Saturday 31 October 2020

Tales From the Hood I & II (1995 & 2018)


 "Excellent Package of Anthology Horror Movies"

      The BFI are releasing the first two TALES FROM THE HOOD films (the third one has just been released) in a two disc Blu-ray set with a host of extras.

         TALES FROM THE HOOD is a genuine surprise. A mid-1990s horror film that embraces the narrative style and comic book setups of previous anthology movies (especially those made by Amicus) while at the same time skilfully employing contemporary African American cultural themes at their core. 

Three hoodlums arrive at a mortuary with the promise of a drug deal. They meet the mysterious Mr Simms (Clarence White III) who, with his 1970s-style dress sense, proves to be something of a Dolemite-style cryptkeeper, telling the boys four tales based on the mortuary's current 'residents'.

Violence from white cops, domestic violence, the massacre of slaves, and gang warfare form the basis of the stories, which considering the seriousness of the subject matter are far more entertaining and EC-style than you might expect both in terms of their style of execution and the horrible ends which the perpetrators of the atrocities end up suffering. If you've seen pretty much any Amicus film you'll have guessed the ending, which is still extremely satisfying and embellished with some excellent makeup effects. Director Rusty Cundieff absolutely knows how to film this kind of horror, co-writer and co-producer Darin Scott was one of the team responsible for the superior Vincent Price-starring horror anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM and we get a music score from accomplished genre composer Christopher Young. It's therefore a pleasure to watch each tale unfold knowing you're in safe hands (especially as the stories' protagonists very much aren't). 

Extras for TALES FROM THE HOOD include Shout Factory's making of documentary from 2017 featuring interviews with Cundieff and Scott as well as stars Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser and Anthony Griffith amongst others. There's also a commentary track from Rusty Cundieff, also from 2017.

It wasn't until 2018 that a sequel emerged, this time written and directed by both Rusty Cundieff and Darin Scott. This time Keith David is our storyteller (which he does superbly) and the stories on the whole are rather lighter in touch, at least to begin with. The first, about a human-sized gollywog that goes on the rampage, dangerously skirts the line of being too ridiculous but just about gets away with it if you're forgiving. In the second a gang try to discover where some money has been stashed by a man they've tortured to death, employing a white medium to channel the dead man's spirit. The third is about a date-rape night that goes horribly wrong for the perpetrators. None of these comic book-style stories will prepare you for the fourth segment 'The Sacrifice' which is powerful and affecting, all the more so because of what has gone before. It would not have been out of place in Jordan Peele's new Twilight Zone series and in fact is better than many of the stories in that. 

Extras for the second movie include an 18 minute interview with Darin Scott and a substantial 68 minute interview with Rusty Cundieff which looks like it was conducted by Zoom and covers both films in detail. 

TALES FROM THE HOOD is an excellent anthology. What's surprising is how good TALES FROM THE HOOD II is, so don't go under the misapprehension that it's been packaged with the first as an 'extra'. Considering that most sequels are terrible, especially ones made over 20 years after their original, and in a decade where we've seen plenty of truly terrible anthology movies it's very much worth watching. An excellent package from the BFI. 

TALES FROM THE HOOD I & II is out on Blu-ray from the BFI in a two disc set on Monday 2nd November 2020

Friday 30 October 2020

Lake Michigan Monster (2018)


"Happy Homemade Shenanigans"

An attempt to do something slightly different with the ultra low-budget comedy Lovecraft subgenre, LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER is getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow packed with extras.

Captain Seafield (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews who also writes and directs because it's that kind of production) claims his father was snatched from their boat by a sea monster and so he enlists the aid of three 'specialists' to help him track it down. 

LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER is very much in the spirit of Larry Blamire's LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA movies, and if you liked those you might get a kick out of this one. Be warned,  though, that the budget is much lower and the sense of 'shot on a Sunday afternoon because we were bored and thought it might be a wacky thing to do' is much higher.

But does it work? Whereas Blamire's films justify their feature length, LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER starts to outstay its welcome rather fast. It feels like the kind of thing that might have worked as a five minute sketch, or at a stretch a half hour episode of The Goodies or The Comic Strip, but at 78 minutes this stuff starts to get rather wearing. Mind you, such is the beauty of Blu-ray that you can pause it and come back later. It's also the kind of film to leave on at a party because it's highly likely none of your guests will have ever seen it.

Arrow's Blu-ray is packed with extras, including three commentary tracks, one of which is 'drunk' although nobody gets into a fight like on the best (and unplanned) alcohol-assisted commentaries. There are three interviews, an effects breakdown and you get the Captain Seafield theme song performed by the Seafield Monster Sextet if you really want to hear it again. 

As usual there are trailers, stills and a reversible sleeve. The first pressing of the disc comes with a booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw.

LAKE MICHIGAN MONSTER is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 2nd November 2020

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful (2020)


"I always wanted to photograph a chicken in high heels."

How can you resist finding out more about the man who said that? Helmut Newton, controversial photographer with a unique and distinctive visual style that once seen is never forgotten, is the subject of this new documentary that's about to get a cinema and digital release from Blue Finch.

Rather than start off chronologically, telling you where Newton was born and what his parents were like, this one drops you straight into its many stars reminiscing about working with him. If you're not familiar with Newton's work, or the many famous models he worked with, you will be after the first fifteen minutes. 

It's a refreshing way to tell his story, learning about 'the legend' first from such fashion luminaries as Anna Wintour, Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling, Grace Jones and Claudia Schiffer, who all provide charming reminiscences about working with him. 

Newton died at the age of 84 in 2004 in a car crash. However, sufficient video recordings and interviews were made of him that he is very much a presence in this, and pretty much gets to tell his own life story. 

HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is a fascinating, well put together and extremely watchable documentary that treats its subject with respect and sympathy. An excellent, informative and educational piece of work.

HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is out on Curzon Home Cinema and Digital Download on Friday 23rd October 2020

Saturday 17 October 2020

Dementia (1953)

A curious black and white oddity that runs for just under an hour, John Parker's dialogue-free DEMENTIA is getting a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release from the BFI.

A young woman wakes up in a cheap hotel room, her mind still filled with vestiges of the nightmare she has just had. She leaves the building and finds herself embarking on an odyssey of sleaze and murder over the course of one night in the skid row world in which she finds herself. And that doesn't include the bizarre flashbacks she has to her life as a child.

The BFI's disc has quite a few extras, the most succinct of which in providing background to this one is Joe Dante's Trailers from Hell segment in which he explains that DEMENTIA was the only film by director John Parker, that he made it with his mother's money, submitted it to the New York Censor board multiple times only for it to be rejected, and that eventually it was bought by producer Jack H Harris who retitled it DAUGHTER OF HORROR and added narration. It's probably most famous as the film showing in Harris' THE BLOB (1957) when the titular creature attacks the cinema.

It's certainly a weird film, foreshadowing both Polanski's 1965 REPULSION and some of the grimmer, weirder moments of David Lynch's oeuvre. The sleaze quotient, the bloody deaths and a severed hand no doubt all contributed to the film being refused a certificate and there's also a fascinating score by George Antiel with vocalisations by Marni Nixon, possibly best known as Audrey Hepburn's singing voice in George Cukor's MY FAIR LADY (1964).

Other extras include the Jack Harris DAUGHTER OF HORROR version, a Kat Ellinger commentary, the short British film ALONE WITH THE MONSTERS about an elderly lady who, overcome with loneliness kills herself, a piece on the restoration and trailers for both version of the film.

If you get the first pressing there's also a booklet with new writing on the film from Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Ian Schultz

John Parker's DEMENTIA is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 19th October 2020

Friday 16 October 2020

Eraserhead (1977)

The original release date may be 1977 but it's well known now that David Lynch's first feature took many years to make. Provocative, disturbing and wholly unique, ERASERHEAD is finally, deservedly, getting a Blu-ray release from Criterion. 

Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) lives, works, and (we learn) loves in a grim industrial landscape, the events of which are controlled by the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk). Invited to the family home of his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) Henry learns that she has given birth to a monstrous baby. He and Mary move in together but she soon leaves, unable to stand the unearthly screeches of the child. Henry dreams of a world behind his radiator, inhabited by a swollen-cheeked foetus-crushing fantasy woman who becomes the love of his life after his head is turned into pencil erasers in a dream sequence.

Like the work of David Cronenberg, all of David Lynch's films, but perhaps especially ERASERHEAD, defy description. There is no way anyone can give an impression of what this film is like without adding at the end 'Really, you just have to watch it.'

Helping to establish the cult of the midnight movie along with other pictures that could be experienced in no other way than watching, including John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS and Jodorowsky's EL TOPO, ERASERHEAD is perhaps the most disturbing, most stimulating, most repulsive and most nightmarish of the lot. Those who did catch it at midnight showings probably didn't get a lot of sleep afterwards.

Criterion's Blu-ray transfer is of a new 4K restoration with uncompressed stereo soundtrack. Extras include new HD restorations of six Lynch short films with introductions by the director - Six Figures Getting Sick (1966), The Alphabet (1968), The Grandmother (1970), The Amputee Part I and Part II (1974) and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (1996). There's also the 2001 Lynch-directed documentary Eraserhead Stories, plus new and archival interviews with cast and crew.

David Lynch's ERASERHEAD is out on Blu-ray from Criterion on Monday 19th October 2020

Saturday 10 October 2020

The Driver (2020)

New Thai-shot zombie picture THE DRIVER gets a digital and DVD release from Lionsgate UK.

There's been a zombie apocalypse. Somewhere in Thailand survivors have banded together to build a community walled in with the usual wooden fencing, barbed wire and watchtowers. Bandits attack and the place is destroyed. The camp's security chief is known in the credits only as The Driver (Mark Dacascos) presumably because one of his jobs is driving those found guilty of crimes within the commune out to a gut-munching death. He survives, as does his daughter, and together they set off in his car to look for legendary zombie-free paradise Haven.

The premise plus the poster art suggests we should be in for 1971's VANISHING POINT with zombies (and wouldn't that be great?) or something along the lines of a Brian Trenchard-Smith 1980s Ozsploitation road movie (which would also be marvellous). Imagine it - a known action star (Mark Dacascos from JOHN WICK 3) in the lead, tearing down the highway running down zombies and being beset by MAD MAX-style marauders as explosions risk him and his little girl ending up being blasted into the tarmac.

But oh dear it's not. For a movie with that title THE DRIVER completely wastes its central idea, taking ages to get to the road bit of the story and then it's the same bit of road (or at least it looks like it from the scenery) over and over again combined with lots of safe careful driving. Then The Driver teaches his daughter how to drive. No montage, no clips, no hair-raising episodes, and it's all done in real time. He does the same with teaching her how to shoot. Aside from the attack on the compound it's all so dull, filmed with the air of someone who doesn't care & just wants to fill 90 minutes. The only extra is a 12 minute making of.  

Now here's the interesting part. Apparently this is the third part of a trilogy. The first, DEAD EARTH (retitled from TWO OF US) has yet to see a UK release, and the second hasn't actually been shot yet. One begins to suspect the thought processes of a Thai Richard Driscoll at work here. Expect THE DRIVER to turn up under a different title at some point, possibly with new footage edited in to make it better. Except it won't be.

THE DRIVER is out from Lionsgate UK on Digital Download on Monday 12th October 2020 and DVD on Monday 19th October 2020

Saturday 3 October 2020

The Dare (2020)

The shouty sweary people chained to a wall and tortured by a masked madman subgenre gets another to add to its number as Lionsgate releases THE DARE on digital download and DVD.

Jay (Bart Edwards) is enjoying a night at home with his family when he is kidnapped. He wakes up to find himself in a pit, chained to a wall etc etc. There are three other people in there as well, one of whom is a sweary woman, another is a shouty man and the third might have been both sweary and shouty which is presumably why his lips have been sewn together.

A masked madman makes them torture each other. If they don't they get force fed cockroaches and other creatures that will make arthropod fans (and those with phobias of them) shut their eyes. 

Is there a reason or has their captor targeted them randomly? It all slowly comes to light through flashbacks showing our killer being raised by a sadistic backwoods loony (Richard Brake, best known to readers here for MANDY and Rob Zombie's 31 and 3 FROM HELL) and what happened to the boy as he grew up. 

Very much what could kindly be described as by the numbers torture porn, THE DARE feels in places as if it has been made by a grown up version of the little boy in school who loved to induce nausea by wandering around with an open mouth full of chewed up food, or worms, or worse. Anyone expecting twists or variations on a theme will be disappointed - this one's strictly for torture porn newcomers, or those who like their gross-out horror uncomplicated. Those who actively dislike the genre and feel horror films are just vehicles to display the depredations of vile characters doing terrible things to one another will also find themselves vindicated by watching this one. Not a film to show to your non-horror loving friend to prove how much they have misjudged the genre. 

THE DARE is out from Lionsgate on digital download on Monday 5th October 2020 and on DVD on Monday 12th October 2020. Here's the trailer:

Friday 2 October 2020

The Deeper You Dig (2019)


"Northern Gothic EC-style Art House Horror"

After its UK premiere at 2019's Frightfest the latest project from film-making team the Adams family (father John, mother Toby Poser and daughter Zelda) gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

Driving home from a bar late one night Kurt (John Adams), the worse for alcohol, knocks down and kills fourteen year old Echo (Zelda Adams). He buries the body and tries to forget about the incident while he works on the rundown house he's renovating in the woods. But he's reckoned without Echo's mother Ivy (Toby Poser) who is a psychic, and Echo herself, who has every intention of manifesting her now dead self through Kurt's body.

A very low budget effort that is nevertheless extremely competently shot, edited, acted and scored, THE DEEPER YOU DIG's opening act is very much like an EC comics story as Echo comes back from the grave to haunt Kurt. Then things start to get weird and there are a couple of weird moments that are pleasingly reminiscent of Don Coscarelli's 1979 PHANTASM. 

The film is a slow burn, in fact in some places it's a bit too slow and could maybe have done with a good 20-30 minutes being cut from its running time. That said it's an impressive effort and far, far better than most of what is being made on similar (and higher) budgets out there at the moment (including some of this month's other releases).

Arrow's two disc set comes with a commentary track from the husband and wife directors, and a 50 minute interview with all three of the Adams family. Anton Bitel spends nearly 30 minutes contextualising the film within the Adams' filmography and examining themes within it in the video essay 'It's In the Blood'. There's also 12 minutes with special effects coordinator Trey Lindsay, the Frightfest TV interview from last year's festival, music videos, an image gallery and a trailer. As a bonus, the second disc has an earlier Adams project, THE HATRED (2018) which runs just under an hour and is worth a look after and if you enjoyed the main feature. 

THE DEEPER YOU DIG is out in a two disc Blu-ray set from Arrow Films on Monday 5th October 2020