Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sleepwalker

Sleepwalker was made in 1984 by a promising film-maker called Saxon Logan.  It's a politically underscored drama about two obnoxious couples who after an evening meal head back to stay the night at the rotting house owned by one of them.  Unfortunately one of the group is afflicted with violent somnambulist tendencies and the night will end in tragedy.  Running at only 50 minutes in length Sleepwalker is about right in its pacing.  It's a thoroughly British affair, although the characters are hardly an attractive representation of our over-filled island.  There is a fine air of decay, particularly in the home (English man's castle...?) and as the story threads its way to the finale it is evident that some influence emanates from the Italian giallo cinematic movement.  There is also a reminiscent touch of the TV series Hammer House of Horror - I feel that Sleepwalker could almost have been a part of that series.

The Rank studio did not take well to the film back in the mid eighties, putting an end of Saxon Logan's fiction movie career before it really got started, but it's heartwarming that it was later rediscovered (thanks partly to Kim Newman arousing interest in the then-forgotten film some time ago).  It's wonderful that BFI have taken films like this to exhume for the more open-minded among contemporary audiences, as it has recently been scanned and mastered for Blu-ray, with excellent results.
The BFI release is also packed with two of Logan's earlier short films also mastered in HD (Stepping Out running at 11 minutes and made in 1977, plus Working Surface, 16 minutes, 1979), which are curiosity pieces making the package feel very complete as far as Logan's fiction work is concerned (he went on to cement himself as a documentary film-maker).

However, BFI have also kindly included another film which, whilst not made by Logan, is thematically linked to the main film in the pack.  Running at 45 minutes the 1971 film Insomniac is the only fiction work directed by Rodney Giesler (also a documentary maker).  This is about a very average sort of man whose initial difficulty sleeping leads him to enter a lucid dreamworld of perpetual daylight and populated by people who exhibit an aversion to light.  At a party he meets the perfect female before eloping with her.  The surreal aspect of this film I feel could have been pushed a lot further, though it is a nice piece that could easily have been left buried forever.  The primary strength of the film arrives in the presence of the vividly beautiful Valerie Ost (who also appeared briefly in Corruption, Satanic Rites of Dracula, and a few Carry-On films in bit roles).

The menus of the disc provide options to watch all three Logan films or a double bill of the two main features if you wish.  You'll also find a 72 minute conversation from 2013 with Saxon Logan where he talks about his inspiration (Lindsay Anderson, Hammer films surprisingly, and even more of a surprise is his appreciation for giallo), his education in the mechanics of making films, his experiences making the films contained in this pack, etc.  It's a fascinating piece with none of the press-kit approach rubbish you find as extras to most mainstream films.  Logan is a coherent, level-headed talker who had talent but couldn't quite take it where he wanted due to the fact that his work wasn't really understood at the time.  The occurrences pertaining to the screenings of Sleepwalker, both at the time of its release and the rediscovery years later, are obviously deeply meaningful to the man, something underlined by a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the conversation when he struggles to contain the emotions that are obviously packed inside.  A brilliant, essential interview for anyone interested in film, almost worth the price of admission alone.

Not content to leave you with this, BFI also include an attractive booklet presenting written pieces on each element on the disc, with transfer information and stills.  The films are also provided on a DVD in the same pack, but as they were scanned at 2K they really are best viewed on Blu-ray for the most authentic representation.  Sleepwalker and Insomniac generally won't appeal to the average mainstream movie fan, but for those interested in the heritage of British cinema, more arthouse oriented viewers, or possibly even fans of the giallo, this is a great package to have in your collection.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell

Locked up for dabbling with 'sorcery', a young doctor finds that he shares the asylum with his hero in science, Victor Frankenstein, who has faked his own death in order to continue with experiments and effectively control the weak-willed corrupt manager of the place.  Together the two scientists use various pieces of dead prisoners to construct a monstrosity that eventually awakens to produce dire consequences.

This film marked the end of an era for Hammer and horror films generally, as well as the career of its director and the man at the very birth of the studio's Frankenstein series, Terence Fisher.  The gothic literary adaptations and mutations of the 50s and 60s came to an interesting conclusion here, and they couldn't go on when across the water the Americans were delivering the likes of The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Frankenstein's monster failed to shock audiences any longer, although this particular epitaph was actually quite nasty in many ways, with some strong moments of gore and violence though oddly absent nudity (something which had become a staple of Hammer's output during the early 70s): the female lead, a mute played by Madeline Smith (The Vampire Lovers) remains fully clothed up to the neck throughout.  Peter Cushing, once again in the role of the baron, looks decidedly skeletal here but continues to deliver his usual perceptive portrayal of the character.  Taking FATMFH out of its difficult context in the history of horror it's not a bad film at all, with a beautifully grim setting (almost entirely in the asylum), an ugly, tragic creature at the heart of the tale, and some unprecedented brutality.
Released on Blu-ray in the UK as a dual edition pack, the three disc set contains two DVDs alongside the Blu.  On the Blu (and spread across the other two discs due to the substantially lower storage capacity of DVD) the film is presented as you would have seen it theatrically (my favourite ratio, 1.66:1) and, as an optional extra, in its un-matted 35mm form at 1.37:1 (i.e. more information seen at the top and bottom of the screen), accurately moving at 24 frames per second in either case (sped up to 25 fps on the DVDs, naturally).  Obviously if you're viewing on a 16x9 widescreen display then the 1.37:1 version will have thick black bars at the sides, whilst the 1.66:1 version will have very thin black bars at each side.  Preference will depend on the viewer ultimately, and one can argue the virtues of each until the full moon sets, but it's fantastic that we're actually given the choice and the viewer can sample each before settling down to the enjoy the film.  Detail on the 1080p Blu-ray transfers is set at an excellent standard, whilst the DVDs can't compete but still look reasonably good considering they're Standard Definition.  On the audio side, the mono (uncompressed LPCM on the Blu-ray, compressed Dolby Digital on the DVDs) is clear and as decent as you can expect.

What else do you get?  There's a commentary track with two of the main actors (Shane Bryant, who plays Frankenstein's protégé, and Madeline Smith) moderated by classic horror lover Marcus Hearn.  Secondly you get a great documentary directed by Hearn about the making of the film, with plenty of interviews from surviving participants incorporating some enticing anecdotes about Cushing (including some images of his extensive notes on the script).  This runs for 25 minutes.  The next documentary focuses on the director himself, again a fine piece and this time running at 13 minutes.  A 7 minute animated gallery features shots from the set, some lovely posters/advertising materials, promotional stills of the likes of Smith, make-up work-in-progress of the monster (David Prowse), etc.  All of these extras are on both the Blu-ray and one or the other of the DVDs, the only extra remaining that is not on both is a PDF of a 30 page booklet, which is only on the second DVD and accessible via a PC of course.  I would have preferred a printed version of this but I guess they saw this as a cost-cutting measure.  There's a lot of information about the production of the film and reactions to it post-release, and overall it's a nicely presented companion.  The booklet also goes into significant detail on how the film was restored for high definition presentation, and makes one appreciate the work involved.

The initial pressing of this Icon-released set back in May 2014 was flawed with some stalling issues on the Blu-ray.  This was corrected quite quickly and the versions available now are fine to watch, resulting in this now being the definitive presentation of quite a reasonable and gruesome latter-day Hammer.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Last Horror Film

After the relatively huge success (for a low budget gutter level violence-fest [that's a recommendation by the way...]) of Bill Lustig's Maniac Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell were once again paired up following a drive from the original backers, probably in the hope of repeating the financial rewards.  As before, Munro is a celebrity beauty while the 'beast' is Spinell in another unhinged schizophrenic role.  Very unhinged.  His character, Vinny, embarrassingly envisions himself as a world class film-maker as he becomes increasingly obsessed with actress Jana Bates (Munro).  When he hears that she is to appear at Cannes film festival he packs his suitcase and 16mm camera to head off for the exotic region.  During the frenzy at Cannes people begin dying - anyone who seems to have anything to do with Bates.  All the while Vinny is grabbing footage with his camera and occasionally calling back home to lie to his mother that his work is becoming a great success (he doesn't even appear to have completed a film).  He is also working his way ever closer to Bates.

The film sits itself uncomfortably within the slasher sub-genre that was still booming around the time, but it's really unlike anything else that falls into that category.  It's quite kooky in many respects and the more forgiving side of me would suggest that the film's offbeat nature is deliberately humorous at the same time as being marginally satirical.  There is plenty of actual Cannes footage and at its best The Last Horror Film plays as an almost love ode to cinema.  In fact most of the story seems to be an excuse to show off the footage that director David Winters managed to capture on location (there is a certain amount of improvisation evident that can be endearing).

Whilst Maniac was a brutally sleazy affair, this one begins as if it's going to tread in the same footsteps, before veering off to the glossy flair of Cannes.  This is juxtaposed against Vinny's screwed up thoughts and actions, managing to keep one foot in the sleaze pit that spawned it.  Again, Spinell does pull off his messed up character surprisingly well (sometimes too well - witness the freaky transvestite dancing that's perhaps a little too scary): almost a tragic mother-loving train-wreck of a person, unrealistically infatuated with a film star while simultaneously excited by onscreen violence - amusingly at one point, when this characteristic is inter-cut with Bates explaining at a conference that she doesn't feel there is a connection between horror films and psychological disturbance.  Again, I would like to think the irony was a deliberate move.  I do feel that, particularly after the final scene has taken place, this film is supposed to be taken much more lightly than the viewer might initially expect.  There are certainly a couple of funny moments, one of my favourites being when Vinny is stalking the grounds of a castle in which Bates is staying.  It's quite a sight seeing his slightly overweight ass running away from pursuers while he's insistently carrying his bulky camera everywhere he goes.  The mother is quite a highlight too, simply because she is unbelievably badly acted/dubbed by Filomena Spagnuolo (Spinell's real life mother).  I wouldn't say this film always works, and I wouldn't even describe it as very good, but it does have a rather messy personality all of its own somehow, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from its quirks even if it never truly goes to places that could have elevated the whole endeavour.
88 Films have unleashed the 'uncut version' on the UK market, thankfully as a Blu-ray.  Playing in full AVC-encoded HD at 24 frames per second and running to 87:37 (minus 15 seconds for the opening statement) the transfer is taken from several sources.  88 have chosen to include the two previously excised goriest moments (a heart extraction and a chainsaw body split) from the only place they could get them - a VHS tape.  This material literally only lasts a few seconds and I think it's better that it's there than not, so personally I feel this is a good fan-motivated move.  The majority of the transfer has been constructed using either 35mm negative or prints - this means some of the footage can look grainy and appropriately grindhouse, but when it shines this disc really makes the film look way better than you'd ever have expected.  The best material exhibits loads of detail with great depth.  I was very pleased with this presentation.  Audio (billed as LPCM mono but filtering through two channels) is pretty good - the lively music track comes across as bold and enjoyable, dialogue is mostly clean, although there are some patches of hiss and crackle during quieter moments.  For a film of this type I was not overly concerned by anything, but some might find the more damaged elements to be a little distracting.  Somehow I can't imagine The Last Horror Film being better presented than it is on 88's Blu-ray.

The extras are nice: there's an audio commentary with associate producer Luke Walter, an enjoyable interview with Walter (who was also good friends with Spinell) running 23:51, a Lloyd Kaufman introduction (3:38), some grimy promo footage for the doomed Maniac 2 project (8:06), an interview about the project gestation with Mr Lustig, who was invited to direct at one point but Vigilante was happening at the time (3:42), a Q&A session with Caroline Munro from Glasgow in 2011, which is generally unrelated to Last Horror Film but information-packed none the less (11:07), some TV spots, and an 88 Films trailer reel showing off many of their Blu-ray released items (which runs 21:55 in total).  The cover is reversible, with some original cover art on the rear if you want to switch it around, plus the case contains a booklet.  It seems like 88 Films have gone over and above for this crazy Section 3 (i.e. nearly banned in the UK) movie.  It's never going to hit classic status but if you're remotely interested in checking this out or owning it then this is the disc to get.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

8K/4K/2K Resolution Comparisons

With 4K becoming more of an understood term in the world of home cinema and arguments appearing here and there tossing around opinions whether it will be of any benefit or not, I thought I'd undertake my own little experiment to see how it might compare with HD resolution.  I am not an expert on the matter and if there are any genuine errors in the following text please feel free to correct me.  The following is intended to take a look solely at factors regarding resolution itself - whether a film on disc (or broadcast/download) actually looks excellent or ugly depends on a large number of factors, whether that be down to the efficiency of the encode, the nature and quality of the source material, how well the source has been scanned and with what kind of equipment, to what extent the outcome has been tampered with digitally and whether that tampering has been applied intelligently or not, through to what is used to view the end result, etc.  No analysis can take all of that into consideration, although a number of excellent screen grab comparison websites have enlightened us over the years as to how drastically different the same film can look on different discs, sometimes even across the same format.  Therefore, as I say, this will focus purely on the resolution aspect.

Note that to view the composite image properly your browser should be set to 100%, and if you wish to view the full res images at the bottom of the page you would probably need to download them as your browser or blogger may only show them up to a certain size, and without looking at them with every pixel visible you can't really make a true comparison.  A quick look by me on blogger showed the 8K and 4K images at the same size and consequently, because the former was substantially scaled down in this respect, there is no apparent difference in detail!  The composite image successfully makes the point as far as I'm concerned, however.

As I understand it, Ultra HD (UHD) exhibits resolutions of 3840 x 2160 (current full HD is 1920 x 1080), hence UHD is four times the resolution of full HD (we'll leave 720p out of the equation as it's not really of concern).  It is also being referred to as 4K - it's not technically 4K as that terminology refers to an industry standard that has, appropriately enough, just over four thousand pixels in width (specifically 4096, with 2160 in height), but I guess UHD is fairly close thus the term 4K is being adopted to mean the same thing.  From here on in, any reference I make to 4K or 8K is in the context of a home cinema environment.

There is debate regarding how much resolution is required to extract all of the detail out of a 35mm negative - until actual demonstrations have taken place this would be difficult to determine.  Personally I suspect that many older films in particular will not significantly benefit from UHD or above on the size of screens that are used in most homes.  I believe the average screen size in the UK is around 42".  Where I think UHD will come into its own is when it's displayed on larger screens (perhaps the average size will continue to go up over coming years) and the source material is of exceptional quality, for example if it's taken from a high resolution digital source or IMAX film.

Personally I watch material on either a 100" (approx) projector screen or a 46" LED TV.  I feel that HD material (mostly delivered via Blu-ray Disc) can look absolutely stunning on either, subjectively speaking of course, although I generally prefer the scale offered by the larger screen from a projector.  If I'm watching DVDs I feel that they look okay on the TV, sometimes surprisingly good (although that's largely down to some incredible technology built into my Sony that improves standard definition over the way it looked on older generation sets), but on any larger scale it just doesn't cut it against HD.  Like many serious home cinema fans and movie collectors nowadays, I prefer to see a film in the best available quality, both in terms of video and audio, and that must come from a Blu-ray rather than a DVD.  I am quite excited to see what UHD or 4K can offer us in the home (it would roughly equate to what most cinemas currently offer from their projectors) but the following experiment was undertaken with as much objectivity as I could muster, at the very least to quell my own curiosity in a realistic manner.

What I've done below is to show a quarter section of an 8K (in home cinema terms - four times the resolution of UHD) 'source' (from a photograph I took myself) - the reason I used a quarter section is because the camera will not take the equivalent of 8K images, hence I've had to take a 10 megapixel image and consider a cropped area of it as 25% of 8K for the purposes of this experiment.  This is followed by a quarter section (to maintain comparative consistency) of a UHD duplicate of that source.  This I feel simulates the resolution of a UHD image when taken from a higher quality original and can be compared accordingly.  I've then also taken a HD duplicate from the source to simulate how you might see the image on a Blu-ray Disc.  Because there is now some debate regarding whether it's better to scan a negative or print in 4K in order to create a film for HD, or just create a HD master from the outset, I've also created a HD image from the '4K master'.  I appreciate that this does not necessarily reflect how a moving film might be scanned in reality but at the moment it's the closest thing that I can use to make an estimated judgement in the comparison of resolutions.  How this would look in the home would also depend greatly on equipment and screen size, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.

To summarise, and each of the following is an equivalent resolution only, the first shot simulates 25% of an 8K source, the second 25% of a 4K capture of that source, the third 25% of a 2K capture of that source, and the fourth is 25% of a 2K capture of the 4K version.  I've then rescaled everything but the 8K back to the same overall dimensions in order to facilitate comparative analysis of the detail that remains.  The full grabs are at the bottom of this article but for the sake of ease on the part of the reader I have encompassed a small section of each grab in this 600 x 600 panel to illustrate my points.
My conclusions are as follows: When the source is of adequate quality (in this case a good quality 8K image), the UHD version of it shows a noticeable improvement over a conventional HD iteration.  Regarding the 4K master for the purposes of a HD final output as opposed to a 2K master leading to HD final output, I could see no discernible difference.  The HD version looks rather inadequate next to UHD, although as I say, in general 35mm terms I would imagine that a HD capture gives almost all worthwhile detail on the screens most people use at home.  Whilst still exhibiting a small loss of detail UHD demonstrates notable potential to outclass HD if the material is right, so I will be looking forward to seeing how this one pans out over the next few years.  There are already UHD sets available of course (and a small number of projectors), generally too expensive for the layman to consider, but it's when playable material becomes available that this arena will start to get really interesting.

If anyone has any thoughts (or amendments) you're welcome to forward them to me, but either way I hope you've found this little analysis useful or at least mildly interesting.

Paul W J Martin


25% of '8K' source (compressed to JPEG for the purposes of uploading to the net):
25% of 'UHD or 4K' scan of source:

25% of 'HD or 2K' scan of source:

25% of 'HD or 2K' scan or '4K master':

Sunday, 20 July 2014

City of the Dead

In the secluded village of Whitewood a witch is burned at the stake in an opening similar to Bava’s Mask of Satan - but not before she summons satanic help that will ensure she returns from the dead and cause the village to be forever encompassed by the curse of witchcraft. 300 years after the burning a young college student who is studying the paranormal decides to take her research to a higher level by actually visiting a village that was known for its witchcraft in the darker ages - that of Whitewood. Upon arriving it seems to be a place that has stood still in time, where the denizens are given to acting abnormally and the church is out of bounds. It’s not long before she vanishes prompting concerned friends to retrace her steps to find out what’s happened to her. Something sinister is still going on in Whitewood it would seem…
Apart from the fact that a few elements haven’t dated too well (e.g. the ‘hip’ college teens), this is a tremendous supernatural horror from 1960 with mountains of beautiful atmosphere - the village itself is a joy to behold, with dilapidated buildings and omnipresent mist, populated by strange people who seem to be trapped in time somehow. Oh, and a demented priest. The B&W cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and I think this is one of the best genre films before the more violent and hard-hitting era that was to begin with the 70s.

There are low-grade releases of City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) available both in the UK and US, but the US VCI DVD remains the definitive presentation after all these years, effectively disposing of all others - you owe it to yourself not to view this film on one of those effortless public domain-type releases. For their 2-disc UK release Redemption ported everything here except the commentaries, though downgraded the image with an NTSC to PAL transfer. VCI’s correctly framed picture looks very nice for standard definition, the sound is well represented, and there are essential extras: a commentary with Christopher Lee (who has a smaller role in the film), another commentary with director John Llewellyn Moxey, an indispensable and riveting 45 minute interview with Lee that is pure talk and no unnecessary interruptions with movie clips - he’s lived a truly enviable life. Further to that there are shorter interviews with Moxey himself and Venetia Stevenson, plus more. VCI's is a great disc of a classic film - get it!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Bloodsucking Freaks

Having seen this a couple of times years ago on dupe VHS, and never particularly liking it, I thought I'd give it another go on Blu-ray, as it has now surprisingly been released on the format uncut in the UK by 88 Films.  Oddly, despite the fact that the film is entitled Bloodsucking Freaks, 88 have chose to separate the 'Blood' from the 'Sucking' on the cover, but I'm not intending to nitpick.  The film itself is scarcely plotted, vaguely about a theatre owner, Sardu, whose magic shows of torture and murder are actually using real victims and not actors.  Mostly women, they are being abducted from various locations for the purposes of being used in the show, or to be kept in some sort of dungeon downstairs.

Considering that this was made in the mid seventies, it certainly is a nasty, depraved little number.  Yes, the gore is not always up to Tom Savini standards, and it is thoroughly amateurish at times (Joel M Reed could hardly be considered a master of his art) but it refuses to acknowledge any barriers, and even today there are bound to be a few things in here that make any viewer wince.  It does periodically feel like the entire endeavour was to create something to shock and nothing else, which may be true, thus the endless torture and screaming can occasionally become a little wearing.  However, there are elements of sadomasochistic eroticism present, albeit not realised as well as they could be, plus it marks itself as a precursor to what would eventually become known as the 'torture porn' sub-genre of horror that popularised itself from Hostel/Saw onwards (although I think it has justifiably ran out of steam now).  Personally I think the writer/director was influenced by The Sinful Dwarf which was released a couple of years previous to BSF, and with which it shares a number of elements such as the depraved dwarf himself along with the dungeon of captured women and the intensity of some of the lengths gone to in the name of shock.  Whether one considers it to be entertaining or not will of course depend on the viewer.  The nastiness forces you to keep your eyes on the screen, whilst the silliness will infrequently instil a laugh or two.  Mostly though BSF earns its place, rather questionably I guess, in film history for being one of the forefathers of torture porn.
Shot on 16mm it was never going to look amazing on any format - on Blu-ray this presentation looks truly 'Grindhouse' and I suspect it's been transferred from a beat-up print.  Scratches and marks are in abundance, though in some way this is how the film is meant to be seen.  Resolution is not amazing but I think if you did see this at a cinema then it would not look vastly different to what you're seeing on this Blu-ray (I'm guessing the DVD will not look hugely inferior, but given the option I always get the Blu-ray for the most accurate representation of the source).  Audio suffers from its origins too, with hiss/crackle noticeable in places.  88 have included many extras, mostly junk from the Troma archives.  Eli Roth (Hostel, appropriately) also provides an audio commentary, whilst elsewhere there are about 25 minutes of VHS quality Troma trailers, which are good for recreating the Grindhouse experience at home.  A booklet has been included and suitably depraved new artwork created (although you can flip this around from one of two other front covers if you want, including original poster art).  The first thousand copies or so also come with a limited slipcase, which is pictured above.  88 Films have put together a commendable release for BSF, continuing a streak (aside from the odd hiccup) that is gradually rising them towards loftier heights.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Asphyx

After spotting apparent photographic anomalies that occur at the point of a subject's death, two scientists embark on a journey to capture the mystical being responsible (dubbed the 'asphyx') that theoretically captures the escaping soul.  Their aim is to ultimately prevent death itself - if they can stop the asphyx from taking away an individual's soul then it could be the case that the individual themselves could attain immortality.

A leisurely paced UK production from around 1973, The Asphyx was directed by veteran camera operator Peter Newbrook.  It's not considered a classic but it is surely a carefully crafted and eloquent production that does explore some interesting concepts.  I think what holds this one back from more widespread appeal is the lack of dynamism - Newbrook hardly takes things forward with energetic zeal.  However, it's an exquisitely shot piece of work with some dark moments that can yield rewards for the patient viewer.  The beauty of the film should come as no surprise when you realise that its cinematographer, Freddie Young, won several Oscars for his work.
I'd only ever seen the UK 86 minute 'theatrical' version of this film - it had been widely available on VHS and DVD for years but old reviews dangled a carrot suggesting that the longer 99 minute US version was a better way to view the film.  Odeon Entertainment have in recent years released a two-disc DVD containing the extended version but that has since been bettered: a welcome entry into home video was Redemption's Blu-ray, which contains both versions of the film.  The standard cut is fully mastered (from the negative I believe) in HD and looks stunning.  Fully scoped (as shot in Todd-AO) the detail is amazing for a film of this vintage, and really shows what can be done with older stuff.  The longer cut is featured as an extra (and has to be accessed, as such, from the bonus menu).  This cut is taken from an inferior source mastered in standard definition.  Redemption could have done the lazy thing and just included this as is, but they've retained the HD footage where possible and inserted the extra material where it should be, meaning you're still watching the bulk of the film in HD if you choose to watch the longer version.  I don't mind this, because the periodic quality shift reveals exactly what they decided to remove, presumably in the name of brevity.  There is also a slight ratio shift from 2.39:1 to what must have been the only thing available for the extra material, 1.85:1 approximately, although this is 'window boxed' to prevent too much of a visible jolt for the viewer.  Personally I think the excised material is of some value as there is greater exposition on some of the themes explored, plus additional characterisation.

Other extras include some trailers and a photo gallery, but really this remains an invaluable acquisition because this disc means we can choose whether to watch the shorter or longer cuts completely (in the former case) or mostly (in the latter) in full HD.  If you like the film, or have a fondness for Hammer-era horror, the Redemption Blu will sit comfortably on your shelf.  The gorgeous presentation of the HD transfer enhances one's appreciation without a doubt.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Hellgate

After discovering an ancient crystal that possesses mysterious life-returning qualities via a laser shock, a disgruntled father uses it to bring back to life the daughter that was accidentally killed by a bunch of unruly bikers.  This rather sexy walking corpse periodically picks up 'strangers' who wonder too close to their town (dubbed 'Hellgate') with the intention of knocking them off, until one of them reawakens her affections.  I think that's what it's about anyway!

Tagging onto the tail end of the eighties video revolution Hellgate is a periodically silly horror comedy with a mishmash of ideas that somehow seems recently to have unfairly been labelled as the worst film of all time by newcomers to the genre, who I can only guess don't seem to understand eighties horror sensibilities.  Of course, it's no fantastic piece of work, but as something that entertains on at least an occasional basis, it certainly not a pile of steaming turd either.  It actually, I would argue, has a few things going for it.  Aside from the pretty cruddy crystal laser, the special effects (which include a nifty reanimated turtle and an exploding goldfish) are pretty impressive whilst not necessarily winning any Tom-Savini awards.  It also contains a touch of nudity and gore, and even a few laughs, not too far away from the territory of many other American eighties horror comedies really.  If I would level any criticism at it, it is that the acting can leave a little to be desired, plus the main characters are not as charismatic as, say, the posse of punks in Return of the Living Dead.  And then there is that rather screwy stage host that appears for a couple of minutes before a surreal dance show.  But really, people, it aint that bad.  And I'd rather stick this on than much of the PC dross that drips forth from Hollywood anyway, to be honest.
Arrow's Blu-ray/DVD combo is limited to 1000, probably realistically given the small target audience for something like this.  But grab it quick if you want it.  Transfer-wise it is excellent, looking a million times better than you would ever expect something like this to.  Audio quality is delivered via uncompressed stereo but limited by its 1989 origins - still, it sounds okay.  You also get towards an hour's worth of featurettes (slicing out a good portion of that for unnecessary integrated film clips), something of a surprise for a low-key title such as this.  There is also some nice new art on the cover, and original video art on the reverse if you're not keen on that, and even a booklet containing an essay.  As is often the case these days, Arrow have delivered a fantastic package for a title that you would never have guessed would ever get it.  Definitely one for fans of American eighties horror.

P.S. At time of writing it was still available direct from Arrow, so before you go and pay some profiteering nincompoop on Amazon or ebay, check there.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Schoolgirl Hitchhikers

If this title makes you think that this film should be banned then you're probably expecting a bit too much!  The narrative follows a couple of wandering young women ('natch - this is a Jean Rollin film after all) who look a little older than schoolgirls to me, although would still probably pass for university students.  Milling through the beautiful French countryside they discover an apparently abandoned chateau where they decide to spend the night exploring each other's bodies, etc.  They don't realize that a gangster is sitting around downstairs waiting for a couple of colleagues, but when one of the girls does bump into this guy she uses the opportunity to explore his body as well.  However, when the other gangster shows up with some sort of mistress who seems to run the show, they find that their pick-up - some expensive thieved jewels - are missing.  Immediately they suspect the two girls, so they go off to capture them (they left the same morning), bring them back and torture them into talking.  One of them escapes and acquires the 'skills' of a bungling local private detective and before long everybody is mixed up in a mystery of missing jewels, exposed flesh, and misunderstandings.
I wanted to see this one for years, ever since I read about it in a 90s copy of the essential obscurity review magazine Is It Uncut?.  It goes without saying that this film (known in French as Jeunes Filles Impudiques and directed under his porn pseudonym of Michel Gentil) abandons the horror elements of Rollin's better known work but remains undeniably a product of his eccentric imagination.  During the mildly titillating lesbian activities early on it looks like it could get boring - 80 minutes of sex is not of much interest to me in a film.  But fortunately Rollin brings in lots of idiosyncratic plot quirks that keep boredom at arm's length.  There are some mild elements of violence although I was surprised to find one aspect of the torture scenes had me looking away from the screen, and it wasn't even gory!  One of the main girls is Joëlle Coeur, a tarty but attractive young thing who also turned up in Rollin's Demoniacs.  The other actors here are typical props in the Rollin universe - functional without ever straying into award-winning territory (or anywhere near).

I picked up Redemption's US Blu-ray of Schoolgirl Hitchhikers with some hesitation after reading about cine-wobble.  Unfortunately it is present and quite distracting although thankfully not for the entire film, which would have made it completely unwatchable - I'd say it makes up around 40% of the shots at an estimate, and takes the form of a slight frame-to-frame jittering that is noticeable (and probably discounts trying to view this on a very large screen).  It's a terrible shame that this couldn't have been corrected (I suspect it would be either too time consuming and/or expensive for something with minimal target audience) but I am still glad to own this one.  There is occasional print damage, which I've no problem with personally, and the colours are washed-out/pasty, but these factors at least give it that currently in vogue grindhouse feel.  The film is presented in full HD at around 1.66:1 and detail is pleasing.  The French language mono audio is fine and English subtitles are good (I much prefer watching foreign language films on Blu-ray because subtitles actually look like normal text rather than Spectrum graphics!).  Nothing else is really provided as extra material except a few trailers (no booklet like the other Rollin releases) so this is fairly bare-bones all round.

This film has a little bit of a sense of humour (especially once the idiot detective and his strangely young pig-tailed female assistant are introduced), with a couple of fairly attractive lead girls and an intertwined plot about gangster theft and a mistress that seems like she wandered out of Fascination.  It's not a bad little piece but receives a frustratingly inconsistent disc release from what is otherwise one of my favourite companies.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Incredible Hulk

I'm currently working my way through the Hulk TV series, and am compiling a blog entry for each episode over at a new page here on Blogger; take a look if you get chance.  Happy New Year!