Friday 31 March 2023

The Outwaters (2023)

"Hit or Miss Found Footage Horror"

Writer-director-cinematographer-editor-star Robbie Banfitch's decidedly auteurist low budget found footage horror is getting a UK cinema release from Blue Finch. It's a film that's divided opinion, with many reviews filled with breathless praise. Here is one that isn't.

Four thirty-something individuals with little appeal or character head into the Los Angeles desert to film a music video. Eventually. After an awful lot of the running time being taken up by very little happening. Indeed, if you plan to watch this at the cinema don't worry if you are half an hour late as you won't have missed anything. There's also the question of who is going to film the video as nobody seems able to hold a camera even slightly steady for more than a few seconds.

Once they are out in the desert, they wander about a bit and meet some mules. Then something horrible happens to them. I won't say what, and usually this would be to avoid spoilers. In this case it's because I have no idea what was going on. This continues for the next hour or so of footage which has been described by some as 'an assault on the senses' but which I would prefer to describe as interminable.

There's enough going on in THE OUTWATERS to make a good, unnerving short subject, but with the material here steamrollered out to 110 minutes it becomes genuinely unendurable, and not in the 'extreme cinema' way its maker intends. On the basis of the trailer I really wanted to like it but when the most interesting thing on the screen for long periods is the distributor's security watermark it's never a good sign. You may love it. You may not. But now you have been warned. Here's the trailer:

Robbie Banfitch's THE OUTWATERS is out in UK cinemas on Friday 7th April 2023 and on Digital on Monday 8th May 2023 

Saturday 25 March 2023

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)


A BBC Christmas favourite for a couple of years running back in the 1970s when I was a lad (I never got the chance to see it back then, though) Jack Smight’s epic three hour mini-series in the days before such things had become properly established is, of course, anything but a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. However, seeing as it was first broadcast when cinema versions ranged from Andy Warhol’s over the top FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (marvellous) to Terence Fisher's ambitious FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (also marvellous) to BLACKENSTEIN (not marvellous at all) one can appreciate the desire to do something that got back to basics.

Despite its 180 minute running time, FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY begins (and ends, for that matter) abruptly. In a series of rapid cuts that make us feel we’ve already missed an episode, we learn how Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) lost his brother William (blink and you'll miss him Karl Howman) to drowning, offering this as his subsequent obsession with the desire to create life.

Travelling from his home to London on the York to London coach (did Frankenstein truly come from Yorkshire?) he bumps into local surgeon Henry Clerval (David McCallum) who has made a machine that can reanimate the kind of beetle never native to these shores. A room-sized machine and some appropriate body parts, plus the action of sunlight (a nice touch) results in perfect ‘Creature’ Michael Sarrazin. Henry’s brain has gone into the creature's skull after Henry’s health gave out, leaving Frankenstein to rent some rooms and move in with his creation so they can have a lovely time going to the opera and playing in the park. But oh no! The creature starts to ‘regress’ and Frankenstein has to break up with him away.

But who’s that lurking in the shadows? It’s none other than James Mason with no hands and the gift for hypnosis. James is Dr Polidori, and he’s kitted out Frankenstein’s old lab so it looks like something from THE MASK OF FU MANCHU with Chinese servants to match. He wants to make a girl, not for sensible naughty doctor reasons but to rule the world, or something. The creature, who has survived his 400 foot plunge off the white cliffs of Dover, brings him the body of Jane Seymour, which no doctor, naughty or otherwise, could possibly object to for their experiments. Pretty soon Polidori’s convinced Frankenstein to help him and Prima is born, only to lose her head in a splendid bit at a ball.

We’re two and a half hours in and Tom Baker, toplined in the credits, still hasn’t appeared! There he is at last, as the captain of the ship intended to transport Victor and his bride Elizabeth (a bit of an unsympathetic performance here from Nicola Pagett). Unfortunately everything goes pear-shaped and Victor and his creation end up at the North Pole, where they laugh and get buried in an avalanche. The End.

FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY always felt very much to me like something made for an undemanding mainstream television audiences rather than horror fans. Indeed, if your mum fancied watching a version of Frankenstein, this would be a good one to suggest. Jack Smight’s direction is workmanlike and undistinguished, Gil Melle’s music feels like it’s accompanying a Barbara Taylor Bradford adaptation, and while the locations are very pretty there’s very little sense of the gothic evinced by the best versions of this story. James Mason camps it up (possibly a bit too much) while David McCallum is excellent as the grumpy and obsessive Clerval. They should have got him to play Frankenstein. Michael Sarrazin does a good job of doing something different with the creature, and Jane Seymour makes the most of her role as Frankenstein’s second creation. In the lead role, Leonard Whiting is pretty but ineffectual, an individual who is swept along by events rather than the driven scientist horror fans had by this time become used to. Ultimately, any adaptation of Frankenstein is going to stand on fall on its central performance, and, more than its lack of gothic trappings or unimaginative direction, it was Whiting’s performance that had me yearning to watch James Whale’s and Terence Fisher’s versions again.

Fabulous Films have done an excellent job bringing FRANKENSTEIN THE TRUE STORY to a UK audience on Blu-ray. The transfer is superb and there are a wealth of extras as well. You get the option to run through the whole thing in one go, or with the added infamous introduction by James Mason where he wanders through a London cemetery to come across the grave of Mary Shelley, despite the fact she was actually buried in Dorset.

Sam Irvin provides a superb commentary that's thoroughly deserving of its Rondo Award win, tells you everything you could possibly want to know about the production and really could not be improved upon. Mr Irvin returns to conduct three interviews with Jane Seymour (24 minutes), Leonard Whiting (18 minutes) and co-screenwriter Don Bachardy (41 minutes), meaning that Fabulous Films' disc is the equivalent of Shout Factory's Region A Blu-ray. Except we also get a Graham Humphreys cover so that definitely makes the Fabulous disc better and the one to buy. 

FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY was due out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 27th March 2023 but this has now been pushed back to 10th April 2023

Sunday 19 March 2023

Martin (1976)

"Romero's Finest?"

That's a matter for endless debate, obviously, but MARTIN, George A Romero's take on the vampire genre, was the favourite of the director's movies and in terms of quality is certainly up there with the original 'Dead' trilogy that will be what the late film-maker will be remembered for by most. Second Sight are releasing MARTIN on 4K/UHD and Blu-ray as well as a deluxe limited edition box set with plenty of extra goodies.

Is Martin (John Amplas in what should have been a career-making role) the young man he appears to be or the 84 year old vampire he claims to be? Travelling by train from Indianapolis to come and live with his elderly cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel) in Pennsylvania he certainly has a taste for blood, even if his only 'fang' is the hypodermic needle he uses to sedate his female victim. 

If Martin is under a delusion Cuda certainly does nothing to help it, calling Martin 'Nosferatu' and waving crucifixes at him at every opportunity. Martin is also warned to stay away from housemate Christina (Christine Forrest) and not to 'take' anyone in the town. Martin gets a job in Cuda's shop, and part of his duties include delivery boy, which is the way he (and we) get to meet some of the community, one of whom causes events to end in tragedy.

I've watched MARTIN many times since its original release and always take something new away from every viewing. This time the bleak locations, well-drawn characters, and sense of cynicism about both vampirism and the religion that is meant to combat it made me feel this is how Pete Walker might have tackled the subject if he had made a British vampire movie. It would also have provided an appropriate satire on the 'Confessions' films that were popular at the time. Indeed, from another angle MARTIN is the flipside of that common porn trope of the period - the delivery boy who encounters a string of unhappy older women and ends up in situations over his head.

Second Sight's 4K transfer is, as one would expect, fabulous, presenting the film in 4:3 aspect ratio. Extras include a whopping four commentaries, two of which are new (by Travis Crawford and Kat Ellinger respectively) and two archival (Romero, Amplas and Tom Savini on one, Romero, Savini, both Rubinsteins and Michael Gornick on the other). Taste the Blood of Martin is a new 69 minute making of 'hosted' by John Amplas, DP Michael Gornick and assistant cameraman Tom Dubensky as they walk around the locations for the film. It also includes interviews with Christine Forrest, Tony Buba and Tom Savini.

Scoring the Shadows is 17 minutes with composer Donald P Rubinstein who discusses his life and career, scoring the film, and how Romero came up with creative ways to sort things out when the music written didn't always match the final footage. Making Martin: A Recounting is 10 minutes of cast and crew ported over from the old Arrow release, and there are nearly five minutes of trailers and TV spots. The limited edition comes with a 108 page book with new essays on the film, a soundtrack CD of the film's score, and five art cards. Finally, the only thing this set does not have that was in previous versions is the Italian WAMPIR version with Goblin score, so you may want to hang onto your Arrow DVD even if you get this.

George A Romero's MARTIN is out from Second Sight on 4KUHD, Blu-ray and Special Limited Edition on 

Monday 27th March 2023

Sunday 12 March 2023

Plane (2023)

The cinema (by which I mean the great big building we go to watch a films in with other people) is having something of an exploitation renaissance at the moment, evoking fond memories (in those of us old enough) of the days when not everything filling the multiplexes was big budget Hollywood product. Now we can enjoy the likes of ORPHAN: FIRST KILL (great), COCAINE BEAR (good fun) and WINNIE THE POOH: BLOOD AND HONEY (it might be worth giving this one a miss, actually) on the big screen with like-minded people so we can all cheer and clap and (sometimes) boo together, and hooray for that.

At the top quality end of the exploitation scale is PLANE, the kind of film that would have come out on VHS in the 1980s, been directed by Antonio Margheriti (under a pseudonym of course) and starred someone like David Warbeck as the pilot whose plane gets thrown off course and ends up in a pitched battle with drug dealers in an exotic island location.

This time around it's Gerard Butler who, in order to cut costs, is ordered by his bosses to fly his charter plane through a storm rather than around it, leading to the inevitable crash on an island in the Philippines that turns out to be the headquarters for a crime syndicate. Apparently the police refuse to go anywhere near it which is bad news for them and great news for the audience. Soon the passengers are being held to ransom by the bad guys and it's up to Gerard and convicted murderer Louis (Mike Colter) who just happened to be on the flight to save everyone. 

You don't have to be an 80s exploitation fan to love PLANE but if you are you'll appreciate touches like the 'Meanwhile in New York' bit which could be straight out of an Enzo G Castellari or Umberto Lenzi movie of the period. Gerard Butler has been in some right old rubbish but he's very good in this and provides the kind of strong presence the film needs to keep your willing disbelief suspended as high as the altitude the titular aeroplane reaches at the beginning. The director responsible is Jean-Francois Richet and I hope he becomes a name to remember. As it stands PLANE is a thunderingly good, edge-of-the-seat style action picture put together by people who know how to get their audience clapping and cheering by the end. Great stuff. Lionsgate's Blu-ray comes with over 40 minutes of extra stuff, with three making-of featurettes with interviews with cast and crew. This Is Your Captain is 15 minutes about Gerard Butler, PLane Clothes is 7 minutes about (unsurprisingly) the costumes, and Brace For Turbulence is 20 minutes about the stunts and special effects. No commentary track but you do get a trailer, which you can see here anyway, with Gerard looking suitably angry:

PLANE is getting a digital release from Lionsgate on Monday 13th March 2023. It comes out on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 24th April 2023

Sunday 5 March 2023

The House That Screamed (1969)

Narciso Ibanez Serrador's 1969 girls school slasher gets a new, sparkling, extras-packed release from Arrow Films.

New pupil Therese (Cristina Galbo) arrives to take up a place at the kind of Victorian Gothic boarding school for wayward girls where it would seem odd if there wasn't something strange going on. Having to deal with the usual power struggles, petty rivalries, and a strict disciplinarian of a headmistress (Lilli Palmer), aided by one of the older girls (Mary Maude), it all gets a bit much for her. Despite starting a relationship with Luis (John Moulder-Brown), the headmistress' son, Therese is soon planning to escape. But there's a killer on the loose and climbing out of the school at night might not be the best idea.

THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED boasts a fine sense of the Gothic and a dénouement that, strangely enough, provided the basis for another Spanish horror made 12 years later. I won't mention its title here for those who have yet to watch it, but that climax is suitably (and surprisingly) perverse for a film made in a country still suffering at the time from strict movie censorship laws. The location is great, the acting is intense, and the action is complemented well by Waldo de Los Rios' music score.

Arrow's transfer is a new 2K restoration with both the 104 uncut LA RESIDENCIA version and the 94 minute US theatrical release. Anna Bogutskaya (whom some will know from when she sometimes fills in for Mark Kermode on his podcast) provides the new commentary track. Interviews include Mary Maude at 2012's Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films, a previously unreleased interview with John Moulder-Brown, new interviews with Juan Tebar who wrote the original story, the director's son Alejandro, and Dr Antonio Lazaro-Reboll who discusses the film & its director. There are also trailers, TV and radio spots and an image gallery. The first pressing will come with a booklet featuring new writing on the film and a fold-out poster with new artwork.

Narciso Ibanez Serrador's THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED is out on Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 6th March 2023