31 Days of Horror: #29 – Satan’s Little Helper

31 Days of Horror: #29 – Satan’s Little Helper

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

SLHSatan’s Little Helper (2004)

Written & Directed by Jeff Lieberman

Starring Alexander Brickel, Katheryn Winnick, Amanda Plummer

Landing anonymously in the UK DVD market in October 2005 thanks to the now defunct regular softcore label Third Millennium, this overlooked yet quite outstanding Halloween tale deserves a place in the pantheon of Samhain favourites. Little Dougie Whooly, played brilliantly by ten year old Brickel, is a kid for which Halloween is a major highlight. Obsessed with the video game Satan’s Little Helper, he’s looking to be just that and, thanks to a marauding serial killer resplendent in a Satan outfit, his fantasy world is about to become frighteningly real.

Brickel surely delivers one of the best ‘kid in a horror film’ performances for years with his adorable demeanour of wide-eyed innocence, while Lieberman – perhaps best known for Squirm and Just Before Dawn – mixes a deliciously dark element of black humour into the picture with a protracted ruse that will have you gasping at its audacity. Ten years since its release, Satan’s Little Helper has mysteriously failed to attract the acclaim it deserves, so much so that it could well be the finest Halloween based movie that you’ve never seen.

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31 Days of Horror: #21 – Night of the Demons

31 Days of Horror: #21 – Night of the Demons

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

NOTD (1)Night of the Demons (1988)

Directed by Kevin Tenney
Written by Joe Augustyn

Starring Amelia Kinkade, William Gallo, Linnea Quigley, Cathy Podewell

Kevin S. Tenney’s directorial career hit the ground running with the superb Witchboard, followed by this little cracker, before then turning a little mediocre with such DTV rot as Arrival II and Demolition University.

Night of the Demons sees a gang of ten teenagers descend upon an abandoned mortuary, Hull House, for the ultimate Halloween party which has been organised by social outcast Angela (Amelia Kinkade). Following a séance – which naturally seems like a good idea at the time – they unwittingly unleash a dormant demon who begins to gradually possess each teenager one by one.

The predictability of the narrative thankfully doesn’t stand in the way of this film being an undoubted highlight of late eighties horror. The initial exposition requires a little endurance, but following that we have a heady mix of gore that features throat ripping, razor blade slashing and a glorious Fulci-esque eye-gouging; it’s no surprise that most of the SFX crew went on to big box office gigs. Great performances gloss over the clichéd nature of each of the characters (token black guy, fat guy, goth girl…), and by the end you realise that this kind of movie is what made you fall in love with horror in the first place: It’s just fun.

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Graduation Day (1981) Blu-Ray Review

GRAD 001GRADUATION DAY (1981) BLU-RAY

Directed By: Herb Freed

Written By: Herb Freed, Anne Marisse, David Baughn (story)

Starring: Christopher George, Patch Mackenzie, Michael Pataki, E. Danny Murphy

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £17.99

Running Time: 96 minutes

Distributor: 88 Films

UK Release Date: 13th October 2014

Marking the launch of 88 Films Slasher Classics Collection is GRADUATION DAY, a Californian shot horror which was banned after its pre-cert UK release on IFS under a Section 3 Seizure Order, although its content was reappraised to a 15 certification as early as 2003 for its budget Hollywood DVD release. It proved an unlikely hit for director and former Rabbi Herb Freed, who other than this slasher made little impact over his ten directorial outings; though having said that, as schlock-entertainment the John Saxon starring BEYOND EVIL (1980) is a gloriously awful haunted house flick that warrants a late night alcohol fuelled viewing.

GRADUATION DAY begins with a high school track race where Laura (Ruth Ann Llorens), encouraged by the crowd and coach is pushing herself to the limit, so much so that after she crosses the finishing line she collapses and is soon pronounced dead. Shortly after this tragedy her sister Ann (Mackenzie) moves back to the small town where she was born and begins to do some investigatory work around the school in an effort to uncover the killer. As she digs deeper, a spate of killings begin which see Laura’s former track team members murdered by an anonymous black-gloved killer in a fencing mask.

GRAD 002With a synth-laden slice of pop cheese in ‘The Winner’ playing over the opening credits, GRADUATION DAY announces itself as a child of the early eighties loud and proud. While flares and dated hairstyles are the understated aspects that date such peers as HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY 13th, here an antiquated musical score from the band Felony (no, me neither) as well as Bee Gees plastered walls and alternatively shaped headphones mean that GRADUATION DAY wears its year of production firmly on its sleeve.

Deliriously camp in appearance, GRADUATION DAY makes for a decidedly modest slasher. Murder sequences are at times eye-rollingly constructed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, while the mystery of the anonymous killer never really intrigues to the degree that it wants to and comes with a somewhat disappointing payoff. That said this is a film impossible to dislike irrespective of its obvious shortcomings. With frequent forays into comedic territory; intended or otherwise, along with eye-catching performances from such folk as Linnea Quigley, Vanna White, Michael Pataki and Christopher George, it’s a movie that provides great entertainment, but released slap bang in the middle of the golden era of slasher movies – it’s firmly down the pecking order.

With a region free Blu-ray coming from Vinegar Syndrome five weeks prior to this release, the boys at 88 Films were always going to have to add something special to convince people to opt for this home-grown release. At first glance, the absence of any commentaries (the Vinegar Syndrome edition has two), and the glut of Troma related miscellany from Kaufman’s age-old DVD elicits a resigned sigh.

Thankfully though, the welcome addition of the superb Scream Queen documentary from High Rising elevates this Blu-ray to another level. This feature length extra is introduced by the lovely Debbie Rochon who makes way for a legion of Scream Queens to talk candidly about their careers – from the iconic Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer; to the lesser known Forbes Riley, Patricia Tallman and Elissa Dowling; there’s many more too, all of whom make for fascinating viewing.

GRAD 003What’s so refreshing is the concept of having a totally female perspective. It removes the distraction of a leering myriad of guys giving their predictably caveman-like reasons for their Scream Queen appreciation; leaving us instead with a relaxed, honest and informal analysis of the subject. With Jason Paul Collum’s SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT being the last feature I remember on this topic, Waddell’s documentary easily eclipses it and could easily stand its own as a separate release.

Film: 5 out of 10
Extras: 8 out of 10

Extras:

Brand new 4K restoration
Scream Queens: Horror Heroines Exposed (78 mins)
Graduation Memories: Interview with author and critic Justin Kerswell (10 mins)
Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman (complete with insensitive Columbine pun)
Interview with Linnea Quigley
The cannibal lesbian hoedown music video – directed by Lloyd Kaufman
Tromatic filmmaking classroom: The arm rip
Theatrical trailer
88 Films trailer reel
Reversible sleeve
Booklet by Calum Waddell featuring a conversation with Patch Mackenzie

31 Days of Horror: #16 – A Drive-In Double Feature of Filipino Awesomeness! Brides of Blood & Beast of the Yellow Night

31 Days of Horror: #16 – A Drive-In Double Feature of Filipino Awesomeness! Brides of Blood & Beast of the Yellow Night

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…BridesBrides of Blood (1968)

Directed by Eddie Romero, Gerardo de Leon
Written by Cesar Amigo

Starring Kent Taylor, Beverly Powers, John Ashley, Eva Darren

If the nature of this double bill appeals to you then you owe it to yourself to check out Mark Hartley’s documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed, which lovingly details how cheap labour, exotic locations and non-existent health and safety regulations converted the Philippines into a haven for genre filmmaking. One Filipino native who was soon to establish himself as a filmmaking legend in the country was Eddie Romero, whose most notable works included The Twilight People and Black Mama White Mama.

Shot in ’68, Brides of Blood formed part of Romero’s Blood series of films that followed on from Mad Doctor of Blood Island. Here, Dr. Paul Henderson (Kent Taylor – a veteran of 30s and 40s B-pictures) and his wife Carla head to Blood Island to conduct some atomic research. The radiation on the island, however, has caused the plants to mutate into bloodthirsty carnivores, and before long the lives of our ill-matched couple are plunged into danger. Brides of Blood is a perfect introduction to Eddie Romero and is a crazy, campy thrill-ride of cinematic excess, with guys in monster suits, garish colours and a batshit crazy storyline.

BeastBeast of the Yellow Night (1971)

Written & Directed by Eddie Romero

Starring John Ashley, Mary Charlotte Wilcox, Leopoldo Salcedo, Eddie Garcia

Brides of Blood is certainly one of Eddie Romero’s more commercial successes, but pairing it with Beast of the Yellow Night provides the perfect opportunity to discover one of his lesser known pictures.
The movie stars John Ashley, a regular Romero collaborator as Joseph Langdon, a man who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for immortality and the task of recruiting others to fall under the spell of Satan. The Beast of the title refers to the creature that Langdon transforms into sporadically, though by creature we’re strictly in the realm of a hairy pair of gloves and a badly constructed mask. The dialogue is pretty hammy, but Romero’s script manages to include a pretty ambitious philosophically themed narrative; pairing it with some snappy pacing and a knowing wink towards Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Beast of the Yellow Night is an underrated slice of Filipino drive-in magic.

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Curse of The Crimson Altar (1968) Blu-Ray Review

CRIMSON 001CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (1968) Blu-ray

Directed By: Vernon Sewell

Written By: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln, Jerry Sohl (story)

Starring: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Mark Eden, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £17.99

Running Time: 84 minutes

Distributor: Odeon Entertainment

UK Release Date: 13th October 2014

THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR – late sixties British horror that ultimately frustrates more than it satisfies. Made in 1968, it was part of the first wave of features that came from Tony Tenser’s short-lived yet vital Tigon label. Already in the bag was the superb WITCHFINDER GENERAL which fell under the directorial supervision of wunderkind Michael Reeves, and also the less successful THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR which found Vernon Sewell in the director’s chair. Disappointingly for some it was Sewell that was to take the reins of THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, but with a cast that includes venerable horror icons such as Lee, Karloff, Steele and Gough, you expect a worthier feature.

Antique dealer Robert (Mark Eden) discovers that his brother Peter has gone missing while on a business trip, so decides to go looking for him. His search takes him to an old manor run by an aristocrat by the name of Morley (Christopher Lee), but initial investigations by Robert lead to precious little information as to the whereabouts of his brother. Shortly after his arrival he becomes aware of the Morley family’s obsession with the Black Witch of Greymarsh – the legend of an ancestral witch called Lavinia (Barbara Steele) who was burned at the stake, but whose influence is certainly very much alive.

CRIMSON 002Despite not being credited, H.P Lovecraft’s DREAMS IN THE WITCH-HOUSE formed a notable influence on Jerry Sohl’s story – a screenwriter fresh from such TV series as THE OUTER LIMITS and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. With this origin you’d be justified in expecting elements of Lovecraftian macabre, but instead the film meanders along with no real spark or intensity. That said, some redemption can be found in Johnny Coquillon’s cinematography. Fresh from WITCHFINDER GENERAL his talents are a worthy highlight to the feature, and exhibit a technician who would go on to be DP on STRAW DOGS, CROSS OF IRON and THE CHANGELING. Let’s not forget Karloff too, wracked with arthritis, in the last year of his life, yet dominating every scene he’s in with a dignified authority that nudges you to acknowledge just how much of a pro this beloved icon was.

After 35 years spent in the British film industry shooting a legion of solid b-movies, I’m not convinced that Sewell was the best candidate for this film. His other genre pictures – GHOST SHIP from 1952 and HOUSE OF MYSTERY from 1961 – were passable at best, but with Peter Cushing labelling BLOOD BEAST TERROR the worst movie he’s been in, it’s not unfair to allege that Sewell simply wasn’t up to the task of creating something memorable from the considerable resources that were available – both in personnel and materials. The same goes for Mark Eden, a fine television actor, but he’s not a leading man and his scenes alongside Lee and Karloff expose his frailties.
Deficiencies of the feature aside, this release from Odeon elevate a passable picture to must-have status.

CRIMSON 003The print quality is staggering – a clean, crisp and lush image is almost bereft of imperfections, and with a bombastic score of aural perfection it’s an edition that demands you seek it out. Added to this there’s a brand new commentary with Barbara Steele, moderated by the excellent David Del Valle who’s so good at gleaning snippets of on-set intrigue from Ms. Steele. There’s a making of that features new interviews with Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell who primarily wax lyrical about working with such horror icons, while we’re also treated to a 45 minute conversation with Christopher Lee that was originally part of the British Legends of Stage and Screen series.

Film: 5 out of 10
Extras: 8 out of 10

Extras:
Documentary: Creating the Curse of the Crimson Altar (24 minutes)
Commentary with Barbara Steele and David Del Valle
In conversation with Christopher Lee (45 minutes)
Original Trailer
Image Gallery

31 Days of Horror: #11 – Jack-O

31 Days of Horror: #11 – Jack-O

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

Jack OJack-O (1995)

Directed by Steve Latshaw
Written by Brad Linaweaver (story), Fred Olen Ray (story), Patrick Moran

Starring Ryan Latshaw, Linnea Quigley, Gary Doles, Maddisen K. Krown

“Plan 9 from Outta State,” laments Fred Olen Ray on the commentary for Jack-O as he and director Steve Latshaw explain their reasons behind some genuinely crazy/inspired filmmaking decisions on this Florida lensed picture. The narrative is largely incidental here, but for the sake of formalities we have a wizard who years ago swore vengeance upon the townsfolk who facilitated his demise. In the present day, this revenge takes the form of the pumpkin-headed demon Jack-O who has his sights set on the Kelly family – direct descendants of those pitchfork waving yokels.

Jack-O IS a terrible film, however, it’s also enjoyably bad in that Ed Wood mould where you find yourself sat with your jaw gaping at what unfolds before your eyes. The cameo from John Carradine – who had been dead for seven years – is the undoubted highlight, though listening to Ray you can’t help feel yourself shrugging and nodding in begrudged agreement at his justification for shoehorning him in! Jack-O himself is a rare sight for most of the movie, while Cameron Mitchell turns up from another picture for a spliced in scene, Linnea takes a very prolonged shower and there’s a very out of place Brinke Stevens cameo too.

Jack-O is a totally inept schlockfest that underlines the danger of just what you could have come home with from the Video Store had you been hypnotised by some funky artwork. I say that, but then it’s really hard to refuse repeated viewings as its awfulness is truly endearing.

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31 Days of Horror: #6 – Double Feature! The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler

31 Days of Horror: #6 – Double Feature! The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler

Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…

NS1The Night Stalker (1972)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by Richard Matheson, story Jeff Rice

Starring Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Ralph Meeker

The ABC movie of the week (1969-76) aired some memorable features that have gone on to etch themselves into moving picture history, but for me none can equal the lasting legacy of this pair of The Night Stalker / Strangler for their originality, verve or sheer terror. With his unkempt and creased appearance, Kolchak wasn’t a prime candidate to assume a prominent position in the annals of television, but being cited as a key influence on The X Files certainly dragged this tardy newspaperman into the consciousness of this generation for a timely re-evaluation.

His first bow was made in The Night Stalker which saw him investigating a string of Las Vegas murders where blood is being drained from the victims. A doubting police force and cynical “lovable managing editor” Tony Vincenzo (Oakland) meant Kolchak was forever being dismissed, but his dogged determination soon proved him vital to the investigation. Rated PG, the idea of this piece of work being scary may seem inflated to some. However, with its simple make-up, imposing villain and heightened eerie score by Bob Cobert it’s left an indelible mark as a milestone in television horror.
NS2

The Night Strangler (1973)

Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson, characters Jeff Rice

Starring Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Ralph Meeker, John Carradine

With The Night Stalker receiving the highest ratings for any TV movie at the time, and with the legend Richard Matheson receiving an Edgar Award for his script, the idea of a sequel was a no brainer. ABC commissioned Matheson to write another screenplay, The Night Strangler, where he switched the action to Seattle. Here, Kolchak finds himself down on his luck, drunkenly lecturing uninterested bar patrons with the minutiae of the Night Stalker case. A chance meeting with Vincenzo sees Carl back in business, and before he knows it, he’s pounding the streets on the trail of a killer who’s strangling his victims and using their blood.

The Night Strangler may see a different case and a different location for Carl Kolchak, but this ground-breaking series still retains its air of chilling intrigue thanks to the brilliance of McGavin as well as the comforting familiarity of fiery newspaper editor Tony Vincenzo. After these initial two TV movies Kolchak was commissioned for a full series and Carl went on to face such adversaries as zombies, werewolves and demons in an acclaimed 20 episode run. The adventures of this Chicagoan journalist may seem tame towards contemporary genre TV shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, but much of the genre entertainment that graces our small screens today does owe a notable debt to this bedraggled reporter in the cheap blue suit and the straw hat.

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Nailbiter (2013) DVD Review

NAILBITER 001NAILBITER (2013) DVD

Directed By: Patrick Rea

Written By: Patrick Rea, Kendal Sinn

Starring: Joicie Appell, John D. Barnes, Emily Boresow, Jason Coffman

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £12.99

Running Time: 78 minutes

Distributor: Metrodome

UK Release Date: 29th September 2014

With 30 short films under his belt, director Patrick Rea’s second foray into feature film territory is an elegant showcase for a filmmaker who is happy to cross genres and occasionally poke his head from beneath the parapet of horror. A native Nebraskan, Rea now calls Kansas his home, a state firmly stuck in the middle of Tornado Alley – which leads to a fitting segway into the narrative of Nailbiter which focuses upon a twister making its way towards the travelling Maguire family.

Indeed, this is how we begin with a radio announcer warning of the adverse weather conditions to come, which seem unlikely given the establishing shots of a calm picturesque town, rooted in farming with the occasional freight train passing through and water towers littering the landscape. Here we meet Janet Maguire (Erin McGrane) who is in session in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She says that her husband is on his way back from the army today, and while she’s excited about that she’s also apprehensive about straightening her life out and is determined to do better.

NAILBITER 002Back home she has three daughters, Sally (Sally Spurgeon), Jennifer (Meg Saricks) and Alice (Emily Boresow) whose relationship is best termed fractious due to the hormonal raging that their teenage years dictate. As they head off in the car to pick their father up they witness the town preparing for the impending tornado, while a bathroom break at the local service station offers further warnings in their direction as to the severity of the coming storm. Janet remains determined to get to her family to their destination, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re in great danger and they simply have to head to safety. Finding a seemingly abandoned outbuilding they seek refuge in the tornado shelter, and while fear immediately turns to relief, the notion that they’re not alone turns their sanctuary into a living nightmare.

So, a character driven low budget monster movie, with an underlying subtext about addiction and recovery. Is that ambition or is it insanity? More importantly though, does it work? The answer is a resounding yes, as Patrick Rea gives us a tense and claustrophobic story with enough leftfield plot devices that should prick up even the most cynical of horror ears. It’s really coy too with its depiction of on-screen horror, as although we do get sporadic gore, much of the initial bloodletting takes place off-screen which serves to heighten the viewer’s curiosity as to WHAT is out there.

The dynamic between Janet and her three daughters is credible and honest, and is another aspect of the movie which breaks away from the now seemingly endless stream of six teens in an abandoned cabin / farmhouse / asylum horror flicks. Rea also doesn’t shy away from tough screenwriting decisions with regard to certain characters life expectancy which gives the movie a wild unpredictability.

NAILBITER 003In a month where the majority of horror aficionados fly from new release to new release with the frazzled mindset of a moth around a light bulb, I would seriously recommend stopping for just one second and picking up this doozy of an indie horror flick. If any of October’s other releases display the same level of workmanship and ingenuity as this little movie, then it would be a fine Halloween indeed.

7 out of 10
Extras:
None

Dario Argento’s Dracula (2012) DVD Review

DRACULA 001Dario Argento’s DRACULA (2012) DVD

Directed By: Dario Argento

Written By: Dario Argento, Enrique Cerezo, Stefano Piani, Antonio Tentori

Starring: Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marta Gastini, Rutger Hauer

UK Certification: 18

RRP: £12.99

Running Time: 105 minutes

Distributor: Spirit Entertainment

UK Release Date: 29th September 2014

Mentioning Dario Argento’s output in the 21st century elicits a kind of gnarly reaction of repulsion that you’d expect if you told someone you just defecated on their lawn. Leaving the overlooked Sleepless (2001) out of the equation, Argento’s quartet of misfires that took in The Card Player (2004), Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005), Mother of Tears (2007) and Giallo (2009) are quite a saddening fall from his peak for the man that is undoubtedly the master of Italian genre cinema – just slightly ahead of Bava and a short length in front of Fulci.

It’s a weary heart that sees me rip the shrink-wrap off his latest directorial outing – Dracula. Taking two years to find a home in the UK home entertainment market, it’s taking its bow with a very muffled fanfare. Indeed, an absence of press awareness was picked up on over the various social media forums coupled with Crazy Ralph-esque warnings from those that have seen it. It couldn’t be that bad could it? Argento? The man who gave us Profondo Rosso (1975) and Suspiria (1977)! No, it was much much worse…

BiellaArgento’s Dracula announces itself in an inauspicious manner as we’re faced with a dimly lit CGI laden tracking shot that transports us into Transylvania where we’re introduced to Tania (Miriam Giovanelli), who is about to head for a salacious tryst with her lover Milos (Christian Burruano). As Tania makes her way home from her rendezvous she discovers she is the prey of a sinister shadowy figure, and despite her best efforts to get to safety she’s caught and brutally murdered.

Meanwhile, in another part of the village, Jonathan Harker arrives at the behest of Count Dracula to engage in some employment for the local nobleman. Arriving at Dracula’s castle, he’s welcomed in by none other than Tania who seems to be displaying little of the side effects usually associated with being dead. Harker’s arrival certainly ignites a raw passion in her, and we’re left under no illusion that her new found obsession will struggle to fend off her advances. On hand to interject for now is the brooding figure of Count Dracula, but as Harker records in his diary that evening – there is a sinister air to this Transylvanian locale.

With a clunker such as this, I often find myself trying desperately to eke out a few redeeming features in order to offer some hope for the more hardened genre lover amongst us. Here though, it’s a desperate situation as there are precious few positives in what must surely be the nadir of Argento’s illustrious career. The most pervading annoyance is simply the cheap artificiality of the whole feature – from the opening, to the CGI train station, to the transformations, to the 3D obsessed moments of distraction. With this in mind it’s hard for the film to create an air of quality as this aspect stains the vibe of the picture and prevents it from establishing any real Argento-esque credibility.

DRACULA 003Dracula’s international cast do the film few favours either, with at times a very staccato – almost phonetic delivery “it felt like a nightmare. But I was not asleep” and so forth. Indeed there are moments when you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally loaded Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead & Loving It (1995) into your DVD player such are the caricatures that litter the movie. The thing is, the ingredients were there – with long time cohorts Claudio Simonetti, Luciano Tovoli and Sergio Stivaletti casting their eyes over the music, cinematography and SFX respectively, things shouldn’t really seem as desperate as they appear.

Maybe as a generic half a million dollar budgeted Bulgarian lensed production with a peppering of b-listers, the cause to be so critical may not have been so overwhelming. This though, with its budget ten times that and shot in Italy should demand a higher level of production value. Most importantly – it’s a Dario Argento movie, and even as the Italian master enters his 75th year, the task of critically assassinating another of his features gets no easier, and hopefully for all our sakes the notion of another new Argento movie never materialises.

2 out of 10

Extras:
Theatrical Trailer

Theatre of Fear aka The Midnight Horror Show (2014) DVD Review

THEATRE 001THEATRE OF FEAR aka THE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW (2014) DVD

Directed By: Andrew Jones

Written By: Andrew Jones

Starring: Jared Morgan, Lee Bane, Nathan Head, Sam Harding, Shireen Ashton

UK Certification: 15

RRP: £12.99

Running Time: 77 minutes

Distributor: 4 Digital

UK Release Date: 8th September 2014

Ever since the Wales based North Bank Entertainment burst onto the scene with Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection (James Plumb, 2012) I seem to have had a vested interest in them and the path that the company took – not least because my review of NOTLD:R [here] seemed to buck the trend of rabid hate for the film. The movie, which currently holds a 2.4 on IMDb – the same as the turgid Fat Slags (Ed Bye, 2004) I still consider to be a worthy, independently produced low budget homage to Romero’s 1968 classic. I’m in the minority though, as this trend of public disdain continued with The Amityville Asylum (Andrew Jones, 2013) [review here] and Silent Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming (James Plumb, 2013) [review here].

Much of the erm… ‘mixed reaction’ for these first three North Bank Entertainment titles was no doubt in part to their use of household horror titles knowingly crafted as homages to the originals, and at times verging on remake territory. It’s dangerous ground to tread upon in the horror community but as Andrew Jones the MD of North Bank told UKHS last year, before shooting began these titles were crafted to what would sell from a retail point of view specifically in the nation’s supermarkets. The knowledge of that tends to garner a universal groan of indignation – and though it may be a cynical approach to this beloved genre of ours it’s no different to Charlie Band phoning up Blockbuster 20 years ago and asking what they felt would rent.

THEATRE 002All of this extended pre-amble leads me on to Theatre of Fear, which for the doubters is truly the first North Bank movie that is able to stand on its own as a totally original piece of work. Okay, let me use the term original in its loosest terms there as obviously any picture with the title character by the name of Dr. Moreau will be offering an elbow to the ribs and a wink in the direction of a certain Mr. Wells. Jared Morgan plays the aforementioned Doctor as he welcomes us to this Midnight Horror Show (previous title, theme song title and namechecked throughout – should have kept it) and following a damned stylish opening credits sequence we join an apprehensive couple – Angela and Kevin, as they make their way into the show to discover what sinister form of entertainment they’re to be privy to.

Indeed Angela (Sarah Louise Madison) is about to be chosen as a participant in the first trick of the evening, the classic woman in a box having sharp objects thrust into it. A pregnant pause of silence midway through the act draws gasps from the audience – but alas it’s all part of the show and Angela indicates she’s fine from inside the chamber. As Kevin (Scott Suter) waits for his girlfriend after the performance though her absence is worrying, and as he inspects the carnival layout further he makes the discovery that he feared the most. Who are these travelling troupe of familial misfits, and is there no end to their carnage?

From the seemingly adorable Trinculo Moreau (Head) and his longing for a relationship with Jenny (Tiffany Ceri), to Janus Moreau (Bane) and his unrelenting urge to let his ventriloquist’s dummy own up to his child porn conviction – everything in Theatre of Fear is eyebrow-raisingly bold and character orientated. It’s this element that pulls you in as a genre feature of late has been the anodyne nature of the characters involved, but with Jones’ piece here it’s the total opposite. They’re all genuinely fascinating albeit grimly immoral people who engage you and keep you hooked with their litany of foibles.

THEATRE 003My one annoyance with the movie was the introduction of vengeful hit man Duke Enright (Kevin Horsham) who just struck me as a slightly shallow caricature amongst a collection of well-developed roles. His arrival also seemed to speed up the end of the movie too which appeared to be frustratingly swift, jarring somewhat with the thoughtfully paced first 45 minutes. It’s a minor grumble to be honest as on the whole Theatre of Fear brings a new dimension to the films of North Bank Entertainment, and proves that they’re capable of churning out more than re-imaginations (albeit decent) of familiar genre classics. The look of the film belies its minimal budget, and the project has the signature of a director finding his feet and growing in confidence in a tough industry.

Sales seem to be good for the films that Andrew Jones’ company produces owing to their striking artwork and standout titles that lure the casual shopper into an impulse purchase. Now though he just needs the critical acclaim to follow suit, but if he keeps making films as good as Theatre of Fear then that recognition should be imminent.

6.5 out of 10

Extras:
None