Thursday 29 August 2019

Rabid (1977)

"Cronenberg 101"

101 Films have brought out David Cronenberg's second feature-length body horror picture on Blu-ray in a new edition that features a host of new special features. 

When Rose (Marilyn Chambers) is injured in a motorcycle accident her only chance for surviving lies with the only nearby hospital. Unfortunately it's the David Cronenberg Keloid Plastic Surgery Clinic for Wildly New and Untested Techniques That Could Prove Disastrous. Rose's intestines have been mangled by the motorbike and skin grafts are taken from her thighs, denatured and implanted within her in an attempt to encourage them to grow as new bowel tissue. None of this is very obvious, by the way, and even on the commentary it's not clear but in numerous interviews with Cronenberg he has stated this was the intention. Unfortunately the denatured tissue decides to do its own thing and causes a blood sucking proboscis (the original title was MOSQUITO) to develop in Rose's armpit. Rose becomes a science-fiction vampire. All she can eat is blood, and her activities cause the unwanted side effect of the spreading of a virulent form of rabies. She escapes the clinic, hitchhikes to Montreal, and the scene is set for a plague scenario that expands upon Cronenberg's previous SHIVERS.
  Maybe I'm getting old, but RABID really doesn't feel that dated. Of course the clothes and hairstyles are period mid 1970s, but Cronenberg's approach to the science gives it a timelessness that means RABID is still a very worthwhile viewing experience. It's also a grim and humourless one, and it's a testament to Cronenberg's skills that a scene in which Dr Keloid looks at porn star Marilyn Chambers' breasts and says 'The grafts appear to have healed well' isn't in the slightest bit funny. Even now, after VIDEODROME, CRASH and other assaults on the senses, RABID still boasts arguably the most depressing and heart-breaking ending of any Cronenberg film. If you've seen it you know what I mean, and if you haven't why are you reading this when you could be watching this unique classic of science fiction-horror?

RABID was previously released on Blu-ray four years ago by Arrow Films. That edition is now out of print with copies going for the usual silly money online. But worry not because you have no need of that edition now there's the new 101 Films package. New to this are a feature length commentary track from the Soska sisters (whose remake of the film just premiered at Frightfest). There's also a feature-length documentary on Canadian horror cinema from Xavier Mendik, plus a new booklet. 
Carried over from the previous Arrow edition are two commentary tracks. The first is from David Cronenberg who neither introduces himself nor gives us much idea when this is from, but I'm guessing it's the commentary from the previous US region 1 release. The track is what you might expect from Cronenberg, and it's actually rather pleasing to see how seriously he still considers the film. There's also a separate commentary from William Beard, author of The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg. There's also the archive interview with Cronenberg and interviews with producer Ivan Reitman and co-producer Don Carmody. You also get the 1999 episode of The Directors TV series that concentrated on Cronenberg and featuring interview with Holly Hunter, Marilyn Chambers and others.

Extra to the Arrow version is a commentary track from author Jill Nelson and Marilyn Chambers 'personal appearance manager' Ken Leicht, as well as an interview with RABID actress Susan Roman. 
The first 3000 copies of this new 2K scan come with a slipcase and the booklet. An excellent package. 

David Cronenberg's RABID is out on Blu-ray in a 2 Disc set from 101 Films now

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Frightfest 2019 Day Five - Monday

The Black String

        Is Frankie Muniz going insane or is he really at the centre of a witches' plot to infect him with the black string he keeps tearing from his veins before it can be harvested by a demon? A satisfying 'rubber reality' horror in the vein of BLACK SWAN with an excellent central performance and a nicely cloying, paranoid atmosphere. 


        Utterly charming comedy horror in which taxi driver Casey Dillard picks up man with a mission Richard Speight, Jr and has to drive him to various locations to help him save the world. A tiny budget is used creatively and the leads are charismatic and likeable. A winner. 

The Barge People

WRONG TURN on the canal. Charlie Steeds' movie is slickly directed and shot, with a synth score and title sequence that almost seems to be making you want to remember movies like THE HILLS HAVE EYES. Some of the dialogue needed polishing, and much of the plot is exactly what Drew Goddard's THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is making fun of, but if you're not that familiar with this kind of storyline THE BARGE PEOPLE does what it should economically and with good effect.


        One of the films greeted with the greatest anticipation at the festival, the remake of RABID by the Soska sisters is... all right. By trying to pay tribute to Cronenberg with numerous in-jokes and scene references the film is in perilous danger of being accused of having no style of its own. Which it doesn't really. On the whole the film feels flat and bland, like an episode of the TV series we see being filmed. 
        The climactic reveal is less a revelation and more a copy from a Lovecraft RPG manual or a heavy metal album cover. An over dwelling on Rose's daytime job in fashion threatens to diffuse any tension developed by the plague storyline, which all but disappears. Would a town under martial law really go ahead with a fashion show? This and other questions were more interesting than what was actually going on onscreen. The nicest thing I can say about the RABID remake is that it wasn't terrible. But its not especially worth watching, either.

Here Comes Hell

Channeling an interesting mix of influences from Agatha Christie-style period drama to EVIL DEAD to (bizarrely enough) the film-making style of Andy Milligan, this black and white, 4:3 aspect, shot for £20 000 British piece exhibits if nothing else an exuberantly amateur enthusiasm. Guests convene on a remote country house (obviously a very real - and very falling apart - location) for dinner and a seance. This results in the conjuring up of the spirit of satanist and former house owner Ichabod Quinn (Nicholas Le Provost) within the body of the now semi-headless medium. Splattery Sam Raimi-style shenanigans ensue as Quinn tries to open a portal to hell.

HERE COMES HELL tries its best to do something a little bit different, and do it with plenty of gusto, but the end result doesn't hang together that well. The acting ranges from professional to 'local village players', the effects are good and there's a decent music score. The film cost so little and exhibits so much ambition that I'll certainly be watching out for the next effort from the same personnel involved here. Worth a look if you're forgiving and in the mood for something a bit different. And barking mad.

HERE COMES HELL will be released on Digital HD on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment on Monday 11th November 2019

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find

Sarah (Sarah Bolger) is finding it hard bringing up her two young children on a Northern Ireland council estate. She has little money, a mother who resents the life choices she has made, and the police are being supremely unhelpful with regards to the recent murder of her husband Stephen, a murder that was likely witness by her now mute son. 
Into her life (and her flat) barges Tito with a stash of cocaine he has just stolen from a local crime boss. He refuses to leave and starts using Sarah's flat as a place to keep his illicit bounty safe. But the mob are looking for him & Sarah isn't too happy about him using her either.

A brutal kitchen sink crime thriller with a crown-pleasing final act, the main reasons A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND works is because of the careful director by Abner Pastoll and most of all a winning central performance from Bolger. Grim without being grimy, it's a film that more than rewards sticking with it and a fine film with which to close Frightfest 2019.

A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND is out in cinemas and on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Thursday 25th October 2019

And that's it for another year! Time to get back on the train and treasure our Dario Argento autograph (on his book), our Andre Øvredal autograph (on someone else's book), our plastic fangs, and other bits and pieces we got given along the way. The best thing we'll have is the memories, though, of the best Frighfest ever, with at least one excellent film per day (Day 5's was DRIVEN by the way) and the chance to meet old friends. Next up for us is Nottingham's Mayhem Festival in October. Watch this space for reports of that. 

Monday 26 August 2019

Frightfest 2019 Day Four - Sunday

The Furies

In which girls are abducted and then released in the middle of nowhere, Australia, to be pursued by masked mad axe-murderers. The girls all have retinal implants so their movements and fates can be viewed by a Mysterious Someone, and it quickly becomes clear that the connection between the Beauties (as the girls are termed) and the killers (the Beasts) is a little more complicated than simple slice and dice.

      Crisply shot and edited in some stunning locations, this Australian splatter piece is very much a Frightfest highlight. The forest in which the girls find themselves lends an eerie, almost alien backdrop to the proceedings, and the violence is grim and graphic enough to get even the more hardened gorehounds cringing. Fast paced at a brisk 82 minutes THE FURIES is recommended stalk and slash viewing. 

THE FURIES is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 16th September 2019


        Tremendous low-budget interpretation of the Frankenstein story by director Larry Fessenden, for whom this represents a career best. A commentary on so much of modern American culture I'll leave it to one of the many splendid lines from Larry's script to sum this one up: "God is dead and all we have left is our technology and our nightmares." Superb.

Dark Light

        With its subterranean humanoid lizards and bodies stored in pools of green goo there's something of old school Dr Who (perhaps mixed with X-Files) about DARK LIGHT. Unfortunately, while the monsters are excellent the human characters give us little to care about and in the end DARK LIGHT, while perfectly competent and serviceable, is nothing more than that.

Ready Or Not

        Terrifically entertaining piece that's about to get a national release. Samara Weaving marries into a super rich family that has made its fortune selling games only to discover that after the wedding guests have gone home she has to pick a game to play with her new in-laws. 
        Unfortunately they just happened to have made a pact with Satan that demands they sacrifice a blushing bride every now and then to keep him happy. Hide and seek was never so bloodstained or as outrageously entertaining as this, a sterling effort from the Radio Silence team (who gave us the best episode of the original V/H/S).

The Sonata

        Mad genius composer Rutger Hauer puts the final touches to his lifelong masterwork and then sets himself on fire in his isolated French chateau. His daughter, concert violinist Rose (Freya Tingley) inherits his property and his work, which turns out to have coded sections she needs to work out. Diabolical fiendishness ensues.
        Nobody likes a good classical music-themed EuroGothic more than me, but even so I found THE SONATA plodding in its storytelling and in desperate need of some oomph to hold the attention. The lead lacks charisma and all the talk leads to a climax that's too little too late. That said, the music score is good and the locations are lovely. The script just needed to be less legato and have quite a bit more of the sforzandos. 

Sunday 25 August 2019

Frightfest 2019 Day Three - Saturday

Death of a Vlogger

        A bang up to date addition to the 'corner of the retina' ghost story genre made famous by M R James, DEATH OF A VLOGGER details what happens after Graham (played by writer-producer-director Graham Hughes) gains fame on the internet for posting a video showing an apparent haunting. 
        Is he really starting to see weird things in his flat, or is it just all in his head? Made on a tiny budget but with some of the scariest scenes in Frightfest so far, this one's still awaiting a distribution deal. Look out for it when it gets one.

Ghost Killers Vs Bloody Mary

      A Brazilian GHOSTBUSTERS spoof that takes about twenty minutes to rack everything up to eleven and then stays there for the rest of the film. In amongst all the blood, mayhem, possessed foetus-fighting and even more disgusting things crawling out of the toilet there's an entertaining, knowing wit to all of this that makes it worth a watch if you can put up with the almost constant barrage of over the top craziness. 

True Fiction

      A twisty-turny Canadian psycho thriller with a standout performance from lead Sara Garcia who goes from starry-eyed fangirl to raving madwoman and beyond. Director Braden Croft channels both Stephen King (especially Misery) and Michael Powell (PEEPING TOM) in this claustrophobic two-hander. One for the writers among us who favour the good old fashioned typewriter.   


      Eddie Marsan in a film is always a treat, but having Marsan as the star is something that happens all too infrequently. Hooray, then, for Pedro C Alonso's British-Spanish coproduction FEEDBACK which stars Marsan as a journalist turned talk radio host of show 'The Grim Reality' Jarvis Dolan. 

When the studio Dolan is broadcasting in is taken over by armed thugs, he finds himself being coerced into confessing to a crime he claims to have no memory of. Who is telling the truth? Or are both parties creating their own versions of it?

FEEDBACK does a fine job of confining its storytelling to pretty much a single location and ratcheting up the tension from there. It's not a perfect film but by halfway through you'll be on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen next, and as always, Marsan is excellent.

FEEDBACK is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 26th August 2019


A glimpse into the lives of high school psychopaths as we follow four teenagers plotting and executing mayhem and murder in a small American town. Sheriff Luke Goss is mystified when people suddenly start turning up dead in his town. Little does he know that his sons are two of the four behind the deaths. Such a killing spree can't last forever, though, and it's not long before things don't go quite to plan for our young killers.

Well acted, clever, and surprisingly bleak, EXTRACURRICULAR offers an interesting twist on the usual 'lumbering axe murderer going after teens' subgenre as the tables are turned and it's the young who prey on those older than them, solely for the purpose of kicks. Definitely worth a watch and one of highlights of this year's  Frightfest. 

EXTRACURRICULAR is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 21st October 2019

The Dark Red

Sybil (April Billingsley) is in a psychiatric ward. She suffers from schizophrenia and believes she can hear other people's thoughts. She also claims her baby was recently cut out of her by a weird cult so they could use its blood. Is it all in her mind or is there really a house out in the middle of nowhere that's harvesting special infants?

Very much a film of two parts, THE DARK RED starts off very slow and measured, concentrating on Sybil's consultations with her psychiatrist. The final act, however, goes for full-on low budget action. A little less of the first and a bit more of the second, plus some judicious editing, would have been an immense help to this, a film that has an interesting story to tell but doesn't quite have the skill behind the camera to pull the whole thing off entirely satisfactorily. THE DARK RED does boast some originality and keeps its feet firmly on the ground with its essentially daft plot, all of which makes it worth a look. 

THE DARK RED will be released on Digital HD on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment on Monday 18th November 2019

The Drone

        The director of ZOMBEAVERS strikes again with this very funny take on technology gone bad. When police corner pervy psychopathic criminal The Violator a random blast of lightning sends his soul into the drone he is holding. Now possessed by the serial killer, the device flies to the house of Rachel (Alex Essoe from STARRY EYES) and her husband, where it proceeds to try and destroy Rachel's life, killing the family dog and framing her husband for murder. 
        Can Rachel defeat the drone? Can the film-makers find ways for it to just keep coming when it would be so easy just to turn it off / take out the batteries / hit it with a stick? There were laughs aplenty in the auditorium at the world premiere of Jordan Rubin's picture, as well as plenty of in-jokes for the seasoned horror fan in the form of classic movie scenes recreated, but with a drone instead. If you loved ZOMBEAVERS you'll love this.

Critters Attack

Those loveable bouncy, bitey alien balls of fur are back. CRITTERS ATTACK follows on from the delightful CRITTERS (1986) and its increasingly poor sequels. As those sequels go, CRITTERS ATTACK fits in as somewhat 'par for the course'. This time the alien Krites invade a small town and it's up to a gang of plucky kids (led by their babysitter) to stop the menace the cuddly, smiley, big-eyed 'good' one. 
        CRITTERS ATTACK could have been better. Dee Wallace as one of the alien bounty hunters this time around is a plus, but the film is sadly lacking the original's sense of anarchic fun or its sense of urgency. In fact so lacking is the film in suspense or thrills that you wonder if everyone making it was on tranquilisers. Sorry CRITTERS ATTACK - I was looking forward to seeing you and you have disappointed me. 
Warner Bros. are bringing out the film on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital as you read this. Extras include a commentary track with the director and a critter (!), plus three making of featurettes.

CRITTERS ATTACK is out on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on 26th August 2019

Madness in the Method

Jason Mewes, star of Kevin Smith films including DOGMA and the JAY & SILENT BOB movies wants to gain more respect for himself in Hollywood by expanding his repertoire. Smith himself suggests a book he should read but his attempts to get hold of a copy and read it only lead to a series of murders as Mewes ends up trapping himself in an ever-worsening spiral of madness. 

With an interesting cast of characters including Vinny Jones, Danny Trejo, Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher, MADNESS IN THE METHOD is a ramshackle, knockabout, sweary, gory journey through LA and the eccentrics who live there (in Mewes' mind if nowhere else). How much you'll enjoy it will depend on your affection for the kinds of films Mewes is known for. Others might find it all just a bit too desperate. 

Are We Dead Yet?

        Oh dear. My first (hopefully only) walk out of the festival. A gang of incompetent criminals find themselves in a haunted house in debut writer-director Fredi Nwaka's "horror comedy". Good British films of this type are exceedingly rare - the last was probably Matthias Hoene's 2012 COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES. Unfortunately ARE WE DEAD YET? isn't even on a par with the likes of I BOUGHT A VAMPIRE MOTORCYCLE. With its broad London accents and even broader humour, it's probably all right if you're very forgiving and enjoy things like EAT LOCALS and STRIPPERS VS WEREWOLVES. Which I don't. 


      Time travel drama in the same genre as Nacho Vigalondo's TIMECRIMES. James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a grifter hired by a shady businessman to dispose of some diamonds. When he foresees his own death and tries to change things, it leads him down a road of revelation about a bizarre experiment it turns out he is the subject of. A good film that perhaps deserved an earlier slot so its complexities could be better pondered by the more awake.

I Trapped the Devil

Has Steve (Scott Poythress) got the devil locked up in his basement? Or has he just seen / read Charles Beaumont's Twilight Zone episode The Howling Man too many times? I'm presuming writer-director Josh Lobo has, as here he stretches out that short story / 30 minute TV concept to 82 minutes (including credits). And stretches is being kind. This is one of those films where everyone seems aware they have to drag everything out, so dialogue is spoken very slowly and every action is done very deliberately and after a lot of thought, with the result that you start shouting at the screen for them to just get on with it.
This kind of thing can be riveting if you have the right kind of actors able to make that approach compelling (the likes of David Warner and Donald Pleasence immediately come to mind), but unfortunately that's not the case here. There are a couple of memorably weird scenes but I TRAPPED THE DEVIL ultimately stands as an example of how you can't turn a short subject into a feature unless you are very clever and very resourceful. Keep the fast forward button handy.

I TRAPPED THE DEVIL will be released on Digital HD on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment on Monday 21st October 2019

Saturday 24 August 2019

Frightfest 2019 Day Two - Friday

Dark Encounter

        There's a little bit of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, a little bit of INTERSTELLAR, and quite a bit of something else in DARK ENCOUNTER, a film that takes quite a while to get going but if you liked the concepts behind either of those other two movies then stick with it and you'll find your time rewarded.

A year after her eight year old daughter disappears, Olivia (Laura Fraser) and her family experience a strange phenomenon one night in their remote home in the middle of the forest. Is it aliens? And if so, what do they want? And might they have anything to do with the little girl's disappearance?

Set in the US, this British production features an interesting cast including Alice Lowe (PREVENGE), Mel Raido (LEGEND), Sid Phoenix (FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS), and Vincent Regan (POLDARK). It's pretty ambitious but could have done with being a bit shorter and more focused. Definitely one for anyone interested in thoughtful science fiction.

DARK ENCOUNTER is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 21st October 2019

The Wind

        We start with a lengthy sustained opening shot of somewhere that looks like a lot of hardship to live in, then there's a bit of blood due to a likely family catastrophe, plus an offscreen scream, after which we cut to black and there's some scrapey violin on the soundtrack.

Yes we're in art house folk horror territory here, which in this case is the untamed frontier of the Wild West in the 1800s. Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) and her husband Isaac (Ashley Zukerman) have built a little shack in the middle of nowhere. It's a very visually arresting nowhere, but nowhere none the less. Into their lives come another couple. Or do they? How much is real and how much is in Lizzy's increasingly chloroformed mind? And where did she get that chloroform from and more importantly, why? Is there a demon haunting the prairie? Or are the horrors she experiences coming from inside herself?

THE WIND is a fairly straightforward story that for some reason its makers have decided to tell by splitting up the timeline and shuffling it around a lot. Even that can't save THE WIND from being a very slow, measured piece that if I were unkind I would have to describe as really rather boring. It's well acted and beautifully shot.  Fans of THE WITCH may want to give this one a go, just be prepared to be patient with it. 

THE WIND is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 2nd September 2019

Cut Off

        A seriously good German crime thriller in the Nordic Noir style (is that even still a thing?). Professor of Forensic Pathology Paul Herzfield (Morizt Bleibtreu) finds himself in a pickle when he finds a tiny capsule buried in the head of a female murder victim. Inside the capsule is a piece of paper with a phone number and the name of his teenaged daughter. Oh yes she's been kidnapped, and if he goes to the authorities etc etc she's dead. 
        So far so we've seen it all before. What we haven't seen is what happens next, as for the rest of its two hour plus running time CUT OFF twists and turns so much you'll almost need to be writing things down to keep track until it reaches its satisfying conclusion. Director Christian Alvart was also responsible for the excellent ANTIBODIES (2005) and there are occasions where CUT OFF threatens to get just as grim. Utterly engrossing, this is definitely one for crime aficionados. 

Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson

Ah, Al Adamson, director of such poorly regarded cinematic fare as BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE, BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR and BRAIN OF BLOOD. As I confessed to producer / director David Gregory before going in to this, that latter title is the only Adamson picture I've seen (and I had to admit I quite enjoyed it!). He reassured me that his company Severin intends to bring out a box set of pretty much all of Adamson's pictures sometime next year. At least I think it was reassurance.
        Anyway, here we have a superb, exhaustive documentary on the career of Mr Adamson. The final act takes a bit of a left turn to become something of a true crime movie, as Adamson's murdered remains were notoriously discovered buried beneath the cemented over remains of his jacuzzi. It's a fascinating, enlightening documentary and both Mr Gregory and his co-producer Heather Buckley are to be praised for going the extra mile (in fact several marathons) to get some of the info presented here. I look forward to Severin's promised box set of Adamson movies so I can properly fry my brain. 


Three people (rich bloke, rich bloke's girlfriend, rich bloke's considerably less well off best friend) set sail on the rich bloke's yacht to celebrate his birthday. Soon things start to go horribly wrong. How wrong I'm not going to reveal because HARPOON deserves watching pretty much cold. What I will say is that it starts off deceptively cocksure and smart-alec, making you think you're going to watch a comedy, but ever so slowly the film tightens into a knot that had me on the edge of my seat by the end. Another winner.

HARPOON is getting released by Arrow on their TV Channel later this year with a disc release likely in early 2020

Mutant Blast

         In which we get to enjoy some totally loony Tromatastic daftness for the first twenty minutes or so, after which MUTANT BLAST 'settles down' to become a film with some tremendously imaginative absurdist surrealism, with a philosophical bent! I never thought a giant French lobster dressed in a suit could bring a tear to my eye and for that alone, this is one of my highlights of the festival. So far the film I most want to watch again. Almost straight away if possible.