Thursday 25 March 2021

Honeydew (2020)


"Deliciously Eccentric, Marvellously Messed Up Stuff"

After premiering at last year's Frightfest, where it was quite justifiably some people's film of the festival, writer and director (and editor) Devereux Milburn's debut feature is getting a UK digital release from Signature Films.

Sam (Sawyer Spielberg) and partner Rylie (Malin Barr) are on a research trip out in the middle of nowhere for Rylie's planned doctorate in botany. The subject of the research is a fungus called Sordico that behaves in much the same way ergot does, namely causing peripheral gangrene and insanity, but with a host of other gruesome mutative effects as well.

They camp without permission and are thrown off the land. But then their car won't start so they beg for shelter at the house of Karen (Barbara Kingsley) and her obese, slow-moving face-bandaged 'son' Gunni (Jamie Bradley) who spends most of his time staring at old Popeye cartoons on a black and white TV while sucking lemons dipped in salt.

To the surprise of no-one but our leads, there's something very strange and very unpleasant going on at Karen's house and soon Sam and Rylie are part of the grim insanity, but exactly what that is I'll leave you to find out.

Stylishly directed and walking a fine line between comedy and really nasty horror in a way the League of Gentlemen did so effortlessly, HONEYDEW also boasts a strong David Lynch vibe in its lead mad old lady, its awkward dinner table scenes and a very odd dream sequence. Add in a quite terrific soundtrack that sounds like Spike Milligan trying to score THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS using only his own body as all the instruments and you have a film where you never quite know if what you're seeing is intended to make you laugh or recoil in horror. Fans of literary horror of a certain age may be delighted to learn that as HONEYDEW's horror escalates it becomes reminiscent of the best / worst moments of the Pan Book of Horror Stories. 

HONEYDEW is quite splendid - the performances, direction and music are all spot on and for a first effort it's quite something. One hopes Devereux Milburn's body of work continues to develop along such witty, horrific and occasionally frankly disgusting lines. An early entry for my Top 10 of 2021.

Devereux Milburn's HONEYDEW is out on digital platforms from Signature Entertainment on Monday 29th March 2021

Thursday 18 March 2021

Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969)


Was there ever a producer of children's television more famous among his intended audience than Gerry Anderson? Certainly there wasn't when his shows originally aired. Driven by a desire to make big budget action spectaculars when he had actually been given the job of making TV for the younger generation, Gerry didn't let that get in his way, instead producing a unique, in fact one could argue auteurist, body of work that is still appreciated and remembered (along with the man himself) to this day.

Having found success with shows like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Joe 90, Anderson made a rare foray into the world of live action features in 1969 with JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN, about to get a DVD and Blu-ray release courtesy of Fabulous Films. Anderson had already been involved with the feature films THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO (1966) AND THUNDERBIRD SIX (1968) but this was the first not to feature his trademark Supermarionation.

We're still firmly in Gerry's world, though, from the font on the opening credits to the intricate model work that looks as if it's just dying to be knocked over by Godzilla or the Giant Turnip Monster From Beyond the Moon. The plot of JOURNEY is more sober, however. A new planet is discovered on the far side of the sun and astronaut Glenn Ross (Roy Thinnes) and astrophysicist John Kane (Ian Hendry) are sent to explore, but they don't find what they're expecting.

JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN boasts excellent special effect for its era and an interesting cast that also includes Patrick Wymark,  Herbert Lom - whose eyeball-removal was a highlight of many a post-screening school playground conversation back in the day - and Lynn Loring, perhaps best known to readers here for the 1973 William Shatner Vs Menhirs TV movie HORROR AT 37 000 FEET. 

JOURNEY spends a lot of its running time getting our astronauts to the planet, but then this was the era of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and the model work and scenes in space were probably designed to take their time to appeal to audiences wanting more nuts and bolts of spaceships coupling and uncoupling. In fact this is dwelt on so much that the concept of the mirror world our heroes discover isn't given half as much time to be developed before it's all over, with quite the downbeat ending in keeping with other SF movies of its era (this was the year of BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES after all).

Fabulous Films' Blu-ray comes with a trailer and lovely cover art from Graham Humphreys but that's all. 

Gerry Anderson's JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 22nd March 2021

Tuesday 16 March 2021

The Bloodhound (2020)


"Eerie Poe-Inspired Art House Horror"

Arrow are releasing writer-director Patrick Picard's singular take on Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher on Blu-ray after its UK premiere on the Arrow channel.

Francis (Liam Aiken) destitute to the point of near homelessness and with his few belongings in storage, receives an invitation from his wealthy childhood friend Jean Paul (JP) Luret (Joe Adler) whom he hasn't seen in years. 

As soon as Francis arrives at Luret's house things are strange. Luret's sister Vivian (Annalise Basso from Mike Flanagan's OCULUS and OUIJA 2) keeps herself locked in a downstairs room and refuses to come out, while JP himself admits it is years since he has left the building, instead having food and other supplies delivered. 

JP wants to rekindle his and Francis' childhood friendship - he cooks Francis' favourite food (if buttered toast really is) and the two play fight inside sleeping bags. But JP has a cruel streak, exhibited when Francis goes to a vault beneath the house for champagne and ends up locked in. So what's really going on? And who is the masked figure that's crawling around JP's house (the Bloodhound of the title)?

Well, it's going to be up to you to decide because THE BLOODHOUND offers more questions than answers. If you're familiar with the Poe story that won't help as it's just the jumping off point for Picard's examination of friendships lost and how we change, both physically and mentally, to the point where old friends become unrecognisable. Is JP even rich? His house looks like the corridors and bedrooms of a university hall of residence, admittedly one with boxes of money stashed everywhere in keeping with JP's eccentricity.

Arrow's disc comes with four Picard short projects, which are very short indeed (about a minute) and are experimental abstracts rather than narrative in nature. There's also a commentary track from the director and his editor David Scorca as well as a 45 minute making of.  The first pressing of the disc also comes with a booklet with new writing on the film from Anton Bitel.

Patrick Picard's THE BLOODHOUND is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 22nd March 2021

Monday 15 March 2021

Sacrifice (2020)


Probably still best known for her star turn in Stuart Gordon's 1985 REANIMATOR, Barbara Crampton has been quite the festival favourite of the last few years, appearing in all manner of low budget fare from the impenetrably art house (SUNCHOKE) to the frankly daft (PUPPET MASTER: THE LITTLEST REICH). While some of the films have been (to put it kindly) rather below par, her performances in them have always been consummately professional, frequently delivered with an effective and deliciously sinister edge.

In Andy Collier and Tor Mian's film SACRIFICE, getting a release in the UK from 101 Films, she plays a police officer for a small Norwegian village who is keen to question Isaac Pitman (aha!) who has returned home after his mother took him away 25 years ago. There are Cthulhoid statues on sale in the local shop (aha again!) and a cult devoted to something the locals call 'The Slumbering One'. Is Isaac (Ludovic Hughes) going to start growing gills or is the cult more interested in his very pregnant wife Emma (Sophie Stevens)?

SACRIFICE premiered at last year's Frightfest where it became known as 'the one where there's a shot of eggs being boiled from underneath', which indeed there is. It boasts some terrific locations and for such an obviously ultra low budget affair the direction is competent (and believe me that's not always in the case with films that make it into festivals - even Frightfest). In an era when many movies of this type just scrape past the 74 minute mark it seems a shame to suggest that the 87 minute running time of this one could have been tightened up a bit, but there are just a few too many dialogue scenes which feel drawn out, too many sequences with the same 'it was just a dream' punchline, and nowhere near enough made of the potential to build what could have been some great atmosphere, especially in the scenes with the cultists.

Barbara Crampton's performance is excellent (she always gives it her all and what a treasure she is) and there are some refreshingly different locations for the Deep Ones to be hanging out in (or is that under) but ultimately SACRIFICE is just a bit too rough around the edges (and not in a Chad Ferrin's THE DEEP ONES kind of way way) for it to qualify as top tier Lovecraft-inspired horror. 

SACRIFICE is getting a digital release from 101 Films on Monday 15th March 2021

Saturday 13 March 2021

Viy (1967) and Sveto Mesto (1990)


Russian author Nikolai Gogol (1809 - 1852) wrote some cracking tales of the macabre, and his work has been adapted for the screen more times than many may realise. The most recent is eight part Russian TV series GOGOL (2017 - 2019) which you can find on Amazon Prime. Before that came Oleg Stepchenko's adaptation of the short story Viy titled FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (2014) starring Jason Flemyng, a film so successful VIY 3 is now filming with the same director and star.

Before all of these, Gogol's most adapted short story was the subject of both the first horror film made in Soviet Russian - VIY (1967) and a Yugoslavian adaptation in 1990, SVETO MESTO aka A HOLY PLACE. Both of these films are getting a Blu-ray release courtesy of Eureka films in a limited edition two disc set.

The basic plot is this: in 19th century Russia, a young student priest is summoned to a remote village to say prayers over the body of a wealthy man's recently deceased daughter. The ritual requires him to stay in the church for three night. The girl rises from her coffin to seduce him, each night bringing more and weirder horrors with her to torment him.

Konstantin Ershov and Georgiy Kropachyov's 1967 version of this tale looks gorgeous and is filled with clever visual effects and some pleasingly weird creations in its final act. Eureka's 1080p transfer is gorgeous and extras include a new commentary from Michael Brooke, a new video essay on Nikolai Gogol, an archival documentary on the film and three Russian silent film fragments.

Djordje Kadijevic's 1990 A HOLY PLACE is included as a bonus on a separate disc. The print is very scratchy to begin with but stick with it because it quickly improves. The film itself feels quite different from VIY (1967), and feels more like a 1970s EuroHorror, and that's very much a compliment. In fact I'd go so far as to say I preferred this version that is low on special effects but high in perverse eroticism and understated weirdness.

The set also boasts new artwork by Peter Savieri and a booklet featuring new writing from Tim Lucas (writing about Alexander Ptushko) and Serbian critic Dejan Ognjanovic who describes SVETO MESTO as "an unparalleled excess of perversity and terror." 

VIY is out from Eureka in a special two disc Blu-ray set on Monday 15th March 2021