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

Sunday, 10 February 2019

My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

"Well Made Entertaining B Movie Melodrama"

Director Joseph H Lewis' first film for Columbia (after working on poverty row quickies) gets a Blu-ray release form Arrow Academy.

Julia Ross (Nina Foch), living in London and in need of employment, is delighted when she passes a successful job interview to become the new secretary to Mrs Williamson Hughes (Dame May Witty). Unfortunately all is not as it seems, and before Julia has even had a chance to notice that Mrs Hughes' son Ralph (George Macready) has a habit of slashing up girls' nightdresses she's been drugged, kidnapped and finds herself waking up in a bed in Cornwall.

No sooner is poor old Julia awake than she finds she's being called Marion by the staff of the mansion in which she finds herself, and that she's now mad Ralph's wife. What's going on? Why do they want her there? And will she be able to get a letter to handsome Dennis (Roloand Varno) up in London before she meets a similar fate to that which presumably befell the real Marion?

The tried and trusted plot of beautiful girl who ends up a prisoner of a elderly woman and her deranged son is one beloved of pulp thrillers all the way from the Victorian era through to the Pan Book of Horror Stories and beyond. Here director Joseph H Lewis imbues the brisk proceedings (MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS clocks in at 65 minutes) with lashings of style and does wonders with the low budget. The three leads are all excellent, although some of the more minor character roles do come across as rather wooden, but you can't have everything for little money.

Arrow's Blu-ray boasts a splendid transfer. Extras include a commentary track by film historian Alan K Rode and there's a good twenty minute piece from The Nitrate Diva (Nora Fiore) that helps contextualise the movie historically.

Joseph H Lewis' MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy on Monday 18th February 2019

Friday, 8 February 2019

Human Desire (1954)

"Film Noir That Stays Firmly On Track"

Fritz Lang's contemporary (for 1954) movie version of Emile Zola's 1890 novel of love, lust, betrayal and violence gets a dual format release from Eureka.

Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) is just back from the war in Korea. He resumes his job as a train driver and rents a room at the house of fellow engineer Alec Simmons (Edgar Buchanan). Simmons' daughter Ellen (Kathleen Simmons very much looking as if she was the inspiration for Sherilyn Fenn's character Audrey in David Lynch's Twin Peaks) has the hots for him, but one night he bumps into Vicki (Gloria Grahame), the wife of Jeff's heavy drinking, insanely jealous superior Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford).

What Jeff doesn't realise at the time is that Vicki is married, nor that she has just been an accessory to her husband murdering a man he suspected of being her lover. Jeff and Vicki begin an affair. Vicki tells Jeff Carl is blackmailing her. If only Carl was out of the way they could be together. Perhaps an accident on the railway...

Stylish and grim, Fritz Lang's noir is set almost entirely in and around the world of the railroad, giving it the kind of industrial, soot-stained, smoke-filled feel that would be utilised so well by David Lynch in his early features, which makes you wonder if that director was profoundly influenced by this very film. While the Simmons family are there to show us some 'good' characters, they barely get a look in as Lang concentrates on his three leads, whose parts are played as glorious examples of morally dubious humanity by Ford, Grahame and Crawford.

Eureka's Blu-ray offers us a 1080p presentation. As an extra you get Tony Rayns talking about the film for half an hour. There's also a 40 page booklet featuring new writing on the film from Travis Crawford, Richard Combs and Adam Batty. 

Stylish and brutally cynical, HUMAN DESIRE is apparently one of Fritz Lang's more underrated films. It's certainly worth catching up with as a fine example of small town noir. And it has trains in it. 

Fritz Lang's HUMAN DESIRE is out on dual format from Eureka on Monday 18th February 2019

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Horror Express (1972)

"Full Steam Ahead For First Class Horror"

Everyone's favourite early 1970s English-Spanish coproduced science fiction horror picture set on a train gets a sparkling new 2K transfer courtesy of Arrow. 

China 1906. Geologist Sir Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), while exploring caves in Szechuan Province, comes across the frozen fossilised remains of what might be the missing link. Intending to take it back to England he crates it up and puts it on the Trans-Siberian Express. Where it thaws out, causing all kinds of trouble for both Saxton, his old chum / rival Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) and assorted EuroHorror character actors, as well as Telly Savalas who pops in for the final act.

One of the best, most creative and best written movies of the entire EuroHorror boom of the 1960s and 1970s, HORROR EXPRESS succeeds in practically every level despite its low budget. Justifiably loved and revered by fans and critics alike, if you've never seen it stop reading this now and go and obtain a copy. HORROR EXPRESS came out as a dual format release from Severin in the US a couple of years ago, and Arrow have just brought it out in a new transfer. 
So which is better?

First, the movie. Severin's version boasts only the Spanish opening credits whereas Arrow only has the English ones. A minor point but HORROR EXPRESS obsessives (of which I am one) will want to know as the credits are quite different. Secondly the transfer itself. Severin's transfer is a little sharper and grainier and warmer, whereas the Arrow transfer is a bit softer and colours look more natural. But there's really very little in it and certainly not enough difference to consider double dipping.

Second, the extras. Nearly all the extras on the Severin disc (composer John Cacavas interview, director Eugenio Martin interview, producer Bernard Gordon's 'Notes From the Blacklist' and Chris Alexander introduction) have been ported over to the Arrow release. The only thing that's missing is the Peter Cusing audio interview from 1973 that the Severin disc runs as an additional 'commentary' track.

Where the Arrow disc wins is in the new extras, and best of these is an outstanding commentary track from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones which is engaging, enthusiastic, and packed with interesting pieces of information and genre commentary. It's truly excellent stuff and worth getting the new disc for. 

There's also a fascinating 15 minute piece from Ted Newsom on the career of HORROR EXPRESS producer Bernard Gordon, and an appreciation of the movie from filmmaker Steve Haberman. Purchasers of the first pressing also get a booklet with new writing on the film by Adam Scovell.

The genre classic that is HORROR EXPRESS is getting a Region B Blu-ray release from Arrow Films on Monday 11th February 2019