Thursday 28 February 2019

Phantom Lady (1944)

"Stylish Siodmak / Woolrich Universal Thriller"

Oh yes, the opening titles may suggest that the screenplay is from a novel by 'William Irish' but that's just a pseudonym for crime writer extraordinaire Cornell Woolrich. Director Robert Siodmak's adaptation of Woolrich's novel, and his first noir for Universal, is getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow Academy, and very welcome it is, too.

Unhappy Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) is out on the town on his own. He meets a woman (Fay Helm) in a bar. She refuses to tell him her name but agrees to go to a show with him. After she bids him goodnight Scott returns to his apartment, only to be greeted by police who have discovered the body of his strangled wife.

But Scott's got an alibi, hasn't he? Unfortunately, when he takes the cops back to every location he visited in the company of his mystery female companion, a barman, a taxi driver, and even the drummer in the band for the show (Elisha Cook Jr) deny he was ever with anyone. 

The ensuing court case finds Scott guilty of murder. It's up to his secretary Carol (Ella Raines) with the help of Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) to find out the truth before Scott ends up as a dead man walking.

After famously being fired from Paramount for saying the movie he was making was 'Paramount shit', Robert Siodmak made SON OF DRACULA (1943) for Universal, and then followed that up with the exploitation-orientated COBRA WOMAN (1944). After doing such a great job on both he was offered PHANTOM LADY and that was the start of a run of remarkable, stylish thrillers that include THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS & THE DARK MIRROR (all 1946) and CRY OF THE CITY (1948). 

As well as the oft-quoted line about Paramount, Siodmak is also well known for claiming that only five minutes of any one of his movies was actually any good. Certainly there are sequences in PHANTOM LADY that stand out from what would have been considered accepted conventional narrative techniques at the time - the pursuit of the barman by Carol through deserted streets, the weird art that adorns the apartment of a key character, and the lighting of the scenes of Scott in prison. All these show a director on the cusp of a brilliant career and that, coupled with Woolrich's engrossing story, make PHANTOM LADY unmissable for fans of period 1940s film noir.

Arrow Academy's print of PHANTOM LADY is a little more beaten up and scratched in places that some of their recent excellent transfers of 1940s releases, but it's still perfectly watchable. Extras include a fifty minute archival documentary on film noir, and an hour-long radio adaptation of the Woolrich novel from 1944.

Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy on Monday 4th March 2019

Sunday 24 February 2019

Videoman (2018)

"Endearing Tale for the VHS Generation"

After premiering at last year's festival, Kristian A Södertröm's VIDEOMAN gets a VOD and DVD release on the FrightFest Presents label from Signature Entertainment.

Stefan Sauk is Ennio, a man obsessed with two things: drinking, and collecting VHS tapes. When he comes across a cardboard box containing the ultra-rare 'Zombie' (from the cover it looks like Lucio Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) it may be the answer to his money problems. Unfortunately, after he makes a deal with a shady voice on the telephone, one that may belong to someone who has been killing tape collectors, giallo-style, the tape goes missing...

A hit at FrightFest, VIDEOMAN is going to appeal most to those who grew up with, and were consumed by, the VHS boom of the 1980s. Director Söderström is presumably a VHS obsessive himself, or if he isn't he's quite brilliant at depicting the mindset of VHS collectors, and he also knows his movies, so part of the fun is seeing if you can catch him out.

The press notes describe VIDEOMAN as 'Mike Leigh meets Dario Argento'. There's certainly more of Leigh in the grim Swedish tower block settings and bleak wintry weather, and don't go expecting any bold flashes of colour or over the top artistic set pieces. Do expect, however, for the warmth of the director's love for his characters to shine through. 

Low budget and certainly promising of greater things for its director, VIDEOMAN is the perfect film for those who fancy a bit of subtitled Swedish social realism set in the world of movie obsessives. Signature's VOD copy was provided for review & as far as I'm aware the DVD contains no extras. 

Kristian A Södertröm's VIDEOMAN is out on VOD and DVD on Signature Entertainment's FrightFest Presents label now. 

Saturday 23 February 2019

Dhogs (2017)

"Brutal Art House Satire of Human Behaviour"

Receiving its UK premiere at FrightFest, Andres Goteira's visceral, brutal art house take on the nature of human behaviour is now getting a DVD release courtesy of Yume pictures.

The title is a corruption of two terms which are defined as the film begins: Dogs (submissive & obedient animals) and Hogs (dirty & wicked animals). We're only going to meet one dog and no hogs at all in the ensuing 85 minutes, because what director Goteira is really setting out to do here is comment about some of the more sordid aspects of human beings.

He does this within the context of three chapters detailing several storylines that intersect and cross over each other. A taxi driver takes a man to a hotel where he gets talking to a woman and they end up going up to his room. After, the woman is kidnapped by a guy with a pickup truck who drives her out into the bleak Spanish landscape. There we meet another man (and his dog) who lives in a tumbledown shack, his prized possession an expensive-looking rifle with telescopic sights.

But there's more going on here. Who is the mysterious audience we see observing these onscreen proceedings throughout the film? Are the actions we're seeing perhaps influenced by us watching them? Has director Andres Goteira  perhaps been somewhat influenced by a certain film by Michael Haneke? 

DHOGS has elements of David Lynch as well, so don't expect the film to end with everything explained. In fact that's one of the movie's strengths. If you like your art house movies bleak and contemptuous of humanity, with violence to match, then DHOGS might be just what you're looking for. 
Yume's DVD has no extras, but you do get the option of Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound mixes. 

Andres Goteira's DHOGS is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Yume Pictures on Monday 25th February 2019

Friday 22 February 2019

Halloween (2018)

"Better than nearly all the others"

The exception being John Carpenter's 1978 original (of course). David Gordon Green's sequel (and the third film now to boast that title) gets a disc release from Universal.

Oh yes, it's time to forget all about the antics of HALLOWEEN II (1981) and HALLOWEENs IV, V, VI, H20 and VIII and ignore those Rob Zombie remakes (which most people have already been doing for years anyway). HALLOWEEN 2018 is a direct follow-on from the events that finished with Dr Sam Loomis looking both pensive and fed up that Michael Myers had somehow eluded him despite falling off a balcony after taking enough damage to floor The Rock.

It turns out they did catch Mr Myers, though, and now, forty years later, he's still banged up in the best asylum for the criminally insane this side of a 1970s Italian giallo. And in true daft giallo style two reporters turn up, get permission to speak to him and wave his old mask in his face (an endorsement of the long lasting quality of the Don Post Studios product if nothing else). 

Michael is being transferred and the powers that be have deemed that the safest and most sensible date to stick him on a bus with a bunch of other patients is Halloween. The bus crashes and Michael is free. By the delicious coincidences of this kind of film he finds the very car with the very boot that has his very old mask in it, bumps a few people off after acquiring a nifty new boiler suit and then it's hi-ho for his old stomping ground!

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), instead of being chased through a hospital, getting a job as a teacher at a private school and other things that were in the sequels that no longer exist in this timeline, has instead been turning herself into a poster girl for Guns 'n' Even Bigger Guns magazine in preparation for Michael's inevitable return. Will the two meet in a climactic face-off? 

HALLOWEEN 2018 isn't at all bad, and HALLOWEEN fans know bad if they've stuck with all those sequels. It's not up to Carpenter's original but then what is? Rather than emulate the prowling sense of threat of the 1978 film, director Green's approach swings from the melodramatic (that great opening) through the suspenseful (the sequence in the toilets, for example) while imbuing the picture with a sense of gloom and melancholy that's entirely appropriate. HALLOWEEN 2018 was never going to be HALLOWEEN 1978 and that's exactly the way it should be.

Universal's disc comes with 30 minutes of featurettes, including a piece on the composition of the film's score with John Carpenter, his son Cody and Daniel Davies. There's also a short making of, a piece on Jamie Lee Curtis, the Journey of the Mask & the Legacy of Halloween. Finally you get eight deleted or extended scenes. 

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment are releasing David Gordon Green's HALLOWEEN on digital on Monday 11th February 2019 DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD on Monday 25th February 2019

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Class of 1999 (1990)

"Total Terminator Teacher Terror"

If Adam Ant, Steve Strange and Howard Jones had decided to get together and envision an apocalyptic 'school of the future' movie then Mark L Lester's CLASS OF 1999 might well have been the kind of thing they came up with. It's getting a UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Lionsgate as part of their Vestron Collector's Series so anyone with a fondness for / complete obsession with New Romantic 1980s culture taken to its extreme can see if they agree.

It's 1999 (we are told) and many of America's inner city schools now exist at the centre of combat zones where the police never enter and bullets fly almost as freely as eyeliner is applied and skin tight spandex trousers are squeezed into. Rather than relocate places of education, the government hits on the idea of employing albino OMEGA MAN reject Dr Forrest (Stacy Keach) and his three battledroids (John P Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick) to keep order in the worst of the schools in question. It's in Seattle and when you see how bad the weather is throughout the film it does make you sympathetic for the kids.

'Gosh I hope nothing goes wrong with those androids' you're sure to think as our new mechatronic teachers take up their posts. Sure enough it's not long before ex-con teen Cody (Bradley Gregg from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3) is having to lead his gang of electro boys and girls against an onslaught of TERMINATOR-style robotic destruction. On a low budget.

Slight in plot but plentiful in explosive exploitation fun, CLASS OF 1999 is a briskly-paced nostalgic blast from the director of CLASS OF 1984, FIRESTARTER BOOGIE. There's an interesting cast - as well as all the above we have Malcolm McDowell as the school's principal, and numerous well-handled stunts.  The robot effects are pleasingly of their time and Michael Hoenig gives us a suitably electro-pounding score.
Lionsgate's Vestron Collector's Series Blu-ray is packed with extra goodies. There's an audio commentary from the director, and interviews with screenwriter C Courtney Joyner, Lester, co-producer Eugene Mazzola, DP Mark Irwin, and special effects creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton. You also get a trailer, stills, TV spots, and a video promo. Perfect viewing for a trashy Friday night in. 

Mark L Lester's CLASS OF 1999 is out from Lionsgate on 
Blu-ray from 25th February 2019, 20 years after the New Romantic Electro Future it predicted has yet to come true. I still think this is more likely than BLADE RUNNER, though.

Sunday 17 February 2019

The Unholy (1988)

"Steady There, Father Michael."

Oh yes, if classic sitcom FATHER TED was a mediocre horror film, it would probably be a bit like THE UNHOLY. And now you have the chance to decide for yourself as Camilo Vila's sluggish, semi-coherent, occasionally blood-spattered late 1980s devil movie is gets the Blu-ray treatment as part of the Vestron Collection from Lionsgate.

"Down with this sort of thing!"
Father Michael / Dougal (Ben Cross) miraculously survives a fifty foot plunge from a building where he's trying to talk down a suicide, Archbishop Mosely / Ted (Hal Holbrook) and Father Silva / Jack (Trevor Howard) suspect he might be the Chosen One - God's representative on earth to fight demons. 

The forces of darkness certainly had an effect on Mrs Doyle
They send him off to the parish of St Agnes, where Father Dennis and Father Someone Else Before the Film Started have had their throats ripped out by a lady demon wearing (or rather not wearing) clothes probably designed by Jean Rollin. That doesn't stop Father Dennis from ringing Father Michael up, mind, just to remind him that he's waiting for him in hell.

Somehow the church 'hushed up' the priests' deaths, although police office Lt Stern (Ned Beatty) is around to give us some back story. He also never gets the chance to go to the toilet throughout the entire film which is a shame as from his constant uneasy movements he obviously desperately needs to.

A rare shot of Craggy Island in the summertime
An hour in and so far we've been graced with dull direction, some very silly dialogue and plot jumps that have all the grace of someone desperately trying to do a salvage job in the editing room. The climax involves vast amounts of vomited blood, a Bob Keen-designed monster and Ben Cross bellowing at it when he should have been saying 'Careful, now.'

"Careful, now!"
Oh yes, THE UNHOLY really isn't very good, but if you want a good example of late 1980s trash this will remind you (if you needed reminding) that there was a lot of rubbish out there at the end of the decade.

"Will ye no have a cup of tea, Father?"
That hasn't stopped Lionsgate from doing their usual fantastic job packing this latest Vestron Collector's Edition with extras. These include an audio commentary from the director, an isolated score track & audio interview with composer Roger Bellon (who also did the music to WAXWORK), an audio interview with co-writer and production designer Fernando Fonseca with isolated sections from his unused music score, an interview with star Ben Cross, and the original ending (because it had to be reshot with a better monster) with an audio commentary from producer Mathew Hayden. You also get a trailer, TV spots, radio spots, stills and a storyboard gallery.

Camilo Vila's THE UNHOLY is coming out on Blu-ray as part of Lionsgate's Vestron Collector's Series on Monday 25th February 2019

Saturday 16 February 2019

Parents (1988)

"Where's the Beef...From?"

Bob Balaban's weird, quirky look at how parents might seem to their young one gets a UK Blu-ray release from Lionsgate as part of their Vestron Collector's Series.
It's 1958 and we're in the kind of American suburb beloved of advertising poster artists and TV sit-com producers of the period. Ten year old Michael (Bryan Madorksky) has moved into the neighbourhood with his seemingly squeaky clean parents, brilliant scientist Nick (Randy Quaid) and 'perfect mom' Lily (Mary Beth Hurt).

Despite that, Michael seems to be a dark little soul. In school he tells his class how to cook a dead cat and when asked to draw a picture of his family he crayons the paper red, prompting a trip to school social worker named (oh dear) Mille Dew (Sandy Dennis in her next to last role).
But does Michael have a very good reason for being such a goth child? Despite their appearances, are his Mum & Dad up to something very strange indeed? Something so nasty that Michael has every reason to be terrified of them?

One of a clutch of movies made in the late 1980s that used the sanitised 1950s US TV vision of family life as a springboard for weirdness (this subgenre would also include Tom Burman's LIFE ON THE EDGE and Michael Lehmann's MEET THE APPLEGATES), PARENTS might just have been even better than it already is if it had remained more ambiguous. Are Michael's parents monsters, or they just a couple of perfectly normal folks whose adult lives are being intermittently witnessed by an especially neurotic ten year old? One presumes the studio wanted a little bit more meat (sorry) than that and even as it stands, the best thing about PARENTS is how the whole thing is told from its young viewpoint character.

The Vestron series is building a fine reputation for stacking their discs with extras and PARENTS is no exception. We get an audio commentary with Bob Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef, an audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias accompanied by an isolated score track, interviews with screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne, star Mary Beth Hurt, director of photography Robin Vigeon and 'decorative consultant' Yolanda Cuomo. There's also a trailer, radio spots and a still gallery. 

Bob Balaban's PARENTS is coming out on Blu-ray from Lionsgate on Monday 25th February 2019 

Friday 15 February 2019

Rendel (2019)

"All a Bit Grimmer than Marvel"

Jesse Haaja's dark superhero movie gets a release from 4Digital Media.
The evil VALA corporation has launched an untested vaccine called Nh25 into the market by bribing or killing everyone who has tried to stop it. But someone is trying to stop them, or at least stop the widespread availability of the drug by killing off the members of one of the underworld gangs responsible for its distribution.

Born from the very drug he's trying to stop, black-masked (or is it a mask?) Rendel is hacking and blasting his way through the men who made his and other people's lives hell. When VALA recruits a group of mercenaries to get rid of Rendel for good, it leads to the kind of violence only a reasonable-sized budget can do justice to.

The world wasn't exactly crying out for a superhero movie from Finland, but here's RENDEL anyway, and as these things go it's not bad. It's certainly a lot darker than its US counterparts, with the titular character much more of a killing machine and the emphasis of the movie on the scuzzy lowlife milieu in which he operates rather than brightly coloured costumes and witty dialogue. 

4Digital Media offers the options of the movie in its original language with subtitles, but there's also an English dub that's...interesting to listen to, but if you want to experience the film as it was intended stick with the subtitles.

RENDEL is out on Monday 25th February 2019 on DVD, VOD and digital download 

Thursday 14 February 2019

So Dark the Night (1946)

"Excellent Engrossing Rural Crime Thriller"

Director Joseph H Lewis' second film for Columbia (made after 1945's MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS) gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow and if anything it's even better than Lewis' stylish debut at that studio.

Renowned Parisian detective Inspector Henri Cassin (Steven Geray), exhausted by city police work, decides to take a holiday in the country. He ends up in a small village, where he and the local innkeeper's daughter, Nanette (Micheline Cheiral) fall in love. Unfortunately Nanette has been betrothed to local farmer Leon (Paul Marion) from an early age, and Leon doesn't take the news of their engagement well. 

Nanette runs after Leon to console him and the next day she can't be found. Until, that is, her body washes up on the bank of the nearby river. Inspector Cassin promises to solve the case himself but it proves trickier than he thinks as bodies start to pile up for seemingly no reason.

SO DARK THE NIGHT starts off so deceptively nice that you think you're going to watch a straightforward, and possibly a little bit insipid, thriller of the period, but once the film gets underway it couldn't be any more different. Definitely a forerunner of the twist-filled gialli of the 1970s, the film also has those movies' dime-store psychology as an explanation for what has been going on, so be prepared to forgive the movie that. 

Otherwise SO DARK THE NIGHT is a leap in quality from Lewis' already accomplished MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, and by the end I was keen to watch it through again now that I knew what was going on.

Arrow's print looks very fine indeed, and is accompanied by a commentary track from NYT reviewer Glenn Kenny and blogger Farran Smith Nehme. There's a also a decent twenty minute analysis of the movie from Imogen Sara Smith, and I certainly agree with her that SO DARK IS THE NIGHT is an undiscovered gem. If you get the first pressing you'll also get a booklet featuring new writing on the film from David Cairns. Definitely worth picking up. 

Joseph H Lewis' SO DARK THE NIGHT is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy on Monday 18th February 2019