Friday 31 August 2018

Assault (1971)

"Gorgeous Restoration of a British 'Giallo' "

Well, if it was Italian they'd be calling it a giallo. It's from the right period, has a faceless maniac who rapes and kills, and they wear black leather gloves while they're doing it. There's no J&B but hey -  you can't have everything.

We do, however, have Frank Finlay as a police inspector investigating the rape of local schoolgirl Lesley-Anne Down. (A similar fate would befall Miss Down in the Michael J Bird-written Out of the Unknown TV episode 'To Lay A Ghost' with even more disturbing consequences but fortunately for the actress this didn't become a trend). The attack has left her mute and an inmate of the local hospital where she's being looked after by psychiatrist James Laurenson.

When a second girl is found raped and murdered the police find they may have an eyewitness in the form of school art teacher Suzy Kendall (yet again saddled with one of the worst wardrobes in 1970s horror film history, and that's saying something), who concocts an elaborate plan to catch the killer by getting the local newspaper editor (a wonderfully sleazy Freddie Jones) to print a story suggesting her painting of the killer will be revealed in four days' time. But despite keeping watch will the police be able to stop Suzy being the next victim?

ASSAULT might be considered part of a sub-sub-genre of early 1970s British horror cinema which also includes Robert Fuest's AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) and the ASSAULT team's REVENGE (1971). ASSAULT isn't quite as grim, gloomy and hysterical as REVENGE but you can tell that writer John Kruse, director Sidney Hayers and CARRY ON producer Peter Rogers are working up to it with their very British attempt at the kind of lurid crime thriller the Italians made their own for the next couple of years. Composer Eric Rogers, also best known for the CARRY ONs, provides a music score that's especially over the top and comes across a bit like CARRY ON SLASHING.

The cast is an interesting mix of familiar UK faces, among them James Cosmo in an early role, deliciously sleazy / slightly mad Tony Beckley as the husband of headmistress Dilys Hamlett, Anthony Ainley from BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW as the head of the hospital, the ubiquitous Marianne Stone as a hospital matron, and a very young David Essex as a biker in need of some cotton wool.

Network's restoration (in association with the BFI) looks fantastic - there's no way this film could have looked this good when it played in cinemas. Extras are limited to a trailer and still gallery but this is such a beautifully presented piece of lurid early 1970s British exploitation cinema that it's worth the price anyway. 

Sidney Hayers' ASSAULT is out now on UK Blu-ray 
from Network

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Frightfest Presents (2018 / 2019)

In the wake of Frightfest 2018, Signature Entertainment has teamed up with the festival organisers to release six of the titles that premiered there this year. According to Signature this forms Phase 1 of what is presumably a programme intended to provide us with further releases as well. So what did I think of this first batch? Well some are very good indeed and only one is not very good at all, which is a pretty good hit rate. Here is my personal ranking of the six, starting with the best and ending with the not best:


       If Harold Pinter and David Lynch (or possibly Nicolas Winding Refn) decided to do a Robert Bloch-style psycho noir, the result could well be something like PIMPED. Bored Sarah (Ella Scott Lynch) goes out for a night on the town and meets Lewis (Benedict Samuel). Unknown to Sarah, Lewis procures girls for his socially dysfunctional rich friend Kenny (Robin Goldsworthy) to have sex with. Unknown to Lewis, Sarah has an imaginary friend who encourages her to kill. What happens when these individuals' two twisted worlds collide is explored with serious amounts of style in David Barker's feature debut. I wasn't expecting anything from this and I ended up loving it. The leads are extremely watchable and the ending is just right. One of the best of Frightfest 2018 and highly recommended. 

Secret Santa

        A Christmas family get-together degenerates rapidly into psycho loony murderous mayhem for reasons that eventually become explained in this utterly entertaining piece of daft splatter. Director Adam Marcus is best known for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IX: JASON GOES TO HELL but this is much better and far more entertaining. The sharp script by Marcus and Debra Sullivan contains enough barbed wit to allow SECRET SANTA to be compared favourably to the best of John Waters. If the movies of Mr Waters, plus a healthy dose of splattery violence appeal then don't miss this. One of the bloodiest, craziest and most enjoyable films of Frightfest 2018 and an ideal Xmas treat for those who tend towards cynicism during the festive period.


        In which we are witness to the life of our chatty (by voiceover) central character whose name we never learn. But then that's because he / she has the habit of stealing people's bodies (leaving the originals as dried out corpses) and living in them until they start to fall apart. Unfortunately that particular problem is starting to accelerate, meaning when the film starts the body switching is now almost on a daily basis. Also complicating matters is the fact that our lead is in love, and his / her repeated attempts to get together with the lady in question adds a satisfying complexity to this strange, original and thoughtful drama.

The Dark

        An even more serious offering is this, director Justin P Lange's feature debut that expands on his short film of the same name. Despite its often grim theme and scenes of bloodshed, there's something of fairy tale about THE DARK, featuring as it does two young leads and a myth about a beast living in the forest in which they find themselves being pursued. I'm being deliberately vague because this is a film that works best if you don't know too much about it going in, suffice to say that THE DARK features some excellent makeup effects, good performances and skilful direction that means Mr Lange is a talent to watch. 


        It's time for some giant animatronic monster pig on the loose fun with a cast of familiar genre faces. John Jarratt (WOLF CREEK & PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK) Bill Moseley (TCM 2, DEVIL'S REJECTS etc etc), Roger Ward (MAD MAX) and Steve Bisley (MAD MAX as well) are among the stars appearing in director Chris Sun's tale of a giant boar on the rampage in rural Australia. What could be smashing down fences and eating livestock? And locals? It soon turns out it's not the best time to go camping / drinking / having a family day out as the monster of the title has a field (sorry) day having a jolly old chomp. BOAR can't quite decide if it wants to treat its plot seriously or go full Joe Dante PIRANHA (my preferred option, of course) but you have to have time for any film where they've built a life-size gigantic pig for the action scenes rather than rely on too much CGI.

Fright Fest

        Or AMERICAN FRIGHT FEST as the title card would have it, presumably to distance itself from our dear old UK original. Here we have the mayor of a small American town proposing 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. Sound fun? Well it probably is but only if you're very very forgiving, because FRIGHT FEST is the only genuine dud in this batch of six films. Urgently in need of some of the electric shock therapy that gets dealt out in the movie, it's pretty bland and lifeless stuff that will have any but the least demanding horror fan looking at their watch by the thirty minute mark.

...and finally here are the proposed release dates for the movies. According to Signature this is when these movies will receive their 'Home Entertainment Release' which will presumably be VOD. I'll update this post with any additions or alterations as they are announced:

THE DARK - October 2018
SECRET SANTA - November 2018
LIFECHANGER - Early 2019
FRIGHT FEST - Early 2019
BOAR - no date yet
PIMPED - no date yet

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Frightfest Day Five - Monday

The Field Guide to Evil

Oh dear oh dear. The latest anthology movie from Ant Timpson (THE ABCS OF DEATH) is feeble in the extreme, offering a snapshot of crappy short horror stories from around the world, all based on local myths and legends. Highlights are the one from India which manages a pleasingly disturbing vibe reminiscent of the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith, and Peter Strickland's final foot fetish fairytale segment. On the whole, though, there's a real lack of knowing when and how to end a story here. But at least now I know what a goat looks like on an IMAX screen. 


Follow seriously disturbed Sean Harris and his attempts to destroy the hideous spider puppet-thing he calls Possum. Does it really even exist? Does anyone else we meet in this? Or are we just in the lead character's head all the time? Bleak, grim, disturbing and very slow paced, some will think POSSUM is marvellously horrific (I certainly did) and others will hate it for the very same reasons. I don't, however, think I need to see it ever again. The story is like something from Ramsey Campbell and the visual style is a cross between Jose Larraz and 1970s public information films - all disquieting landscapes and horrible 1970s suburbia. Fans will be pleased to learn that Matthew Holness has plans for his next project to be even more grim and depressing.

The Golem

Lithuania 1649 and the plague is on the increase, but not in the small isolated Jewish village where Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) is busy studying the Kabbala when she should be busy having a child. When the neighbouring gentiles bring one of their plague-ridden number to be cured, and threaten to destroy the village when she isn't, it's time for Hanna to create the traditional creature of clay of the title to defend her home. But of course it doesn't all quite go to plan. A well-made film from the team who gave us JERUZALEM with probably the best music score of the festival, THE GOLEM feels mainstream enough to get a general release, and makes the planned JERUZALEM 2 an interesting prospect. 


THE CRAZIES goes to the disco...eventually. But first we have to put up with an awful lot of chit-chat, disco dancing and twirly Steadicam work before someone spikes the punch of a bunch of dancers and they all go mental. The final act of the movie lies somewhere between a thing of nightmare and someone down the local nightclub at 2am holding his video camera upside down. Not as shocking as it probably wanted to be and feeling as if it was probably shot in a couple of days Jess Franco-style, Gaspar Noe's film was nevertheless an interesting and very European way of ending the festival.

And that's it for another year! It was one of the best Frightfests for some time, with at least two brilliant films most days & I'm sure some of them will be appearing in my top ten round up at the end of the year. For now though...

...I'm not finished at all! Because Signature are launching their Frightfest Presents label, releasing some of the movies premiered at the festival. There are six planned for the first phase and none of them were part of my festival viewing. I have seen them, though, and they will make up my next set of Frightfest reviews which will be posted in a bit.

Monday 27 August 2018

Frightfest 2018 Day Four - Sunday

The Man Who Killed Hitler & Then The Bigfoot

The title may suggest craziness but this is actually a moving and elegiac piece on the opportunities we take in life and the ones we miss, and the impact both sets of decisions make both on ourselves and how the world perceives us. In World War II Calvin Barr (Aidan Turner) kills Hitler but loses the love of his life. Many years later Calvin (now played by Sam Elliott) is called on to kill Bigfoot and finds himself hunting a mythic creature while coming to terms with America's mythic view of him. It's extremely rare for me to get a lump in my throat at a Frightfest film (the last time was with THESE FINAL HOURS) but I did with this.  

He's Out There

Psycho loony threatens hopeless mother and her hopeless children in their isolated forest retreat while hopeless husband turns up late and does something hopeless. Awful, badly thought through generic rubbish. My first (and hopefully only) walk out this year. Stop reading this and move straight on to something way more worthwhile.

Await Further Instructions

Now this was much more like it. A 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 film kicks off with a family getting together at Christmas, only for everyone to wake up the next morning 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. I'm not saying any more because the less you know about this one the more you'll love it (and hopefully be blown away by what happens). Seriously good creative stuff. One of the best of Frightfest 2018.

Anna & the Apocalypse

Having been left reeling by the ending of AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS, this was the perfect come down movie, A Scottish zombie high school musical from a director who admitted in the introduction that the only movie with songs that he really liked was SOUTH PARK BIGGER LONGER AND UNCUT.  I was therefore immediately endeared to both him and his film before it even began. It's utterly charming for the first half. The songs are catchy, the actors are all likeable, and the humour is splendid. It all starts to lose its way after that, resulting in a finale that is nowhere near as affecting or satisfying as movies that try the same kind of thing such as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEB or COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES. It's still a pretty good time, though, and the songs sounded marvellous through the IMAX sound system.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Frightfest 2018 Day Three - Saturday

Book of Monsters

There are monsters galore in director Stewart Sparke's follow up to THE CREATURE BELOW, which was a great little micro-budget British Lovecraftian horror picture of a couple of years ago. This one has more money, more production value, and a lot more monsters. It's also a lot lighter in tone with our central character's 18th birthday party being the scene for a monster rally that only she can sort out because her mum was some kind of monster slayer. Fun, bouncy and utterly charming, with all the monster stuff being real in camera effects, BOOK OF MONSTERS means Stewart Sparke and his team stay firmly on my radar to see what they all do next.


So what exactly's going on in this one, then? I'm still not sure. In a gloomy convent in 1659 'sinful women' are recruited by head nun Clare Higgins so they can help out in the garden and do other menial chores until their eyeballs explode out of their heads. At that point I was hoping Sister Clare was slowly building a massive Cthulhu-type monster in the garden shed, but she isn't. What exactly she is up to I'm still not sure but HERETIKS does rather feel like the seventeenth century equivalent of a mad scientist movie, but with religion instead of science. Here we have a mad nun who thinks she can redeem fallen souls by getting them to take part in some daft experiment whose outcome can only be utter disaster. I suppose it's no sillier than making a giant TARANTULA to end world hunger, though. Director Paul Hyett gets good use out of his gloomy gothic locations, and some good performances from Clare Higgins and Michael Ironside, who pops up as a witch finder at the start. Costume design and some dark photography does mean you have trouble telling one nun from another, which gets especially confusing when they start coming back from the dead.

HERETIKS is getting a DVD release from Thunderbird on Monday 27th May 2019

The Laplace Demon

I've said it before & here I am saying it again. This is what I come to Frightfest for - the kind of film I won't get to see anywhere else, that's superbly original, terrifying and messes with your brain so much that when you leave the cinema your entire view of the world and your place in it has altered slightly. A group of scientists are invited to a remote island retreat. Once there they find themselves part of a bizarre experiment. Shot in grainy black and white this felt like a very strange TWILIGHT ZONE episode. I never thought I would find either chess or maths terrifying but this film does just that. Highly recommended for fans of the very weird, if you can find it.


After the cracker that was THE LAPLACE'S DEMON the day went out on even more of a high with special guest Leigh Whanell's fantastic, Empire Pictures 1980s-style science fiction thriller. Inspired by ROBOCOP, THE TERMINATOR, DEATH WISH and so many other classics, this was a tremendous crowd pleaser. A quadriplegic man 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. One of the best of the festival.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Frightfest 2018 Day Two - Friday


Two drug dealing young ladies on the run end up at the country mansion of an insane childhood friend (or do they?) who forces them to play games (or does she?). BRAID reminded me most of those old British movies like BLUE BLOOD (1973) where a next to nothing plot that you get the feeling is supposed to be 'heavy with meaning' takes place in a lovely country house. If I was being kind I'd say BRAID needed a bit more thinking through so that some of the impressive imagery had a greater impact by being in the context of an actual plot. If I was being unkind I'd say it was a load of pretentious old bollocks. 

Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

Udo Kier, Barbara Crampton, Charles Band, Fabio Frizzi, killer puppets and a Frightfeat audience meant this was a lot of fun, even it isn't actually a terribly good film. This reboot of the famous series features Udo Kier as Nazi puppet maker Andre Toulon whose puppets end up running rampant in a hotel and committing a series of hate killings. Some of the deaths are remarkably unpleasant and the film overall could do with a bit more charisma in the editing and music departments (and some of the acting it has to be said). Still, if you're looking for something daft,  outrageous, gory, and yet with a political subtext that's not even sub, this one's definitely worth a look.

The Most Assassinated Woman in the World

This one's 'based on true events' inasmuch as Paris' Grand Guignol theatre actually existed, and that its star was Paula Maxa, a woman who really was killed, shot, strangled and subject to hundreds of other 'atrocities' on stage. This isn't exactly a biopic, however, but a fascinating, multi-layered picture about Paula, her past, why she ends up in one of the more bizarre jobs in acting, and how she strives to leave it. Add in a serial killer terrorising Paris and superb reconstructions of the Grand Guignol performances as well & you have one of the highlights of the festival. My favourite so far.

Incident in a Ghostland

Begins with a quote from H P Lovecraft and promises to go into SHUTTERED ROOM territory (I know, that's a Derleth story but still) before...not doing that at all. Pascal Laugier's MARTYRS and THE TALL MAN are both excellent, but with this he's running the risk of becoming the M Night Shyamalan of torture porn. Plenty of horrible violence with the hysteria level frequently turned up to eleven, INCIDENT does boast at least one marvellous and creative scene of a girl posed in amongst a bizarre collection of dolls. So arresting is that image that I wonder if M. Laugier built the movie around it. By no means a terrible film - in fact it's really pretty good, edge of the seat stuff - but if you've seen his others this is the least of them. 

Crystal Eyes

Oh My God. How best to end this day of Frightfest than with the campest, craziest, loudest giallo tribute movie ever to make it out of South America? When supermodel Alexis Carpenter (DYNASTY meets HALLOWEEN, and deliciously deliberately!) dies in a bizarre catwalk accident, who is going to take her crown? And more importantly, will there be anyone left to do so? Because a very weird mannikin-dressed character is busy hacking their way through the cast in true giallo style. Some amazing tributes to Dario Argento on a tiny budget (well done with those SUSPIRIA sets, guys!) and a superbly bonkers ending meant today went out on a high note. With glitter.

Friday 24 August 2018

Frightfest 2018 Day One - Thursday

It's that most wonderful time of the year, quite appropriately described by some as 'Christmas For Horror Fans'. Oh yes, Frightfest is with us and here I am with my notes on the films that are showing on the programme for this year. Once again we're at the Empire, Leicester Square with its enormous IMAX screen that doesn't honestly display some of these low-budget low-resolution-shot movies to their best advantage. 
        Tonight we kicked off with an introduction from Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, followed by perhaps the best 'Turn Your Bloody Phone Off' short ever as the Frightfest team gave us 'Shushpiria'. It was a spoof of genius, and I hope we get to see it at least once more before the festival is over. Then it was on with the first film:

The Ranger

Frightfest openers have a bit of a reputation for quite often being not very good (CHERRY TREE, THE DEAD 2: INDIA, etc). THE RANGER is...all right, but it helps add weight to my continuing theory that the first film of the festival is there  in case you're late and you don't miss anything actually good. Not that THE RANGER is that bad, but it takes a terribly long time to get going, during which we have to endure the antics of a group of annoying punk youngsters before the title character turns up to start bumping them off to everyone's relief. There's a swing into comedy (at least I hope it was intended as such) and then it all ends up turning rather silly. Punk characters can be drawn and developed well in horror - RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and GREEN ROOM being prime examples - & I'd advise you to watch either of those again rather than this 

Summer of 84

The team behind TURBO KID and the DEMONITRON and NINJA ELIMINATOR shorts do something a bit different. A bit like a STAND BY ME actually set in the 1980s, or perhaps STRANGER THINGS with a harder edge, SUMMER OF 84 is tale of a quartet of fifteen year old boys trying to prove that a local policeman might be a serial killer. It's a film that spends way too much time dawdling with '80s teenaged boy stuff' that feels like the boring bits of Joe Dante's EXPLORERS drawn out even further, before finally giving us a final act that does turn satisfyingly disturbing, although ironically it may be a bit much for those who have been enjoying what has gone before.

Mega Time Squad

This one takes the central idea of the wonderful Nacho Vigalondo movie TIMECRIMES, but done as a raucous New Zealand comedy, MEGA TIME SQUAD was an unexpected late night delight and far and away my favourite of the three films shown this evening. Our hero has to return money he stole, defeat the local gang boss he works for, avoid being consumed by a Chinese demon, and deal with the four or five copies of himself that are wandering around after his misuse of an ancient time-travelling bracelet. Lots of gags and lots of swearing in this utterly charming film that rounded off the night perfectly.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Bad Samaritan (2018)

David Tennant gives us a fine villainous performance in this new crime thriller directed by Dean Devlin. It's getting a UK cinema release from Signature Entertainment, with its premiere at London Frightfest later this week.

Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) runs a restaurant valet service in Portland Oregon with his chum Derek (Carlito Olivero) but the moment the car keys are in their hands, off they go to their customer's residence to indulge in a bit of petty larceny.

Things take a turn for the harrowing when Sean ends up with the car of Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) who has a lovely big house, posh furniture, and a lady chained up in his office. Sean tries to free her but unfortunately for him Cale finishes his dinner early and wants his car back. Sean contacts the police but when they go to Cale's house the girl has vanished. 

Cale, however, is one of those completely bonkers villains and once he has locked his victim up in another cage in the country, he decides to make life a living hell for Sean. Can Sean free the girl, prove to the police that he isn't just a petty thief, and put an end to bad old Cale's girl-torturing, killing and burying ways?

The last thing Dean Devlin directed was 2017's GEOSTORM, which many hoped would be the last thing he would direct, ever. However, in a change of tack from making ludicrous disaster movies (he also produced INDEPENDENCE DAY and the 1998 GODZILLA remake nobody likes to talk about), here he is having a go at the Hitchcockian thriller.

We have a hero no-one believes, a villain everyone believes, and race against time to save both someone's life and the day in general. The big problem is that our hero character is a bloke who breaks into people's houses and steals stuff. It takes considerable skill to get your audience on the side of a character like that and BAD SAMARITAN doesn't quite possess it. 

Likewise the raison d'etre for Tennant's character acting the way he does is a bit daft. Like giallo denouement daft. Now, regular readers of this site will know I love a bit of daftness but again, BAD SAMARITAN doesn't quite have the courage to pull off its central concept with any style.

All of which made me grateful for David Tennant. Like Vincent Price or Patrick Stewart, he is capable of making the otherwise mediocre watchable and he does so here, offering us a seething manic loony of a villainous performance that's worth the price of admission. If you need a reason to see BAD SAMARITAN he is definitely it. 

BAD SAMARITAN is getting its UK cinema premiere at London Frightfest on Thursday 23rd August 2018 with selected countrywide distribution after that.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Ghost Stories (2018)

"Great British Horror"

I don't get to say that much these days but this really is. The poster claims GHOST STORIES is 'the best British horror in years' which isn't actually that difficult an achievement, but it does prove that even The Sun can get things right occasionally. Anyway, the movie version of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman's popular stage play is now getting a digital download, DVD and Blu-ray release from Lionsgate so you don't have to take my (or The Sun's) word for it. But if you're still undecided, read on.

Philip Goodman (Andy Nyman) is a professor who specialises in defrauding stage psychics. We already know he is haunted by some occurrence in his childhood from the grainily shot opening title sequence, but it's only when he's approached by his own personal hero in the world of psychic detection that he finds his world starting to unravel.

Goodman is tasked with investigating three cases of the supernatural, which lead us into three vignettes. While GHOST STORIES has been described by some as an anthology (like the old Amicus films) it's unfair to label it as such, as the segments aren't so much stories as fragments that contribute to an overall whole. Therefore, don't expect twist endings, neat conclusions, or anything especially finite about each of these stories.

Do, however, expect everything to be tied very neatly together at the end, so much so that GHOST STORIES actually works better on a second viewing because then you're primed as to what to look out for. 

I still missed things, though, but everything is very helpfully pointed out on the excellent commentary track from writers and directors Dyson and Nyman. As well as that, they list their influences (which are often scene specific). I've said elsewhere that the British author's work that GHOST STORIES most feels like is Ramsey Campbell and sure enough he is among those mentioned, along with Robert Aickman, M R James and the good old Pan Book of Horror Stories to which there's a visual tribute that also needed pointing out to me by the commentary.

I was also delighted to learn that the two of them were big fans of the Israeli movie BIG BAD WOLVES, and that there's at least one scene in the film that's in homage. It's also how they ended up getting WOLVES' composer Frank Ilfman to do the terrific, operatic music score.

Other extras include a making of featurette and five minutes of seeing the score being recorded. These two items are all you get on the DVD. The commentary is exclusive to the Blu-ray, as are two other featurettes: The Brain Sees What It Wants to See and The Rorschach Test.

So is GHOST STORIES the 'best British horror in years'? It's certainly on a par with 2015's THE BORDERLANDS. Mind you, THE BORDERLANDS didn't have a gag about Tigon brand cat food. Definitely recommended. 

Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman's GHOST STORIES is out from Lionsgate on digital download on Monday 20th August with the DVD &Blu-ray release the week after 
on Monday 27th August 2018

Saturday 18 August 2018

The Bloodstained Bulletin No.1

Many years ago I used to write a column entitled The Bloodstained Balcony, so named because I always used to buy a ticket to sit up on the balcony at the old Coliseum Cinema in Abergavenny when I was little. There's so much happening in the world of weird cinema at the moment I thought the best way to cover some of it would be in the form of a regular online summary / column / magazine type thing instead of just formal reviews. So here's the first, with the title adjusted accordingly. Will there be a second? That'll be up to me (and the world of horror and the weird and etc etc etc). But never mind that - here's what I've been watching over the last week or so:

On the Big Screen

The Meg

        Oh dear oh dear. I so wanted this to be good, and it wasn't. Then I so wanted this to be bad, and it wasn't that either. Because, I am sorry to report, THE MEG is just bland. As in Stephen Sommers directing an episode of NCIS bland. In some films I can see the acting, in some I can see the directing. In THE MEG all I could see were the committee meetings between the film's Chinese and American co-financiers and the screenwriters. One of them probably went a bit like this:

Money People: There must be no inter-racial kissing. No gory violence. No swearing. 

Writers: (Crossing out a lot of Jason Statham's dialogue) Er...ok.

Money People. Right, now, we've got a fat guy - can we make him quirky yet capable? And that girl with the tattoos, we need to make her quirky but capable too. And make sure the cast is multi ethnic to cover all the demographics, but they all need to be quirky and capable. Oh, and witty as well, especially in the face of seeing their friends all dead. They absolutely should not be mortified at seeing someone they've worked with for some time dead and chewed up by the monster shark. Including the little girl. She should act more maturely than any of them. Because kids like that are fun and appealing. We think.

Writers: Er, actually we're not up to writing different kinds of quirky dialogue for that many different characters.
Money People: So make them all the same! No-one will notice. Oh, and by the way, have you found out what side the liver is on in a human yet?

Writers: But we promise we will.

Well it turns out they didn't, and the poor old glamorous submarine pilot gets a screwdriver in her left loin that according to the script, narrowly misses an organ that normally resides on the other side of the body.

What else? Well there's Jason Statham, of course, who is set up at the beginning of the picture to be some kind of Captain Ahab character. You hope instead of a Great White Whale he's going to keep ranting about 'That Fuckin' Massive Fuck Off Shark' but it quickly turns out that THE MEG is all far too family friendly for that. And that's the biggest problem with it. It should be PIRANHA 3D with a shark but instead it...isn't.
But what do I know? THE MEG did terrific business on its opening weekend. However, if you're looking for something that isn't the cinematic equivalent of a bowl of rice with nothing else added then beware. 

So what else is on at UK cinemas at the moment? Oh, there's this of course:

Unfriended: Dark Web

        Did we need another of these? Well, UNFRIENDED and FRIEND REQUEST were actually both pretty good supernatural revenge horrors that made good use of modern social media. DARK WEB uses the same setup as the original UNFRIENDED (the cinema screen is a computer screen) but turns out ultimately to be far less ambitious and far less believable. 
        Going the old torture porn route but without the gore, which would at least have given this one a bit of a punch, you don't need to worry too much about catching up with this one unless you're a completist. Too much of the ending can be guessed by the end of the first act. Also, our cinema did us the extra dirty of screening this 1.85:1 aspect ratio movie in 2.35:1 (thanks Showcase!). Reimbursements occurred at the end.

Okay, onto the first of the regular features. The title may not be permanent but right now it's time for:

Compost Corner

        In which I revisit (or recycle for the purposes of a truly terrible joke that's a tip of the hat to TISWAS) some old classic movies. Sometimes I'm going to need quotation marks around the word classic but this time I don't. Because today I'm asking:

THE HOWLING - Which steelbook to buy?

        I love steelbooks & I've been steadily collecting them for movies I have particular affection for. So when I learned that Shout Factory was bringing out a steelbook of their Region A Blu-ray of Joe Dante's THE HOWLING I was sorely tempted. Here's what it looks like:

        But I already had the standard issue Scream Factory disc. What I didn't own, though, was the Region B Studio Canal release, apparently taken from a different scan. I thought it unlikely there was a steelbook of the UK version but goodness me I was wrong! Here it is:

        So which is the one to own if you're thinking of forking out? Well, the UK Blu-Ray actually looks a little better in terms of transfer than than the US. Colours are fuller, more vivid and the film looks more vibrant on the whole. As for the extras, here's what you get with each disc:

Shout Factory Region A

Audio Commentary With Director Joe Dante And Actors Dee Wallace, Christopher Stone and Robert Picardo
Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner 
Howlings Eternal with Producer Steven A. Lane
Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt
Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations
Making Of A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling Documentary
Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen
Unleashing the Beast: The Making Of The Howling Multi-part Documentary
Deleted Scenes 
Photo Gallery
Theatrical Trailers

Studio Canal Region B

Howlings Eternal with Producer Steven A. Lane
Cut to Shreds with Editor Mark Goldblatt
Interview with Co-writer Terence Winkless
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film’s Locations
Interview with Stop-Motion Animator David Allen
Audio Commentary with Author Gary Brandner

So there you go - far more extras on the US region A release (no surprise there) but a slightly better transfer and, I think, a nicer-looking steelbook for the UK release. 

Ok, that's enough of the good stuff. It's time to visit:

The Shit Shed

How could I possibly write a column / magazine type thing without profiling some complete rubbish? This time it's this, which is on sale in HMV at the moment and (probably) isn't worth your time. But then again, depending on your tastes, maybe it is... This week the film squatting in the Shit Shed is:

The Institute

"Franco, the second of his name"

After Jess, that is. Here's a load of pervy old nonsense co-directed by James Franco, he of last year's rather splendid THE DISASTER ARTIST. Here, though, he seems to be trying to make his own terrible film.
Or is he...?

It starts off like this...
THE INSTITUTE is purportedly 'based on real events'. Which it isn't. What it is is a film that exploits a situation that actually took place (a hospital for the treatment of women suffering from 'psychiatric conditions' actually being a front for human trafficking) and uses it as an excuse for a bit of good old fashioned murder and mayhem spiced up with nudity. 

..but then goes all like this! 
Not that you would expect it from the first thirty minutes or so. Perhaps Mr Franco (James) grew up in a household where his mum watched the opening half an hour of a film to 'make sure it was suitable' before going to bed. It certainly seems as if he has made a film for that particular situation  because after that we get topless ladies strung up, bare bottoms flogged, and all manner of perverse behaviour culminating in a climax of utter daftness 'inspired' by Edgar Allan Poe. Jess Franco would be proud, especially at how little sense any of this makes. Everyone else will be scratching their heads. Except Franco (Jess) fans, of course. I still can't quite decide if I liked it or not, but at least now I know that Victorian ladies were in the habit of shaving off their body hair. 

        Ok that's almost it for this time, except that Mrs Probert has concocted this little delicacy, borne of repeated exposure to a certain advert at the cinema plus a love of Amando De Ossorio's Blind Dead films. Would you trust these guys with your money? Or your horse? Until the next time...