Tuesday 31 October 2023

Bite (2023)

"An Everyday Story of Suburban Folk"

That's a play on the tagline for Pete Walker's superior 1974 FRIGHTMARE by the way, for those who didn't spot it, and while director, co-writer and co-producer James Owens' film isn't really up to matching that classic, BITE is still an entertaining, and extremely gory, timewaster if you fancy a bit of eccentric suburban grue.

Nina (Shian Donovan) and Yaz (Nansi Nue) plan to go straight after their scheme to rob an illegal dog-fighting ring goes wrong. However, they plan to do one last job at a house where they know £3000 has been stashed in a biscuit tin. It also happens to be the house where Nina recently spent four nights with no memory of what happened after she was given a lift by Beryl (former child star Annabelle Lanyon probably best known for Ridley Scott's LEGEND as well as Harley Cokeliss' DREAM DEMON) who lives there with her husband Gerald (Stuart Sessions). Unfortunately for the girls Gerald has a basement full of semi-dissected corpses and the family has a penchant for eating human meat.

Starting off like a gloomy, brutal crime picture, BITE soon changes gears and, once we're in the house of horrors it starts to feel a bit like an episode of Inside No.9, albeit one where it's difficult sometimes to tell if the humour is intentional or not. The film is pretty rough around the edges but in its favour are a couple of decent performances and the fact that it's never dull. There's the sense that Owen knows his horror and has gone out of his way to homage both Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and Herschell Gordon Lewis' BLOOD FEAST and if you know those movies you'll be able to spot which bits I mean. The ending peters out a bit but if you fancy something cheap and cheerful with some jolly throwing around of blood and body parts this might fit the bill on a quiet evening. Here's the trailer:

BITE is out on digital from Bulldog Film Distribution on Monday 27th October 2023

Thursday 26 October 2023

Pandora's Box (1929)

Eureka are releasing an excellent restoration of G W Pabst's 1929 silent melodrama on Blu-ray, using materials sourced from three different prints and with some decent extras, as part of their Masters of Cinema series.

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is young, carefree, ambitious and a prostitute. Through a series of liaisons both past and present she becomes a showgirl and contrives to hang onto one of her lovers, newspaper editor Dr Ludwig Schon (Fritz Kortner) after he tells her he has plans to marry. She manages to disgrace him before his future bride and ends up marrying him herself.

Unfortunately for her, and because of her, the wedding night is a disaster and her new husband is killed. Lulu stands trial but escapes with Dr Schon's son Alva (Frances Lederer, best known to readers as the mad scientist in Gerardo De Leon's TERROR IS A MAN and Dracula himself in Paul Landres' RETURN OF DRACULA). On the run, she and Alva slowly enter a life of squalor, culminating in her meeting a sadistic killer when she recommences her old career.

In many ways, the opening half of PANDORA'S BOX presages the soapy hedonistic bestsellers of the 1970s popularised by the authors such as Harold Robbins and Judith Krantz, which would often show posh people being undone by an ambitious youngster from the wrong side of the streets, only for they themselves to come undone. The second half of the film, which details Lulu's comeuppance, is more of a slog, and with a running time of well over two hours, the film probably doesn't need to be as long as it is. 

It certainly deserves to be called a masterpiece, though. Even now, nearly 100 years later, it's possible to be impressed by Pabst's directorial eye, with some shots emulating paintings by Bosch or Hogarth. Extras kick off with an excellent commentary from Pamela Hutchinson who wrote the BFI guide to movie and gives us plenty of excellent observation and analysis of what's happening onscreen. Kat Ellinger provides a 20 minute look at the emergence of a new kind of woman - the 'dangerous feminine' in 1920s cinema, David Cairns looks at how the film adapts its source material, in particular in relation to Pabst's revolutionary style of film-making in Godless Beasts, and Fiona Watson provides a 20 minute video essay on star Louise Brooks. Finally, there's an eight minute piece on the restoration of the film itself, showing the huge amount of work that went into what we now have to enjoy on Blu-ray. Eureka's set also comes with a 60 page book featuring new writing on the film.

G W Pabst's PANDORA'S BOX is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 30th October 2023

Wednesday 25 October 2023

The Clangers (1969 - 1972)

"British Television Eccentricity at its Best"

The Clangers, the show Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin created in response to the BBC's request for them to do something modern, perhaps to tie in with the recent moon landings, gets a DVD and Blu-ray release from Fabulous Films.

If you haven't seen the show, the Clangers of the title are large pink mouse-like creatures who wear outfits that look like armour, walk on their hind legs, and communicate via whistling sounds. They live underground and access the surface of their tiny planet by opening the saucepan lids that guard their egress holes. 

Other inhabitants of this strange place include the soup dragon, who guards the soup wells. Soup is a Clanger dietary staple, as is blue string, which looks like badly made spaghetti bolognese with bits of mould stuck to it. 

We also get to meet the iron chicken in episode three, shot out of space by a clanger rocket and reassembled by the clangers so it can fly back home. Don't ask why a chicken can fly - it's already made of metal and talking to pink mice on a planet filled with soup. A flying chicken is the least weird thing about all of that. There are also the froglets, which are tiny orange bits of plastic with eyes. 

The Clangers are probably best known these days for being the creatures Roger Delgado's Master is watching on TV in the Jon Pertwee Dr Who story The Sea Devils, although they were resurrected a few years ago with Michael Palin narrating in the UK and William Shatner (apt choice!) doing the honours for American children.

Fabulous Films' set includes both seasons of 13 ten-minute episodes each, so you get 26 episodes and 260 minutes in all. The restoration job done on the Blu-ray makes the episodes look wonderful. Having been part of the original youthful audience for the show I remember the episodes being rather grainy, making the clangers and their planet look a little cold and grotty. The new Blu-ray transfers are warm and crystal clear and look just lovely.  Extras are the same as were on their previous BAGPUSS set (The Story of Smallfilms, the clip where the show wins the BAFTA) plus an eight minute 'extra episode' - Vote for Froglet, in which Oliver Postgate attempts to explain the democratic electoral system using the soup dragon and a froglet as political candidates and the clangers as the voting populace. Presumably there was a general election on at the time. 

The Clangers 1969 - 1972 is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Fabulous Films on Monday 30th October 2023

Saturday 21 October 2023

The Devil Went Down to Islington (2023)

"Laugh Out Loud British Comedy Horror"

It's actually something of a joy to report that THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO ISLINGTON, which is getting a digital release from Bulldog Distribution, is that rarest of beasts, a horror comedy that's actually funny.

Be warned beforehand that it's not terribly scary, though. In fact it's not scary at all. We're firmly in the sub-genre of movies like CARRY ON SCREAMING or COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES with this one, with a host of faces familiar to aficionados of British television comedy and a cheery sense of knockabout fun that's you'll find extremely entertaining if that's your kind of thing.

Hopelessly unlucky music teacher John Robertson (Spencer Brown) and his dodgy friend Nick (James Lance) sell their souls to the devil (Dominic Coleman) one night after a few too many beers. For the next three days their luck changes. John falls in love, wins a scooter and acquires a winning scratch card while Nick wins the lottery. However they soon latch on to why they've suddenly acquired such good fortune, and with the help of mad exorcist Father Crowley (Michael Smiley) they realise their only chance of escaping hell is to reverse everything that has happened to them.

THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO ISLINGTON features likeable lead performances from Brown and Lance who obviously have good comedy chemistry together and there are turns from Ronni Ancona as John's headmistress, Tessa Peake-Jones as John's mum, and Mark Benton as porn producer Barry Grossman whose latest opus is THE SEXORCISM OF EMILY'S ROSE. It's a bit bumpy at the start but after that becomes frequently laugh out loud funny. Director Daniel Wilson could just be a new Edgar Wright in the making. I laughed a lot and I'd certainly watch something else from the same team. Let's have a trailer:

THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO ISLINGTON is out on Digital platforms from Bulldog Distribution on Monday 23rd October 2023

Thursday 19 October 2023

Hellraiser: Quartet of Torment (1987 - 1996)

"A Box Set that will be Legendary, Even in Hell"

Well it's hard to think there will be another collection devoted to the first four films in the HELLRAISER franchise that's going to contain such a wealth of extras old and new, as well as all four films looking the best they ever have. Arrow Films have gone the extra mile here in putting together their UHD set so let's take a look at what it includes:

Disc One: Hellraiser (1987)

Clive Barker's seminal film, that despite the sterling efforts of its unit publicist (more about him in just a minute) still took UK cinema audiences unawares with its mixture of BODY HEAT by way of Greek tragedy with dollops of sado-masochism and body modification mixed in, looks better than it ever has done before in Arrow's UHD transfer (and which looks a lot better than the Blu-ray of a few years ago). 

Like many 1980s classics, time has weathered HELLRAISER a little. The cracks show a little more now, especially on UHD. It's still a great, timeless, story, and the opening half an hour is beautifully put together. It becomes in danger of losing its focus towards the end, but it still deserves its reputation as a classic, with iconic monsters, a superb central performance from Clare Higgins, and one of the best horror movie scores of all time.

Arrow have provided a plethora of extras new and archival, starting most significantly with a new commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. It's significant because Steve Jones was the unit publicist on the film and he has plenty of behind the scenes stories. 

Other new highlights include writers Alexandra Benedict and Guy Adams each providing 20 minute pieces on what HELLRAISER means to them. The extremely loveable Mr Adams (watch the piece to discover why I made a point of saying that) is filmed being tattooed while his calm, settled tones recount a personal history that's anything but. Ms Benedict isn't featured onscreen, leaving it to the viewer to imagine what she's actually up to as she discusses the film as being the 'ultimate unboxing video'. There's also a bunch of newly discovered press material "found in Steve Jones' attic" which is introduced by Jones and Kim Newman. Finally, there are two new academic discussions on the film, one between Sorcha Ni Fhlainn and Karmel Kniprath and the other, celebrating the queerness of Clive Barker's writing, between Paula D Ashe and Eric La Rocca. Each runs for nearly an hour

Finally, some (but not all) of the archival material from the Blu-ray has been ported over, including the two previous commentaries (one with Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence, the other with Barker alone) pieces on Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley, and Stephen Thrower's piece on the rejected Coil score. Plus there are the usual image galleries, trailers and TV spots.

Disc Two: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)

The sequel some people like more than the first gets the Arrow UHD treatment and again, the results are an improvement on the previous Blu-ray transfer. Arrow have also gone the extra mile to provide some cracking extras.

First and foremost (again) is the commentary track by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman which provides a detailed look at the movie with plenty of behind the scenes stories. The previous two archival commentaries, one with director Tony Randel, writer Peter Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence, and the other with just Randel and Atkins have also been ported over.

Also new to the UHD disc is a chatty, convivial and utterly enjoyable conversation between authors Kit Power and George Lea that lasts a whopping 85 minutes but never outstays its welcome, even though their comments on wishing they could have been old enough to see it on its original cinema release did remind me of my advancing age (I saw it twice on the big screen back in the day).  That Rat Slice Sound is 12 minutes of Guy Adams praising Christopher Young's music and I'll add my opinion to his that Young's score is more effective than the unused Coil themes because of the counterpoint it provides.

Otherwise there's a collection of electronic press kit material plus some archival extras including interviews with Sean Chapman and Doug Bradley, a short making of and the deleted surgery scene, plus the usual trailers, TV spots and image gallery.

Disc Three: Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)

'Far better than it had any right to be' is my contemporaneous review quote for HELLRAISER III, a film I still have a lot of time for and which sometimes is my favourite of the lot. Cheerfully 'franchise part 3 material' in nature, cleverly including backstory with the Kirsty Cotton tape, and literally raising hell on the streets of LA, the late Anthony Hickox's sequel is just ambitious enough to stay interesting without lurching into the wild incoherence of part II. And that final shot is still an absolute cracker.

Like all previous disc releases of HELLRAISER III you get the option of watching two versions of the film - the 'original theatrical' and an unrated version with all the cut material restored from a lesser quality pan and scanned master. New material is limited to another fascinating and insightful commentary from Stephen Jones & Kim Newman on the uncut version, which also has an archival commentary with director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley. An archival Pete Atkins commentary on the theatrical version has also been ported over.

Extras otherwise are archival - the electronic press kit, interviews, featurettes and a making of, plus trailers and an image gallery.

Disc Four: Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Follow the LeMarchand family on their somewhat filmically bumpy journey from the eighteenth century through 1996 to space in the year 2127 in this notoriously troubled production that saw director Kevin Yagher have his name removed from the credits. There's still plenty to enjoy, however, especially the full-blooded gothic opening and the full-blooded Valentina Vargas throughout.

Arrow's disc may well be the highlight of the entire set for HELLRAISER obsessives  - we get the fourth film in the franchise in UHD and it's accompanied by a markedly different workprint version recently discovered in Stephen Jones' attic. The actual highlight of the disc itself, however, might just be the commentary track in which Jones and Kim Newman chat to screenwriter Peter Atkins about the making of the film. It goes into detail about how it ended up the way it did, gives plenty of background on behind the scenes goings-on, and is frequently uproariously funny. A must listen.

Other extras include The Beauty of Suffering, a new 28 minute featurette on how the goth, BDSM and fetish cultures informed HELLRAISER, with interviews with some interesting individuals. The archival material ports over the documentaries from the fourth disc of Arrow's previous Blu-ray set, namely the HELLRAISER EVOLUTIONS documentary and the featurette on Clive Barker's books. 

The set also includes a 200 page hardbound book featuring new writing by Phil and Sarah Stokes.

HELLRAISER: QUARTET OF TORMENT is out on 4K UHD on Monday 23rd October 2023

Wednesday 18 October 2023

8 Found Dead (2023)

After its UK premiere at this year's Grimmfest, Travis Greene's 8 FOUND DEAD gets a digital release from High Fliers.

Two young couples prepare to spend Memorial Day weekend at an isolated desert retreat while the daughter of the owner busies herself cleaning it up from previous renters before relaxing by the pool. But who's that wielding an axe and why when the first couple gets there is there another, older couple already in residence? Meanwhile the local police are investigating a 911 distress call that claims multiple murders. Could everything possibly be linked?

A film told through the medium of a fractured narrative (which becomes more apparent as the story progresses), 8 FOUND DEAD desperately wants to be in the same mode as the recent, and superior, BODIES BODIES BODIES, but lacks both the wit and the creativity to do so. Instead it quickly becomes apparent that its jostling of timelines is nothing more than a gimmick to spice up a tired idea, with not even all the shuffling around sufficient to make the 82 minute run time feel anything other than very stretched out by the end. From the press quotes on the poster one can only assume that 'Bains Film' hasn't watched very many horror films. Or possibly any.  

Travis Greene's 8 FOUND DEAD is out on digital from High Fliers on Monday 23rd October 2023