Thursday 24 June 2021

The Babadook (2014)

"Modern Classic Gets the Second Sight Treatment"

Oh yes, Jennifer Kent's debut feature is getting a lovely limited edition Blu-ray and 4K UHD release from Second Sight that includes the film on both formats (two discs) and a 150 page book featuring new essays on the film from six writers, an archive interview with Jennifer Kent, plus stills and artwork, all housed in one of Second Sight's smart rigid slipcases with new artwork from Peter Diamond.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother having a hard time dealing with the behaviour of her son Samuel, whose seventh birthday is approaching. Unfortunately the day Samuel was born was the day Amelia's husband was killed and so the concept of celebrating the occasion only increases the tremendous grief she still feels.

Samuel is convinced a monster is coming to get him and has built weapons to fight it, even going so far as to take one to school, for which he gets into trouble. Does the mysterious picture book that tells the story of Mister Babadook hold the answer to Samuel's fears? Or is it there to unleash further horrors?

A big hit when it was screened at London's Frightfest, where Essie Davis introduced the film, Jennifer Kent's movie works on numerous levels, of which the idea of a monster coming out of a book is the most superficial. In fact there's so much to unpack and discuss here that it's not surprising Second Sight's disc comes with so many special features.

These include a commentary track from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas & Josh Nelson, interviews with actors Essie Davis and Hayley McElhinney, producers Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere, editor Simon Njoo, production designer Alex Holmes, composer Jed Kurzel, and Alex Juhasz who designed the storybook and illustrations. You also get featurettes on the special effects, stunts, creating the book, and Jennifer Kent's 2005 short film MONSTER.

Second Sight's dual format 4K UHD and Blu-ray release of THE BABADOOK is up to their usual excellent standard. In fact it's one of the best of their series of these special releases with an excellent transfer and loads of extras. Put it on the shelf right next to their edition of THE NIGHTINGALE.

Jennifer Kent's THE BABADOOK is out from Second Sight in a limited edition 4K UHD / Blu-ray set on Monday 26th July 2021

Sunday 13 June 2021

Parallel (2018)

     Director Isaac Ezban's latest feature, which premiered at Halloween Frightfest a couple of years ago, finally gets a DVD and digital release from 101 Films.

Four friends are developing a parking app. An investor is interested but wants a working prototype in days, something the team is unable to do but which a rival of theirs claims he can. Frustration turns to curious happenstance as a hole is knocked in the wall of the place where the four live, revealing a hidden flight of stairs leading to the attic.

The attic is filled with equipment, and in particular a mirror that enables an individual to enter randomly any one of numerous parallel universes where, importantly, time moves much more slowly.


So they get their app done. But then they start to misuse their newfound discovery, with the expected disastrous consequences.

PARALLEL is nowhere near as manic, intense, or just plain loud as Ezban's previous, terrifically entertaining feature THE SIMILARS (2015). It does look more polished, though, and a lot of Ezban's camerawork is inspired, especially his transition devices. The film does rather fall down in its plotting, which starts off with a fascinating idea but doesn't follow it to the crazy logical conclusions one is expecting, with the story running out of steam as we get to the end. It's nice to see the comic book from THE SIMILARS turn up in one of the parallel universes.

The cast features some familiar faces including Martin Wallström from TV's MR ROBOT, Georgia King from COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES and Aml Ameen from Idris Elba's YARDIE. The music is by SIMILARS composer Edy Lan.

101 Films' DVD release contains no special features.

Isaac Ezban's PARALLEL is out on DVD and Digital from 101 Films on Monday 14th June 2021

Saturday 5 June 2021

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

From the team that brought you 1919's classic THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, star Conrad Veidt and director Robert Wiene got together again in 1924 to bring to the screen an adaptation of Maurice Renard's tale of surgical horror, now getting a UK Blu-ray release from Eureka.

Paul Orlac (Veidt) is a famous concert pianist. Returning home from his latest series of concerts, the train he is on crashes. Orlac survives, just, but his hands are mangled beyond use. However, in a handy (sorry) coincidence, a murderer hanged on the same day is brought the hospital where Orlac is a patient so the killer's hands can be used in a transplant. Discharged home, Orlac is already experiencing strange visions and the conviction that his hands are not his own. When his rich father is found dead with the fingerprints of the executed murderer all over the crime scene who is the culprit?

It's a rare delight to discover a film nearly a hundred years old that's capable of blowing you away, but if, like me, you're new to THE HANDS OF ORLAC that's just what it might do. The films exhibits one of the most sustained levels of insane intensity in cinema throughout, with everyone's performance of 'mad' turned up to eleven. The opening train wreck must have seemed spectacular in its day and the subject of hand transplants a gruesome, if ridiculous, conceit. Veidt is brilliantly manic in the lead and while this is a different film from CALIGARI it's no less engrossing thanks to Wiene's direction. 

Eureka's Blu-ray release of the film is  a 1080p presentation of the original 94 minute version by Film Archiv Austria. The presentation is also helped immensely by a deliciously disturbing full-blooded avant-garde music score that sounds as if James Bernard helped himself to a generous dose of LSD before sitting down to write it. The person responsible is actually German composer Johannes Kaltizke.

Extras include the usual superior commentary track from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, a 30 minute video essay on the film and its descendants that's both well written and well narrated, plus an alternate 110 minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer. You also get a piece highlighting the differences between the two versions. Finally, there's a booklet featuring new writing on the film from Tim Lucas and Philip Kemp.

Robert Wiene's THE HANDS OF ORLAC is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 14th June 2021

Friday 4 June 2021

The Stylist (2020)

"Very Stylish Indeed"

Jill Gevargizian's elegant serial killer movie gets a special edition Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

Claire (Najarra Townsend) is a hairdresser who also happens to be a serial killer, drugging and scalping her victims and storing her trophies in a basement room where she can try them on from time to time in the same way she tries on the personalities of those the scalps belong to. Olivia (Brea Grant) desperately needs a stylist for her wedding and begs the reticent Claire to fill the role, which she agrees to.  And so the scene is set for a wedding day everyone will remember.

A supremely stylish, gorgeously photographed, well-acted horror movie about a female serial killer (and there aren't many of those around) director Jill Gevargizian's THE STYLIST will inevitable draw comparisons with MANIAC - both the 1980 William Lustig original and the Franck Khalfoun 2012 remake. Both killers scalp their victims but whereas Frank Zito does it to create a collection of fantasy women, Claire uses them to fantasy role play. In both films there are suggestions that their mothers are to blame - Claire claims her mother changed her hairstyle so frequently that as a little girl she never knew who was coming home, whereas little Frank never knew what new "boyfriend" his mother would be bringing home.

THE STYLIST was Thana Niveau aka Mrs Probert's film of the festival at the Frightfest it premiered at. Her thoughts include, as well as the MANIAC comparison, the film being "a spiritual sister to Lucky McKee's MAY, a brilliant and heartbreaking character study flawlessly brought to life by Najarra Townsend - the pained smile, the desperate desire to please, to belong, to be someone else. It's also a brilliant portrayal of the minefield of female relationships. The trust given to a stranger, the casual way those who 'serve' in some way are taken for granted, the strict boundaries of who belongs where and what their 'place' is."

Arrow's special edition includes a Gevargizian and Townsend commentary, a twenty minute video essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on female serial killers (both in fact and cinematic fantasy) and the depiction of women's labour, six minutes of out-takes, behind the scenes footage, a scouting featurette, the kickstarter video, the original THE STYLIST short film and another Gevargizian short PITY as well as trailers and an image gallery.

The second disc in the set offers us 32 minutes of music from the film. Seven out of the eight tracks are songs with only the first being taken from composer Nicholas Elert's atmospheric music score and several being those used in the nightclub scene.

Jill Gevargizian's THE STYLIST is out from Arrow Films in a special two disc Blu-ray and CD set on 

Monday 7th June 2021

Thursday 3 June 2021

Lake Mungo (2006)

Writer-director Joel Anderson's first and so far only feature gets an extras-loaded limited edition Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

Sixteen year old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns while swimming in a nearby lake (not the lake of the title). Her body is eventually found by police, her father confirms that it is her, and the Palmer family begin the long road to recovery from their tragic loss. But pretty soon strange phenomena start to occur. Is that really Alice's image that'a appearing on photographs and on video footage filmed both near where she drowned and in the Palmers' house? Is her ghost trying to communicate with them? And what really happened during her school trip to the titular Lake Mungo, a dry dustbowl of a place that, like Wolf Creek, is another Australian location named after water but boasts not a drop of the stuff?

LAKE MUNGO is, as directors Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead are at pains to point out in one of the excellent accompanying interviews on Second Sight's Blu-ray, less "found footage" and more "fake documentary". Filmed in such a way that its subject matter is never sensationalised and with natural performances, the film never let's its mask slip that the whole thing is, in fact, fiction. 

The realistic documentary feel is just one of many things to comment LAKE MUNGO. There's a real M R Jamesian 'corner of the retina' sense of things lurking in the corner of the frame, especially once the film itself starts to point them out. By halfway through you'll be searching every shot but Anderson's direction is clever enough that you only ever see what he wants you to.

He also only explains so much, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks and reach their own conclusion as to what other horrors may have happened and the actual truth behind Alice Palmer's death. Add in the weird Australian location of the title that may possess supernatural qualities providing a PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK vibe, plus a young girl called Palmer who lives a secret life and meets a horrible death but isn't a TV series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost and there's still plenty in the 87 minute running time of this one to unpack and reward future viewings.

Second Sight's Blu-ray is packed with extras. As well as the  informative Benson & Moorhead interview there are two commentary tracks - a new one by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Emma Westwood as well as a ported over one from David Rapsey (producer) and cinematographer John Brawley. There are also interviews with Brawley, Rapsey and actors Carole Patullo and James Lawson. HOST director Rob Savage is also on hand to give his opinion of the film, and there are video essays by writer Josh Nelson and film-maker Joseph Wallace. 

Finally, there's a booklet with new essays and an interview with actor James Lawson, three collector's art cards and the whole package is housed in one of Second Sight's beautifully decorated slipcases. An excellent presentation of a film that deserves to be much better known than it is. 

Joel Anderson's  LAKE MUNGO is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 7th June 2021