Saturday 20 November 2021

Swallow (2019)

After getting it's UK premiere at 2019's Halloween Frightfest, Second Sight are bringing out Carlo Mirabella-Davis' debut feature SWALLOW in one of their special edition Blu-ray box sets packed with special features.

Hunter  (Haley Bennett) seems to have it all. She's just got married to handsome, successful Richie (Austin Stowell) whose parents have bought them a brand new home, and when she discovers she's pregnant the family is delighted.

But Hunter isn't, and something buried deep inside her psychologically cracks under the pressure. As a coping behaviour she starts to swallow things, beginning with a marble before moving onto to large, and eventually sharper, objects. A trip to the hospital for the emergency removal of a safety pin result in her undergoing psychiatric treatment, where elements of her past that may have led to her current behaviour begin to emerge. But is it medication that Hunter needs, or just an entirely different kind of life?

A serious study of how childhood psychological traumas can be exacerbated by the kind of adult environment and lifestyle that just doesn't suit someone (despite it being what it is assumed many people strive for), SWALLOW is very much a film for the art house audience, by which I mean don't come in expecting Cronenbergian levels of body horror or Haley's condition developing during the course of the film to alarming excess (unless you consider eating earth excessive). The design of Hunter's house is superbly cold and sterile and the performances are all carefully nuanced, with Haley Bennett in particular outstanding. 

Extras include a commentary track by the director and producers Mollye Asher and Mynette Louie. There are also new interviews with the director, Mollye Asher, editor Joe Murphy, and composer Nathan Halpern. Alexandra Heller-Nicolas provides a profile of the film and we also get Carlo Mirabella-Davis' short film KNIFE POINT.

Finally, the disc comes in a rigid slipcase with new art by Haley Turnbull which also contains a softcover book featuring new writing on the film from Anne Billson, Jordan Crucchiola and Ella Kemp, as well as six collectors' art cards.

Carlo Mirabella-Davis' SWALLOW is out in a special Blu-ray edition from Second Sight on Monday 22nd November 2021

Sunday 14 November 2021

The Wraith (1986)

It's time to revisit an early starring role for Charlie Sheen as Mike Marvin's THE WRAITH gets an extras-packed Blu-ray release as part of Lionsgate's Vestron Collection.

The highway through a small desert town is terrorised by a MAD MAX-lite gang that challenges drivers to races with their car as the prize, ensuring they win by fair means or foul. But that's not all they've been up to. Before the film starts they've hacked to death the boyfriend of Keri (Sherilyn Fenn) because insanely jealous gang leader Packard (Nick Cassavetes) believes she should be going out with him.

But wait! What are those mysterious lights in the sky that somehow coalesce into a sleek black automobile? And who's that new guy in town with scars on his back and neck? Can either have anything to do with the fact the gang members are being killed off in vehicular-based accidents?

A supernatural revenge movie with plenty of stunts and car race action, THE WRAITH is all a bit daft but everything is carried off with such confidence that if you loved this back in the 1980s the chances are you're still going to love it now. Modern audiences might be left scratching their heads a bit but this is very much a movie of its time, including a soundtrack packed with the kind of power rock songs typical of the period.

Extras include a whopping three commentary tracks if you include the profile of the film's score moderated by Michael Felsher and featuring co-composer J Peter Robinson. Another commentary is provided by writer-director Mike Marvin and the third by actors Dave Sherill and Jamie Bozian.

Tales From the Desert is a 16 minute interview with Mike Marvin, Rughead Speaks gives us 12 minutes with legendary character actor Clint Howard, Ride of the Future is 12 minutes with the team responsible for the cars seen in the film, and The Ghost Car is 11 minutes on the film's visual effects. There's a half hour featurette on the locations used in the film 'Then And Now'. Finally you get the usual stills, trailer and TV spots, plus an alternate title sequence that looks as if it's been taken from a VHS master and gives the film's title as INTERCEPTOR.

Mike Marvin's THE WRAITH is out on Blu-ray from Lionsgate as part of the Vestron Collection on Monday 15th November 2021

Friday 12 November 2021

Don't Breathe 2 (2021)

The sequel to Fede Alvarez's 2016 original gets a 4KUHD, Blu-ray and DVD release from Sony following its digital rental release last month.

Star Stephen Lang is back as Norman Nordstrom, the blind Gulf War veteran who had to defend his property against three delinquents intent on robbing him. Despite the fact that Nordstrom was found to be keeping a pregnant woman tied up in his basement in the original, and that when he accidentally killed her he went after another girl with the intention of artificially inseminating her with a turkey baster, here he's portrayed rather more sympathetically. He does have a daughter now, though, and where she actually comes from forms part of the plot of this follow-up.

Whereas DON'T BREATHE was silly but grim, DON'T BREATHE 2 is silly but a lot more fun. For those horror fans who didn't get on with the likes of recent horror cinema releases like CENSOR or CANDYMAN I suggest you look no further than the good old-fashioned splattery daftness of DON'T BREATHE 2, a film where you don't need to have seen the first one or even have brought your brain along to the cinema to watch it. 

The premise is ridiculous, there's plenty of the old ultra-violence (and an 18 certificate - hurrah!) and the leader of the baddies looks like Brian Cant from BBC children's TV of the 1970s. Best of all, slap bang in the middle of all the heady tomfoolery there's the best/worst silliest most badly thought out movie surgical scene I think I've seen outside of the films of Al Adamson. Add in a bonkers performance from Fiona O'Shaughnessy (Jessica Hyde herself) and her electric wheelchair which deserves a credit all its own & I hope I've managed to convey some of the reasons why DON'T BREATHE 2 is exploitation entertainment of a type we don't get to see enough of these days.

Extras on Sony's disc include three short making of featurettes (about five minutes each), an alternate ending that's alternate by literally just a few extraneous seconds, and two audio commentaries. The first is from director Rodo Sayagues in English, and the second is from the director, producer Fede Alvarez and Director of Photography Pedro Luque in Spanish. Both of these commentaries are worth listening to and both commentary tracks do come with subtitles. Unfortunately it's not at all obvious how to access them via the menu and it may not even be possible. However if you toggle your Blu-ray player's subtitle options enough you'll find them. On our system the English commentary was the 19th subtitle option and English subtitles for the Spanish one was the 21st.

DON'T BREATHE 2 is out on 4KUHD, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 15th November 2021 and is already out to rent on Digital

Thursday 11 November 2021

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989)

"Uniquely Entertaining Horror Comedy Western"

The film director Anthony Hickox made between his 1988 debut WAXWORK and its sequel, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME (1992) gets an extras-packed Blu-ray release as part of the Vestron collection.

The town of Purgatory (which from the nicely shot locations appears to be in Monument Valley) is home to a community of vampires, led by Count Mardulak (David Carradine). They've been trying to perfect a blood substitute but something has gone wrong withe process, so they call in inventor David Halloran (Jim Metzler) to help his old university rival Shane (Maxwell Caulfield) sort out the process. Unfortunately plans are afoot by Jefferson (John Ireland) for a vampire rebellion. Add in the arrival of the last of the Van Helsings (Bruce Campbell) who falls for local girl Sandy (Deborah Foreman) and the scene is set for a ridiculous over the top vampire gunfight finale.

Back when SUNDOWN was being made Anthony Hickox said he purposely didn't want an opening title sequence so as not to spoil the surprise of all the familiar exploitation faces who appear in the film. It's certainly fun spotting all the above as well as M Emmet Walsh, Dana Ashbrook, Morgan Brittany and others. The sharp-eyed will spot a poster for THEATRE OF BLOOD, the movie directed by Hickox's father Douglas (apparently at his son's insistence), at the beginning of the film.

But is SUNDOWN any good? There's certainly nothing else quite like it. It's not as quirkily entertaining as the original WAXWORK and not as full-on horror as Hickox's later HELLRAISER III, but it's still a great deal of fun.

One of the undisputed highlights of the film is the lush, sweeping, Western pastiche-style orchestral score by Richard Stone and so it's a delight to have a feature-length commentary all about it (and tying it into the sequencing of tracks on the soundtrack album) from acknowledged movie music expert Randall D Larson (composer Stone is sadly no longer with us). There's also a more traditional commentary track with director Hickox and Director of Photography Levie Isaacks.

Other extras include Wild Weird West - a new 16 minute interview with the director; Bloodsuckers From Purgatory -  a new 14 minutes with special effects creator Tony Gardner; and archival interviews from 2008 with Bruce Campbell (12 minutes), David Carradine (13 minutes) and M Emmet Walsh (11 minutes), plus the usual trailer and stills gallery. Nice package. Now I'm off to buy the soundtrack CD.

Anthony Hickox's SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT is out on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Collection through Lionsgate on Monday 15th November 2021

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Dementia 13 (1963)

"Coppola's Gothic Giallo Finally Gets A Decent Transfer"

Yes that's right. After existing in various dubious public domain versions on DVD for many years, Francis Ford Coppola's Roger Corman-produced horror picture (otherwise known as THE HAUNTED AND THE HUNTED here in the UK) is coming out on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Collector's Series.

While out rowing (at night, in the dark), the husband of Louise Haloran (Luana Anders) dies of a heart attack, seriously threatening her chances of sharing in any fortune he may inherit. So she pretends he's still alive and travels to the ancient Irish family homestead to take part in the Haloran's annual ceremony to remember the death of their youngest daughter, Kathleen, who drowned when she was little. Unfortunately this year's occasion is marked by the presence of an axe-wielding maniac keen to bump off the family members while also possibly being one of them.

With a feeling of corner-cutting typical of its producer, DEMENTIA 13 nevertheless has plenty of gothic atmosphere, some decently gory axe murders, and a couple of memorable underwater sequences. With its twists and turns it's easy to see where the directors of 1970s gialli may have got some of their ideas from.

Ronald Stein's music score is a classic, all creepy harpsichord that walks the fine line between horror and black humour. Patrick Magee turns up as the local doctor and William Campbell - Star Trek's Squire of Gothos himself - is one of the suspects. The whole thing clocks in at an economical 69 minutes and is something of a black and white low budget delight from start to finish.

And it's even more of a delight in Vestron's special edition which boasts a nice clean print with good grain and minimal picture noise even during the darkest sequences. Extras consist of a Coppola introduction. It's only a minute long but don't worry because he's on hand to provide a detailed commentary track as well. In fact it's surprising how much he can remember about a film made so long ago but as he says himself, this was a very special film for him. Finally, you also get the 'DEMENTIA 13 Test' Prologue, which is six minutes of a 'specialist' who has allegedly designed a test to make sure the viewer doesn't go out and murder people after viewing this film, presumably even in this first-rate Blu-ray presentation. Good stuff, Vestron.

Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13 is out on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Collector's Series from Lionsgate on Monday 15th November 2021

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Knocking (2021)

The line dividing reality and fantasy gets blurred (or does it?) in Cannes Palme d'Or winner (for the short film BATHING MICKEY) Frida Kempff's psychological horror KNOCKING, which is getting a digital release through Signature Entertainment.

Discharged from hospital having been traumatised by the accidental death of her lover, Molly (Cecilia Milocco) moves to a new apartment in a tower block with the intention of rebuilding her life. Soon her nights are being disturbed by a knocking sound that seems to be coming from directly above her. None of the residents on the next floor up will admit to it, but soon Molly's noting other strange things, like a spot of blood on the ceiling or the fact the knocks seems to have the rhythm of Morse code.

A brief (78 minutes) well shot, well acted low budget thriller that gradually winds up the tension until the final frame, KNOCKING keeps you guessing as to whether what's happening to Molly is real or all (or part) in her head. The director does a fine job of drawing you into the claustrophobia of Molly's world, physically, socially and psychologically. It's Frida Kempff's first feature and suggests she could be destined for greater things.

Frida Kempff's KNOCKING is out on digital download from Signature Entertainment on Monday 15th November 2021