Friday 25 September 2020

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)

The Monty Python team's fourth feature gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Fabulous Films.

Abandoning the loose but nevertheless coherent narrative structure of their two previous films, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) and LIFE OF BRIAN (1979), THE MEANING OF LIFE saw the team returning to the sketch collection format of their first feature AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. As a consequence this one is a bit more hit and miss than what had come just before. Even so, some of Python's all-time greatest moments are in here, including the over the top musical extravagance of Every Sperm is Sacred (which apparently used up most of the budget & if so it's certainly money well spent), the nauseating special effects showcase that is Mr Creosote And His Amazing Exploding Abdomen, and the Bergmanesque Death Comes to the Dinner Party.

But there are other great moments as well. The 'B-movie' is a lovely piece of Gilliamesque surrealism that's all the better for them having it try to attack the main feature, John Cleese's sex education class is spot on in its mundane explanation and remonstrations, and even the conversation at dinner where the couple turn out to be hopeless at discussing philosophy now feels more like social commentary than was likely intended at the time.

Fabulous' Blu-ray comes with two extra audio tracks - a commentary with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, and the Audio Track for the Lonely where you can watch the film along with someone who makes noises, phones out for takeaway food and causes other disturbances you can find out for yourselves. The hour long 30th Anniversary reunion see the surviving five members discussing the movie, which apparently was pitched to Universal in the form of a poem. Eric Idle is on hand to perform it in another extra. You also get deleted scenes, advertising, and alternate versions of the songs. The film is also available on DVD but you don't get the extras.

MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 28th September 2020

Friday 18 September 2020

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Likely the oldest film ever to be getting a dedicated review on here, George Méliès' world-famous 13 minute short film gets released in a gorgeous package from Arrow Films that's packed with extras.

First the film itself. There's something undoubtedly a little eerie about watching something 118 years old and knowing all the people performing are long gone, the ghosts of their physical memory playing for our entertainment. Arrow's disc contains both black and white and colourised versions> in case anyone starts crying foul at the thought of a Ted Turner-style digital paintbox, the colour version also dates from 1902, each frame having had blobs of colour added by hand to costumes, etc. It's absolutely worth a watch and if anything the rudimentary attempts at adding an extra dimension to the film actually work in making it that little bit stranger.

There are a number of options for soundtrack accompaniment. The colour version comes with different soundtracks to the black and white one and range from 'traditional' piano to prog rock-style synths (my favourite). There are also to have a written 'actors accompaniment' read out over both versions (different for each).

Extras include Georges Franju's 1952 short film LA GRAND MELIES and a video essay by Jon Spira that looks at both the film and the career of its creator. Also included is THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE, Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange's 80 minute documentary from 2011 which include interviews with Costa-Gavras, Michel Gondry, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and others.

As well as the disc, the package includes a 214-page hardback book: The Long Lost Autobiography of Georges Méliès: Father of Sci-Fi & Fantasy Cinema, translated into English and apparently available for the first time since 1961. The book also includes a filmography, illustrations and interviews. 

Finally, both disc and book are housed in limited edition packaging, making this the most definitive presentation of A TRIP TO THE MOON we are likely to see. 

George Méliès A TRIP TO THE MOON is out in a special deluxe edition from Arrow Films on Monday 21st September 2020

Thursday 17 September 2020

After the Fox (1966)

Peter Sellers stars in a film by Vittorio de Sica. So no chance of a clash of egos there, then. Neil Simon's first film screenplay gets a lavish treatment and even if, as he admitted himself, the final result is patchy there are enough funny and genuinely inspired moments in it to make it a cult favourite.  And now it's getting a Blu-ray release in the UK courtesy of the BFI.

Aldo Vanucci (Peter Sellers) a sort of Italian Charley Croker, escapes from prison after learning he is the only criminal capable of importing into Italy gold stolen from Cairo by Okra (Akim Tamiroff, probably better known to readers of this site for his appearances in THE BLACK SLEEP and THE VULTURE. Sorry Akim). The ideal place to bring the gold in is a small seaside town, so Vanucci hits on the idea of pretending he and his gang are shooting a movie about stolen gold there, using the entire township (including the police) to help him with the heist.

Apparently director de Sica wanted an Italian star for his planned satirical epic about the Italian film industry, which tied in nicely with Neil Simon's plan to have some fun with the art house film industry that had created movies like Resnais' LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD. Having Sellars on board guaranteed a star's pulling power but also meant de Sica has to acquiesce to Sellars' demands, including having his then wife Britt Ekland cast as one of the leads. 

While Ekland's not ideal for her role, Victor Mature is absolutely splendid in his, sending up the ageing matinee idol persona before it was a thing, and Martin Balsam (who will probably end up being most famous for being pushed down the stairs by Mrs Bates) exhibits fine comic timing as his long-suffering agent. De Sica appears as himself in a spoof of filming De Laurentiis Biblical epic THE BIBLE with 'John Huston Moses'. 

The BFI's Blu-ray is 1080p and is not a restoration so there are still a couple of smudges and scratches on an otherwise clean and bright-looking print. Extras include a new 15 minute interview with Britt Ekland, Vic Pratt talking about Peter Sellers, a one minute Victorian short crime caper from 1897 (!), 72 minutes of Maurice Denham (who plays a small part in AFTER THE FOX) narrating two short films from the National Art Archive: The Last Rhino and Go As You Please...In Britain, and a 12 minute piece with De Sica visiting Berlin. The first pressing comes with a booklet with new writing on the film from Vic Pratt, Deborah Allison & Howard Hughes.

Vittorio De Sica's AFTER THE FOX is out on Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 21st September 2020 

Monday 14 September 2020

Crystal Eyes (2018)

One of the best films to premiere at 2018's London Frightfest is now available to watch on the Arrow Channel. 

It's the 1980s - at least it certainly seems that way from that music, those hairstyles and those fashions. A year after supermodel Alexis Carpenter dies horribly in a bizarre catwalk accident members of the fashion house she worked with are being bumped off by a killer dressed as a mannequin. Will anyone survive to inherit Alexis' diamante-encrusted tiara as Queen of the supermodels? Or will everyone be dead by the blood and glitter-drenched climax?

Written and directed by Ezequiel Endelman and Leandro Montejano, CRYSTAL EYES is a brightly coloured, fabulously ambitious, deliciously stylish tribute to giallo cinema that's all the more impressive because of what is achieved on an obviously very low budget. 

There are plenty of in-jokes for Italian horror cinema aficionados, both in character names and in the production design that manages to successfully homage Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA with sets probably made from plywood and prayers. 

The attention to detailing in the costume and accoutrement design is marvellous - even the umbrellas are interesting. Does one really curl one's eyelashes like that, though? I'm not so sure.

Tremendous fun and a must watch for any fan of the verve, sparkle and style of 1970s Italian horror cinema, CRYSTAL EYES is an assured and impressive debut for its two directors and is hopefully just the first of many projects from them. The music (by Pablo Fuu) is excellent as well. Come on, Arrow - let's have a double disc Blu-ray release of this with a soundtrack CD included. 

CRYSTAL EYES is currently available to view on the 
Arrow Channel

Sunday 13 September 2020

This Gun for Hire (1942)

"Thoroughly Enjoyable Briskly Paced Noir"

A couple of years ago I reviewed Arrow's Blu-ray release of THE GLASS KEY starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. Now Eureka are giving us the chance to see the Lake/Ladd starrer that preceded that and made Ladd into a star.

Ladd plays Raven, an assassin for hire who bumps off a blackmailing chemist at the behest of villainous Laird Cregar (probably best known to readers here for starring in John Brahm's duet of mid 1940s classics THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE). Out for revenge Raven meets nightclub singer-cum-magician Ellen (Lake) on a train. Her boyfriend Michael (Robert Preston) is a detective on the hunt for the assassin. The poison gas the dead chemist was working on is due to be sold to the Japanese and Raven suffers a crisis of conscience as those looking for him close in, leading to a splendid confrontation in the wheelchair-bound master villain's skyscraper lair.

Adapted from a Graham Greene novel, the teaming of Ladd and Lake worked so well that Paramount had already put them together for THE GLASS KEY before THIS GUN FOR HIRE had been released. As well as those two stars the film benefits immensely from the presences of both Preston and Cregar, likeable and slimy respectively. But it's Ladd's show all the way and it's not surprising reviews of the period recognised this was a star in the making. 

Director Frank Tuttle never made anything approaching a horror film but that doesn't stop him staging a splendid bit at Cregar's isolated gothic country residence at night. With a power outage during a storm, Lake having revealed herself as someone who has to be done away with, and Ladd coming to the rescue it's all splendid stuff.

  Eureka's transfer is a 4K scan. Extras on the Blu-ray include a commentary track from film scholar Adrian Martin, two radio adaptations with the voice of Alan Ladd in both and Joan Blondell in the Lux Radio Theatre version and Veronica Lake in the Screen Guild Theater one. You also get a trailer and a booklet with new writing on the film from Barry Forshaw and Craig Ian Mann.

THIS GUN FOR HIRE is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 14th September 2020

Friday 11 September 2020

The Tomb: Devil's Revenge (2020)

        "I'm going to blow your brains out all over that horse!" says William Shatner early on in THE TOMB:DEVIL'S REVENGE, out in a bit on digital platforms from 4Digital Media. Viewers who make it to the end of the film will, like that horse, wonder what they have done to suffer such an indignity. Yes, once again House of Mortal Cinema finds itself paying a visit to the realm of Truly Terrible Films with a movie that is less deserving of a review and more a funeral, which is just one of the things incompetently depicted onscreen in this one.

Watch out horses everywhere!
A team of experts explore a cave in Kentucky but find themselves challenged by a slight incline that causes them to swear mightily while one of their number falls down it and somehow ends up a bloody mess. The lead is archaeologist John Brock (Jason Brooks) who decides, after much hallucinating and a heart attack, that the best thing to do is go back there with his family including poor Jeri Ryan as his long-suffering (by now we know how she feels) wife. 

One of the shots that pops up at least four times
       He's searching for a cursed relic that causes Aztec demons in heavy metal outfits to appear at regular intervals and kill everyone. Or possibly not. They've been haunting the family for years according to William Shatner, again only possibly, because while attempting to explain all this Mr Shatner goes off on the kind of rambling incoherent rant that Ed Wood would have been proud of, so who knows what's actually going on? Certainly not the makers of this one, who in terms of narrative coherence demonstrate the highest levels of 'I Can't Be Arsed' we've seen so far this year.

Jeri Ryan in talks with her agent
Anyway, off goes John, family in tow, in his shit-stained falling apart Winnebago which we assume is in such a poor state of repair because it's going to get blown up or driven off a cliff (these things do not happen). A whole load of nonsense does happen however, none of which is explained by the shock horror "ending", and none of which distracts from the many questions we still have as the credits role which include: how many times are we going to see that identical flashback of an Aztec sacrifice? (Four). Will we even see the giant spider that has been leaving all the webbing in the caves? (No.) Why do they need torches in such well-lit caves and why do they keep shining them directly into the camera? (You can probably answer that one for yourself by now). 

A rare shot where the screen isn't a white-out
Sorry everyone but THE TOMB:DEVIL'S REVENGE is terrible. In fact it's on the nominations list for worst of the year. "You didn't see shit," says Mr Shatner close to the end. Oh yes we did, Bill. Oh yes we did. 

THE TOMB: DEVIL'S REVENGE is out on digital platforms from 4Digital Media on Monday 14th September 2020

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Walkabout (1971)

"Excellent Presentation of Director Nicolas Roeg's First Solo Feature"

After co-directing PERFORMANCE with Donald Cammell in 1970, and before going on to 1973's DON'T LOOK NOW, Nicolas Roeg made WALKABOUT, a movie that's now getting a whistles and bells Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

A man (John Meillon, probably best known for appearing in Peter Faiman's CROCODILE DUNDEE) takes his daughter (Jenny Agutter) and son (Roeg's son Luc here billed as Lucien John) into the outback, where he attempts to kill them. Failing that he shoots himself and sets his car on fire, leaving the two children stranded. Wandering the wilderness, and becoming increasingly hungry and thirsty, they are saved by an accidental meeting with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) who is on 'walkabout' - the traditional ritual in which he must learn to survive off the land. But the clash of cultures leads to tragedy.

One of the extras on Second Sight's Blu-ray is an 'Archive Introduction' by the director which looks like it's actually a snippet from a longer interview. In it he reveals that the original screenplay for WALKABOUT was 14 pages long. It's certainly a story told mainly visually, with Roeg's camera (he was also the cinematographer) beautifully capturing the landscape and the vibrant wildlife within it. 

Second Sight's 4K restoration transfer is excellent and a major improvement on Criterion's Blu-ray which was itself a major improvement over its previous non-anamorphic DVD. You may want to hang onto your Criterion disc, though because the Roeg and Agutter commentary track on there that was originally recorded for the laserdisc release hasn't been ported over. 

There is, however, a brand new commentary track with Luc Roeg and David Thomson, plus a host of other extras unique to this edition. These include new interviews with Agutter and Luc Roeg, another with producer Si Litvinoff (whose enthusiasm for the picture all these years on is quite charming) and a new interview with director Danny Boyle about Roeg's career. You also get the 2011 BFI Q&A with Jenny Agutter and Nicolas and Luc Roeg and the above mentioned archival introduction.

The disc comes in a rigid slipcase with new artwork. Also included is the novel the film was based on (which makes for an interesting read as some of it is from the Aboriginal boy's point of view), as well as the first draft of the screenplay after Roeg had plumped it up to make the studio interested, plus another book with new writing on the film.

       The bottom line: A must-have package for WALKABOUT fans. You'll want to hang onto your Criterion Blu-ray but there's enough new material and that great 4K transfer to make picking this up more than worthwhile.

Nicolas Roeg's WALKABOUT came out on Blu-ray (Region B) in a limited edition of 3000 from Second Sight on Monday 31st August 2020. It looks like you can now order it from Second Sight's site.

Tuesday 1 September 2020

Frightfest 2020 Day Five - Monday


If you hang around at Frightfest for long enough, sooner or later a version of the kind of movie Empire Pictures used to do so well back in the 198os will turn up. Unfortunately ENHANCED is nowhere near as good as the films Charles Band and Co. used to turn out, saddled as it with a derivative script, uncharismatic performances, and a dead serious po-faced approach that makes the whole thing feel very much like a sub-par X-Men knock off.

AV The Hunt

Brutal and uncompromising, this Turkish film is the kind of thing that Frightfest showcases so well. As a result of an affair a woman finds herself on the run from the male members of her family who are determined to kill her to avenge the honour they feel has been besmirched by her act. Action packed from the off with plenty of nail-biting suspense as well as social commentary this could be the film of the festival. And of course I'm not going to tell you if it has a happy ending or not. 

Dark Stories

The final film for this year's August Frightfest is a French anthology picture with five stories and a bizarre (and at the same time somewhat perfunctory) wraparound where Kristanna Lokken tells stories to a talking doll that has her tied up in her basement. The first story is set in an art gallery and has a fantastic central idea about ghouls hiding in paintings. Other stories include a park filled with ghosts and a splendid tale of a girl who unwittingly brings a Jinn back from Morocco. The final story boasts Dominique Pinon (DELICATESSEN) and Michelle Ryan (COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES) and while pleasant enough doesn't really have the punch to end a horror anthology. Still, DARK STORIES was a decent festival closer.

And that's it! The first ever digital Frightfest! Somehow here we still feel almost as exhausted as if we'd been to London anyway. Huge thanks to the organisers, and to all our new friends on social media in the Frightfest and Phoenix groups who provided thoughtful discussion and barrels of laughs where appropriate. It looks like there are more digital festivals on the horizon, but until then I have to give special shout outs to star Tyler Gallant, screenwriter Joe Knetter, and director Marcel Walz who have demonstrated tremendous good humour in showing their appreciation for the tribute video we made to their film BLIND. Gentlemen we salute you! As it seems like a good note to go out on, here it is:

BLIND (not this one) is out on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment on their Frightfest Presents label on Monday November 16th 2020. 

House of Mortal Cinema will be back after a nice lie down