Friday 29 September 2023

End of Term (2023)

"Uneven Horror With An Interesting Cast"

There's that distinct feel of a job half done with END OF TERM, which is getting a digital release from Reel 2 Reel Films.

A student at a prestigious arts academy is taken in for questioning by police after she is found at the remote institution in a state of shock and with her face scarred. She relates a story to DS Stacy Harcourt (Julie Graham from TOWER BLOCK and lots of TV) and  DI Jim Burman (David Bamber from LIMEHOUSE GOLEM and lots of TV as well) that leads us into a series of flashbacks about the final day of term.

There's an art exhibition hosted by the academy's principle (Peter Davison) and attended by, amongst others, a snooty art critic (Ronald Pickup) who meets a horrible end. Back at the academy the end of term party descends into a bloodbath, with the killings possibly linked to famously loony artist Garth Stroman (Ivan Kaye from TV's Vikings). Or are they?

Despite boasting an interesting cast and a plot that culminates in something appropriately bonkers, END OF TERM has a very half-baked feel to it indeed, as if about an hour of footage was shot before the production ran out of money, or time, or the will to live. The running time is padded out with dull police interrogation footage and the film eventually staggers to something of a non-ending. And that's a real shame because with the talent on show here END OF TERM could have been a seriously decent British horror picture in the style of 1971's CRUCIBLE OF TERROR, or even a Pete Walker film. 

A quick check of imdb suggests that it was originally shot in 2016, and there's a copyright date of 2019 on the end credits, but the film hasn't been released until now. The fact that the credited director is different from the director on the press release (who on the film is only cited as directing the 'Brighton footage') might also be significant. Horror fans with long memories may be reminded of when Lucio Fulci fell ill making ZOMBIE 3 and had to have his movie completed in the gratingly different style of Bruno Mattei. One suspects the story behind the making of END IF TERM might possibly be more interesting than the actual end product, but pontification on that alone may provide enough entertainment value for some.

END OF TERM is out on Digital from Reel 2 Reel on Monday 2nd October 2023

Friday 22 September 2023

Targets (1968)

After a bit of a delay, the BFI's Blu-ray release of Peter Bogdanovich's remarkable directorial feature debut is finally with us.

Aging Hollywood horror star Byron Orlock (Boris Karloff) decides he has had enough of the business and announces his retirement following a preview screening of his latest movie (actually clips from another Roger Corman production, the infamously cobbled together THE TERROR). His film-making associates are horrified at the prospect, especially Sammy Michaels (Bogdanovich himself) who has written Orlok's next script. 

While he and others are doing their best to convince their star to keep working, we are also being shown scenes in the seemingly unrelated life of ex Vietnam veteran Bobby Thompson (Tim O'Kelly). Bobby lives with his wife and his parents, has a large gun collection, and is convinced there is something wrong with him. His attempts to talk to his wife prove fruitless and the next day he kills her and his mother and anyone else who happens to be around before driving off on a killing spree. That spree reaches its culmination at a showing of THE TERROR where Orlok is due to make a personal appearance.

Boris Karloff was the only star of horror's golden age to truly breach the gap between the old gothic horrors of the 1930s and what was then emerging as a more extreme US cinematic movement grounded in reality and evolving partly in response to the Kennedy assassination and very much in response to America's involvement in Vietnam. To emphasise that we are in the 'real' world, Bogdanovich is careful to ensure that the only music we hear is either on the radio or during the clips of THE TERROR that we see. Bobby's murder of his family is all the more shockingly effective for being played out in such a mundane, non-melodramatic manner, and the climax at the drive-in is an unforgettable juxtaposition of real vs reel horror.

The BFI's Blu-ray is of a new restoration supervised by Bogdanovich and looks excellent. A previously available director introduction and commentary (both from 2003) are included, as well as a new commentary track from critic Peter Tonguette. Other extras concentrate mainly on Karloff with a 40 minute featurette of Sara Karloff talking about her father, a 17 minute piece from Stephen Jacobs about Karloff's career in the 1960s, with Vic Pratt also providing a short eight minute video essay about the star. 

Two Guardian interviews are also included - Roger Corman from 1970 and Bogdanovich from 1972, and Joe Dante provides a commentary on the trailer as one of the Trailers From Hell. You also get a booklet with a set of essays and there's an image gallery, too. For anyone who might be wondering, this is a lot more extras than the US Criterion disc has that was released earlier this year, so the BFI disc is definitely the one to get.

Peter Bogdanovich's TARGETS is out on Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 25th September 2023

Thursday 21 September 2023

Don't Look Away (2023)

Here we go with an ultra low budget killer mannequin picture that's getting a digital release from Central City Media.

A large container lorry carrying nothing but a single packing case is hijacked. Soon whatever was in the crate has killed the thieves and the lorry driver has been accidentally run over by Frankie (played by Kelly Bastard. Yes that's her name.). She's so traumatised she drives home with her windscreen covered in blood (you would think the police who interviewed her at the crime screen would have at least offered to give it a wipe).

Frankie lives with Steven King. Yes that's the character's name  and when he isn't exposition dumping he's delivering dialogue lifted pretty much verbatim from Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING. Do Warner Bros. know about this?

Frankie is sure she saw a mannequin standing at the crime scene. She goes to a disco without Steven King. She sees the mannequin again. Soon everyone at the disco is dead except the friends she went with, who are now targeted for a gory death by the mannequin. No-one ever sees it move but if you look away (aha!) it gets you, Dr Who weeping-angel style.

Feeling less like an well-rounded feature and more like a first year film student's attempt at making a horror movie (and a student who's a bit too obsessed with THE SHINING at that), DON'T LOOK AWAY engineers some highly atmospheric and spooky sequences that involve the mannequin. Unfortunately everything else is strictly amateur night, with little talent on display in either the acting or writing departments. The director himself turns up close to the end as a character who supplies minimal explanation as to what's going on and turns out to be rather older than the first year film student one might have been expecting. Fun if you're very forgiving and it's a very slow night.

DON'T LOOK AWAY is out on digital from Central City Media on Monday 25th September 2023

Saturday 16 September 2023

Calvaire (2004)

"An Everyday Story of Belgian Country Folk"

Known on its original release in English-speaking territories as THE ORDEAL, Fabrice du Welz's entry into the 'New French Extremity' subgenre is getting a digital re-release from Blue Finch.

It's close to Christmas and Marc (Laurent Lucas), a travelling entertainer, bids farewell to the old folks' home that was his last venue, and the nurse who harbours hidden desires for him (a nice little turn from exploitation regular Brigitte Lahaie). On the way to his next gig his van breaks down on a country lane in the middle of the night. He eventually finds his way to a terrifying-looking inn run by Paul Bartel (no, not that one, but presumably a truly bizarre homage).

Bartel gives Marc a bed for the night and promises to get his van fixed. The next morning the local mechanic is apparently unavailable so Bartel promises to have a go himself. Meanwhile Marc goes for a walk through some forbidding grim countryside before witnessing some local farmers engaged in a ritual of disgusting proportions.

I won't spoil any more of CALVAIRE, suffice to say that a terrible fate awaits Marc back at Bartel's Inn, while the local villagers have some even more bizarre rituals that may threaten to cause a giggle as well as a chill. 

        It's likely that's the intention of director Fabrice du Welz. While much of the final act of the film anticipates the territory established (or soon to be) by extreme movies of the period like Aja's HAUTE TENSION (2003), Maury and Bustillo's L'INTERIEUR (2007) and Laugier's MARTYRS (2008), there are moments of grotesque humour here. Be assured, however, that overall CALVAIRE is a strictly grim and downbeat affair that's for fans of extreme cinema rather than the casual horror fan. Let's have a trailer:

Fabrice du Welz's CALVAIRE is out on digital from Blue Finch Releasing on Tuesday 19th September 2023

Friday 15 September 2023

Gothic (1987)

Ken Russell's film of Stephen Volk's screenplay about the night that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein (and John Polidori to write The Vampyre but you don't need to worry about that) gets a Blu-ray release from the BFI.

Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) and his new wife Mary (Natasha Richardson) arrive at the Villa Deodati on the shore of Lake Geneva. It's currently being rented by Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) whose doctor and close personal peculiar friend John Polidori (Timothy Spall) is also present, as well as Clare Clairmont (Myriam Cyr), Mary's stepsister. After dinner, as a storm rages, the five of them hold a seance, the sequel to which is a night filled with madness and strange visions.

Sandwiched in Ken Russell's feature career by CRIMES OF PASSION (1984) and his deal with Vestron which yielded LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, SALOME'S LAST DANCE (both 1988) and THE RAINBOW (1989), GOTHIC certainly lives up to its name, with as much blood and thunder and 'dark stormy nighting' as its director could wring out of the story. There are a number of arresting visuals, the location is lovely, and the performances are what one might expect from Mr Russell's encouragement. While it's not as gleefully outrageous as CRIMES OF PASSION or as all-round entertaining as LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, GOTHIC remains a fine example of the UK's enfant terrible doing what he always did best.

Extras on the BFI's disc kick off with a lovely 34 minute interview with Stephen Volk, who talks about the genesis of the project, where he was in his life at the time of writing it, and what it was like to work with Russell. Soul of Shelley is a ported over interview with the late Julian Sands from 2017. Also ported over is the commentary track from Lisi Russell and Matthew Melia. Another audio track is given over to The Guardian Lecture with Ken Russell from 1987 which runs the length of the film and includes audience questions and Russell's entertaining ripostes to them.

Also included are some other Russell works: Amelia and the Angel is a 27 minute black and white short from 1957 about a little girl playing the angel in the school play. THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER (2002) is Russell's final feature, shot on video and funded by remortgaging his house, at least as far as I can remember from the edition of Melvyn Bragg's The South Bank Show that was dedicated to it back in the day. It's a shame they couldn't have included that as well. USHER is very typical Ken but with the very rough around the edges feel of Jess Franco's later filmed on video efforts. Hardened Ken fans will love it, or at least find it fascinating, but it's not the film to show to someone you want to convert to the cause. Finally, the disc also comes with a booklet featuring new essays and notes on the special features.

Ken Russell's GOTHIC is out on Blu-ray from the BFI on Monday 18th September 2023

Sunday 10 September 2023

Another Day to Live Through (2023)

"Weird Art House 1970s-style EuroHorror - Hooray!"

You can probably already guess that ANOTHER DAY TO LIVE THROUGH is going to get a hearty recommendation from me. It's another horror film from Finland, coming hot on the heels of THE KNOCKING and GOOD BOY, both of which premiered at Frightfest recently, and both of which are also highly recommended. While THE KNOCKING was very much a folk horror tale, and GOOD BOY felt like 50 SHADES OF GRAY done Inside No.9-style, ANOTHER DAY TO LIVE THROUGH feels like a good Jess Franco film. 

If you're not familiar with the director's work that doesn't matter, and may in fact count to this film's benefit as Mr Franco's filmography is certainly chequered. But when he's at his best his movies are dreamlike, thought-provoking, nebulous head trips. They don't necessarily make sense and you likely need to be in a certain frame of mind to appreciate them, but if you are you'll have an experience you'll never forget. And that's what we have here.

ANOTHER DAY TO LIVE THROUGH is the story of Satu (Lene Kqiku), a young woman hiking through forestland when she meets the much older Lauri (Timo Torikka) who directs her to the cabin she is seeking. The next thing she knows she is waking up in bed with Lauri attending her, with no memory of how she got there. The longer she stays in the cabin the more time seems to be distorting and folding in on itself. Sidney Salkow's 1964 THE LAST MAN ON EARTH plays constantly on the television in the lounge, and eventually Satu ends up parroting dialogue from it. Lauri seems to drift in and out of her reality as the days blur one into another. She sometimes eats breakfast on the cabin's veranda while the dead body of someone lies just beyond the cabin's steps.

Eventually all the pieces fall into place. Or do they? That in essence is the appeal (and likely also the turn off for some) of writer-director Peter Simmons' film, because by the end you'll be asking all sorts of questions, ruminating on all sorts of possibilities and, if you've been in what can best be described as a 'Jess Franco state of mind' you'll be wanting to watch it again. Finland is having a great year in horror and this is another unexpected surprise, and a must-see if you love weird art-house fractured narrative 1970s-style EuroHorror. Just ignore the British poster which seems to be suggesting that it's some dull generic slasher movie.

ANOTHER DAY TO LIVE THROUGH is something far more interesting altogether. Here's the trailer:

Peter Simmons' ANOTHER DAY TO LIVE THROUGH is out on digital from Reel 2 Reel Films on Monday 11th September 2023

Saturday 9 September 2023

The Antichrist (1974)


Following on from Frightfest's 50th anniversary screening of THE EXORCIST, it's really only natural that Albert De Martino's L'ANTICRISTO, aka THE ANTICHRIST aka THE TEMPTER, the first Italian ripoff of Friedkin's film to make it out of the gate back in the day, should get a Blu-ray release (from Studio Canal) this year as well. 

When she was a child Ippolita Oderisi (Carla Gravina) was in a car accident that rendered her unable to walk properly. Italian exploitation doctors have diagnosed her problem as psychological, and true to the spirit of the genre she's also sexually frustrated as well.

Her father (Mel Ferrer) decides that the best treatment for this is to take her to a religious ceremony where she sees a man vomiting green bile throw himself from a great height. After that they try hypnosis, but all that does is release suppressed memories from a past life when she was burnt at the stake for being a witch. After all that it's not surprising that poor old Ippolita should agree to being possessed by the devil.

Once she's possessed she vomits, swears, levitates, and does pretty much everything De Martino and his screenwriters scribbled down from their trip to see THE EXORCIST. Arthur Kennedy, fresh from playing the swearing and hippy-accosting police inspector in Jorge Grau's superior LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE, plays a priest but he's not up to exorcising Ippolita - that job goes to dubbed George Coulouris playing Father Mittner (and definitely not Merrin) during a welter of early 1970s Italian special effects.

THE ANTICHRIST isn't a great film. It's not even that good, but it is a fascinating snapshot of the Italian film industry of the period and of what stars who had been in much bigger and better things ended up working in during the 1970s. Full marks go to Ms Gravina who really gets put through being soaked, thrown around and having to behave like a wild thing for half the film (she's very good at it). Film score fans will delight to the music by Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, and one of the extras on here, Raising Hell, will tell you who scored which bit.

Other extras include the audio recollections of De Martino from an interview conducted with Eugenio Ercolani back in 2012, opening credits for THE TEMPTER and a 30 second TV spot. The set also comes with four art cards. Finally you get a commentary track from Lee Gambin and Sally Christie which is vigorous and lively but takes a while to get going with gaps big enough at the start that you may be checking to make such you haven't inadvertently switched audio channels. 

Alberto De Martino's THE ANTICHRIST is out on Blu-ray from Studio Canal on Monday 11th September 2023 

Friday 8 September 2023

Crimes of the Future (2022)

After its cinema release last year, and a barebones DVD (in the UK) and Blu-ray (in the US) release, David Cronenberg's latest film gets a deserved special edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray release packed with extras.

In the near future, and in a world where diseases and physical pain no longer exist, human bodies are continuing to evolve. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a man able to grow new organs inside his body, and he regularly has them removed by his surgeon partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) in live performances. But Saul is not the only human with strange new abilities. A growing number of people are developing the ability to digest plastic and Wippet (Don McKellar) along with his assistant Timlin (Kristen Stewart) at the National Organ Registry believe Saul might help them to understand the next major step in human evolution. 

"Surgery is sex," says Kristen Stewart early on CRIMES OF THE FUTUR. It's a film that's like having all the elements that made each of Cronenberg's early pictures so unique and memorable all in one place. A film that, more than any other he's made, is all about his body horror obsessions - beauty contests for the insides of bodies, tumours as an art form, designer cancers, etc. Much of the dialogue involves the discussion of fascinating philosophies and science fiction concepts, and there are moments and scenes of utter genius in this, not least the most erotic scene in cinema of last year as Seydoux is caressed by the scalpels in Tenser's strange machine.

Second Sight have once again performed their usual excellent work in providing extras for CRIMES OF THE FUTURE. Author Caelum Vatnsdal provides the commentary track, starting off by echoing Cronenberg himself (from the director's commentary for EXISTENZ) by saying how the credit sequence of his later movies acts as a vestibule for the audience to prepare themselves for the strange new world they are about to see. He then goes in to talk knowledgeably about Cronenberg's work with particular reference to the film.

There is a stack of interviews, consisting of, in order, David Cronenberg (7 minutes), Viggo Mortensen (9 minutes), Léa Seydoux (7 minutes), Kristen Stewart (7 minutes), Don McKellar (27 minutes), producer Robert Lantos (10 minutes), DP Douglas Koch (17 minutes), and editor Christopher Donaldson (23 minutes).

New Flesh, Future Crimes is a new 23 minute documentary on the film and Cronenberg's work in general. There's also a Making Of (22 minutes), a look at production design, and a one minute piece in which the director confronts his own dead body. 

The limited edition set also comes with a 120 page book with a bunch of new essays, sic collectors' art cards and a rigid slipcase. A beautiful set from Second Sight that's going to be a must have for Cronenberg fans everywhere.

David Cronenberg's CRIMES OF THE FUTURE is out on 4K UHD and Blu-ray in both limited and standard editions on Monday 11th September 2023