Wednesday 24 October 2018

Sony's Halloween Horrors

Sony have brought out three low-budget pictures as their 'Halloween Horrors' package and they range from the intellectually stimulating to the outright brain-numbing. They're available now on DVD & download. Let's start with the good one, shall we? 


        By far the best of Sony's October batch is this, an interesting and intelligent look at how aliens might try and communicate with us. Heavy on the maths and the dialogue, this feels like a decent television play (or perhaps an extended episode of the X Files - it's even got Gillian Anderson in it). If you're okay with just the tiniest glimpse of a flying saucer, lots of chat about mathematical sequences, and a climax that's essentially a chap standing in a field in the rain I'd certainly recommend this one as it's surprisingly cerebral and certainly felt worth the 89 minute running time.

Patient Zero

        Those of you who offer up a prayer every night that what you really want to see is Natalie Dormer having sex in the toilets with an ex Dr Who will think they've died and gone to heaven.The rest of us will assume we have just died and entered some kind of weird purgatory in which we have to watch this derivative piece filmed pretty much on a single set and involving a "scientific" team trying to find a cure for another one of the those pesky zombie viruses of which there must now be as many variants as E Coli. Stanley Tucci is some kind of lead zombie and is John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from GAME OF THRONES) really the most expensive actor in this? I hope that doesn't give away what happens to him early on. 

Lake Placid: Legacy

       Or LAKE PLACID 6 for anyone who is counting or cares. This one has a group of eco-warriors being dared to come to an isolated island by a rival, who is already there. It's surprising they take him so seriously as he seems to have prepared for his exploration of this allegedly hostile environment by dressing as an extra from Happy Days. No sooner have they arrived than they are menaced by an unseen giant crocodile / dinosaur mutation which looks absolutely terrible when we finally get to see it. Joe Pantoliano gets dragged on (literally) to explain why the dinocroc is there. There's also a handy digger lying around for JCB enthusiasts that gets to take part in the CRATER LAKE MONSTER inspired (but again perhaps not) climax. It's going on my Top 10 List of monster movies that feature diggers, but probably not very near the top.

My Top 10 List of Monster Films With Diggers In Them will be coming soon, but not as soon as my Top Ten Movies Featuring Frogs. You have been warned. 

Sunday 14 October 2018

Down a Dark Hall (2018)

"Ambitious YA EuroGothic That Nearly Gets 
It Right"

I think that about covers it. The 18 certificate you can see on the box cover up there is certainly unwarranted - if I was the BBFC I would have given this a 12. Perhaps the girls' school setting and classic EuroHorror feel to this one had the particular censor in question reminiscing for older, ruder and gorier times. 

So yes, DOWN A DARK HALL is neither sexy nor gory (in case you were wondering and now hopefully you won't be disappointed if / when you watch it). The story concerns naughty teenager Kit Gordy (AnnaSophia Robb) who gets sent to an out of the way boarding school where she discovers the only other students are four girls of around the same age.

The headmistress is Madame Duret (Uma Thurman at her most Alida Valli-esque) and she encourages them in their studies of music, maths, art and poetry. Pretty soon each girl is starting to excel at one of these disciplines, with Kit becoming a surprisingly good pianist.

Are the constant references to a talented composer who died before finishing his masterwork relevant? Why is another girl driven to paint masterpieces and sign them with someone else's initials? And are those ghosts that we're seeing in a corner of the retina kind of way actually real?

DOWN A DARK HALL boasts a screenplay that's lots of good old gothic supernatural fun and an intriguing cast with some familiar faces including Rebecca Front (BBC comedy stalwart), Pip Torrens (A View From a Hill), Jim Sturgeon (71) and Rosie Day (every Paul Hyett film). It's also got a fabulous old-school classical music score courtesy of Victor Reyes (GRAND PIANO).

Unfortunately the one problem the film has is the direction. DOWN A DARK HALL is a film that would really have benefitted from a Dario Argento approach, because the story is daft enough and the setting glorious enough that a considerable degree of stylistic panache is needed to put all that together to best effect. Sadly Rodrigo Cortes (BURIED) does a thoroughly reasonable workmanlike job, but that's about it, and that's a shame because with a truly mad film-maker this could have been a work of genius. 

As it is, DOWN A DARK HALL is still worth a look, if only to imagine what might have been. Lionsgate's UK DVD is bare bones.

Rodrigo Cortes' DOWN A DARK HALL is out on DVD from Lionsgate on Monday 22nd October 2018

Thursday 11 October 2018

Schlock (1973)

"John Landis' Monkey Business"

A few years (well, eight) before they collaborated on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, writer-director John Landis and special effects maestro Rick Baker combined their talents to make this low budget comedy, which is now getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow.

The Southern Californian police are baffled by a spate of murders that now total in the hundreds. At the site of each massacre the only clue is the large number of banana skins left strewn around. 

It soon becomes apparent that the killings are the work of a primordial ape man dubbed the Schlockthropus (Landis himself in a Rick Baker suit). The Schlock goes on the run and a series of comedic encounters ensue. 

These include Schlock visiting a cinema (which is showing executive producer Jack H Harris' THE BLOB), meeting a blind girl who thinks he's a dog, and joining in on a piano duet.

It's all fairly lowbrow, silly fun. A lot of the set pieces spoof scenes from classic films - Kubrick's 2001 and James Whale's 1931 FRANKENSTEIN are just two, and the film ends with the predictable KING KONG-style climax on the roof of a gymnasium.

If you're a John Landis fan you'll want to see this. If not, be warned this is probably more of historical interest now than actually funny, especially as the idea of spoofing other movies has been done to death. In 1971 (when the film was actually shot) it must have seemed fresh and new, though.

Arrow's 4K transfer looks great. Extras include a Landis / Baker commentary, a 2017 interview with John Landis, a new talking head piece from Kim Newman and an archival interview with Director of Photography Bob Collins. You also get trailers and radio spots, a reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the film by Joe-Bob Briggs. 

John Landis' SCHLOCK is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 15th October 2018

Friday 5 October 2018

City Hunter (1993)

"Very Silly Indeed"

Eureka continues in its efforts to bring as many Jackie Chan films to the UK viewing public as possible with the release of this knockabout slapstick outing from 1993.

Jackie Chan is the City Hunter of the title. He has his own (silly) theme song, a male partner who dies in the opening (very silly) montage, and when he's not working at city hunting he spends his days swinging on a hammock and having (extremely silly) Benny Hill-type dreams about girls in red swimsuits.

When he gets hired to find the daughter of a wealthy publishing tycoon, our Jackie finds himself on a posh cruise liner with the daughter of his old partner in tow and encountering more silly dance sequences, outrageous outfits, annoying pop songs and ridiculous fight scenes than I could cope with. 

Oh yes, CITY HUNTER is extremely silly. There are a few good stunts (a skateboard chase near the beginning is impressive) but these are greatly outweighed by its star indulging in dressing up in women's clothing, swinging from an inflatable dolphin and other acts of slapstick high hilarity that quickly become rather wearing if you don't have a great enthusiasm / high tolerance for this kind of thing.

Eureka's transfer is absolutely gorgeous it must be said. If only all early 1990s pictures could be made to look like this. It's a 2K scan and the colours virtually leap off the screen. There are five (!) audio options, three of which are Cantonese and two English. I couldn't tell a lot of difference between the two English tracks but one is listed as 'alternate dub' and is apparently the original home video version.

Other extras include archival interviews with Jackie Chan, plus interviews with stuntman Rocky Lai, actor Richard Norton and actor Gary Daniels (who does the remarkable splits routine in the film).

There's also an outtake montage, more archival footage, stills, trailers, TV spots and Japanese closing credits. Plus you get a booklet with new writing by James Oliver. 

Jackie Chan in CITY HUNTER is out from Eureka on 
Blu-ray now

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Halloween 4K Ultra HD (1978)

The Night He Came Home in 4K!

Yes indeed, as part of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter's ground-breaking classic horror, Lionsgate are releasing his HALLOWEEN in the 4K Ultra HD format, with a package that also includes the film on Blu-ray.

Is there anything left to say about HALLOWEEN? Michael Myers escapes from a mental institution. Pursued by his psychiatrist he returns to the town where he committed murder on Halloween night when he was aged 5 with the intention of doing more of the same. Does it matter who he is, or where he comes from? Not according to Carpenter, who in interviews at the time said that none of that was important (are you listening, Rob Zombie?). 

What did matter was the style, and HALLOWEEN has lashings of that, from Carpenter's widescreen compositions that are likely taught in film school now (if they aren't they should be), to Dean Cundey's gliding camerawork, to Carpenter's prickly theme music that's repetitive without ever becoming annoying (very clever, that).

HALLOWEEN has been sequelised (pretty painfully on the whole), remade (oh dear) and it's now up for a reboot, the trailer of which looks promising. We shall have to see. Meanwhile, here's the version I want to see, the version nobody has yet told. The version from Michael Myers' point of view. So when you watch the film again, here's a different take on what the film might be about:

Nervous, shy Michael Myers breaks out of the hospital where he was incarcerated just because when his parents came home one night he happened to be standing outside the house holding a large knife. He travels back to his home town of Haddonfield to prove his innocence. Once there he steals his sister's gravestone to prove how much his misses her and vows to help the teenagers of Haddonfield enjoy Halloween and feel safe. 

He helps a young man get back on his feet but lifts him up a bit too high and kills him. Knowing the man's girlfriend will be distressed by this he tries to break the news gently to her by doing his famous 'ghost with specs' routine. It all goes a bit wrong and in the excitement he loses his voice so that when another girl calls all he can do is breathe heavily. 

Meanwhile evil psychiatrist Dr Loomis has pursued him to Haddonfield. Dr Loomis isn't very good at psychiatry ("The evil is gone!" I mean what kind of psychiatrist says that?) but Michael wants him to feel good about himself so when Dr Loomis fills his gun with blanks by mistake Michael pretends to be shot. Fortunately his balcony plunge is onto a soft surface. He leaps up and thinks maybe a game of hide and seek might cheer Dr Loomis up but by then it's time for the film to finish. Never mind, maybe he can make it up to that scared girl who he was only trying to help by visiting her at the local hospital.

Lionsgate's 4K transfer looks terrific, with deeper blacks that make Michael's emergence from the shadows seem even more impressive. The Blu-ray disc is the 35th anniversary one, so you get the Carpenter / Jamie Lee Curtis commentary, two featurettes - 'The Night She Came Home' and 'On Location 25 Years Later', TV version footage, TV and radio spots and a trailer. 

John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is out from Lionsgate in 
4K Ultra HD now.