Saturday, 17 February 2018

Werewolf of London

After the success of Guy Endore’s 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris Universal missed the opportunity to hire the author as a screenwriter (MGM beat them to it - he went on to work on Mark of the Vampire, Mad Love, and Devil Doll for them), so they set about putting together their own wolf-man story, 1935's Werewolf of London.  Appearing several years before the more commercially viable The Wolf Man the first real lycanthrope outing for the studio brought in Cornish actor Henry Hull as botanist Wilfred Glendon in search of a rare moonlight driven plant in Tibet.  The scientist is mauled in an attack that occurs during an excursion through a valley that’s populated, as locally hypothesised, by demons - actually people that turn into wolves under moonlight.  Having brought the plant back to England and now recovered from the vicious attack with only scars apparently remaining, everything seems back to normal as he goes about studying the nature of his unusual find.  Soon London is in the grip of terror as a series of murders and monster sightings threaten the safety of its inhabitants - Wilfred himself is afflicted with the Tibetan curse, transforming into a homicidal wolf-like man under full moon.

This is quite a different beast (excuse the pun) compared to Universal’s Larry Talbot series.  It didn’t have any major stars, though reportedly there was to be a werewolf film around this time starring Karloff - something that was ultimately abandoned.  Hull had the opportunity to wear make-up similar to what Chaney would later adopt in The Wolf Man, but found the process arduous and too uncomfortable to endure so a modified version was developed by make-up artist Jack Pierce.  The creature as a result is quite unusual, sort of a less monstrous cousin of Oliver Reed’s titular monster in Curse of the Werewolf.  One thing that’s quite unique to this film is the fact that the transformed beast actually resembles its human alias to a point where it can be recognised by those who know him, such is the similarity of facial features.  Also, the werewolf here is less animal-like than is often the case: this creature doesn’t so much as shed clothing as he does actually getting dressed up to go out - leaving home after one transformation the werewolf grabs his hat and coat on the way out!  At a glance the roaming monster could be mistaken for Mr Hyde and even utters some words later on during the film’s closing sequence.  One nifty little idea comes when Wilfred begins realising there’s a problem: experimenting with simulated moonlight in attempts to stimulate the Tibetan plant into growth his hand gets caught under the lamp and promptly begins growing hair.
It’s difficult to say whether Hull’s monster would have been more effective with Pierce’s full blown make-up as I never thought Chaney’s equivalent looked exactly threatening, but neither is Hull the most ferocious werewolf to be put on screen.  He is, however, quite an eccentric creation and very eloquent along the way.  A nice plus is the presence of the beautiful Valerie Hobson as his wife.  She played alongside Colin Clive as the baron’s wife in Bride of Frankenstein and a notably different character too - while in Whale’s film she was of a slightly melancholic disposition here she is bubbly and perpetually effervescent.  She brings some unwanted complexity to Wilfred’s life when she begins flirting and going out with an old flame, a situation that possibly evokes some of the darker feelings that reside within Wilfred.  The engendering anger beneath the surface of his personality seeps through, bringing an air of tragedy to the character as his wife finds something 'better'.  The werewolf myth has always seemed like an expression of the cathartic manifestation of man’s less desirable emotions and thoughts - the literal revelation of the primordial animal that’s buried beneath evolutionary layers to the point of almost complete suppression, at least in those of us that generally abide by the law.  Thus there is much going on underneath Wilfred’s uptight exterior that can be contributing towards the creation of a beast.

The Monster Legacy DVD presents a decent image and mostly solid greyscales, along with quite a degree of grain in darker sequences.  Generally it’s very agreeable.  The audio track has plenty of hiss that does not detract from any enjoyment along the way - on the contrary, I actually prefer to hear some of this on particularly old films so I have little problem with it as long as it’s not excessive or obscuring dialogue, etc.  Extras are non-existent although my DVD shares its nine gigabytes with the decidedly inferior She-Wolf of London, an unrelated borefest and possibly the nadir of Universal’s monster series (if it even qualifies to be included).  Werewolf of London is well written, competently acted, and features some unique ideas that elevate its value as a movie, despite the fact that it’s not especially frightening or challenging.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Son of Dracula

Yes, not only did Dracula have a daughter, but apparently a son too…  Disregarding any potential continuation of a story from Dracula’s Daughter this 1943 sequel introduces us to Count Alucard (please!) who appears on the scene somewhere in the deep south to sweep a young woman, hot Katherine, off her feet, one who also happens to be engaged to somebody else.  She’s immediately ensnared by the count’s mystical nature, a man who seems to have ulterior economic motivations for his infiltration of the family who owns a plantation - the father of said family becomes deceased almost immediately upon the Hungarian man’s arrival.  Katherine’s fiancĂ©e Frank wonders what activities are going on between the count and the woman he loves so he traces her to a house where the residing count reveals that they’ve just married each other.  In anger Frank attempts to shoot Alucard, but the bullets inexplicably seem to pass right through him killing Katherine instead, who was standing behind Alucard under the misconception that she would be shielded.  A distraught Frank breaks free of the house and makes a run for it but Alucard transforms into a bat to follow him with the intention of permanently resolving any issues between them, only to be thwarted by the silhouette of the cross cast by a gravestone as the chase ends in a cemetery.  Elsewhere a couple of scientists turned amateur sleuths begin to suspect that Alucard is a descendent of Dracula and set about destroying the undead man.
The plot kicks off in quite a feeble manner with little justification for Katherine’s initial fixation with the count and his arrival.  Generally what follows is what seems like simply an excuse to continue the series whilst taking advantage of Universal’s newfound star or terror, Lon Chaney’s son (this genre stardom arising primarily as a result of The Wolfman but his most acclaimed role overall was Of Mice and Men prior to that).  One of the most prominent problems is that, aside from a Hungarian with an American accent, Chaney Junior doesn’t make a particularly good count, though I did like the way he handled the sequence where he’s being shot at.  One scene where things get a little silly occurs when some woman brings in her blood-drained boy to the doctor: already aware of Alucard’s local vampiric threat the doctor immediately treats the neck bite by painting two small crosses over the wounds and promising that the boy will make a full recovery - first time I’ve seen that one!  The score is very typical of how a composer of the period would define genre music and is likable and corny in almost equal measure.  As far as special effects are concerned, the bouncing bat has improved marginally since the 1931 Dracula and there’s also a little animation helping Chaney transform from human to bat and back again.

Black levels on the now quite old DVD transfer are very good, as is detail and sharpness, however the image is sometimes plagued by flickering and contrast instability which slightly spoils what would otherwise have been an excellent picture.  Audio is fine.  Whilst not complete rubbish, Son of Dracula is not an exceptional film in any sense and its creation seems to have been derived almost purely from commercial decision-making.  Having said that, the film’s downbeat conclusion is quite surprising.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Dracula's Daughter

I‘ve heard varying stories about Lugosi‘s meagre involvement with the first sequel to Dracula, which hails from 1936 and was directed by Lambert Hillyer.  One suggests that he was paid several thousand pounds to appear in publicity stills following the film’s completion, while another reports that he was actually drafted in to star until script revisions excluded his presence but contractual obligations required him to be paid anyway.  Either way, it’s not that Lugosi probably minded too much but his absence here is a shame (depending on whether you enjoyed him in the first movie or not!), and dragging someone else to ‘stand in’ for his dead body was a bit pointless (it actually looks like a dummy to me anyway).  Dracula’s Daughter takes up directly from the end of the first film, with Van (here entitled ‘Von’ in the credits) Helsing emerging from the tomb having staked the vampire, while Renfield lies dead at the foot of the stairs.  Two policemen apprehend the homicidal professor and bring him in for questioning.  After the body of Dracula is shipped back to a secure unit a mysterious Hungarian woman called Countess Zaleska appears, hypnotises the guard and minutes later the dead count’s body has vanished.  Revealing herself to be under the same curse as Dracula she cremates the corpse to altruistically release his soul, but her own soul remains tortured as she spends the remainder of the story attempting to convince the eminent Doctor Jeffrey Garth to help her overcome her major hindrance.  Meanwhile ‘Von’ Helsing maintains his innocence (argument: you can’t kill someone that’s already technically dead) to sceptical ears as the same Doctor Garth steps up to defend him, having been one of the professor’s most prized students years earlier.  Then people start showing up drained of blood…
Surprisingly this went way over budget though that probably wasn’t helped by the action quite suddenly shifting to Transylvania for the last eight minutes of the film (up until that point everything had taken place in England), requiring different sets, costumes, actors, etc.  A spattering of scenes throughout the film rely a little on typical comedy of the period but once the story gets going, alternating between V. Helsing’s legal predicament and Zaleska’s fight against the vampire curse it becomes quite interesting, if a little low-key.  There’s not a great deal of terror going on here though a few injections of gothic overtones remind us that we’re watching a genre film.  One touch I liked was the reiteration of one of Lugosi’s beautifully executed lines from the first film - “I never drink… wine” - this time spoken by Zaleska.  Zaleska herself is a confused character: impelled to carry out the horrific deeds of her bloodline whilst simultaneously begging for help to be released from her existential prison before finally resigning herself to eternal torment.  A fairly fascinating psychological dichotomy results.  Whilst I’m not one to jump on homosexuality bandwagons there’s a good chance she’s also bisexual due to her apparent disregard for someone’s gender when showing them interest (for example, at one point her servant brings back a woman to pose semi-nude for the countess).  The man she wants to settle for is clearly attracted to another woman so even when craving a normal life Zaleska seems doomed.  It’s nice that Edward Van Sloan returning to reprise his role as V. Helsing from the first film, offering cohesive narrative continuity, though he seems a little less energetic here despite a retained eloquence.

Looking a little better on DVD than the preceding film, the image from the Monster Legacy set is quite pleasing taking its antiquity into consideration - there‘s a fair amount of detail. Sound comes across well though there are no modern alterations to be had here. Despite not qualifying itself as a great movie I found Dracula’s Daughter ticked away an hour or so quite comfortably.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Dracula (1931)

Taking the theatrical play of the late twenties (of which Lugosi himself was also the star) as a template Universal Studios put together a script that was more faithful to the stage version than it was Stoker’s book.  Nevertheless, it was their biggest financial success of the year and really was to change the future as it almost single-handedly sparked a whole generation of films, primarily from the studio itself but also from those influenced by their output, whether directly or indirectly.  From the opening it’s clear that there are liberal differences to the original literature as Renfield (yes, Renfield) is travelling with a group of passengers with the intention of making his way to the count’s castle in Transylvania, the objective being to offer him property in London.  Parting company with the group he is taken by carriage to the rather derelict castle which is occupied by an offbeat count (who is revealed to sleep in a coffin from the opening scenes) and three mysterious women.  Dracula soon enslaves the estate agent, turning him mad and using him as a servant.  Both of them return via ship to London where Renfield is imprisoned for his insanity and Dracula continues his quest to ensnare a woman who has attracted his attention: Mina.  John Harker does make an appearance but it’s later on in London, his position in the film being much less prominent than in the book (or, indeed, other filmed versions).  On to the scene comes Van Helsing, naturally, the man who recognises that several of the people in the vicinity are in the grip of a vampire curse, the cause of which is the count himself.  From there onwards Van Helsing attempts to persuade the most relevant people of the count’s true undead nature in order to despatch him forever, although such proposals are not unanimously welcomed of course.

The feel of this movie compared to Universal’s subsequent chillers is closer to that of silent cinema, despite it being quite talky - I’m really thinking about Browning’s filming techniques, plus Dwight Frye’s very old-fashioned performance of Renfield.  His exaggerated expressions and movements remind me of something from the silent era (though, aside from a small appearance in one film, Frye’s only work was in ‘talkies’, whereas Browning was very experienced with the silents), however his distinctively insane laugh is something of a spectacle.  There are two actors that really strengthen the proceedings: Edward Van Sloan is captivating as Van Helsing, his recital of lines being emphatic, deliberate, and authoritative.  He could feasibly convince anyone that vampires exist, so serious and articulate is his delivery of words.  Then of course there is Bela Lugosi as the count.  Aside from hinting at a possible lack of versatility his portrayal is quite domineering thanks to his incredible accent and odd way of expressing vocal emphasis; it’s difficult to take your eyes (and ears) away from him.  The other actors are generally quite conventional and service the picture adequately without standing out (though really, it’s difficult to stand out next to the likes of Van Sloan and Lugosi).  The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film features Renfield’s trip to the castle, the introduction of the count, and Renfield’s succumbing to madness, and this is the best segment of the whole film.  The creepiness is laid on quite effectively and the ruined castle is an incredible piece of gloomy, ancient architecture, its huge stones broken with massive cobwebs ubiquitous.  Actually, there is one nice little sequence involving a cobweb where Dracula appears to walk right through it (much to Renfield’s understandable shock), something achieved with no special effects whatsoever and all the more potent for it.  The three brides make a brief appearance, almost token but welcome they are nonetheless.
After the return to England things become very dialogue driven and not as gripping as the Transylvania-bound act, with the exception of certain sequences generally involving Lugosi and Van Sloan.  For the final segment the movie gets back to great production design with a beautiful underground crypt and what must be one of the stunning gothic staircases ever seen.  Speaking of crypts, I love the introduction of the count at the beginning where we see first him climb from his coffin, followed by his bride climbing from hers, then a cockroach crawling out of its own small box - nice touch.  Another humorous aspect is Renfield’s persistent ability to escape from his cell, even turning up at one point to engage in a discussion with Van Helsing in Dr Seward’s office - they can’t seem to keep the slippery man imprisoned long before he finds a way of wandering off somewhere.  The use of bats in this film is pretty hopeless with them bouncing up and down remarkably like rubber on string (indeed, on the discs you can actually see the string in at least one scene).  Unfortunately Hammer were insistent on using this same effect some forty years later - surely it didn’t convince audiences even in 1931?  So, Dracula is of course a classic; it was highly successful, formed the catalyst for a whole sub-genre and was generally influential, but it’s not wall-to-wall excitement, more so an average film with a number of high points that make it worth watching. Tod Browning himself was to go on to much more notoriety a year later with Freaks.

Universal get some mileage out of these films, with several DVD incarnations across the globe having been in existence hitherto, followed by various Blu-rays.  From the beautiful Monster Legacy collection containing carefully painted busts of the three main creatures, the DVD I have features a transfer that fluctuates between very good in some shots, to very awful in others.  The 75th anniversary disc (later released in the US) is reportedly an improvement.  A couple of instances of censored audio exist in my print unfortunately (again, corrected for the 75th anniversary): Dracula’s death moans, and some screams from Renfield. There’s a choice between two soundtracks on the DVD - the original mono track of course and a score composed a few years ago by Philip Glass, presented in surround while the dialogue and effects remain centred.  It’s something that purists probably can’t accept (the original track is almost completely music-less) but it’s a great score and very reminiscent of the period (possibly earlier) so it fits well.  It is a little overly present but there are occasions when it enhances the film just like any great score should, my favourite being the scene where Dracula almost hypnotises Van Helsing - the music here embellishes the moment exquisitely.  Despite the rough print used the package (including commentary and documentary) is a very good one.  I do intend to upgrade at some stage to the Blu-ray of course.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Disconnected

Vinegar Syndrome are specialising in restoring films (horror, exploitation, and sex) that most other labels would not even glance at, and in doing so they occasionally exhume a real gem.  Disconnected is one such product in my mind.  The first feature of Gorman Bechard (VS have also put out another of his early films, Psychos in Love), Disconnected was made in the early 80s for very little money and actors/crew that were largely friends of one another.  I first came across it in the video collection of someone I knew in the 90s, and was quite intrigued with it at the time.  I later saw it again online before being surprised when VS announced they had rescanned the 16mm source in 2K for a Blu-ray release - I never thought I would see this one!

The story, based on a tale by Virginia Gilroy who never appeared to write anything afterwards, concerns a young woman called Alicia (played by Francis Raines who later turned up in The Mutilator) who accepts a date with someone who spotted her in a nightclub, not realising that he has a fetish for butchering his girlfriends.  She is also being plagued by strange phonecalls that appear to be the doing of the nut who will be wanting to bring her life to an end before long, but it doesn't turn out to be quite so 'straightforward'.
Frances Raines is great here, taking on both the role of Alicia and her more glamorous sister.  She is appealing as a person as well as a woman, almost reminding me of a slightly more normal-looking version of the young Jennifer Connelly.  Because Alicia is so appealing, the viewer actually ends up caring about her to some extent, and does not want Franklin to get his murdering mitts on her!  She's also pretty cool in the sense that she's into movies and works in a video store.  The film is clearly super low budget, but manages to conjure up a grindhouse atmosphere that's quite thrilling for those of us into that kind of thing.  The 80s-esque soundtrack is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of amusing segments, whether it is the cheese-fest disco scene early on, or the intercut sequences of the detective on the case who is quite looking forward to a holiday once it's all over.  Not at all a slasher movie, it worms its way almost into Repulsion territory by its final act.  The film does not conclude itself in a conventional fashion, which may frustrate some viewers, but I personally like the surreal edge that wraps things up.

Vinegar Syndrome have yet again hit the ball out of the park with the package.  Available online as a web exclusive, the slipcase edition is beautiful, the case itself very high quality (a non-slip version will possibly be out at some point).  VS have scanned the 16mm elements at 1.85:1, which is probably the director's preferred means of viewing, although part of me does lament the absence of an opened-up 1.33:1 option (it makes an appearance in some of the extras) - a small complaint all told.  Despite the 2K credentials don't expect an exquisite image: this one is very rough, grainy, and frequently obtuse.  The mono audio track, transferred at a massive 96kHz in DTS-HD MA, does well in its own right, the oppressive ticking of the clock in Alicia's room much more pronounced than you will probably remember it from viewing via video cassette.  Quite an important constituent of the feature, the music sounds quite good also.

The pack contains a booklet with an essay by Art Ettinger, alongside reversible cover art for the amaray case itself, while the discs (both Blu-ray and DVD here) include a commentary track, 40 second introduction to the film from Berchard and his associate producer/assistant director Carmine Carpobianco, an interesting 11 minute interview with Berchard, a further 11 minute interview with Carpobianco, a 'short' film called Twenty Questions by the director which he himself thought lost, and a 17 minute Q&A that took place earlier in 2017 during a screening of the piece.  Twenty Questions, shot around 1988, actually runs for an hour, and features non-stop interviews with random people who answered a newspaper ad as they sit alone in a room with video monitors simply providing personal perspectives on such eclectic topics as fur coats, racial slurs, etc.  I thought it was going to be tough viewing, with no variation in technique, but it turns out to be quite a compelling and candid look at the minds of a cross-section of Americans in the late eighties.  As a collector's package and for the main film itself, this release is a must-get for fans of grindhouse American horror.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

House of Wax

Eccentric and slightly obsessed sculpture Henry Jarrod is challenged by his more money-orientated business partner about the lack of profit that their joint venture, a wax museum, is generating.  When the proposition of selling his half of the business falls through, the partner proceeds to burn down the museum for the purposes of acquiring its insurance benefit.  Jarrod is hideously scarred in the fire, but returns some time later to begin again, only this time the bodies of the recently deceased (including his old partner) start disappearing in the area, while Jarrod's models take on an increasingly lifelike nature...

Remaking the 1933 2-strip Technicolor horror movie Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax follows its source quite closely aside from making the lead character (played by Vincent Price) more soulful at the same time as ditching the fast-talking female investigator of the original.  I don't find the film overly interesting unfortunately; it comes across as hokey and padded with cheese - Price of course was a very hammy actor but I'm guessing the motivation for making the film (to cash in on the contemporaneous popularity of 3D) was never going to give rise to great art.
What does make the film more charming is finally being able to see it as audiences would have back in 1953: in 3D with clear stereo soundtrack (DTS-HD MA 2.0).  The Blu-ray contains the now mastered stereoscopic version, released in various places around the world but here in the UK as an HMV-exclusive dual format edition (the DVD contains the standard 2D viewing option of course).  It's grainy and sometimes soft, the technique nowhere near what it was to become post-millennium, but the effect has depth and draws one into the image with plenty of deliberate trickery to enhance the illusion.  As with the original 2003 DVD release, this set contains the film's inspiration, Mystery..., however, the earlier (and possibly better) movie has not been remastered for HD, which is quite a shame.  I enjoy viewing Mystery... for its beautifully unique colour scheme and oddly rapid pace.  There's quite a bit packed onto the Blu-ray, including a newer 49 minute documentary with comments from renowned film-makers, a commentary and several other bits.  Where HMV have made this more collectable than its overseas counterparts is by packing it in a slipcase with artcards - their Premium collection is quite a string to the bow.  So, whilst the main feature is not the best, I do like seeing older 3D films finally back to their intended nature.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

2019: After the Fall of New York

Set in the far distant future year of 2019 we find that nuclear war has ravaged the world, and along with it humankind's prospective longevity - mutated female survivors of the holocaust are infertile.  Two political factions compete to find ways to restore mankind's ability to continue its questionable existence, one (that responsible for the bomb in the first place) sending in military personnel to New York's wasteland in search of survivors to genetically experiment with.  The other have more ambitious plans: to locate and retrieve the sole remaining fertile female, also reported to be alive in New York somewhere, before departing Earth altogether for the nearest inhabitable planet in order to restart the population using her eggs as its beginnings.  For this they acquire the skills of a rogue survivor, making a deal with him to get him off the planet too, if he can bring out the female alive.  With new companions he enters the hostile wasteland of New York in search of mankind's final hope.
Initially looking like it's going to be trash cinema of the highest order, 1983's 2019: After the Fall of New York, whilst unavoidably containing elements of cheese, is pretty good in my opinion, and featuring miniature work that's better than I expected.  It should go without saying that Carpenter's Escape from New York is obviously a huge influence on this, although influences appear to have their origins elsewhere in addition: Death Race 2000 helps to give our hero, Parsifal, his backstory, while Ridley Scott with both Blade Runner and Alien presumably kick-started the idea of human helpers turning out to be androids.  The spirit of Mad Max is also omnipresent.  On its own merits director Sergio Martino gifts the viewer a number of gory and gusto-filled setpieces, of particular note being the chaotic tunnel-bound escape from the city through increasingly threatening traps.  Prolific Italian star George Eastman also manages to make an appearance as an untrustworthy half ape/half man (leading a group of mutated individuals who now resemble cast members of Planet of the Apes).  The easily offended PC squad will want to give this a miss, for example the story's leading 'small person' is known as Shorty...  To digress, when the characters were discussing Parsifal's mission to locate the final hope in the shape of a fertile woman, I momentarily mused over the possibility that she could turn out to be obese and thoroughly undesirable, much to the chagrin of those chosen to impregnate her for the sake of the human race.  On the contrary, she of course proves to be a true Sleeping Beauty in the form of Valentine Monnier, albeit ultimately underused.  The final scenes could easily have led to a new science fiction adventure in a sequel that was never to be.

Unseen in Britain for a long time, 88 Films have blessed us with a Blu-ray that presents the film very nicely indeed in HD and widescreen, substantially outclassing the old Media Blasters DVD.  Soundtrack is English stereo (the old DVD also featured a faux 5.1 mix that is not missed here).  In terms of the package, you get - as is common for 88's Italian Collection - a reversible cover with alternative artwork (and title, which omits the '2019' prefix), an insert containing an interview with the director, and on the disc itself filmed interviews totalling forty minutes.  Code Red have put out an edition in the US with alternative extras.  Overall it's nice to see such a good looking edition of the film appear from 88 uncut (as opposed to its videotape incarnation, which was truncated in accordance with the trends of the times) and easily available to British and European audiences.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Ironmaster

Umberto Lenzi, director of classic Euro mayhem such as Nightmare City, Hell's Gate, Eaten Alive, Spasmo, etc., and sadly no longer with us (passing away on October 19th this year at 86), took a swing at the swords and sandals subgenre with Ironmaster in 1983.  Expelled from his tribe, caveman and Italian exploitation regular George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori) wanders into the vicinity of an erupting volcano where he accidentally discovers that solidified volcanic deposit makes a formidable weapon.  Using this to his nefarious advantage, he moves on to asserting control over tribe after tribe with his newfound instigator of fear.  Meanwhile a former tribesman makes efforts to settle a grudge between the two of them.
Clearly a bit lunatic, missing a few bolts and all that, Ironmaster's male cast look mostly ludicrous (and probably help to sell the film to gay audiences, where male flesh, often muscular, is on display in abundance throughout) - a musclebound near-nude male in a loincloth does not look nearly as convincing as an athletic female wearing the same!  Warping a view of history-in-the-making somewhat, there can be elements of entertainment found within, but on the whole the film is lodged firm within its time and place, sitting alongside the likes of the Luigi Cozzi Hercules outings from the same period, albeit with less supernatural goings-on.  I was impressed with the score by Maurizio De Angelis, who produces an effective concoction of The Beyond and folk amongst some other atmospheric stabs that elevate the experience, providing an emotional core that might not otherwise have been present.  He'd created a number of memorable scores elsewhere with the likes of Alien 2 and Mountain of the Cannibal God.

A cheap and cheerful release from 88 Films (part of their Italian Collection), I guess you can't expect a huge amount of work to go into an item expected to sell probably by the hundred.  The image is widescreen, reasonable looking and backed up by English only audio (eschewing the trend of the range, there's no Italian language option).  Contained are both a Blu-ray and DVD, although comparison between the two reveal only modest improvements with the former (still the preferred choice in any case).  The package itself has an essay/insert and reversible cover - both sides feature attractive and quite different artwork.  Once cut on its initial UK video release by 24 seconds by the BBFC, the censorship now on the new disc extends to only 8 seconds (a boar's death).  Not really necessary in this day and age but to be honest I can live without watching a few moments of real-life animal suffering.  A contemporaneous US release by Code Red is uncut and better specified in terms of extras (interviews), however, it will also cost non-US based customers substantially more, so you have to weigh up how important those points are when choosing.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ejecta

Ejecta (made/released in 2014) is about a mythical blogger obsessed with extra-terrestrial activity and his fanboy companion, who together encounter a threatening lifeform from the stars, the story being intercut with the blogger's subsequent capture by a hostile authoritarian organisation who are willing to torture him to acquire the details of his mysterious experience.

Occasionally an underdog comes along that you've never heard of, turning out to be an undiscovered classic that blows you out of your recliner, leaving you with an inert smile pasted across your face for days.  Unfortunately, it was not this occasion.  Ejecta is science fiction produced on the very cheap, although I would never hold that specific characteristic against a film.  The greater sin that it is thoroughly uninteresting and the viewer may find it difficult to engage with anything that happens on screen.  Odd-looking Julian Richings puts in a reasonable performance as the disturbed blogger, countered by the cringe-worthy take on a nutty woman in charge by Lisa Houle, who appears to be attempting to emulate John Travolta's headcase character performances (which always annoyed me anyway).  There is a lot of dark scenery and plenty of not-particularly-appealing wobbly camerawork no doubt designed to trick the viewer into thinking the production is bigger than a couple of rooms and some woodland, but there will be few who are fooled.  I looked at director Chad Archibald's filmography on IMDb, and aside from The Heretics from 2017, which sounds potentially interesting, there is nothing else much good by him to seek out by the looks of it.
Released by Signature in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray, I viewed the latter to find an average image that probably recreates its digital origins accurately enough, demonstrating multiple aspect ratios intended to reflect different types of footage.  The stereo soundtrack is serviceable and there are, perhaps mercifully, no extras.  If you must buy the film you may as well pick it up on Blu-ray because it's generally as low-priced as the DVD and in fact I bought it for less than most people will have paid for the DVD (it turns up in Poundland occasionally, which is more than its worth).  Better things have emerged from Canada, and this is eighty soul destroying minutes that I have lost forever!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Return of the Living Dead 3

Curt, the son of an army colonel, sneaks with his girlfriend into his father's base to witness tests being conducted on resurrecting the dead for militaristic purposes.  Later on they are both involved in a motorcycle accident, fatal for Julie.  Recalling what he saw at the base, Curt takes the body over to the lab and uses the same techniques to bring life back to the fresh corpse.  The only trouble is, Julie now has a propensity for eating live meat, and perpetually suffers.  Much to the lad's disgust, she finds that the only way of curbing her pain is to actually inflict pain on herself.  The two run into trouble with local thugs and battle ensues between the group as they make their way down into the sewers.

Eschewing the comedy of the first two films, essentially borrowing one or two core elements only, Return of the Living Dead 3 actually proved to be a pretty good film made at the tail end of the prosthetic make-up and gore golden age.  Mindy Clark as Julie puts in quite a fascinating performance of endless suffering mixed with a strange orgasmic response to self-harm (quite a brave theme to tackle, and approached in an unorthodox manner).  In her early twenties at the time, she has mostly moved on to TV work since.  Director Brian Yuzna himself made a number of nice genre entries around the period, including this one, Necronomicon, and Society alongside a moderate sequel to Re-Animator - all worth checking out on Blu-ray.  Of course, in Return there are issues that one has to put to the side (most notably the ease with which Curt is able to sneak into and around the army base, although comment is made early on that security is somewhat lacking), but there are plenty of good set-pieces and surprisingly effective drama along the way.  It also contains a great turn by Sarah Douglas as Colonel Sinclair, who is competing for command of the base and experimental project.
Lionsgate have decided to bless the UK with its Vestron Video range that has recently been pleasing fans in the US.  The Blu-ray package comes in a neat glossy slipcase and features the film (uncut as far as I can tell) in a widescreen ratio with DTS HD MA Stereo sound.  It also includes a commentary and some interviews.  The image quality is okay, but I somehow feel that Lionsgate are palming fans off with an ancient master here, with marginally-better-than-DVD results.  I feel conflicted about it - on one hand it's the best the film has ever looked (aside from any projected screenings back in the 90s no doubt), but on the other we've seen significantly better results from the likes of Arrow when this kind of cult material is re-scanned and mastered properly.  In some respects I guess we can't complain too much because it's better than the film not being released at all.  The audio is clear whilst showing its age and budgetary restrictions, however, I would recommend switching to Pro-Logic if you are watching with a home cinema receiver - the stereo track splits quite nicely, with pleasing rear speaker activity.  In summary, a film that has aged well finally appears in a reasonable HD edition for UK fans to pick up.