Saturday 26 December 2020

Top Ten Films of 2020

It's time once again for the traditional HMC Boxing Day round up of new movies that have found their way into the screening room this year. Of course, 2020 has been the worst year in living memory for many and the world of film was no exception. Cinemas closed, festivals went online and streaming services suddenly saw an increase in viewing figures as everyone was forced into spending a lot more time at home.

The world of film fought back as best it could. After a terrific Glasgow Frightfest in February the festival went digital for the rest of the year, delivering loaded programmes in both August and October. Other festivals followed suit, with HMC enjoying the digital experiences offered by both Manchester's Grimmfest and Abertoir as well. 

There were plenty of great movies out there (and some awful ones as well, more about which in a moment) and certainly enough for me to put together a top ten. The rules stay the same as for previous years - each film had to be shown in the UK for the first time during the year, either at the cinema or on disc, or at a festival screening. Also, bigger budget major studio successes don't get a look in because you already know Leigh Whannell's THE INVISIBLE MAN is a cracker, don't you? Other greats like HELD, Oz Perkins' GRETEL & HANSEL, Remi Weekes' HIS HOUSE and Charlie Kaufman's I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS were just bubbling under the top ten, and Brandon Cronenberg's POSSESSOR will have to wait until next year (and for the 4K disc to turn up).

Before we get to the best, however, by popular demand here are a few words about the worst. There were plenty of terrible films but only three really warrant a mention, so here we go:

The Worst Films of 2020

3 The Reckoning

Neil Marshall, director of THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS scores his first entry on HMC's worst list with this, a Hallmark TV Movie version of MARK OF THE DEVIL saddled with the thinnest of plotlines steamrollered out to 110 minutes, cardboard cutout characters, and a vapid, uninteresting and ridiculously over airbrushed lead. Poor old Sean Pertwee does his best Peter Wyngarde channelling as the witchfinder but this does little to raise the bar that is constantly being dragged down by the central performance. On the plus side the music score is great, but it's for another film. You know a film is in trouble when everyone is outacted by a hat. 

2 Verotika

Currently available to watch on Shudder and directed by Glenn Danzig, VEROTIKA is an anthology movie consisting of three stories. The first is about a woman with enormous breasts that have eyes for nipples. Why is never explained. The nipple eyes cry tears that transform a tiny spider into an enormous neck-breaking anal sex fiend. Told with all the sensitivity of a Richard Driscoll on steroids (yes this feels like THE COMIC) the story is also set in France for no good reason. Second up is Mr Danzig's tribute to the worst failings of Jess Franco with a face-snatching female serial killer who dances at a strip club. A lot. Admittedly this does allow the viewer an opportunity for fast forwarding / going to the toilet / vacuuming the lounge / all three but not all at once unless you want to end up in Mr Danzig's next masterpiece. We end with a Countess Bathory tale filmed with all the authenticity of Nigel Wingrove's massive-breast-implant nun fetish epic SACRED FLESH. Every young female victim seems to have the circulatory capacity of a woolly mammoth as their blood fills a bath with ease. It's all terrible and all utterly mesmerising. Doubtless some people's favourite bad film of the year. But not ours. Oh no.

1 Blind

In the opinion of House of Mortal Cinema, if you are going to watch one example of Truly Terrible Film from 2020 then you have to watch BLIND, a film so entertaining that the live chat running concurrently on the Frightfest Facebook Group during its digital screening was a testament to how much this one is a cult item in the making that has the potential to reach THE ROOM-sized proportions. A blind woman who lives in a house filled with sharp edges and easily breakable objects? Who doesn't know if the lights work but has filled her house with lit candles? Who is in a support group run by a cut-price Jason Momoa who can't speak and has a machine that makes him sound like Ned from South Park? I haven't even mentioned the panty-sniffing sushi delivery man, the speech by the threatened heroine at the end that feels as if it goes on for longer than the running time of the film, the numerous full glasses of wine she drinks during the climax from a thin-stemmed easily knocked over and broken glass, how her makeup is suddenly immaculately restored after her shower, or the ending where everyone just gives up and sticks the credits on. My initial comments were met with such good humour by the director, the screenwriter and the stars that I cannot help but feel a tiny bit of love for BLIND. It's currently on Amazon Prime at no extra charge. One of the standout movies of the year in all the wrong ways. "Treat" yourself. 

Ok that will do for the bad films. Here are the films that I thought were the best of 2020:

10 Alien On Stage

THE feelgood low budget horror documentary of the year. A group of bus drivers from Dorset decide to perform ALIEN as their end of year pantomime and we get to see the rehearsals, the performance, and the outcome of them getting to take it to the West End stage. Utterly charming. Premiered at Frightfest where someone called it this year's ONE CUT OF THE DEAD and they're right.

9 It Cuts Deep

If you're a fan of the exquisitely perverse horror comedies of Richard Bates Jr (EXCISION et al) or Rob Grant (HARPOON) then definitely catch this. It's not easy to do comedy horror but IT CUTS DEEP makes it look easy, being both charming and disturbing in equal measure. Well written, well acted and very well put together. There's also a great synth score that manages to homage both Philip Glass and Joseph LoDuca. Loved it. 

8 Concrete Plans

High in the remote Welsh mountains five builders are employed to renovate a farmhouse. It's all part of a plan by their employer to avoid paying inheritance tax. As their work progresses and their pay still fails to materialise, the shady pasts of the five men begin to surface as the situation quickly escalates into violence.  A clever script and a talented cast including Steve Speirs (Upstart Crow's Mr Burbage himself) and James Lance from JANUARY (aka ESTRANGED) both elevate CONCRETE PLANS to the level of a superior thriller that never goes quite where you expect it to thanks to Will Jewell's directorial sleight of hand, giving this one the feel of a Welsh Coen Brothers movie.

7 Alone

Billed as DUEL meets THE VANISHING there's also something of the feel of Ted Kotcheff's FIRST BLOOD to this cat and mouse pursuit of recently widowed Jessica by a smiling serial killer through the wet and mud of an Oregon forest. One to look out for although as is so often the case these days there seem to be quite a few films with this title. You want the one directed by John Hyams.

6 Rent-A-Pal

A lonely 40 yr old man who cares for his Alzheimer's-affected mother picks up a VHS tape that promises him a new friend in the shape of an onscreen Wil Wheaton. Despite that his attempts to find love and his social care pressures mean his world starts to cave in on him and is his video friend making things worse or is it just in his head? RENT-A-PAL is a genuine surprise - the kind of subject matter that doesn't necessarily always work for me because the handling can be too relentlessly grim, but this was just perfect - well scripted and well-acted while delivering a real punch of a message. 

5 Relic

In which three generations of women (grandmother, mother and daughter) encounter a creeping manifestation of the oldest woman's dementia that threatens to rot the whole house. This has been compared to HEREDITARY by publicity machines that don't know any better. For me RELIC is by far the better film, has a lot more to say, and is sufficiently creepy with enough nightmarish imagery to make it a splendid immersive experience.


Joe Begos, director of last year's BLISS knocks it out of the park with this, a fine mix of and tribute to John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and Enzo G Castellari's BRONX WARRIORS, one which is so hip to its 1970s and 1980s inspirations it even has a cast featuring Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, and Stephen Lang. A veteran soldiers' bar is threatened by an army of drug-crazed lunatics. Much violence and mayhem ensues, all to Steve Moore's pounding John Carpenter-style synths. Begos' best yet.

3 St Maud

It's good to see the BFI & Film 4 funding British horror, and very excellent horror at that. Evoking the seedy, sexy strangeness of the stories of Robert Aickman, ST MAUD is about an overly religious nurse sent to look after a terminally ill choreographer. It all goes horribly, terrifyingly wrong from there. At Glasgow Frightfest writer-director Rose Glass told me the main literary influence was Iain Banks, especially The Wasp Factory.

2 Benny Loves You

"If, like me, you're Northern then you'll want every penny of value out of this screening, so there's a Q&A afterwards" said director Karl Holt in his very funny intro to this very, very funny film. A discarded cuddly toy becomes a vengeful killer in this unexpectedly brilliant British comedy horror. The last time I remember a festival response like this to a film that was five years in the making and all done by a bloke making it in his shed at weekends was in 1989 at Shock Around the Clock. It was BAD TASTE by Peter Jackson. So no pressure for Mr Holt's follow up there, then.

1 A Ghost Waits

A real surprise from first time-film-maker Adam Stovall, A GHOST WAITS is quite likely the funniest, most romantic, touching supernatural horror we'll see for some time. A man has to renovate a house where a female ghost has been given the job of driving away the occupants. Gradually they fall in love. This one is superb, evoking the best of writers like R Chetwynd-Hayes while never losing its profound emotional core. Really, truly, madly, deeply wonderful. Loved it.

And that's it. It goes without saying (but let's say it anyway in case it helps) that hopefully 2021 will be a better year for everyone. There's certainly plenty of interesting stuff coming out on Blu-ray. The review pile is already growing. But for now, take care, be nice to each other & I'll see you all next year. 

Saturday 12 December 2020

Tremors (1990)

The spirit of 1950s giant monster movies is brilliantly realised in this, the first in the TREMORS franchise (there are now seven films and if you want the complete list click here) which is getting a special edition 4K UHD Blu-ray release from Arrow.

The tiny town of Perfection, Nevada (Population 14) is about to get a rude awakening as four giant earthworm-type burrowing monsters (eventually christened graboids by Victor Wong's Walter Chang character) converge on it, hunting by sound and eating anything that sets off vibrations. Can modern-day good old boy handymen Valentine (Kevin Bacon) and Earl (Fred Ward) save the day with the aid of seismology student Rhonda (Finn Carter)?

Skilfully and entertainingly pulling off the challenge of making a monster movie with virtually no night scenes and a limited location, director Ron Underwood, working from a screenplay by himself and producers Brent Maddock and SS Wilson, crafted a well-paced, action-packed, light-hearted monster movie that was a big hit. This is thanks to a combination of excellent creature effects and decent acting from an ensemble cast that includes country singer Reba McEntire and Michael Gross, who went on to star in all the sequels. It's all splendid fun & if you've never seen it you're in for a treat.

Arrow's disc is a 4K (2160p) UHD presentation that's also going to be available in a Blu-ray release. That said, having compared both versions the UHD image looks fantastic in the outdoors shots but interiors had high levels of picture noise and colours were too bright, even on the lowest resolution HDR setting on our TV. On the other hand Universal's previous Blu-ray transfer, while not having quite the same amount of detail, did provide a warmer image that ultimately was more comfortable to watch. Maybe we're just either too used to Blu-ray technology or we're just getting old.

Where Arrow's release really does win out, of course, is in the extras. The old making of from Universal's disc has been ported over but there's loads of new stuff, including (deep breath):

Two new commentary tracks, one from Underwood, Maddock & Wilson and the other from Jonathan Melville, author of The Unofficial Guide to TREMORS; a new making of; new interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DP Alexander Gruszynski, associate producer Ellen Collett and composers Ernest Troost and Robert Folk. You also get 16 minutes of TV overdubs, on-set camcorder footage of the graboids being animated, deleted scenes, trailers, TV and radio spots. 

There's also a second disc which includes more interviews and three short films which are all apparently Blu-ray rather than UHD but these were not provided for review. The set also comes with a 60-page book, two double-sided posters (one large and one small), six Front Of House still reproductions and limited edition packaging.

TREMORS is out on 4KUHD and Blu-ray in a two disc set from Arrow Films on Monday 14th December 2020

Saturday 5 December 2020

Versus (2000)

"Tremendous, Ridiculous, Low Budget Entertainment"

Ryuhei Kitamura's cult classic is getting the 2K Blu-ray treatment from Arrow in a two disc edition that includes both the 2000 original and the expanded 2004 version ULTIMATE VERSUS, along with a host of special features.

Two men escape from police custody into a bleak and forbidding forest. A yakuza gang turns up, ostensibly to rescue the escapees but under instructions to wait for their boss to arrive. One of the gang members is killed and almost immediately rises from the dead, eventually to be killed once more.

Unfortunately for all concerned it turns out that the forest is the mythic Forest of Resurrection, one of the 666 gates to the other side (this one is number 444) and it's also the site of an eternal battle between a man who turns out to be the yakuza boss, and one of the escaped prisoners. We've seen one of the battles from 500 years ago before the opening credits.

The above storyline is the film's excuse for nearly two hours of gun battles, martial arts and gallons and gallons of blood to be spilled as our hero fights it out with the yakuza and armies of the dead who have been buried in the forest over the years, all while trying to protect a girl whose blood contains the 'power of resurrection'.

VERSUS isn't high art, or what you might term 'quality' cinema, in fact it's resolutely low budget and down and dirty. It's also immensely resourceful, keeping almost all its action to the same location. There's a home-made feel to it that's reminiscent of Peter Jackson's 1989 BAD TASTE and by the time you get to the end you'll be suspecting Steve MANBORG Kostanski was influenced by this one as well.

Arrow's discs come with new 2K scans of both VERSUS and ULTIMATE VERSUS, which is ten minutes longer, has some CGI to smooth things out and some new music. Extras include three commentary tracks (two on the original VERSUS), a documentary on the making of the film, Jasper Sharp's essay on director Kitamura's career, footage of the film being screened at festivals, deleted scenes, two short films (Nervous & Nervous 2) featuring characters from VERSUS and more. And if VERSUS itself feels a bit long at two hours there's a 20 minute condensed version for those with really short attention spans.

The kind of film that film festivals were made for, VERSUS is probably best watched in that kind of environment, but it's also good for a night in watching with friends who are also fans of the kind of utterly mad stuff that this very much is.

Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS is out on Blu-ray in a two disc set from Arrow on Monday 7th December 2020

Friday 27 November 2020

He Came From the Swamp (1966 - 1977)


"Makes Al Adamson Look Like a Genius"

If someone had asked me to compile a list of movie directors whose work I never expected to see a Blu-ray boxset devoted to, then William Grefe would have been close to the top. And yet here we have, courtesy of Arrow Films, seven movies and a documentary about the Florida-based film-maker. Unfortunately it's sadly lacking two of his best-known films - STANLEY (famous for being the one about the snakes) and IMPULSE (famous for featuring William Shatner going full Shat as a sleazebag who marries women and then murders them for their money). So now I've told you what you don't get, let's take a look at what you do:

Disc One

Sting of Death (1966)

In which a man becomes a killer jellyfish monster through the miracle of special effects that consist of a repurposed wetsuit and a plastic bag placed on his head. Parents should advise their children that they should not copy this. Nor should they be putting plastic bags on their heads, or even watching STING OF DEATH, a pretty terrible film that alternates 'beach party'-style gyrating with attacks from Mr Jelly. There are a lot of crash zooms into young ladies' gyrating bottoms during the dance sequences. "What more do you want from filmed entertainment?" asks Frank Henenlotter in the documentary on disc four. Quite a lot actually, Frank. Quite a lot.

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

In the good old days of double bills if you didn't make both movies you didn't get to keep all the money. And so we have DEATH CURSE OF TARTU, rustled up by William Grefe over a weekend and making use of the idea that a restless Native American spirit could manifest itself by the convenient ultra low-budget use of animals. It doesn't work and neither does the reanimated corpse that we finally get to see after a good hour of interminable wandering around that will have your finger wandering to the fast forward button. Or possibly the eject one.

Extras on disc one include new introductions for each film by William Grefe and commentaries on both films ported over from the Region 1 Something Weird DVD release with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter which are both worth a listen for nuggets of Drive-In movie gossip. Continuing the theme there's a look at Spook Shows (a cultural phenomenon more common to the US than the UK) by Doug Hobart while C Courtney Joyner gives us a history of the entertainingly-named rock and roll monster genre.

Disc Two

The Hooked Generation (1968)

There's plenty of drug taking, drug dealing and a fair bit of spaced out dancing, quite a bit of it on the inexpensive location of a motorboat as our three dodgy central characters turn on, tune in and drop out, although by the end of the film you'll be wishing they'd dropped over the side of the boat at the beginning. It's all dull, uninspiring stuff with a little bit of violence to try and spice up the mix. It doesn't work.

The Psychedelic Priest (1971)

A bit like being stuck with the spaced out person at a party who's no fun but just won't stop talking to you, this one is the interminable 80 minute tale of a priest who discovers the drug scene via a group of hippies and embarks on a variety of thoroughly uninteresting adventures. Another one for completists.

Extras include archive commentaries on both films with Grefe and Frank Henenlotter, new introductions from the director and behind the scenes footage from THE HOOKED GENERATION. You also get two short pieces (about eight minutes each) on the making of each film with Chris Poggiali

Disc Three

The Naked Zoo (1971)

The sex-filled drug-fuelled non-stop party lifestyle of the jobbing author (it's all true, you know!) is depicted with little coherence but a surprising star turn from Rita Hayworth in this psychedelic mishmash of double-crossing, murders and at least one quite terrible song. The print looks as if a couple of reels have been rescued from the jaws of a combine harvester and the opening shows that even films like ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER required some style and talent to make them work. Which is not the case here, unfortunately.

Mako Jaws of Death (1976)

It's time for some crap sharks! Actually that's not really fair. The sharks in this are likely just as good as any other sharks. The problem is that they've found themselves in a William Grefe movie. Richard Jaeckel is the man who develops a telepathic connection with them and trains them to kill. MAKO is kind of a cross between JAWS and WILLARD but is too slow moving to be anywhere near as good as either. It does however feature what must be the largest man ever to be eaten in a sharksploitation movie.

Extras include commentaries on both films, seven minutes on shark films by Michael Gingold, audio interviews with screenwriter Robert Morgan and star Jennifer Bishop, Barry Mahon's recut version of THE NAKED ZOO and MAKO on Super 8

Disc Four

Whiskey Mountain (1977)

I wish I could say the final film in the set is something good but sadly it isn't. WHISKEY MOUNTAIN probably looks better through the bottom of a bottle of J&B but I'm not going to test the theory. Instead I'll just say this immensely slow moving tale of its four lead characters riding around on their motorbikes, going off to search for treasure and encountering troublesome hillbillies can't even be saved by the presence of exploitation star Christopher George (from CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE EXTERMINATOR). 

They Came From the Swamp (2020)

Better than any of the films is this two hour plus documentary on the making of them, filed with interviews with key personnel, lots of remembrances from Grefe himself and the always energetic Frank Henenlotter to offer his opinion at every given opportunity. In some ways this is the film to kick off watching the set with as it helps contextualise everything else.

The Bottom Line: Arrow did a fantastic job with their Herschell Gordon Lewis set a couple of years ago. This year has seen Severin Films come up with the remarkable achievement that is their Al Adamson box set. Compared to such fare, He Came From the Swamp just doesn't really cut it. A major part of the problem is the films themselves, which aren't made with the skill (yes I said skill) of the Lewis or Adamson pictures and just aren't as watchable. While there are quite a few extras here, some of the featurettes could have been much longer. Arrow calls Michael Gingold's piece on shark movies a 'deep dive' but it's only seven minutes. Similarly the 'That's Drugsploitation!' piece deserves more breathing space.

If you find the history of late 1960s and early 1970s drive-in cinema fascinating, or if you find yourself watching all the films in your HG Lewis set over and over and are pining for more of the same (but of lesser quality) then this is the set for you. However, everyone else should probably have a long hard think before handing over the cash for this one. 

HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFE COLLECTION is out from Arrow in a four disc Blu-ray set on Monday 30th November 2020

Friday 20 November 2020

Short Sharp Shocks (1949 - 1980)


If you went to the cinema in the UK up to the mid 1980s you may well have ended up watching a British short film before the main picture. This was because of a ruling that a proportion of every cinema programme shown in the UK had to include British content. It was funded by a levy on cinema tickets and the intention was to help fund British movie-making and keep the industry going. It all came to an end in the 1980s when the Thatcher government stopped it.  Many of the films were of the 'Why I Love Birmingham' (thanks Telly Savalas!) or 'Billy's Time Bike' variety, but some were weird, a few were strange and every now and then you'd get something that was outright horror. For an excellent summation of the British short horror film I'd recommend Darrell Buxton's monograph that also goes by the title Short Sharp Shocks. The very last short film I remember seeing at the cinema was Martin Holland's SUPERHERO (1982) starring Koo Stark, which played as the UK support to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V A NEW BEGINNING during its release in October 1985. SUPERHERO isn't on this new set from the BFI (because it took place mainly in a comics shop and wasn't horror at all) but a whole collection of interesting and disturbing shorts are. So let's see what we've got here:

Disc One:

Lock Your Door (1949) and The Reformation of St Jules (1949)

These are less short films and more 'Jackanory-style' talking-to-camera pieces as author Algernon Blackwood tells an imagined audience two of his spooky stories within the comfort of his (presumably studio) study. It's rare to have any kind of record of authors of this period performing their own work and these provide a valuable record of one of the genre's most important practitioners doing just that. 

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)

Welsh acting god Stanley Baker plays Edgar Allan Poe, reciting the title story within the confines of a gloomy garret and filmed in crackly black and white. Thought lost for many years, this twenty minute piece is this result of restoration work on a print from a private collection.

Death Was A Passenger (1958)

Terence Alexander boards a train and recognises a nun who helped him escape the Nazis under similar circumstances during the war in this rather slight tale directed by 'Zichy' (first name actually Theodore). Easily the least of the films on the set so if this is one of the first you watch don't worry, they do get better.

Portrait of a Matador (1958)

And this one *is* better in a kind of early proto-Twilight Zone / Amicus kind of way. Why is painter David obsessed with the portrait he painted of matador Manuel during a trip to Spain? Is it because Manuel hated it, died as a result of bull-fighting injuries but before he did swore he would have revenge on David for depicting him in such an unflattering manner? Most notable to BritHorror fans for appearances by Sandra Dorne (Richard Gordon's 1963 DEVIL DOLL) as the one who causes all the trouble and Hammer actress Yvonne Romain (billed here as Yvonne Warren) who plays Manuel's sister.

Extras on disc one include a a couple of interviews with Kate Lees of Adelphi Films,  one on the history of the company and another about the rescue of THE TELL-TALE HEART.

Disc Two:

Twenty-Nine (1969)

Graham Baird (Alexis Kanner, best known for appearing in the last three episodes of The Prisoner) wakes up in a strange bed wearing strange clothes. He gradually starts to piece together what happened over the last twenty four hours. Or does he? By the end of this one I still wasn't sure exactly what had happened. This one boasts an interesting cast, including Justine Lord who was in The Prisoner episode The Girl Who Was Death along with Kanner, Robert Lang, and Yootha Joyce as a prostitute. 

The Sex Victims (1973)

When lorry driver Jack Piper (Ben Howard, who plays the man who wants to rob Peter Cushing at the end of FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) sees a naked woman on horseback on a lonely country road, his relentless pursuit of her leads him into the world of the supernatural. The subject matter of THE SEX VICTIMS would have benefitted from less perfunctory direction (imagine what Jose Larraz could have done with this idea) but nevertheless there's the feel of Celtic myth or Greek tragedy to this one, which despite an intrusive and rather annoying 1970s music score still manages to evoke a sense of adult fairy tale in its proceedings. Felicity Devonshire (from the opening titles of Graham Stark's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN DEADLY SINS) plays the girl and there are roles for Jane Cardew (THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW) and Alun Armstrong (from far more reputable stuff than any of the above).

The Lake (1978)

Barbara (Julie Peasgood from HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS) and her boyfriend Tony (Gene Foad) spend a sunny afternoon having a picnic near a lake where a man killed his entire family before disappearing. As with his 1981 Machenesque feature length horror THE APPOINTMENT, director Lindsey C Vickers manages to conjure a gradually mounting sense of dread using virtually no resources at all with this one. When's THE APPOINTMENT going to get the BFI flipside treatment, then?

The Errand (1980)

After working for cult UK directors Pete Walker and Norman J Warren, screenwriter David McGillivray's first project post 1978's TERROR was this short SF-horror crossover. In a near-future a soldier at a specialist training facility (Edward Kalinski from FRIGHTMARE) is sent on a special mission. But when he is almost killed he finds it difficult to obtain help. Finally the truth behind why he was sent into the field is revealed.

Disc Two's extras include a lengthy interview with the irrepressible David McGillivrary who offers an engaging career overview with elements that will be familiar to many, especially those who have read his book (he leaves out the spicier bits, naturally). There's also an interview with Julie Peasgood (18 minutes) and another with Peter Shillingford covering his career in British cinema as both cinematographer and producer. Finally there are image galleries for TELL-TALE HEART, THE LAKE and THE ERRAND, script galleries for THE LAKE and THE ERRAND and the original short story of the latter. The first pressing also comes with a booklet featuring new writing on the films from Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Josephine Botting. 

Short Sharp Shocks is out in a two-disc Blu-ray set from the BFI on Monday 23rd November 2020


Thursday 19 November 2020

Concrete Plans (2020)


"Like a British Coen Brothers Movie"

Or even a Welsh one, seeing as CONCRETE PLANS is set there, was filmed there, and some of the financing came from Wales as well. Writer-director Will Jewell's sharp thriller which premiered at London Frightfest in October is getting a digital release from Signature Entertainment on their Frightfest Presents label.

High in the remote Welsh mountains five builders are employed to renovate a farmhouse. It's all part of a plan by their employer to avoid paying inheritance tax. As their work progresses and their pay still fails to materialise, the shady pasts of the five men begin to surface as the situation quickly escalates into violence.

A clever script and a talented cast including Upstart Crow's Mr Burbage himself Steve Speirs and James Lance from JANUARY (aka ESTRANGED) both elevate CONCRETE PLANS to the level of a superior thriller that never goes quite where you expect it to thanks to Will Jewell's directorial sleight of hand. 

The variety of regional accents on display, plus important plot points mentioned almost in passing or in radio announcements, means you need to pay attention but it's all very much worth it. Easily one of the best of the many releases so far on the Frightfest Presents label.

Will Jewell's CONCRETE PLANS is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on the Frightfest Presents label 

on 23rd November 2020

Sunday 15 November 2020

King of New York (1990)


Arrow Films continues to add to its catalogue of releases directed by Abel Ferrara with KING OF NEW YORK, which is coming out on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD. For those of you unfamiliar with the film and who attended this year's Grimmfest or October Frightfest and saw the Arrow trailer reel, this is the film that had the scene where someone bursts into a room announcing "Room service, motherf*ckers!"

Drug kingpin Frank White (Christopher Walken) gets released from prison and immediately sets about putting his gang back together, gaining new members, and asserting his dominance over the other drug lords who have taken his place during his absence. His ostensible reason for killing everyone is that he wants to make enough money to save a local hospital. Meanwhile the NYPD is in pursuit and keen to employ as much violence to deal with him and his gang as Frank routinely does with his own problems.

Boasting a fabulous cast of soon-to-be familiar faces including  Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, David Caruso and Wesley Snipes, Ferrara's film is a slick, beautifully shot, fashion-conscious 1990s gangster picture whose ultimate message is that all violence begets is more of the same. Regular composer Joe Delia delivers an effective synth score that at times feels classical in its aspirations and at others pounds along with the action. 

Arrow's disc is a 4K restoration with stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 sound options on both the UHD and Blu-ray discs. On the DVD it's stereo only. Extras include two audio commentaries, one with Ferrara which starts with a crash and the hiss of the opening of beer bottles before Mr Ferrara begins his sweary reminiscences, stating he is only doing the commentary because he has been paid $5000 in cash. The other is with producer Mary Kane, composer Joe Delia, casting director Randy Sabusawa and editor Anthony Redman and is more sober. There are also separate interviews with Ferrara and producer Augusto Caminito. There are also two Ferrara documentaries looking at his career. The first is an edition of the French TV show Cineastes de Notre Temps and the other is A Short Film About the Long Career of Abel Ferrara. You also get the usual image gallery, trailers and TV spots. The DVD is missing the French documentary and the Caminito interview. The first pressing comes with a collectors' booklet featuring new writing on the film from Brad Stevens (Ferrara's biographer) and Iain Sinclair. 

Abel Ferrara's KING OF NEW YORK is out from Arrow on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 16th November 2020