Tuesday 29 October 2019

The Invitation (2015)

"A Modern Classic"

One of the best films of 2015 (and quite possibly this decade) gets an extras-packed whistles and bells Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
When Will (Logan Marshall-Green) accepts a dinner invitation from his ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) at the house in LA that once belonged to both of them, he doesn't realise that the tragic history they share isn't the only horror he and his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are going to have to face. 

Because the party isn't just for Eden and her new partner David (Michiel Huisman) or for their friends. The guests include the sinister Pruitt (John Carroll Lynch) and the worryingly brittle Sadie (Lindsay Burdge), two of the people Eden and David met during a retreat that they claim helped them to deal with grief. As the party progresses and tensions start to build it becomes clear not everyone might last the night. In fact no-one might.

A superb thriller that starts off relatively relaxed but quickly starts to ratchet up the tension until by the third act you want to push yourself away from the screen and the events that are unfolding, THE INVITATION is one of those rare low budget movies where everything works perfectly. The performances (especially Marshall-Green) are affecting, the script is clever and the sound design complements the onscreen action to make things even more uncomfortable. The star, though, has to be director Karyn Kusama. Who would have thought the director of AEON FLUX would make something as surprisingly excellent as this? Kusama's direction of the ensemble cast feels effortless, which in itself is a testament to her skill at slowly ratcheting up the tension while allowing each of the many speaking parts to breathe.

Second Sight's Blu-ray carries over the Region A discs extras - a commentary track from Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi plus a making of - while providing use with over 90 minutes of new ones. There's a new 33 minute interview with the director, another with producer Nick Spicer, yet another with the screenwriters and finally Lindsay Burdge talks about playing the part of Sadie.

It's been a long time in coming to the UK but finally THE INVITATION has the presentation it very much deserves. Pop it in the player and just feel that mounting unease. An excellent package from Second Sight and highly recommended. 

Karyn Kusama's THE INVITATION is out on Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 4th November 2019

Sunday 20 October 2019

Prey (2019)

"Low Budget Jungle Adventure 21st Century Style"

The new film from Franck Khalfoun, director of the 2012 remake of MANIAC, gets a digital and DVD release from Signature Entertainment.
Toby (Logan Miller from THE GOOD NEIGHBOUR, ESCAPE ROOM and the soon to go into production ESCAPE ROOM 2) witnesses the brutal stabbing to death of his father in a home invasion attack. As part of his behavioural recovery programme he has to spend three days and nights on an uninhabited island off the coast of Malaysia.

Of course it's not uninhabited or what would have been the point of those opening credits showing a caucasian pastor, his wife and little girl presumably on some sort of mission to convert the local tribe to Christianity. Needless to say by the time we get to the director credit it doesn't look as if everything went to plan for them.

Logan meets Madeleine (Kristine Frøseth from APOSTLE) while she's out hunting & she warns him not to stay on the beach at night, despite that being the pick up point at daybreak on day three. As his time on the island draws to a close Logan realises things (and the monster threatening the place) may not be all they seem.

The kind of 'jungle adventure' that was all the rage in the 1930s and then later in the 1970s, PREY offers us an interesting comparison with those older pictures in terms of behaviour of the male lead. In the 1930s Lionel Atwill would doubtless have tied the girl up for some naughty experiments. In the 1970s Jack Taylor would have slept with her amidst much crash zooming from good old Jess Franco who (if he was in the right mood) might also have given us a decent sex-obsessed tale of love gone wrong. In PREY, the 21st century equivalent, our wimpy 'hero' whines a bit and tries to hit her with a stick. 

And that's the main problem with PREY. It feels very slight indeed compared with what has gone before. Yes there's a jungle on an isolated island and yes there's a monster, but everything feels so impossibly airbrushed and safe that there's very little tension (or anything else) generated throughout the running time. And that's a great shame because director Franck Khalfoun did an excellent job of making MANIAC and his follow up i-LIVED isn't bad either. PREY, however, is strictly one for the trapped-on-an-island-with-an-ex-model obsessives. And I know you're out there, so just for you here's the trailer:

Franck Khalfoun's PREY is out on digital HD on 
Monday 28th October 2019 and on DVD on 
Monday 4th November 2019

Saturday 19 October 2019

The Dead Center (2018)

"Splendid Low Key Weird Suburban Horror"

Writer & director Billy Senese's low budget horror thriller gets a dual format release from Arrow Films.
A suicide victim is brought to a mortuary. The corpse comes back to life but without any memory of who he is and ends up in the acute psychiatric ward of a local hospital, where he becomes the patient of Dr Daniel Forrester (Shane Carruth). 

Dr Forrester has problems of his own, but soon these are overshadowed by a number of bizarre and unexplainable deaths amongst the patients. The 'suicide' victim claims he has something dark within him that he was trying to carve out.

Meanwhile, a forensic pathologist is trying to find out what happened to the body he was supposed to perform a post mortem on. Why had the man carved a spiral on himself? And why had he carved the same spiral pattern on the bottom of the bath where he presumably died, a bath filled with more blood than is splattered over the walls of his hotel room?

THE DEAD CENTER builds to a satisfying finale while at the same time remaining sufficiently ambiguous that it will keep you thinking afterwards. The low budget works in the film's favour. Everyday settings are drenched in gloom and there's a nice atmosphere of dread that builds as the film goes on. 

Arrow's disc release comes with two commentary tracks (Senese, Carruth and co-star Jeremy Childs; Senese, producers Denis Deck & Jonathan Rogers and DP Andy Duensing). There's an in-depth making of, nine deleted scenes, an alternate ending, on-set interviews, a piece on the makeup effects and a Senese short film INTRUDER from 2011. The Blu-ray also contains six radio plays from Senese. Plus there's the usual trailers, teasers, image gallery & reversible sleeve. The first pressing will contain a booklet with new writing on the film by Jamie Graham.

Billy Senese's THE DEAD CENTER is out on dual format from Arrow Films on Monday 21st October 2019

Thursday 17 October 2019

Aniara (2019)

"Poetic Science Fiction"

The iconic science fiction poem by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson gets adapted for the screen in this new Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

Not far into the future. Climate change has rendered the earth unliveable. What is left of humanity that can afford it is travelling to Mars aboard giant luxury space cruise liners. The journey is intended to take three weeks.

Unfortunately for those aboard the Aniara, the ship encounters space debris that knocks out the engines and sets them off course. Drifting in space, their only chance is to encounter a planet they can use the gravity of to help correct their course. The problem is that space is vast and the closest celestial body is going to take a very long time to reach.

Very much feeling like a prequel to such classic SF novels as Brian Aldiss' Non Stop and Robert Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky, ANIARA takes as its viewpoint character a woman known as the Mimaroben (Emelie Johnson). She assists the passengers in using the onboard MIMA, a device that can tap into an individual's memories to help them relive more pleasant times on earth. When the ship goes off course and those onboard become desperate, MIMA becomes overloaded and its fate reflects the societal breakdown that is taking place on board.

Epic in scope while remaining very much a human piece, ANIARA goes against the popular TV adventure series concept of space, reminding us that it is vast and empty and the chances of randomly coming across anything is pretty much zero. The movie isn't exactly grim but don't expect a happy ending.

Arrow's Blu-ray comes with a commentary track from co-directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, who also take part in a separate interview where they talk about how most of the movie was shot in locations like shopping centres and on ferries. If that's true, Sweden has some of the nicest shiniest shopping centres and ferries I have ever seen.

There are also interviews with the production designer, sound designer and VFX supervisor. Also on the disc is the directors' award-winning 'short' (well, it's thirty minutes) THE UNLIVING about how humanity is trying to rebuild itself after a zombie apocalypse. Finally, if you get the first pressing there's also a booklet with new writing on the film from Anne Billson.

ANIARA is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on 
Monday 21st October 2019

Monday 14 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Four

Bullets of Justice

Unexpectedly excellent, BULLETS OF JUSTICE is a very homemade, very funny post-apocalyptic bit of daftness where mankind has been mastered by a group of genetically mutated humanoid pig creatures. Likely the only film you'll see this year where the sexy leading lady has a moustache (that changes from scene to scene), this is a delirious laugh riot from beginning to end. And I haven't even mentioned our hero's obsession with the bottom of a leading male catwalk model. MAD MAX meets ZOOLANDER! Great stuff.

Door Lock

Jaume Balaguero's SLEEP TIGHT (which gets a mention in both the opening and closing credits) is the basis for this Korean thriller about a woman who finds herself being stalked by a serial killer. This one has pacing issues and isn't half as effective as the Spanish original, sadly. 

Why Don't You Just Die?

A huge surprise. If Sergio Leone had met Ade Edmondson & Rik Mayall in the eighties then the result might well have been something like this - a spaghetti western that takes place almost entirely in someone's front room. A fantastic music score adds immensely to the hilarious and beautifully choreographed mayhem. The trailer for this one doesn't do it justice as it's far funnier and far cleverer than you may think. 


In which Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg find themselves prisoners (and sole occupants) in a housing estate from which there seems to be no escape. One day a baby is delivered in a cardboard box with the instruction 'Raise the child and be released' but who is keeping them there and why? The only film of the festival to be influenced by Sapphire and Steel, this gets grimmer and grimmer. Don't expect any happy endings.

And that's it! The closing film was Ant Timpson's COME TO DADDY which I've already written about in my Frightfest coverage. Our first Mayhem was a blast. Each day's programming was perfectly curated, right down to starting off the final day with BULLETS OF JUSTICE just when we all needed something insane and noisy as an eyeopener. We'll be back.  

Sunday 13 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Three

The Pool

In which a man finds himself trapped in an empty disused swimming pool with only his girlfriend and a crocodile for company. What will get him first? Starvation, the hungry reptile, or his lack of the insulin he needs to keep him alive? This Thai effort does rather stretch suspension of disbelief, but it's also a rollicking good suspense piece that will keep you on the edge of your seat for most of its running time. I liked it more than Alexandre Aja's CRAWL but be warned - if you're thinking of watching this and you're a dog lover you may not like one particular sequence.

She Never Died

A cannibal lady with super regenerative powers gets recruited by a hardbitten policeman to take down a local human sex trafficking ring. A companion piece to 2015's HE NEVER DIED (which I'd never heard of until now), SHE NEVER DIED is very much like the kind of pulp comic book entertainment we used to see in the 1980s from companies like Empire Pictures. In fact, while last night's THE HIDDEN (1987) actually doesn't feel that dated (and in some ways is more socially relevant than ever), SHE NEVER DIED feels as if it was made 30 years ago, with its cardboard cut out villains and loud and irritating sidekick character. That said it's a pretty entertaining cardboard cut out comic book. Some pleasantly low budget futuristic sets instead of the grim locations used would have been of immense help.

After Midnight

From the ridiculous to the sublime. An ultra low budget meditation on relationships with an added monster, AFTER MIDNIGHT manages to be both touching and surprisingly funny. Hank (Jeremy Gardner) and Abby (Brea Grant) live in Hank's rambling old house in a tiny town in nowhere USA. They've been together ten years but never married. One day Abby ups and leaves for a month. While she's away Hank suffers nightly attacks by a monster with huge claws that tears his front door apart and eats the family cat. Do the monster and Abby's departure have anything to do with one another? I won't spoil it but AFTER MIDNIGHT is a lovely film with excellent acting from the leads and some very funny supporting characters. I very much suspect this will end up a festival favourite.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

There's a serial killer on the loose in South Korea. He rear ends cars and when the driver gets out he stabs them to death. He messes up when he selects as his latest victim gang boss Jang Dong-soo (Dong-seok Ma). Jang beats up the killer but still ends up in hospital needing two hours of surgery to save his life. When he gets out he teams up with the policeman investigating the case and the hunt for the killer is on. A slick, fast-paced crime drama that's apparently based on a true story and with a great lead performance from Dong-seok Ma, who's probably best known as the man who doesn't know how to change his ringtone in TRAIN TO BUSAN.

Vampire's Kiss

What in God's name is this? A late 1980s picture I never caught up with at the time, that's what. And what a very peculiar picture it is. I'm not just talking about Nicolas Cage's performance here, which is a goldfish bowl of eccentric acting all its own, but the film as a whole, which spends its running time ridiculing a man who is obviously mentally ill and believes himself to be a vampire. Was this sold as a comedy? A horror film? Or was it one of those pictures they had no idea how to push and just hoped Cage's bizarre turn would cause sufficient word of mouth? If it's that last one they were right - here we are watching it 30 years after it first hit the big screen. Only composer Colin Towns, channeling James Bernard amongst others with his fabulous gothic score, really emerges from VAMPIRE'S KISS with his dignity intact. But Nicolas Cage is the reason this film will go down in movie history. Required viewing for any serious student of 1980s cinema.

Saturday 12 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day Two


The 1967 Russian version of Nikolay Gogol's tale takes a while to get going, and poses a number of questions that are never satisfactorily answered, but once we get to the final act it's pleasingly weird. A monk is sent to read the required three nights of burial prayers beside the corpse of a young girl who, before dying, requested his presence by name. But it's actually the dastardly plot of a witch the monk met earlier in the story. With some clever visual effects and a gorgeous transfer that's due to be released on disc by Severin, this was a welcome showing of this on the big screen.

Sword of God

aka THE MUTE, this one's a film in the VALHALLA RISING subgenre of medieval Christian brutality. After a disaster at sea, two men end up washed ashore on a remote island. One is fervently religious and plans to convert the pagan islanders to Christianity. The other isn't, and has his own ideas about how they should live their lives. And of course, whenever there's a bit of religious conflict, large quantities of gory violence are sure to follow. SWORD OF GOD scores points in the grim gory depressing things happening in a constantly soaking wet milieu department. Unfortunately Nicolas Winding Refn tackled the same themes rather better & I'd suggest you watch his film again instead of this.

Girl on the Third Floor

While his pregnant wife Liz (Trieste Kelly Dunn) is busy breadwinning, her husband Don (C M Punk) takes their dog Cooper to the house they have bought with the intention of redecorating it. It isn't long, however, before all his good intentions are being interrupted by sexy Sarah (Sarah Brooks). Don doesn't seem to have tired himself out sufficiently plastering, hammering and generally banging things because Sarah turns out to be too much of a temptation. But what's that? The house has a grim history? And heterosexual men who live there often end up the worse for wear? Could something supernatural be going on? Travis Stevens' film works well for the first hour or so, but then he tries to cram in far too many plot elements and revelations with the result that the whole thing falls to bits, which is a shame because up until then it's all quite fun. We'll let Travis off, though, because there's some excellent scary imagery in here & it's only his first film as director. One to watch.

Color Out Of Space

The best film of the day & likely to be the best of the festival, Richard Stanley's long awaited return to feature film-making is his adaptation of H P Lovecraft's story THE COLOUR (sic) OUT OF SPACE. When a meteorite lands on the property of Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) it heralds a change in both wildlife and vegetation as whatever the rock has brought with it strives to change living things into 'something it knows'. A feast for the eyes and ears, COLOR OUT OF SPACE really needs to be seen in a cinema with a 7.1 surround system to get the most out of it. The visual effects are astounding, Cage's performance is mesmerising and Richard Stanley's direction walks the razor's edge between the fantastic and the absurd with assured confidence. Spectacular, memorable and as faithful as any modern-day adaptation could hope to aspire to be. 

The Hidden

Wow. It's been over 30 years since I saw the UK premiere of Jack Sholder's THE HIDDEN at the Scala Cinema in Shock Around the Clock & it's a delight to report that time has been very kind to this one. When an insectoid body-shifting alien with a taste for fast cars and heavy metal comes to LA it's up to 'good' alien Kyle MacLachlan to stop him / her / it. Tremendous pacing (the film hurtles along for almost all of its 96 minutes), an interesting effective but atypical score for an action film from Michael Convertino, and performances from a host of familiar faces (Michael Nouri, Claudia Christian, Chris Mulkey, the dog who goes for a wee on Freddy's grave in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 4 and many others) mean THE HIDDEN has stood the test of time. Give it another 30 years and they'll be calling this a classic if they're not already. 

Friday 11 October 2019

Diary of a Mayhem Day One

Nottingham's Mayhem Film Festival has been going for years but this is our (ie Mrs Probert & myself) first time attending. It's held at the rather swish Broadway Cinema (formerly the City Lights for anyone old enough to remember) and the first thing to note as part of this festival review is that the films are being shown in what must be the comfiest, plushest screen of any festival we have ever been to. Comfy seats, loads of leg room and easy toilet access almost but not quite overshadowed the cinema's excellent 7.1 surround sound system. Until the films started, that is. And talking of the films, opening night had two of them. Here's what I thought:

Extra Ordinary

A grape, a toaster and a wheelie bin are amongst the mundane items possessed by ghosts in this, a serious contender for best horror comedy of the year. Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman's tale of an Irish driving instructor who can communicate with the spirit world (and exorcise ghosts from all manner of inanimate objects as well as living creatures) is a warm and funny film with added gore, reminiscent of Nick Whitfield's 2010 SKELETONS (GHOSTBUSTERS in Derbyshire). 

        Add in a plot concerning one hit wonder Christian Winter and his attempts to use satanic rituals to have another bestselling record and you have a film that even Dennis Wheatley would have found funny. Utterly charming and I hope co-director Mike Ahern's suggestion that the characters may get a TV series comes to something.

Daniel Isn't Real

...or is he? As a boy Luke had an imaginary friend called Daniel. That is until Daniel made him poison his mother - after that Daniel was banished to an old doll's house. When Luke heads off to university, various stressors cause Daniel to resurface. Luke's new / old friend helps him to be successful with women and to express himself artistically, but it all comes at a terrible price.

        With a storyline that reminded me a bit of Christopher Fowler's novel Spanky (in a good way), Adam Egypt Mortimer's movie is a delicious, mind-bending Boschian melodrama that provides plenty of nightmarish imagery along with its is-he-or-isn't-he-mad plot. 

On to Day 2!

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Legend of the Witches (1970) & Secret Rites (1971)

Hooray for the BFI's flipside series, bringing out the obscure, the fascinating and the valuable in British cinematic culture, and here's a release that's definitely all three. The BFI are bringing out the above two titles as a single release in a dual format edition. Make sense? I hope so - let's have a look at what we get!

Legend of the Witches (1970)

        Do you remember those old public information films about ancient history? The ones that got squeezed in between programmes when there was a minute to spare? I don't mean the ones about children drowning and having their souls eaten by Donald Pleasence, or how a badly wired plug could kill you. I mean the far more benign, pleasant couple of minutes spent in the company of a voice saying 'Whenever you see the symbol of the acorn there's a hundred miles of history for you to explore' or guiding you round the kind of crumbling old castle that these days is taken care of by English Heritage.
LEGEND OF THE WITCHES is a lot like that.

By which I mean we get a cultured and authoritative voice telling us about the history of witchcraft whilst rather beautifully shot pastoral scenes unfold. Yes it's in black and white and yes there are some of the promised nudie witchcraft rituals, but overall this is a calm, measured account of witchcraft through British history. I actually learned quite a bit and the intercut shots of landscapes at dawn and the sun setting are so lovely you don't mind that they go on a bit (presumably to pad the running time). I was surprised how much I liked this. Just don't go in expecting some sort of sleazy exposé of naughty practices in rural England.

Secret Rites (1971)

I dare say a sleazy exposé is exactly what director Derek Ford (THE WIFE SWAPPERS, SUBURBAN WIVES) was going for here. Instead we get quite a jolly spoof of Hammer Films as an opener, before this much shorter film (47 minutes) becomes a pseudo-documentary about witchcraft, centring very much on the self-styled King of the Witches himself, Alexander Saunders. 

The lengthy ritual footage appears to be on the same set as the Hammer spoof that opens the film. There's lots of nudity and no doubt that's the point of the film (which was released as a B feature to one of Ford's sex comedies presumably to up the titillation value). If you plan to watch both I'd suggest this first, with all its dayglo colours and plentiful jiggling bottoms, then put on LEGEND OF THE WITCHES as your chill-out A feature.


As always the BFI do us proud. Authors of that excellent volume The Bodies Beneath, Vic Pratt and William Fowler, provide a commentary track for SECRET RITES. We get several short films - THE WITCH'S FIDDLE from 1924, THE JUDGEMENT OF ALBION from 1968 and by Robert Wynne Simmons who wrote BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW and GETTING IT STRAIGHT IN NOTTING HILL GATE about Notting Hill in 1970. Lots of sitars! 
There's also Out of Step: Witchcraft in which Daniel Farson (known to my generation as the author of The Beaver Book of Horror amongst others) interviews a witch on the Isle of Man. You also get an image gallery, a booklet and lovely Graham Humphreys artwork. A terrific value package of obscure British cinema. 

LEGEND OF THE WITCHES & SECRET RITES is out on dual format from the BFI on Monday 14th October 2019

Sunday 6 October 2019

The Dark Half (1993)

"Superior Stephen King Adaptation"

The sparrows are flying again as, hot on the heels of bringing UK audiences Lewis Teague's CUJO on Blu-ray, Eureka follow it with George A Romero's adaptation of Stephen King's THE DARK HALF in a dual format DVD & Blu-ray edition.

University lecturer Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is trying hard to gain mainstream acceptance with the literary novels he has written under his own name.  Seedy Fred Clawson (Robert Joy) visits Thad in one of his lectures threatening to blackmail him and reveal that Thad is the real author behind a series of sleazy crime thrillers attributed to the pseudonym George Stark.

Rather than pay the money, Thad decides to use the situation to his advantage and 'kills off' his alter ego in a magazine photo-spread. Unfortunately, conspiring forces have led to 'George Stark' becoming rather more real than Thad wants, and Stark has no intention of staying dead.

Having spent many years trying to get an adaptation of THE STAND off the ground, and having worked with Stephen King on CREEPSHOW, George A Romero eventually ended up making THE DARK HALF, which stands amongst the best of the plethora of movies based on King's work that popped up with relentless regularity through the 1980s and 1990s. 

It's a stylish film, with good performances and a nicely understated, haunting score from Christopher Young. The only thing anyone might criticise now is the CGI which does look a little dated but it's a very minor quibble.

Eureka's Blu-ray transfer looks pretty much the same as the Region A Shout Factory disc, and all of that release's extras have been ported over (George A Romero commentary, Making of, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, storyboards, TV spot and trailer). New to Eureka's disc is the 40-minute episode of Jonathan Ross' Son of The Incredibly Strange Film Show covering Romero and Tom Savini. There's also an 'O' card slipcase and booklet with new writing on the film. 

George A Romero's adaptation of Stephen Kings' THE DARK HALF is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 14th October 2019