Friday 26 April 2019

Cujo (1983)

"Nice Doggy.....?"

Lewis Teague's 1983 adaptation of Stephen King's CUJO gets an impressive two disc Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka.
Cujo the St Bernard is out chasing bunnies when he gets his nose stuck in an old tree stump. Unfortunately it leads into a cave of rabid bats. Soon poor old Cujo's had his nose bitten and he's developing a severe case of the runny eyes, the drools, and the being covered in what looks like muds.

This is bad news for Cujo's car repairman redneck owner (Ed Lauter) and his friend, and it spells trouble of the trapped in the car with her six year old son kind for Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace), who finds herself under siege in her broken down old banger while a great big drooly powerhouse tank of a mad dog waits outside to get her, when he's not ramming the car doors.

The early 1980s was the era of Stephen King adaptations. Most of them weren't very good, but CUJO actually is, thanks to good performances and a skilled team behind the scenes who went all out to make the best film they could. 
Eureka's 1080p presentation looks a bit better than the Lionsgate 25th anniversary region free Blu-ray 2007 release. Ported over is the 47 minute making of, but you don't get the Lewis Teague commentary that came with that disc.

You do however get a new commentary track from Lee Gambin, who wrote the book on the making of and does a fine job of packing as many facts about the production in as he can. It certainly made me want to take a look at his book Nope Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of CUJO.
New to the Eureka disc are over three hours (!) of new interviews with Dee Wallace, composer Charles Bernstein, stuntman Gary Morgan, stuntwoman Jean Colter, casting director Marcia Ross, dog trainer Teresa Miller, visual effects artist Kathie Lawrence, and special effects designer Robert Clark.

On disc two you get 100 minutes of Lee Gambin interviewing Dee Wallace at the Cinemaniacs and Monster Fest 2015 convention. It's slightly fuzzy and shot from one angle only but it's good to have. Also on the second disc is nearly half an hour of Kim Newman talking about Stephen King adaptations in general and CUJO in particular and it's up to his usual excellent standard. 

There's also a 60 page booklet with new writing on the film by Lee Gambin (does the man have anything left to say?), Scott Harrison and Craig Ina Mann, and the entire package is boxed within a hardbound slipcase with a Graham Humphreys cover. A superb release. 

Lewis Teague's CUJO is released in a special two disc set (4000 units only) on Monday 29th April 2019

Monday 22 April 2019

George Hilton - The World Belongs to the Daring (2019)

"Excellent Documentary of a Living Legend of Italian Cinema"

Here's something of a House of Mortal Cinema exclusive - a film so hot off the presses (or rather the digital editing suite) that it's still at the stage of being considered for festivals prior to securing a distribution deal. 
GEORGE HILTON - THE WORLD BELONGS TO THE DARING (GEORGE HILTON - IL MONDO E DEGLI AUDACI) is a feature-length documentary about the life and career of one of the most famous and ubiquitous stars of Italian cinema's heyday. Best known nowadays for his starring roles in Westerns (SARTANA'S HERE... TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, GUNS FOR DOLLARS) and gialli (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL), Hilton's movie career started in 1959 and continues to the present day. 

Daniel Camargo's excellent documentary has Hilton himself telling us his life story, added to and embellished by interviews with a whole array of stars, directors and producers from his career. You'll want to know why Hilton got thrown out of a restaurant he went to with Klaus Kinski, plus his memories of other co-stars including Carroll Baker, Van Heflin, Anita Strindberg and of course Edwige Fenech.
At one point Sartana star Gianni Garko pops in to chat and he and George enter in some fascinating reminiscences about working in the Italian Western genre. We also get thoughts and memories from directors such as Enzo G Castellari, Sergio Martino and Luigi Cozzi, as well as contributions from family members.

Shot with a crisp style and edited sensitively, GEORGE HILTON - THE WORLD BELONGS TO THE DARING manages to pack an enormous amount of information into its 106 minute running time. I certainly learned plenty of things I didn't know, and was made aware of quite a few films I'd never heard of before. 
There are plenty of clips from Hilton's filmography throughout but Camargo's film-making skills ensure that the natural charm, charisma and likeability of its subject takes precedence. And full marks for including that terrific poster gallery that plays out next to the end credits. Essential viewing for any student of Italian cinema and anyone interested in an era of movie making that sadly is no more. Definitely catch this one at festivals if you get the chance. 

My thanks to director / writer / producer Daniel Camargo for enabling me to view GEORGE HILTON - IL MONDO E DEGLI AUDACI. Here's the trailer:

Thursday 18 April 2019

Prospect (2019)

"Like Tarkovsky Directing 1970s Dr Who"

New low budget science fiction picture PROSPECT gets a DVD, Blu-ray and digital release from Signature. 

A teenaged girl (Sophie Thatcher) and her father (Jay DuPlass) journey to a remote moon with the intention of harvesting the gems rumoured to exist there. The gems themselves are curious things - they exist inside Cronenbergian-type eggs which are buried in the ground and have to be dissolved with acid to get at the precious substance within.

Their get rich plans are scuppered, however, with the arrival of Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and his friend, who plan to steal all the gems for themselves. Events lead to Ezra and the girl having to make their way across the alien landscape to a legendary cache of the eggs, but even when they get there their troubles are not over.

PROSPECT isn't half bad and like I've said above, it feels like the first episode of an especially gloomy 1970s Dr Who episode - one where perhaps the doctor never turned up to save the day, and directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (there's certainly a bit of a STALKER vibe to this one). 

The film could have benefitted from some more character development at the beginning, but overall PROSPECT is worth a look if you're in the mood for some low-key, slightly off-kilter science fiction and you've already seen ANNIHILATION. The locations are weird, the design of the space suits is appropriately low-tech and grungy, and the alien biology of the eggs is all the more fascinating because it's only hinted at. Signature's disc release contains no extras. 

PROSPECT is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital on Monday 22nd April 2019 

Saturday 13 April 2019

The Caretaker (1963)

Clive Donner's film of Harold Pinter's play, complete with its original stage principals (Alan Bates and Donald Pleasence, with Robert Shaw) comes to dual format Blu-ray and DVD from the BFI.

One bitterly cold evening, Aston (Shaw) brings home a tramp, Jenkins (Pleasence) to the squalid, claustrophobically cramped house owned by Aston's brother Mick (Bates). There's talk of a brawl that's resulted in Jenkins having had something stolen from him.

Aston takes him to the very top room ("The others wouldn't be suitable" he says) which is the one Aston himself inhabits along with buckets, the metal skeletons of shelving, and whatever bit of electrical gadgetry Aston is currently trying to fix. He offers Jenkins a bed for the night, but Jenkins finds himself staying for rather longer.
Made at a time when the 'kitchen sink drama' cinematic movement was in full force in Britain, THE CARETAKER feels both a part of it (the grim setting, the bleak realism of the locations) and entirely separate from it. What IS it actually all about, Harold? as Armando Ianucci famously got his audience to ask at the Cheltenham Literary Festival one year when he knew Pinter was in the next tent across. 

Of course, what it means to the viewer is entirely up to them, and the fact it can be read so many different ways is one of the reasons it's so highly thought of. I'm sure it says more about me than the playwright or director Clive Donner that in my own reading I saw Aston as a Christ figure who has suffered for our sins (Shaw's speech about his ECT is riveting) who has found God (Pleasence) wandering the streets having lost His memory, and brought him back to the highest room in the house (ie heaven) filled with clutter while the angel Gabriel (Bates) is trying to sort things out, but because of 1960s' man's loss of faith he has lost his confidence in quite what what to do as well. 

The BFI's disc comes with a commentary track (from 2002) featuring Bates, Donner and producer Michael Birkett. The film comes with an optional introduction by Michael Billington that you might prefer to watch after the film if you've never seen it before. There's also a 4 minute on-location piece from 1962, Clive Donner talking about making THE CARETAKER, the US opening titles (it was called THE GUEST over there), The Caretaker: From Play Into Film - a video essay, a stills gallery and, in the first pressing, you also get a booklet with new writing on the film from Amy Simmons. 

Clive Donner's film of Harold Pinter's THE CARETAKER is out on dual format from the BFI on Monday 15th April 2019

Thursday 11 April 2019

The White Reindeer (1952)

Finnish cinematographer Erik Blomberg's directorial debut gets a lovely 4K restoration in this new dual format release from Eureka.

In a small. windswept, freezing-looking village, Pirita (Mirjami Kuosmanen) gets married to a reindeer herder who by necessity has to spend a lot of time away from home. She quickly gets bored and, desiring of male company, she visits a shaman in a remote cottage.

He gives her a potion that he claims will make her an irresistible object of desire. What he doesn't tell her is that it will turn her into a bloodsucking shapeshifting were-reindeer.

So off Pirita goes, luring men to their doom in the shape of a reindeer but turning back into a vampire woman at the last minute to do them in. Which does make you wonder which the men are actually more interested in - the rare and mythical animal or the beautiful woman. Or are they considered one and the same?

Erik Blomberg's black and white 1952 feature is worth watching for several reasons, one being the stunningly filmed snow-laden landscape. It's hard to imagine how anyone could survive in such an environment, never mind the massive herds of reindeer we get to see. The supernatural bits are, by necessity, restrained and minimal, but they're still stylish with excellent use of the expressionist style. In fact, if Mario Bava had been given a similar budget and location I wonder if THE WHITE REINDEER wouldn't have looked that much different.

I know nothing about cinema from this part of the world, or indeed this film so I was grateful to Kat Ellinger for her commentary track that offers insights into both. Eureka's disc also includes a video essay 'Religion, Pain & Punishment: The Portrayal of Witches in Nordic Cinema' by Amy Simmons, Erik Blomberg's 1947 short With The Reindeer, some colour test footage and a piece on the 1952 Jussi Awards where THE WHITE REINDEER did quite well. Finally, there's a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp.

Erik Blomberg's THE WHITE REINDEER is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray from Eureka now. 

Friday 5 April 2019

The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999)

Onscreen that second bit of the title (CARRIE 2) is in much smaller letters than THE RAGE, almost as if it's an afterthought, or even suggesting a degree of embarrassment about linking this to Brian de Palma's 1976 original. But is that really the case? Well, now you (and I because I had never seen this one before) can have the chance to find out as 88 Films brings out THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 on Blu-ray.

A woman gets carted off to a lunatic asylum while at her house various utensils and bits of crockery quiver around a little girl. Fast forward more than ten years and that little girl turns out to be Rachel (Emily Bergl) who has been adopted by a lower middle class family. She attends a certain school where, many years ago, a certain Carrie White blew the place up during the high school prom.

When Rachel's friend Lisa (Mena Suvari) kills herself Rachel starts to uncover a mean-spirited point-scoring 'game' being played by the sports jocks with their sexual partners. Does Rachel somehow get roped in? And maybe find out what points she has accrued? Perhaps at a large party where the main intention is to ridicule her? What could possibly happen?

THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 isn't trash. In fact it's quite well made and acted. The problem with it (if there is one) is that it's a film of two parts. The first eighty minutes could have worked well without the subtitle as a TV movie high school drama. The final twenty minutes are HELLRAISER III. Because of this unbalanced approach it's likely viewers will either be upset at the scenes of CDs chopping people's heads off and teenagers being squished, while the audience who might appreciate such mayhem will have switched off long before. If you do enjoy the latter, and especially if you also like utterly daft endings then stick with it, because THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 has an ending that's as daft as they come. 

In case you don't find it daft enough, however, there's an even sillier one in the extras, complete with commentary by director Katt Shea. She also provides one of two commentary tracks on the disc, the second featuring both Shea and DOP Donald Morgan. You also get deleted scenes and a trailer. 

THE RAGE: CARRIE 2  is out on Blu-ray from 88 Films on Monday 8th April 2019

Thursday 4 April 2019

Devil Hunter Blu-ray (1980)

"Indiana Jess & The Temple of Dubious Film-making"

Warning: The following review gives away the entirety of the storyline of Jess Franco's DEVIL HUNTER. If you are the kind of person who enjoys experiencing important story points, plot twists and of course a satisfying conclusion, it is strongly suggested that you watch something else entirely, and certainly not this film. For those of you still on board, be advised / warned that 88 Films are bringing out Jess Franco's singular piece of jungle adventure tat on UK Blu-ray. Hopefully the following notes will help guide you through the sweaty, sticky, sanity-threatening trail of celluloid that is DEVIL HUNTER.

For those of you unfamiliar with the work of this particular director (which means you must be new to this site): be warned - DEVIL HUNTER is not an ordinary film. Rather it’s a bit like what you might get if a group of long-term institutionalised psychiatric patients were told to make an Indiana Jones film as some kind of weird therapy. We kick off with film star Laura Crawford (Ursula Buchfellner) arriving in a sunny coastal town where locations are apparently being scouted for her new film. Laura never gets to see them, however because scarcely has she had the chance to take a soapy bath in water that only comes up to her ankles than she’s being kidnapped! Intercut with this is a second ‘plotline’ featuring a jungle tribe of such incredible cryptoanthropological obscurity that its members look as if they are all actually members of different races entirely. They’ve chased and captured a naked lady and have tied her up as an offering to their god. This turns out to be a large googly-eyed nude man who eats her in the most unconvincing way imaginable. 

Laura’s kidnappers take her to the same bit of jungle (we have to work out for ourselves) and the ransom is set. Al Cliver plays hero Peter Weston who, with his Vietnam flashback-suffering phobic helicopter pilot sidekick travels to the island where the jungle is with a bag of money and instructions to come back ‘with the girl and the money’. Everything goes a bit wrong at the exchange - our heroes have to bail out of their helicopter, which isn't too difficult as it’s quite obviously still on the ground. Various cast members get shot, leaving Laura to wander through the jungle in her strategically torn dress that we’ve already seen her rather fetchingly chained up in (Franco strikes again, but not as much as he will in a bit). The googly-eyed nude monster is still wandering the island, presumably in the search for a decent pair of trousers or at least a loincloth. Al and his chum happen across a boat which, naturally, has yet another naked girl aboard. Swiftly disarming her Al then hangs around drinking beer and setting a very bad role model to the two or three people who would  have watched this on its initial release by throwing the bottle into the sea. 

He decides to try and rescue Laura. She’s been captured by the tribe of multi-ethnicity and is currently being undressed very slowly by very scantily clad village girls. It’s not long before Mr Franco cannot restrain himself and his camera falls to focus on various ladies’ ‘personal areas’. The only thing that can possibly distract him is a gratuitous googly eyed nude monster attack.

On the yacht, Vietnam Vet and Nude Yacht Girl are indulging in some Sophisticated Audience Entertainment. But whose bloodshot bulging eyes are those staring down from the deck? Yes it’s time to cut to a shot of animal’s intestines being pulled out before we’re back with naked Laura, tied up and ready to be sacrificed. In amongst all of this we’ve had possibly the worst and most unconvincing decapitated head to ever be committed to celluloid (it’s the actor lying down with some leaves around his neck) and a fight between Al and the ridiculously accented lead kidnapper that takes place in the sea and sounds as if the Foley artist didn’t have much more to work with than a small bucket of water to provide the sound effects.

The mind-bending climax (and believe me your mind will have been bent by the time you get to it - this is a Franco film that’s over 100 minutes long) has Al in a showdown with the big naked beastie, whom he eventually skewers with a stick he produces from the magical nowhere that is bad editing before chucking Mr Googly off a cliff. Al carries nude Laura down a hill and looks as if he had quite a difficult job doing it. The End.

DEVIL HUNTER is meant to be a cannibal film, presumably filmed in the weekend after Jess (or possibly his producer) saw Ruggero Deodato’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but it plays more like a 1930s jungle adventure movie but with the usual Franco obsessions and a monster with a waggly willy (I bet that'll bring plenty of Google searches to this page).

But should you get this Blu-ray? Well, 88 Films have gone the extra several miles into the jungle that is Jess Franco's career and come back with a feature-length documentary about the man and his work, so this incarnation of DEVIL HUNTER should go straight onto the 'to buy' list of any Franco fan. Numerous film journalists, authors, critics and some actors as well (including Dyanne Thorne and Antonio Mayans) offer insights into the great man's career. For those of his fans who can't get enough insights into his working practices (of which I am one) makes 88 Films' DEVIL HUNTER a must buy.

Jess Franco's DEVIL HUNTER is out on Blu-ray from 88 Films on Monday 8th April 2019