Thursday 23 April 2020

Kwaidan (1964)

"A Timeless Classic of Japanese Cinema"

Eureka are releasing a 2K restoration of the full 183 minute cut of Masaki Kobayashi's Japanese ghost story anthology film. 

There's no framework. Instead, four unrelated Lafcadio Hearn short stories form the inspiration for the film. The Black Hair sees a swordsman returns home to find his wife may not be all that she seems, in The Woman of the Snow a woodcutter is saved by a supernatural creature but he has to swear never to tell anyone what has happened. (A contemporary version of this story was used as the final segment in the film version of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE).

Hoichi the Earless is possibly the best known as it's the one stills to illustrate the film tend to be taken from. A blind musician has Buddhist scriptures painted all over his body to protect him from the spirits of the dead. But they forget his ears. Finally there's In a Cup of Tea, in which a ghostly face seen in said beverage leads to a tale the viewer of which is recommended to find his own ending for.

If the horror anthologies of Amicus could be likened to a horror comic (or a Robert Bloch or R Chetwynd-Hayes mini-collection), KWAIDAN is more like walking through a gallery of classic Japanese art, its paintings created with fine brush strokes, attention to the minutest of details, and with the accent very much on subtlety. It's a glorious, beautiful film, featuring large hand-painted backgrounds that emphasise the artificiality of the storytelling technique but never detracting from the delicate stylishness of the endeavour. 

Extras include a talking head piece with critic Kim Newman, a 35 minute video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson and trailers. Also included in the set is a 100 page perfect bound illustrated collectors book featuring reprints of the Lafcadio Hearn stories, an article on the life and career of Masaki Kobayashi and a lengthy interview with the director.

KWAIDAN is out on Blu-ray in a limited edition set of 3000 from Eureka on Monday 27th April 2020

Saturday 18 April 2020

We Summon the Darkness (2019)

It's time for the latest release on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS had its UK premiere at last year's Halloween Frightfest & now it's coming out on download and DVD.

Indiana 1988. Three girls set off on a road trip to see a metal band in concert. Meanwhile the news is full of reports of 'satanic' killings, with the number of deaths now well into the teens. A chance chocolate milkshake thrown from a van on the highway leads to the girls meeting three male metal-heads, with blood-soaked consequences for all.

The more things change the more they stay the same. WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is set in 1988 but it feels more like early 1970s grindhouse-lite, the sort of thing Jack Hill could make half of with his eyes closed while someone's brother shot some padding at the same time to bring it up to feature length. 

The cast features some familiar B-movie faces (Alexandra Daddario, Johnny Knoxville, Logan Miller) and whoever wrote the screenplay got to indulge in their obsession with bands of the era in a lengthy dialogue exchange. It's the kind of movie that's ideal if you're planning on an evening out (or in) with someone and you want time to have a lengthy chat during the film, especially during the first act when there's actually very little happening.

        Once that's out of the way things do hot up a bit. I'm not going to give anything away, suffice to say this is one of those films seasoned horror connoisseurs can safely give a miss to, while simultaneously recommending it to friends and relatives who fancy a bit of old fashioned TV movie-style suspense and are probably the audience this one's aimed at anyway . 

WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS is out on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature on Digital HD from Monday 20th April 2020 and DVD from Monday 11th May 2020

Friday 17 April 2020

Why Don't You Just Die? (2019)

"Black Comedy Spaghetti Western Set in Someone's Front Room"

That about sums this one up, actually. Oh, plus Shakespeare, whose work is both referenced in the film and emulated by a climax that involves...well, I'll let you find that out for yourselves. Suffice to say the trailer that went out with this one suggesting it's a Three Stooges knockabout comedy doesn't do this very funny, very creative and immensely resourceful film justice. 

A big favourite on last year's UK festival circuit, where it seemed to be scheduled as frequently as Ant Timpson's COME TO DADDY, Kirill Sokolov's WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE is getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow. If you didn't get a chance to see it on the big screen then now's your chance to catch up.

Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) visits Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev), the father of his girlfriend with the intention of killing the man after she has begged him to. However, Andrei is a high-ranking officer in the police and a bit of a bruiser to boot, and he isn't going to go down easily. A shotgun blast to the sofa reveals a stash of hidden cash and slowly, piece by piece, we get to learn how it ended up there.

If Sergio Leone had directed something in the 1980s written by and starring Ade Edmondson & Rik Mayall then the result might well have been something like WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE. Apparently it was Kirill Sokolov's intention to make a spaghetti western that takes place almost entirely in someone's front room, and it's hard to think of how such a concept could be done any better. Witty use of music and cutaways both add immensely to the hilarious and beautifully choreographed mayhem, making this an impressive feature debut.

Arrow's Blu-ray also includes a piece by Kim Newman about 'single location cinema', as well as four short films by Kirill Sokolov: Could Be Worse, The Outcome, The Flame and Sisyphus Is Happy. You also get his storyboards for the film as BD-ROM content. The first pressing also comes with new writing on the film by Neil Mitchell. 

Kirill Sokolov's WHY DON'T YOU JUST DIE is out on 
Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 20th April 2020

Thursday 16 April 2020

Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain (1983)

"Classic Hong Kong Fantasy Epic"

The ground-breaking non-stop special effects-filled fantasy epic that inspired John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA gets a Blu-ray release from Eureka.

It's a time of civil war during the Tang Dynasty, with all the different warring factions wearing different brightly coloured uniforms to distinguish them. When messenger Dik Ming-Kei (Yung Biao) inadvertently causes the wrath of two clan leaders, he escapes to find himself in a weird desrted temple in the Zu mountain range. There he is attacked by flying demons and is eventually saved, only to find himself in the midst of an epic battle between good and evil that involves battling Buddhist monks, magic swords, an ice goddess, a man with absurdly huge eyebrows and all manner of monsters.

Featuring more special effects and wire work than it was likely thought previously possible to cram in to a single film, Tsui Hark's supernatural fantasy adventure hardly lets up for its 98 minutes, racing from one breathless set piece to another. The dialogue info dumps come thick and fast too, so fast that it's almost impossible to read all the subtitles and keep up with the onscreen action, necessitating at least two viewings to fully appreciate what's going on.

Eureka's disc gives us a new 2K restoration of the film along with ZU: TIME WARRIOR - the export cut of the film shown in European cinemas that also includes a time travelling wraparound sequences. Both Cantonese and English soundtrack options are included. Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns provides a commentary track, and there's an in depth and exclusive interview with director Tsui Hark recorded for this release.

Other extras include the episode of Jonathan Ross' Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show dedicated to the director, alternative opening credits and a set of srchival interviews with stars Yien Biao, Mang Hoi and Moon Lee.

Tsui Hark's ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 20th April 2020

Thursday 9 April 2020

The Wind (1986)

     Arrow continues its bid to release more films by Greek exploitationeer Nico Mastorakis than any other UK disc label as Meg Foster is troubled by THE WIND.
Let's start with the original poster art up there, which graced many a full page magazine ad back in the 1980s when the film was released on VHS and quite rightly, as it's pretty much the best thing about the film. Arrow's new release comes with some lovely Graham Humphreys cover art as well, which looks like this:

So what's the film about? Well, if I said 'very little' would that be unfair? Thriller writer Sian Anderson (Foster) enjoys the lavish lifestyle we know all writers do. She jets off from her posh pad in Los Angeles to a remote Greek island to finish her latest epic (again as we also know all writers do). Once there she ends up being chased by mad Wings Hauser around and around and around until she isn't (this tends not to happen to writers, not even really really good ones).

The great thing about THE WIND is its location, which is so good you almost expect Foster to find herself lost in a Bava-esque dream fantasy amidst rustic back alleys and perhaps even meet Telly Savalas in his native land. 
But no. 
The problems with THE WIND are many. Director Mastorakis seems to have had problems handling his stellar cast, whose performances here are either turned up to 11 from the beginning (Hauser), never get above mildly lukewarm (Foster and Steve Railsback) or just do not care (Robert Morley who gets to wave his stick around). 

The plot is virtually non-existent to the point where you begin to wonder if the reels have even been put on the disc in the right order. How many times is Meg Foster going to open and close those windows and shutters? Why is Steve Railsback suddenly halfway up a wall? Why does Wings Hauser keep a half-used toilet roll by his telephone? Is he worried the wind may catch him unawares and turn out to be something else? Top this all off with a comedy policeman (at least I really, really hope he was meant to be the comic relief) and THE WIND threatens to become something bad film clubs might add to their programme.

Extras were not provided for review but apparently you get the complete soundtrack composed by Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer. Oh yes imagine that  - the composer of HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (and THE DEER HUNTER) and INTERSTELLAR together! In Greece! There's also an interview with the director and a collection of Nico Mastorakis trailers. The first pressing of the disc comes with new writing on the film from Kat Ellinger which will doubtless treat the film with more reverence and respect than this review does.

Nico Mastorakis' THE WIND is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 13th April 2020