Wednesday 24 January 2024

The Eternal Daughter (2022)

"A24 Art House Gothic - And Very Good, Too"

After premiering at the LFF in 2022 and its subsequent run in cinemas last year, Joanna Hogg's atmospheric mood piece gets a Blu-ray release from the BFI.

Julie Hart (Tilda Swinton) arrives at a remote Welsh country hotel with her mother Rosalind (Swinton again) for them to spend a few days together. Julie is a film-maker and plans to spend the daytime working on a new writing project. 

As time goes on it becomes apparent that there is nobody else staying at the hotel. It also seems that Julie's mother used to live there and she tells Julie how the rooms have changed since she was a resident. Things get stranger, culminating in Rosalind's birthday when the bringing in of a cake leads to revelations.

THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER has a very slight plot but makes up for it with a lot of very well done gothic atmosphere. Hogg films both interiors and exteriors from just the right angle and with just the right amount of lighting (or lack of it) to suggest extreme creepiness. In fact if Mike Flanagan hadn't already recently remade THE HAUNTING for Netflix the thought of Joanna Hogg making it would have been most welcome. 

Swinton is excellent in both roles (no surprises there) and the film gets bonus points for having her character reading the original Robert Aickman-edited Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories at breakfast. Like Aickman's own stories, THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER is more about gradually building a sense of unease than delivering shocks, so you'll be best rewarded if you go in not expecting the kind of blood and thunder one might associate with the term 'Gothic', but rather something that's going to get under your skin and keep you thinking about it for days afterwards.

Extras on the BFI's Blu-ray include an excellent commentary track with Hogg and production designer Stéphane Collonge which discusses some of the inspiration for the film (NIGHT OF THE DEMON, THE INNOCENTS) as well as many of the details about how it was made. Another audio track provides audio description which more discs should have. There's a 35 minute Q&A with Hogg and Swinton and a separate, 76 minute conversation with Hogg which covers her entire career. You also get PRESAGES, an 11 minute short film with Hogg narration. Finally the disc comes with an informative booklet featuring essays by Catherine Bray and Hannah Strong, and an interview with Hogg by Roger Luckhurst.

Joanna Hogg's THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER is out now from the BFI on Blu-ray and Digital

Saturday 20 January 2024

Haute Tension (2004)


Co-writer and director Alexandre Aja's 'French Extreme' movie gets the special edition treatment from Second Sight on UHD and Blu-ray. 

Marie (Cécile De France) and Alex (Maïwenn) are planning to spend the weekend with Alex's family at their remote country farmhouse. However, as night falls a brutal killer invades the building and kills everyone but Alex, whom he imprisons in his van, and Marie whom he is unable to find and who gives pursuit. As the night progresses and the chase continues it eventually transpires that this is a more complex game of killer and prey than seems initially apparent. 

HAUTE TENSION is a film made to be watched at least twice, because as Dr Lindsay Hallam says in her extremely detailed, listenable and enlightening new commentary, the second time round you find yourself watching a completely different film. What doesn't change anytime you watch this, though, is the degree of violence and gore, demonstrated via some excellent physical effects by one of the masters of the form, Giannetto De Rossi. It's a testament to the man's skill that even in UHD his makeups look painfully convincing. As is the case with any film that can be classed under 'Extreme French Cinema' the cast are really put through their paces, especially the leads, and Aja wrings every bit of tension he can out of what everyone admits on the extras was a very small budget.

As for the new extras, along with the excellent commentary Second Sight provide us with a bunch of new interviews including Alexandre Aja (35 minutes) who admits he loves the UK title of SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE, co-writer Gregory Levasseur (19 minutes), DP Maxime Alexandre (18 minutes) and FX man De Rossi (18 minutes). There's also a 13 minute piece from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that discusses the film in relation to the concept of the 'final girl'.

Ported over are a number of archival extras including a making of (38 minutes) and interviews with actors De France (23 minutes), Maïwenn (6 minutes) and Philippe Nahon (5 minutes) who plays the killer. 

Finally, Second Sight's set comes with a 70 page book with new writing on the film, six art cards and a rigid slipcase to keep it all in. Here's Second Sight's trailer:

Alexandre Aja's HAUTE TENSION is getting a UHD and Blu-ray limited edition release from Second Sight Films on Monday 22nd January 2023

Friday 19 January 2024

Scala!!! (2023)

"A Joyous & Nostalgic Celebration of a Unique Cultural Entity"

Following on from the utterly gorgeous book published by FAB Press on the very same subject, Jane Giles and Ali Catterall's documentary on the iconic Scala cinema gets a Blu-ray and Digital release (full detail of platforms below) from the BFI.

It's a fascinating, well put-together documentary that chronicles, through first-hand reminiscences from a wide variety of interviewees, the rise and fall of the London cinema (eventually based at King's Cross) whose audience was almost as bizarre and eclectic as the films that were screened there. 

The only place you could see stuff like Curt McDowells' 1975 THUNDERCRACK, Russ Meyer retrospectives, and even Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in the UK (the illegal nature of which led to the cinema's undoing) I only attended the Scala twice in its heyday, for two of the Shock Around the Clock film festivals organised by Alan Jones and Stejan Jaworzyn, but I'm happy to testify that SCALA!!! really does convey the sticky, grungy, crazy atmosphere of what the place was like at that time. It was obviously loved by an awful lot of people and that love comes across in the 96 minute history we get of it here.

Extras include an extra hour of interview footage with the likes of Peter Strickland, Mary Harron, Douglas Hart, Kim Newman, Stewart Lee, Jane Giles and Stephen Woolley. Osbert Parker's animations and Davey Jones' cartoons for the documentary are also included in their entirety. There's the twelve minute London Film Festival introduction from programmer Jason Wood, in which he quite rightly states that all culture has value and  that something that means nothing to one person may mean the world to another, so don't be a snob. Wise words for us all to live by.

There's a short film included also called Scala, which is a 35 minute archival made for cable documentary, and you also get a four minute shot on video student film about the Scala in 1992. Three short 'Scala favourites' are also included - Relax (23 minutes), Flames of Passion (18 minutes) and Viv Albertine's Coping With Cupid (19 minutes). Cabinet of Curiosities is 18 minutes of curios from the cinema with narration by Jane Giles, who also talks us through 15 of the Scala's monthly programmes. Finally, Giles and Ali Catterall provide a commentary for the film.

The BFI's Blu-ray also comes with a booklet with original writing on the film from Jane Giles and Ali Catterall, plus even more memories from those who were there and a piece from Osbert Parker about his animations. Here's the trailer:

SCALA!!! is out on Blu-ray and on Digital on BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon Prime from Monday 22nd January 2024

Thursday 18 January 2024

The Civil Dead (2022)

"All a Bit Too One-Note"

The debut feature of writers-producers-stars Clay Tatum and Whitmer Thomas, with Tatum directing, gets a digital and selected cinema release from Bulldog Distribution.

Hopeless slacker of a photographer Clay (Tatum), a man who can't even get his haircut right, is desperately short of cash to pay his rent. His latest scam involves pretending his house is for rent and then charging prospective applicants $50 just to apply to live there. 

With no job prospects Clay decides to take some random 'art' shots and meets Whit (Thomas). Whit is an old friend from high school who says he now works as an actor. He also happens to be a ghost and only Clay can see him. This comes in useful when Clay enters a poker game and wins big with Whit's help. But Whit hasn't exactly told Clay the truth about himself.

Shot during lockdown on a budget of allegedly $30 000, which is admirable, THE CIVIL DEAD suffers from being way too long at 104 minutes, with scenes that could easily have been edited down or cut altogether to make the film a lot tighter. The somewhat one-note nature of the relationship of the  'comedy pair' doesn't really develop over the running time, and while the film has obviously been shot for no money, the muddy, sepia-tinted photography starts to grate on the eyes after a while. It's possible that Tatum and Thomas have talent, and there seem to be a lot of more positive reviews out there which is why I haven't felt too bad about being honest with this one, but THE CIVIL DEAD outstays its welcome long before Whitmer Thomas' ghost does the same in the movie. Anyway, here's the trailer, which does succeed in making the film look rather more appealing:

THE CIVIL DEAD is out in selected cinemas and on Digital from Bulldog Distribution on Friday 19th January 2024

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Punch (2023)

"Really Not the Way to Do It"

Where would ultra low-budget British horror films be without drone shots, those often professional-looking pieces of footage that are then interspersed between scenes of characters talking about nothing in particular, frequently in nightclubs or at parties until 'some horror happens', eventually, in films that tend to last around 80 minutes and still feel as if they take an age to get going?

And so we come to PUNCH, which somehow premiered at this year's Frightfest, is getting a digital release from Miracle media, and is guilty of all the above. Girls have been disappearing at a grim seaside resort and it looks like a man in a 'Punch' mask (as in 'and Judy' although the film assumes the viewer has a working knowledge of this seaside tradition) is responsible. He whacks people over the head with a baseball bat, talks in a frequently unintelligible 'Punch' voice, and sets his sights on Frankie (Alina Allison) with the climax taking place in an amusement park at night.

PUNCH boasts a great, grim, seaside location, and the killer's mask is scary, but otherwise this is pretty low rent stuff with numerous missed opportunities to build suspense and atmosphere. Here's the trailer:

PUNCH is out on Digital from Miracle Media on Monday 22nd January 2024

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Devil Girl From Mars (1954)

"Classic Ropey Old British Tat"

Oh yes, the UK wasn't just making all-time classic SF like THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT in the 1950s, there was stuff like this as well (and FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE and if you liked that you'll love this). DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is getting a Blu-ray and DVD release from Studio Canal and of you didn't get to see it on Saturday morning TV back in the day now's your chance.

A motley assortment of characters including a model (Hazel Court), a physics professor who is essentially Quatermass-lite (Joseph Tomelty), an annoying alcoholic journalist (Hugh McDermott who probably wasn't supposed to be annoying back in 1954) and an escaped convict (Peter Reynolds) all find themselves together in a remote Scottish pub run by John Laurie with Adrienne Corri behind the bar.

A massive spaceship lands in their back garden and Patricia Laffan in a supremely impressive black leather outfit emerges, along with her enormous robot. She's come to collect men to take back to Mars and humanity has no chance. We know this because she keeps coming in through the French windows that are more a conceit to British drama than Scottish accuracy to tell them so. Does she succeed in her scheme or is it thwarted in a welter of very low-budget but creative effects?

In their commentary included on this disc, Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw express considerable affection for this film, even going so far as to cheekily suggest that Jonathan Glazer's Scarlet Johansson-starring UNDER THE SKIN is a remake (well she does land in Scotland). Certainly the two films would make a good double bill. They also quite rightly say that the US equivalent of this would be ROBOT MONSTER or possibly even PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE but in terms of quality (cast wise if nothing else) this is way above those film in terms of quality. Studio Canal's disc also comes with a 17 minute talking head piece from Newman which includes some of what's in the commentary but also has different material.

Important: A DVD was provided for review and worked fine on our player, but numerous reports have come in about the Blu-ray of DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS having synchronisation issues so you may want to wait before you buy.

DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS is out from Studio Canal on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 15th January 2024

Wednesday 10 January 2024

Horrors of the Black Museum (1959)

Producer Herman Cohen's contribution to Anglo-Amalgamated's trio of 'Sadean' releases of 1959 (the others being Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM and Sidney Hayers' CIRCUS OF HORRORS) gets a UK Blu-ray release from Studio Canal.

A girl unwraps a parcel, puts the binoculars she finds inside to her eyes, adjusts the focus and two spikes shoot into her eye sockets. It's just the latest in a series of gruesome killings in which Scotland Yard are baffled, which is good for us the audience as it means we get to see more of them, including a decapitation by guillotine and death by huge ice tongs.

But who's responsible for this? Well it becomes very obvious early on so it's not a spoiler to say that it's mad best-selling writer Michael Gough, who lives in the kind of a lovely house that comes with an immense secret torture dungeon basement complete with always-bubbling acid vat. 

Director Arthur Crabtree was never one of the 'UK greats' and HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM isn't even his personal best (that's probably FIEND WITHOUT A FACE) but even the static camera setups and long takes can't take detract from the fact that this is an entertaining and extremely lurid pulp thriller, with Gough going so over the top you almost expect lasers to shoot from his eyes towards the end. 

Extras on Studio Canal's Blu-ray includes the 11 minute 'Hypnovista' introduction tacked onto the front of the US version, in which a 'psychologist and hypnotist' takes you through a number of scenarios, many of which have nothing to do with hypnosis at all, but then neither does the film. It begins with him yawning and suggesting you are now going to do the same. You certainly might be by the end of this but not for the reasons he states. 

There'a a new commentary track from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones which is as entertaining and fact-filled (and opinionated!) as always, and an interview with Kim Newman about the film that lasts 21 minutes. I agree with him that out of all the movies released in this period HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM would have been the SAW of its day. You also a lobby cards gallery and trailer, and the DVD & Blu-ray comes with four art cards. 

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Studio Canal on Monday 15th January 2024

Friday 5 January 2024

Lord of Misrule (2023)

"Top Notch British Folk Horror"

Tuppence Middleton and Ralph Ineson star in the new film from horror specialist William Brent Bell (THE BOY, WER, ORPHAN: FIRST KILL), now getting a UK digital release from Signature Entertainment.

The English village of Berrow is preparing for its annual Harvest Festival, which includes a ritual in which the masked Lord of Misrule casts out the evil spirit Gallowgog. This year the Harvest Angel is to be played by Grace, the young daughter of the local vicar, Rebecca (Middleton). When Grace goes missing at the festival Rebecca uncovers a tale of Pagan (and Christian) horrors stretching back hundreds of years, one in which both she and her daughter are now destined to play a part.

LORD OF MISRULE is an engrossing, well made folk horror picture that gets so much right it's a joy to watch. The production design and set dressing are wall to wall creepy, there are fine performances from the leads, with Ineson playing the leader of the Pagans and a bunch of British character actors who look born to play weird villagers. The literate script that deals with the Christian versus Pagan religion is by Tom DeVille, best known to readers here for his 2000 TV anthology series URBAN GOTHIC.

Guiding everything with a sure and steady hand is director William Brent Bell. I've previously likened Bell's style to that evinced by some of the great British B horror directors of the 1960s like Don Sharp, whose 1964 WITCHCRAFT is a classic, and LORD OF MISRULE may well be Mr Bell's best film yet. It's assured, creepy and doesn't miss an opportunity for a well-orchestrated scare or a chance to build creeping unease. A must-see for fans of British horror films, LORD OF MISRULE has the makings of a future classic. Here's the trailer:

William Brent Bell's LORD OF MISRULE is out on Digital Platforms from Signature Entertainment on Monday 8th January 2024