a holiday.  As I said above, bits of animal stuff have been removed, and the action around them slowed a little to make up for it, meaning you can't go by the running time of this one if you're a completist.

Extras include a new interview with the late director. If you've seen any previous interviews with him (NIGHTMARE CITY comes to mind) you'll know what you're in for. If not, be prepared for a certain skewed take on his own work. There's also a new interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice. Again, if you've seen him interviewed about this film before you'll be prepared. If not - be prepared!
Sadly we don't get the infamous Lenzi / Radice commentary tracks offered on region 1 / A discs that offer widely differing accounts of the production. But you do get a photo gallery and a free customised vomit bag in the package. There's also one of those restoration comparisons to show you just how much Shameless have cleaned this one up, if that's a phrase one can sensibly use with a film like this.

The sleazy kind of wonderful that is Umberto Lenzi's CANNIBAL FEROX is out on UK Blu-ray from Shameless on Monday 30th July 2018

Sunday 15 July 2018

The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

It's time for yet more early 1970s Italian shenanigans courtesy of director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, composer Bruno Nicolai and a host of other familiar names as Arrow brings us THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL on Blu-ray.

Another one of those films where presumably the cast and crew voted as to where they fancied a trip, this time we kick off in London. Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) receives the news that her husband has died in a plane crash. He has a massive life insurance policy which she has to go to Athens (more essential travel) to collect. 
Soon the bodies are piling up as various people try to get their hands on the insurance money. Private detective Peter Lynch (George Hilton) and reporter Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) team up to find out who the killer might be while avoiding becoming victims themselves. 

With a bunch of guest turns from actors familiar to those of us who love Euro exploitation (Janine Raynaud, Luis Barboo, Alberto de Mendoza, Luigi Pistilli) THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL almost seems to be trying extra hard compared to Martino's other gialli like THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH (1971) or YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM & ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972). Maybe it's because those movies' leading lady lady, Edwige Fenech, is missing this time round (she was pregnant). 

For whatever reason SCORPION'S TAIL is less a random bonkers giallo and more a carefully constructed crime thriller that relies more on its complex plotting than just having naked ladies killed with a straight razor.

Arrow present the film in a new 2K restoration with lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks. Extras include new interviews with George Hilton and Sergio Martino, and Ernesto Gastaldi provides a commentary track in Italian with English subtitles. You also get an analysis of Martino's films by Mikel J Koven and a video essay from Troy Howarth. Finally a trailer and reversible sleeve art complete the package. Unless of course you get the first pressing in which case there's also a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Rachael Nisbet and Howard Hughes, plus an Anita Strindberg biography by Peter Jilmstad.

Sergio Martino's THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 18th July 2018

Wednesday 4 July 2018

The First Purge (2018)

        So there I was bemoaning the lack of political subtext in modern popular horror while simultaneously mourning the seemingly lost art of exploitation showmanship when what should come along but this, the fourth in James DeMonaco's series of films that started with THE PURGE back in 2013.

The previous movie, THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR (2016) offered, along with the expected catalogue of brutal slayings and biting satire, some elements of hope and optimism at its finale. Where else for its writer to go, then, (Gerard McMurray replaces Mr DeMonaco as director this time around) than back to the beginning to show us how the annual twelve hour period of legal murder in an America of the future came to be?

During a period of political and economic strife not dissimilar to that occurring currently, both Republican and Democrat parties are beaten in elections by the New Founding Fathers who propose a radical experiment to provide people with an outlet for their rage, whilst also facilitating the widespread killing of large numbers of poor people the financially strapped government is far too in debt to support.

Slightly mad behavioural scientist Marisa Tomei (exuding the brittle sexiness of a Bond villainess with her bleach-blonde hair and jet black trouser suit) comes up with the idea of using New York's Staten Island as a test site, offering anyone who wishes to 'participate' $5000 for their trouble. If they survive the night, of course. The fact that the area is mainly home to low income ethnic minority families is, of course, the whole point.

Whereas THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR bounced along with a kind of BRONX WARRIORS Enzo G Castellari-like sense of exploitation fun, THE FIRST PURGE feels like a more serious beast altogether. But then, we are living in different, and far more worrying, times than even two years ago. That's not to say THE FIRST PURGE isn't entertaining - the tower block climax feels like a cross between Gareth Evans' 2011 THE RAID and the bit at the start of George A Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD where the SWAT team start killing everyone in the tenement building. 

Gerard McMurray's style is more downbeat and action-orientated than James DeMonaco's and some of the scenes of empty streets just before the purge is due to start evoke a pleasing John Carpenter vibe (and composer Kevin Lax gives us some nice synth lines to go along with it).

How does THE FIRST PURGE compare with the others in the series? Well, the first three films felt more like a bit of nonsensical speculative, satirical fun. THE FIRST PURGE feels more political, and far more no-nonsense, in its attempt to get its message across. Is that because of the film itself or the times we're living in? Oh, and releasing it on the fourth of July is a masterstroke. Well done Universal. 

THE FIRST PURGE is out in cinemas (in both the UK & the USA in case you were wondering) from today, Wednesday 4th July 2018