Thursday 28 March 2019

Hell Fest (2019)

Have you been following the Fests? By which I mean the mystifying trend of having three films (so far at least) with the suffix 'Fest' in their titles that have all been shown in the UK over the last six months. First there was Owen Egerton's BLOOD FEST (2018) which was reasonably entertaining and had a UK cinema release. Then there was Ante Novakovic's appallingly bad AMERICAN FRIGHT FEST (2018) which was pretty much booed off the screen at last year's London FrightFest film festival.

And now we have HELL FEST which is neither as 'good' as BLOOD FEST nor as truly awful as AMERICAN FRIGHT FEST. Yes I've seen all three through a combination of misplaced enthusiasm and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. All these films entertain the same basic premise: a group of teenagers enter a 'for one night only' Halloween amusement exhibit only for them to end up being pursued and / or killed by something once they're there.

In HELL FEST it's a masked killer. There's no real backstory. The chap just turns up, pulls on a funny mask and off he goes. Is it worth your time? That depends on how many of these you've seen before and your tolerance for sifting through cinematic detritus in the hope of finding some good bits. 

HELL FEST has a couple of good bits - there's a well-edited, suspenseful sequence with a guillotine and some excellent production design, especially near the end. The acting is reasonable (with a turn by the always excellent Tony Todd in the middle) and the music by the usually reliable Bear McCreary likewise. 

Unfortunately director Gregory Plotkin doesn't do a terribly good job of wringing the scares out of his macabre setting. With the right director HELL FEST could almost (and I mean almost) have been a gloomy masterpiece along the lines of some of the weirder Italian gialli (the sets certainly have the iconography lying around to augment that). Instead, HELL FEST is just all right, something for the undemanding horror fan who hasn't seen this all before. Which probably means not very many of us.

HELL FEST is out on DVD from Vertigo on Monday April 1st 2019. It's already out on Digital HD

Sunday 24 March 2019

Next of Kin (1982)

"Stylish Ozsploitation Gothic Well Worth A Look"

Second Sight present us with a welcome Blu-ray (and download and on-demand) release for this obscure Australian horror picture from director Tony Williams.

When her mother dies, Linda Stevens (Jacki Kerin) inherits Montclare, a retirement home set in the middle of nowhere that looks as if it belongs in a Pete Walker film. Her mother's diary tells of peculiar goings-on and soon people are turning up dead. Is there a ghost haunting Montclare or is it someone with leanings towards becoming a prospective Australian giallo star?

For much of its running time, NEXT OF KIN feels as if it's trying hard to emulate the EuroGothics of the 1960s and 1970s like Narciso Ibanez Serrador's 1969 LA RESIDENCIA, but with a level of grit you'd be more likely to find in British pictures of the period. Tipped into the mix, however, is some genuinely unsettling imagery that keeps you guessing as to what is actually going on.

It's in the final act that NEXT OF KIN really comes into its own, providing us with an array of startling images, some gory murders and, almost out of nowhere, some stunts that wouldn't be out of place in a Brian Trenchard-Smith film. It's all atmospheric entertaining stuff and if you're a fan of horror movies from this era and you haven't seen it now's your chance.

Second Sight's Blu-ray comes packed with extras (hooray!). There are two commentaries - one with director Tony Williams and producer Tim White, the second with cast members Kern, John Jarratt, Robert Ratti and Mr Ozsploitation Documentarian himself, Mark Hartley. 

You also get extended interviews from Hartley's documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (which is excellent, by the way, & also well worth seeking out), plus a look at the shooting locations, deleted scenes, trailers, the complete sequence of the ballroom dancing footage someone is watching on the TV, an image gallery and reversible sleeve art. There are also a couple of Tony Willliams' short films from 1971 - Getting Together and The Day We Landed on the Most Perfect Planet in the Universe. An excellent package of classic ozsploitation goodness.

Tony Williams' NEXT OF KIN is out on Blu-ray (and download and on-demand) from Second Sight from Monday 25th March 2019

Friday 22 March 2019

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

Hot on the heels of Arrow's release of Bernard Rose's CANDYMAN comes, somewhat appropriately and in an exploitational masterstroke of timing, 88 Films' Blu-ray release of the follow-up to the 1993 original.
This time we're in New Orleans where, after a brief resume of the Candyman backstory courtesy of first film survivor Michael Culkin, we learn that there has been a series of murders where the weapon used was a hook. 

Ethan Tarrant (William O'Leary) gets arrested for the latest death. He confesses to the crime despite the fact that both he and we have seen a familiar hook-handed velvet voiced individual perpetrate the atrocity.
It turns out that the rich, influential Tarrant family may have more ties to the Candyman legend than alcoholic matriarch Octavia (Veronica Cartwright) has been prepared to let on and it's up to her daughter Annie (Kelly Rowan) to put the pieces together.

A rather disappointingly by the numbers sequel, director Bill Condon (GODS & MONSTERS and a couple of TWILIGHT films) tries hard to give his locations some decent spooky atmosphere, but he's hampered by a screenplay that does its best to demystify the title character while at the same time ticking off all the boxes in the 'cliched ideas that have been used 1000 times before in sequels' book. 
Tony Todd is excellent, but the chemistry between him and Kelly Rowan is so microcosmic compared to his pairing with Virginia Madsen in the first film that you wonder why Candyman is bothering with Rowan's character at all (and the reason turns out to be - oh yes - another cliché). 

The only real reason to watch CANDYMAN FAREWELL TO THE FLESH isn't visual at all - somehow Philip Glass is back to do the music and the new themes he writes into the score are, if anything, better than the original. One of them plays over the menu page & it's an excellent choice.

88 Films' disc comes with a commentary track from Bill Condon that's worth a listen. The Candyman Legacy is a 25 minute interview with Tony Todd and there's also a ten minute interview with Veronica Cartwright ('Down Memory Lane'). You also get a trailer and purchasers of the first print run get a booklet with new writing by Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz

Bill Condon's CANDYMAN: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH is out on UK Blu-ray from 88 Films on Monday 25th March 2019

Thursday 21 March 2019

Swamp Thing (1982)

        Wes Craven's DC comics adaptation from his GODZILLA GOES TO PARIS phase (the period when he was so desperate for a movie he would have directed that if offered it, or so he told Fangoria) gets an uncut Blu-ray release in the UK from 88 Films.

And why, you may ask if you weren't around at the time, should something as innocuous as SWAMP THING have ever been cut? Well there are a few scenes of female toplessness that the US censors felt their audiences had to be protected from back in the early 1980s. Those of us living in Europe were considered hardier to such things and so it's the 93 minute European version you get here.

Made well before comic book movies became in and huge and had massive budgets thrown at them, SWAMP THING heralds from those dark days when comic book movies were treated with a fair amount of disdain and a frequently slapdash approach to their production. SWAMP THING suffers from a poor script that's basically: here's our hero, here's our villain, oh no the hero's been turned into a monster, the woman he loves is placed in peril three times by the same villain & he has to save her. 

This sounds rather better than it is. Some of the acting is extremely ropey because again, SWAMP THING is from the days where as long as you had secured a couple of good actors for the leads the bit parts seemed to be made up of friends, relatives and whoever was hanging around. Adrienne Barbeau is good as the put upon heroine, and this is probably the best role she ever had not having to play terrible jazz in a lighthouse while being besieged by ghost pirates. Louis Jourdan looks as if he's not quite sure why he's in this but gives every line his all. Ray Wise, as the pre-swamp thing Dr Alec Holland is the only one who really gets the comic book feel spot on in his performance but he's understandably not around for very long. Oh, and Harry Manfredini did the music so it's only appropriate that someone wields a machete during a chase at one point as it does all sound a bit FRIDAY THE 13TH.

88 Films' Blu-ray looks very good with some slight drops in quality occasionally (and not in the scenes that were cut, curiously). There's a Wes Craven commentary track, an interview with production designer Robb Wilson King, and Kim Newman provides an overview of Craven's career. If you get in early the limited edition comes with a slipcase, an A3 fold out version of the movie poster and a nice little booklet filled with stills, lobby card reproductions and poster art.

Wes Craven's SWAMP THING is out on Blu-ray from 88 Films on Monday 25th March 2019

Sunday 17 March 2019

Irma La Douce (1963)

        Billy Wilder's 1963 romantic comedy that reteams the stars of his 1960 THE APARTMENT gets a sparkling 4K restoration on Blu-ray from Eureka.

Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon) is a Parisian policeman who ends up being fired when he inadvertently causes the arrest of his boss in a raid on a brothel. At a nearby bar he meets prostitute Irma (Shirley MacLaine). 

Nestor beats up her pimp but ends up becoming her pimp himself. However, he doesn't like the idea of her seeing other men so he poses as an English Lord who is her one and only client. Needless to say, complications ensue.

A cheerful, colourful movie that because of its subject matter was banned by US television networks for many years, IRMA LA DOUCE is a showcase for a number of talents at the top of their game. 

Marilyn Monroe was originally intended to play Irma but after her death MacLaine was cast and ended up getting an Oscar nomination. Wilder and co-screenwriter I A L Diamond deliver a script that's bouncy, witty, and full of smartly observed snippets of dialogue. 

Eureka's Blu-ray offers us two commentary tracks, one by film historian Joseph McBride and a new one by film historian Kat Ellinger. There's also a new talking head piece from Neil Sinyard.

Billy Wilder's IRMA LA DOUCE is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 18th March 2019

Saturday 16 March 2019

Wheels On Meals (1984)

It's time for some 1980s Jackie Chan comedy action as Sammo Hung's WHEELS ON MEALS gets a 2K restoration Blu-ray release from Eureka.

  Thomas (Jackie Chan) and David (Biao Yuen) live in Barcelona and earn their living selling fast food from a van. Their friend Moby (Sammo Hung) is a private detective who gets them involved in his current case to find a missing heiress who, it turns out, is someone they've already met (and become enchanted by in a 1980s comedy way). It all climaxes at the kind of castle some of us might be more used to seeing Paul Naschy pictures (never a bad thing).

The film got the title WHEELS ON MEALS because the previous two films from production company Golden Harvest had both started with the letter 'M' (MEGAFORCE and MENAGE A TROIS) had both been box office failures. WHEELS ON MEALS did very well indeed, but that's more likely down to its impressive array of stunts and Sammo Hung's expert fight choreography than anything else. 

Filmed in Barcelona because by 1984 it had become impossible to make these movies in Hong Kong (the stars would get mobbed amongst other factors), like some of Chan's other films WHEELS ON MEALS contains a lot of skilfully executed slapstick humour, with the climactic fight between Chan and Benny 'The Jet' Urquidez an acknowledged classic of the form.

Eureka's Blu-ray comes with several audio options - original Cantonese (mono and DTS-HD), English audio with a different soundtrack (mono and 5.1), an alternate English dub from the 2006 DVD release and finally a new track which mixes the  Cantonese dialogue with the English dub music! 

Otherwise you get two archival interviews with Sammo Hung, others with Biao Yuen, Benny Urquidez, martial artist Keith Vitali, and director / choreographer Stanley Tong.  Alternat credits featuring a blooper reel, more outtake footage, and several trailers. A limited edition (4000 copies) features a slipcase and booklet with new writing on the film. 

WHEELS ON MEALS is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 18th March 2019

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Top Knot Detective (2017)

"Brilliantly Funny"

One of my top ten films of 2017 (and one of my all-time favourite mockumentaries) finally gets a dual format DVD & Blu-ray UK release courtesy of Third Window Films.

Whatever happened to 1990s top rated period Japanese detective adventure show Ronin Suiri Tantai (aka Deductive Reasoning Ronin)? How did it end up being shown in other countries under the title Top Knot Detective? Why has almost all of the footage shot been destroyed? Was it because the series was such an insane train wreck of a show, featuring robot ninjas, giant penis monsters and enormous pregnant badgers belching forth tiny badger babies bent on turning the world communist? 

Or is there a more sinister side? What about its insane writer / director / editor and star, the frankly uncontrollable Takashi Takamoto? Or the rivalry between him and co-star Haruto Koike, who played the series' chief villain? Or did the show disappear because of what happened to the CEO of its Japanese conglomerate financier (and Haruto's father)? All is revealed in this Australian film. Through interviews with cast, crew, and interested parties, we learn that TOP KNOT DETECTIVE is still a major cult item even today.

A mockumentary to rival the best of them, TOP KNOT DETECTIVE starts off hilariously funny ("He was like the Japanese Ed Wood, & I mean that as a compliment") and then manages to deliciously wrong foot you in its final act as events become rather more serious. You may still be open mouthed from the hilarious and outrageous antics of what has preceded it but then that's what the Blu-ray is for - this is a film that benefits from repeat viewings. 

The extras on Third Window Films' disc include a commentary from writer-directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce, the original 9 minute promotional film, a making of, a featurette on the fights, and a trailer.

TOP KNOT DETECTIVE very much feels like the THIS IS SPINAL TAP of insane Japanese television, pop music and culture in general. If that sounds appealing then grab this now - you'll be chuckling for weeks. And you'll wish that more of Deductive Reasoning Ronin had escaped the ashes.

Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce's TOP KNOT DETECTIVE is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray from Third Window Films on Monday 18th March 2019

Sunday 10 March 2019

Overlord (2018)

        Nasty Nazis and their monstrous creations abound as Paramount release Julius Avery's OVERLORD on Blu-ray, DVD & 4KUltraHD.

World War II. A mission to take out a Nazi radio transmitter in a French village goes a bit wrong when the aeroplane carrying the soldiers sent to do it gets shot down. The survivors have to deal with Nazi patrols, and the church where the transmitter has been housed turns out to be less a house of God & more a place filled with naughty Nazi experimentation.

Yes the baddies are trying to create superhuman soldiers. They have got as far a a serum which, when injected, allows you to almost pull your own head off as well as providing super strength and a generally poor disposition towards others. Will our heroes save the day or will evil triumph?

As you might expect from the above, OVERLORD is what in (much) older times might have been referred to as a Boys' Own Adventure. It's basically a comic book tale of goodies versus very broadly drawn baddies indeed. The movie opens with an excellent (and unnerving) aeroplane crash, then meanders for quite a bit before really getting going with the climax. For older viewers, the sluggish bit in the middle is ideally where one would have gone to get an ice-cream safe in the knowledge you wouldn't be missing much.

Paramount's 4K Ultra HD transfer looks great, and the Dolby Atmos sound mix is a banging, crashing, rattling joy to listen to. This was the only disc provided for review. The US Blu-ray has a number of featurettes as extras but it's not clear if these will be carried over to the UK release.

The Nazi zombie / monster movie is a subgenre that's increasing in numbers with all the rapidity of the laboratory creations themselves. Of all these movies (Richard Raaphorst's excellent FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY and the rather less excellent British series of OUTPOST movies come to mind) OVERLORD is by far the most lavish and definitely worth a view if you're in the mood for a decent action-horror movie.

Julius Avery's OVERLORD is out on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD from Paramount Home Media Distribution on Monday 11th March 2019

Saturday 9 March 2019

Kolobos Blu-ray (1999)

"Ambitious Low Budget Horror"

KOLOBOS is a surprisingly decent picture few will have heard of and which deserves wider exposure. Hopefully this new Blu-ray release from Arrow will go some way to remedying that. 

The movie starts with an amateurishly filmed car accident but don't worry - things rapidly gets much better from there. The victim of the accident is teenager Kyra (Amy Weber). Battered and bandaged, she lies in a hospital bed while flashbacks give us her memories of how she ended up there. Discharged from a halfway house for the rehabilitation of patients with mental disorders and with the scars on her arms suggesting a history of self harm, Kyra answers a newspaper advertisement to take part in a low budget backwoods USA film version of Big Brother. 

        Once inside she gets to meet her housemates which include a poor standup comedian, a struggling actress, a college student and a girl who works in a fast food joint. It isn’t long before steel shutters have turned the house into a prison and booby traps are picking them off one by one. But all is not at it seems, and who is the mysterious figure Kyra keeps seeing on the television screen, the one persistently mutilating his own face? 

Starting with a title sequence and music reminiscent of Argento at his SUSPIRIA-like best, there are a lot of nods to that classic in KOLOBOS, including the use of weird coloured lighting filters and everyday objects filmed from unfamiliar angles. Images of figures distorted by frosted glass, hospital curtains and the like abound, and as the film goes on the movie’s deliberate sense of clouded reality increases. 

It’s not as stylish as the Argento classic, but directors Daniel Liatowitsch and David Todd Ocvirk obviously have great affection and appreciation for the genre, and even if their bleeding-eyed doctors do get a bit too sub-Fulci at times, it’s in a good way. Oddly enough the movie I was most reminded of while watching KOLOBOS was Norman J Warren’s TERROR, in that it employs much the same Argento-aping style to tell a story that doesn’t really make sense, but by the end you don’t really mind because it’s been such a fun ride anyway. 

Arrow's new 2K restoration is a vast improvement over the previous DVD release. Extras include a commentary track from the directors, a brand new making of, new interviews with actor Ilia Volok and composer William Kidd, plus a behind the scenes gallery and one of Daniel Liatowitsch's Super 8 short films. Buyers of the first pressing also get a booklet with new writing on the film by Philip Escott. 

Neither director seems to have been at the helm of anything else, which is a shame as this film should have been a springboard to greater things. KOLOBOS (and I’m not really giving anything away by saying the word translates from the classical Greek for mutilated) is no classic but it’s certainly not hackwork, and is certainly worth 84 minutes of a discerning horror fan’s time.

KOLOBOS is out from Arrow on Blu-ray on Monday 11th March 2019