Sunday 25 June 2023

Stephen King On Screen (2023)

A new feature-length documentary about the screen adaptations of the works of Stephen King is getting a digital and Blu-ray release from Signature Entertainment. 

The film kicks off with a sequence whose intention is solely to incorporate as many references to King's work as possible (the end credits state 300!). King obsessives will doubtless have a lot of fun trying to spot them all while the casual viewer will wonder if they've rented the wrong film. Eventually, however, things settle down into what essentially consists of a series of interviews with directors and other technicians who have been involved with adapting King to the screen.

And that's the main criticism to be levelled at STEPHEN KING ON SCREEN, which is that there's zero in the way of analysis or criticism in here. A lot of movies made from Stephen King stories are pretty terrible and there would have been quite a bit to be made from an examination of exactly why. There's also pretty much zero about the challenge of adapting his work for a visual medium. 

Seasoned aficionados will find a fair bit to shout at the screen about - "Horror as a genre didn't really start until 1960 and PSYCHO" - well done Tom Holland. Controversial (and just plain wrong) comments such as these could (and should) have been trimmed as it wouldn't have affected the overall documentary.

Mainly, however, STEPHEN KING ON SCREEN feels like a lot of glued together 'making of' featurettes you might get on the DVD of a film, or for publicity purposes. It's great to have Frank Darabont talking at length about THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION or THE MIST, or Mike Flanagan talking about DOCTOR SLEEP and these segments are definitely worth watching. But the lack of a chronological walk through of King's movie adaptations, and especially an examination of the 'King explosion' of the early 1980s, would have been welcome. King's own contributions to the screen such as MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE and SLEEPWALKERS don't even warrant a mention. The overall result is a patchy affair that lacks a firm editorial hand and relies way too much on who was available for interview rather than trying to be something more in depth and comprehensive. 

STEPHEN KING ON SCREEN is out on from Signature Entertainment on Digital on Monday 26th June 2023 and Blu-ray on Monday 18th September 2023

Saturday 24 June 2023

She Came From the Woods (2022)

After its UK premiere on the main screen at Frightfest last year, Erik and Carson Bloomquist's homage to 1980s summer camp horror pictures gets a digital release from Blue Finch.

It's the last day of summer at Camp Briarbrook and as the last busload of kids is driven away the camp counsellors settle down to a final night party that will involve drinking, messing about and, of course, ghost stories, or rather the legend of a sadistic nurse who terrorised the camp many years before.

Apparently all it takes to summon her ghost is for a counsellor to be injured (they all prick their fingers) and ask for help. And wait. And then the bodies start turning up.

SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS ambles along amiably enough for the first twenty minutes or so before upping its game with some unexpected violence after which it sort of totters along, punctuating it scenes of characters talking but displaying little sense of distress of urgency that they've seen friends and colleagues murdered. The film is ostensibly set in the 1980s but little more than lip service (and a few items on the soundtrack) is paid, with little feel for either the era or the films that were made then (except perhaps some of the more mediocre ones).

If you yearn for the summer camp movies of yesteryear than you'll want to check this one out, as will all William Sadler completists - he even gets to sing in this one. Otherwise SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS tries hard - perhaps rather too hard -  but doesn't manage to be the nostalgic retrofest it so desperately wants to be. Here's the trailer:

SHE CAME FROM THE WOODS is out on Digital from Blue Finch on 26th June 2023

Thursday 22 June 2023

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams (1984 - 1989)

A byword for cheap and cheerful fantasy entertainment on VHS in the 1980s, five films from Charles Band's Empire Pictures are now being given the special treatment in a new Blu-ray box set from Arrow. So let's take a look at what's in the box:

Disc One: The Dungeonmaster (1984)

Otherwise known as RAGEWAR, THE DUNGEONMASTER is presented in three different versions on this disc: pre-release (the longest version that also happens to contain nudity not present otherwise), international and US theatrical, the differences with those last two being different orders to some of the film's sequences.

Computer wizard Paul Bradford (Jeffrey Byron) gets pulled into the world of evil actual wizard Mestema (Richard Moll) who sets him seven challenges, the prize being the life of both Paul and his girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing). Each of the challenges has a different writer and director, leading to THE DUNGEONMASTER feeling uneven at best and at worst somewhat longer than its actual 77 minutes. The highlight is probably David Allen's riff on Talos from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS which stands out amongst all the stuff with rubber puppets and wandering around caves.

Extras kick off with a new commentary featuring star Jeffrey Byron and moderated by Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz. Byron returns for a 15 minute interview and you also get two trailers and an image gallery.

Disc Two: Dolls (1987)

Little Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine) and her awful parents (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and Ian Patrick Williams) break down in the middle of nowhere. Pausing only to throw away Judy’s favourite teddy bear (which then comes back giant-sized to tear off Purdy-Gordon’s arm in a weird fantasy bit) the three of them break into a nearby house, only to be confronted by its owners, Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke (Guy Rolfe and Hilary Mason, effortlessly showing up all the other ‘actors’ in this film). Gabriel is a toymaker whose dolls exhibit very special properties indeed, including giving Charles Band the idea for at least another twenty or so movies based on the concept.

Filmed before Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND but released after because of the amount of post-production animation that was required, DOLLS was a curious follow-up to the director’s previous REANIMATOR. Like many an Empire picture it's only 77 minutes long. Sadly we get little explanation for why Rolfe and Mason would want to trap people and turn them into dolls which is a shame as it’s not as if this film is overlong and some fleshing out of their characters (and some more screen time) would have been most welcome.

Extras on Arrow's disc include three commentary tracks, one of which is new (from David DeCoteau) and two are archival (writer and director Ed Naha and Stuart Gordon on one, members of the vast on the other). Scream Factory's 2014 making of featurette has also been ported over, and there's a new 17 minute interview with editor Lee Percy. You also get three trailers, an image gallery and eight minutes of storyboard to scene comparison.

Disc Three: Cellar Dweller (1987)

Jeffery Combs, doing his very best ‘Herbert West - Animator’ here, plays comics artist Colin Childress in an extended cameo in an extended prologue. Colin is famous for drawing the ‘Cellar Dweller’ comic, which seems to feature nothing but the exploits of a big hairy monster that tears people apart. Colin draws the monster for what must be the thousandth time. It comes alive and attacks him. He burns down the house. Cue the credits, which last for ages to pad out the running time.

Thirty years later, Colin’s house has been turned into an Empire Films version of an art institute, which means it has a scantily clad girl with 1980s hair sitting on a kitchen table and beating eggs, a random assortment of actors playing students, some of whom look dangerously close to retirement age, and an at-the-end-of-her-career and-therefore-cheap Yvonne de Carlo presiding over them. Into this somewhat unrealistic milieu comes Deborah Mullowney, who looks as if she’s studying big hair and bigger ear-rings rather than the comic book art she claims (or acting for that matter). 

Debs starts drawing Cellar Dweller. He pops up intermittently to eat people who have upset her slightly using his very rubbery jaws. There’s a girl in a shower. There’s a bloke with a mullet. There are some poor optical effects. Deborah and mullet-boy try and get rid of Cellar Dweller. There’s a twist. The film ends. I really can’t think of anything else to say about it. In fact I've probably said too much already.

If CELLAR DWELLER isn't a very good film (and it isn't) the extras on Arrow's Blu-ray are. There's a new commentary with Michael Deaks (the man inside the monster costume) moderated by Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz. Deaks returns for a 16 minute interview while Wain and Budrewicz  pop up again to give us and enthusiastic and affectionate tribute to CELLAR DWELLER director John Carl Buechler. Finally there are two trailer reels for Empire Pictures product, running 28 minutes in total and a real blast of nostalgia for those of us who likely saw them many times on Entertainment In Video releases back in the day.

Disc Four: Arena (1989)

A pitch from Charles Band about wanting a 'wrestling movie in space' led to writing team who gave us TRANCERS and ELIMINATORS (Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo) coming up with the script for ARENA, even if, according to Bilson on one of the extras, not a lot of their script actually made it to the screen. Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield), in need of money owed to the evil Mr Rogor (Marc Alaimo) agrees to be the new fighter for Quinn (Claudia Christian) in the biggest tournament in the galaxy. But needless to say Rogor with the aid of sidekick Weezil (Armin Shimmerman) is determined to see him fail.

ARENA is directed by Peter Manoogian who was also responsible for ELIMINATORS and while this isn't as good as that extremely entertaining comic book picture, it's still a pretty good time and definitely one of the highlights of the set.  The only available source was a 35mm theatrical print so the transfer isn't top quality and because of 'difference in colour grading' we get the full frame version as an extra as well. 

Other extras include a Manoogian commentary moderated once more by by Dave Wain and Matty Budrewicz. Writer Danny Bilson's 15 minute reminiscence of working for Empire is a must watch, and Michael Deak pops back up on this disc as well (he plays Arena champion Horn in the film) to talk about his role and some of the special effects. Finally you get a couple of trailers and an image gallery.

Disc Five: Robot Jox (1989)

The final film in the set might also be the best, both in terms of picture quality and actual quality. In a post apocalyptic future wars are no longer fought, the task instead performed by each nation being represented by a massive robot. Seeing as the only nations left appear to be the US and Russia that very handily means two robots (although in view of the events of the past few years it's probably good we didn't get to see a British one). Each robot is piloted by a single individual. For the US it's Achilles (Gary Graham) while the Russian pilot is Alexander (Paul Koslo) who swears to destroy Achilles when the two of them fight over the future of Alaska.

ROBOT JOX is directed by Stuart Gordon which means acting and characterisation are above par, even if the plot is rather slight. The robots themselves are well-rendered with stop-motion animation, lending them a ROBOCOP ED-209 feel. In fact the whole film has a (very slight) ROBOCOP feel to it in terms of its vision of a future filled with grey concrete, matte paintings and stop-motion.

Extras consist of two audio commentaries, both of them archival. One is from Stuart Gordon, the other from three members of the visual effects team. New material for this release includes interviews with stars Gary Graham and Anne-Marie Johnson, and a 26 minute appreciation of stop-motion expert David Allen by some of the effects wizzes who knew him. There's an archival interview with Paul Koslo, eight minutes of behind the scenes photos - models, concept art, etc, plus a trailer, image galleries, and publicity material.

Finally, the set comes with double-sided posters for each film, 15 art cards, an 80 page book with new writing on the films and some other bits and pieces as well. 

Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams is out in a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Arrow on Monday 26th June 2023

Friday 16 June 2023

The Black Demon (2023)

"More Megalodon Mayhem"

That's right, before Ben Wheatley's THE MEG 2 hits cinema screens in August, those desperate for their fix of a movie featuring an outrageously super colossal CGI shark need look no further than THE BLACK DEMON, getting a digital, DVD and Blu-ray release from Signature.

Paul Sturges (Josh Lucas) is a troubleshooter for Nixon Oil. Asked to assess one of their rigs he travels to a town in Baja with his family in tow, only to discover that the locals are unfriendly and nearly everyone on the oil rig has been killed by the most enormous shark ever to be conceived by a low budget digital compositor. By a series of contrivances Paul's wife and two children end up on the rig with him and pretty soon it's showdown time.

THE BLACK DEMON is directed by Adrian Grunberg who made the ultimately underwhelming RAMBO: LAST BLOOD. The same feeling of going through the motions is present here. The script offers some excellent opportunities for chills and thrills (not least when the teenaged daughter falls into a sea filled with body parts), but they're all fumbled, as are suspense sequences that, if you can suspend your disbelief as regards the CGI shark, could still have been a lot better. In the 1970s this kind of film could have been saved by the acting but again everything is strictly bland and one-note with nobody giving any real characterisation to what amount to little more than cardboard cut outs. Music could have saved this one as well but not in this case. If you're a completist for movies featuring a massive CGI shark you'll want to see this. Admittedly the locations are gorgeous and the disused oil rig they found to shoot on is effective, but a little more talent all round could have gone a long way with this one. Anyway, here's the trailer:

THE BLACK DEMON is out on digital on Monday 19th June and on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 17th July 2023

Friday 9 June 2023

Sight Extended (2023)


"Black Mirror Lite"

That's not intended to damn with faint praise, by the way. SIGHT EXTENDED is an ambitious low budget SF movie that's bursting with ideas and has some excellent world building, and it's about to get a digital release. 

Patrick (Andrew Riddell) has been suffering from agoraphobia following the death of his parents seven years ago. A virtual shut in Patrick lives his life through the augmented reality applications he's able to access through the special contact lenses he constantly wears. He regularly attends a virtual group for sufferers of the same condition and it's there that he's approached by Alex. Alex gives him a virtual key allowing him to access a program that leads to him getting his act back together, improving his self-image and even getting a date with the girl of his dreams. But can the good life last?

Early on SIGHT EXTENDED gives a nod to Antony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange by mentioning that novel's Ludovico technique and it becomes pretty apparent early on that writers-directors Daniel Lazo and Eran May-Raz have their fingers sufficiently on the pulse of popular culture, and especially the ins and outs of social media, that the 'five minutes into the future' world they create in SIGHT EXTENDED is all-too believable. 

Taking the concept of 'what if you could make a video game out of day to day living' and applying it to the kind of character for whom it might not be a good idea at all makes for a fascinating 85 minutes. The realisation of the virtual world is a triumph of graphic design and the only real criticism of the movie is that some of the performances are rather awkward and as a result take you out of the action. However it would not be at all surprising if Lazo and May-Raz have a major studio knocking on their doors with plans for a big budget remake, so check this one out so you can say you knew their work before they were famous. Here's the trailer:

Daniel Lazo and Eran May-Rez's SIGHT EXTENDED is getting released on Digital platforms on Monday 12th June 2023