Mark Pidgeon

About Mark Pidgeon

A 29 year old Horror fan from the north east of England, Mark has a taste for the gore, Giallo and Japanese horror with a slight obsession with Battle Royale, Vinyl Soundtracks/Scores and Comics. He loved horror from an early age which started, as with many, discovering the video nasties and devouring as many of them as he could at an age which was far too inappropriate to be doing so. H.P Lovecraft and working in a video retail store for years (MVC sadly gone) opened his eyes to the weird world of cult horror and he hasn’t looked back since.

Sam Haynes – Spine Chillers CD Review

spinechillers1Sam Haynes – Spine Chillers CD Review 

As All Hallow’s Eve draws ever closer and the long days turn into dark nights horror fans can now revel in the haunting sound-scapes of UK EDM Horror music pioneers Sam Haynes as 2014 brings us another studio release for all your Halloween and horror themed nights.

Spine Chillers brings plenty to the table for fans of 80s horror synth and electronic dance music. The scene which has seen a boom over the past few years with a resurgence of both classic re-issues and modern music is been held at the forefront by UK Label Graveyard Calling with a wealth of excellent music on the horizon.

Things open hauntingly with the intro Death Comes Creeping in, a mellow and atmospheric track which sets the atmosphere and tone perfectly in its relatively short runtime.

People already familiar with the work of Sam Haynes will find plenty of new things to discover with this set of tracks breathing new life into his style making it both work well on Haunts and horror themed parties without being relegated to that alone, this is ideal music to fill your ears in those cold autumn nights.

Album highlights are the creepy, almost Hitchcockian Masks, its simple rhythm and methodical melody push this out of the haunt realm alongside some of the classic scores which fans hold so dearly.

The album nicely progresses on its runtime mutating into a terrifying listening experience; Fans of Rob’s recent Maniac score will adore Grim Reaper the albums 5th track, its pulsing and catchy electronica is a wonderfully upbeat yet sinister affair.

Speaking of Maniac the track Night Caller, a pulsing electronic beat slowly paces under a ethereal ghostly chorus before slowly gaining momentum and dread in equal measures wonderfully produced and emotive this is a stand-out on the album.

spinechillers3Pandemonium Carnival is showcase of the complex and intricate work that Sam Haynes produce, after an excellently subtle intro the track evolves into a grandeur,epic circus inspired opus extremely sinister and right out of a killer clown slasher film this is the music that accompanies nightmares.

Spine Chillers spans the entire horror sub genre spectrum, lullabies from ghost stories, Carpenter and Howarth inspired terror synth but it is the 80s where Sam Haynes’ heart firmly lives and his passion and influence are the concurrent theme of this album giving it a nostalgic yet modern feel, allowing listeners to find a new spin on something familiar.

The albums artwork comes from the excellent horror artist Kachenstein, his colourful and energetic artwork rounds of this CD package nicely

The album is released on September 13th on all the digital music trade sites and the timing is perfect for the festive season, anyone interested in the horror music scene or those planning Halloween shindigs are recommended to pick up this and the earlier Sam Haynes album and won’t be disappointed with the results.

6/10.

spinechillers2

UKHS Does the Nasty! KILLER NUN (1978)

KN1UKHS Does the Nasty!
KILLER NUN (1978)

It’s day four of our Video Nasty week and, clad in nothing but a holy water soaked wet t-shirt, UKHS’ resident audio nut Mark Pidgeon gets all sacrilegious with KILLER NUN…

Also known as: Suor Omicidi

As well as changing the face of the whole home video industry, the Video Nasty saga’s burst of moral panic and outrage also helped a few lesser known horror titles escape from the realms of obscurity; pushing them out into the stratosphere of cult movie fandom for decades to come.

The majority of titles were notably banned for violence and assorted misogynistic acts, such as graphic depictions of rape, torture and general sexual deviancy. Giulio Berruti’s Killer Nun meanwhile adds another to its cap, one which is still a very controversial topic to this day: blasphemy.

Much like its Nazisploitation counterpart, Nunsploitation was central to the rise of nasty fame, both sub-genres flourishing in a richly populated market that supposedly would exploit and corrupt the working class folk of eighties Great Britain. In typical class segregation and political elitism, some of the early Nunsploitation films condemned for home viewing within a Nasty-type bracket actually received acclaim from the upper-class, art-house scene – Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls (1978) most notably.

KN2Many Nunsploitation films would be set in a medieval/cathedral setting, usually including a sadistic mother superior with a penchant for flaying nubile Catholic nuns as she attempts to purify the flesh – a novel way for the seventies softcore audience to witness a little more masochism than they were used to. It was a similar set up to the women in prison mantra: young women exploited and helpless, all the while giving in to sin, with varying degrees of pleasure after initial reluctance.

Killer Nun thrust aging Swedish sex siren and La Dolce Vita starlet Anita Ekberg – the main reason film fans flocked to screenings to see more of the beautiful actress in more ways than one- into a world of degradation and desperation. The sexual antics are a tool for her to achieve what she wants and is in full swing throughout. Couple this with her need for drugs, a slope of insanity makes Killer Nun a beautifully filmed Nunsploitaion picture; yet the film hasn’t aged well and suffers like much of ilk to a now modern-day tameness.

Based upon a true story about a Nun working in a geriatric hospital, Sister Gertrude suffered with an addiction to morphine (due to cancer) and relentlessly killed patients, robbing them in the process to fund her morphine addiction. Taking out her own frustrations on her patients she becomes the antithesis of the veil and her religious duties, seen by Baba Yaga director Berruti whom then crafted and exploited the story as the basis for this film after seeing potential in the brutality of the crime.

KN3An excellent,delirious score supplements the carnage and is a highlight of the film offering an almost dreamlike status to the murder sequences which fits in well with the morphine thematic. During a scene where a patient is thrown from a window the repetitive pulsing sound-scape makes the sequence far more effective than it deserved adding surrealism and panic with a minimal yet aggressive sound structure; Kubrick would be proud.

Ekberg herself is noted in an interview from 2006 as taking the role as “the psyche of the nun appealed to her and was a deviation from the Dolce Vita clones that [she] was only getting offered at the time”. Her descent into addiction, madness and lust is well played throughout. She is convincing in the seductress part of the role as well as the addictive junkie personality, merging the two persona’s well and garnering both viewer sympathy and repulsion in the process. At heart this is a tale of a woman screaming out for help in a world which has unfair preconceptions about her and the life she chose to lead, both religiously and as a drug abuser/sexual deviant. It’s weirdly deep for a film of this ilk.

The supporting cast will be familiar to many a die hard Italian horror fanatic; roles from Suspiria’s (1977) Alida Valli and Nunsploitation mainstay Paola Morra help proceedings along nicely. Killer Nun is by no means a great film but it offers enough charm, flair and scope to merit a viewing. The lesbian love interest, Sister Mathieu, plays well against Gertrude as she rebukes her advances while being meticulous and cruel and she is deftly handled by Morra.

KN4Upon release Killer Nun was banned in Italy and later in 1983 was banned in the United Kingdom and, to this day, the film remains banned in Iceland. The original poster art also came under scrutiny as the suggestion depiction of a nun performing a sex act was deemed unsuitable and was amended into a subtler affair with a silhouette of Morra looking into Ekbergs seductive gaze.

The religious iconography is also another moot point, this could have essentially been the same film with Gertrude being in any position of uniform and not a nun; would it have still attracted the intended audience? For the most part yes, but Killer Nun rides the coattails of Catholicism focusing on the purity of religion using it as a tool for dissection and deviation sure to ruffle a few feathers and excite a few others in the process.

Its also undoubtedly on this list because of the connotation of the title alone; if it would have been given a release under its original language title, Suor Omicidim would the DPP have clocked it? The widespread panic and attacks by name association alone helped fuel the Video Nasty fire. Nunsploitation fans are grateful to her for rescuing this title from video.

Nunsploitation expert Nigel Wingrove submitted the film to the BBFC again in 1993 as part of his aptly titled side label Salvation, an offshoot of Redemption films. Redemption were oft victims of the heavy handed clout of Mary Whitehouse and her fear mongering lynch mob; Wingrove was granted a VHS release with 13 seconds of footage omitted.

KN6Removing two notable scenes of violence; the first a Needle in an eye sequence , the latter a depiction of Surgery on a skull which looks terribly dated upon viewing now. It is interesting to note than there are actually very few cuts compared to some of the more notorious titles on this list and that both cuts, although excessive were used to enhance the story not done for extra shocks.

The film is now available uncut in the UK from Shameless Screen Entertainment which resubmitted the film in 2006. Shameless have re-instated the cut footage from an Italian print – one which has never been dubbed into English – and this is an excellent way for people to witness the cut footage for the first time, although it does become a little distracting to have a tiny section of the film in Italian instead of using the whole Italian source. Presumably a full Italian print was unavailable or the print not of sufficient standard. Germany and USA also have fully uncut versions from Koch Media and Blue Underground respectively.

Killer Nun: perfect Saturday night viewing, before church on Sunday!

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Follow Mark on twitter @Gpressonline

#UKHSNasty

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #16 – Devil’s Due (2014) by Mark Pidgeon

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #16:

The Agony of DEVIL’S DUE (2014)

devilsdue1After a short break, E&A is back! And so too is Mark Pidgeon, this time bemoaning one pregnancy-themed horror that should have been drowned at birth…

After devouring my cinematic ecstasy, the monumental task of divulging my own personal filmic agony was set upon me; an incredibly painful exercise that could feature a whole catalogue of terrible horror movies with absolutey zero merit whatsoever. For me though, agony personified was the recent “blockbuster” Devil’s Due.

I was actually looking forward to seeing this theatrically – thanks to its innovative and funny marketing campaign – and the subsequent rage which flowed through my body like some kind of super siyan power for days after was overwhelming and annoying: I walked around in a dazed stupor, muttering under my breath about that bloody devil baby and stupid shaky-cam footage.

After a lost night on their honeymoon, newly-weds are rushed off to some kind of party by a weirdo taxi driver-cum-cult worshipper and the female is impregnated with some demon seed. Now so far so interesting but stop right there: go watch Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby instead, a far superior and suspenseful tale of demonic impregnation. If you’re still hankering after a bit of Satan child after that, give the orignal Omen a watch; just avoid Devil’s Due at all costs!

This found footage garbage is devoid of any substance; instead it’s like being dragged through your own personal hell. And not in a good, crazy-screwed-up horror way either! It could’ve been a creepy little tale but instead director’s Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett focus too much on intrusive cameras filming our lead couple that hinders and squeezes the life out of any sense of natural development. I’m actually surprised the cameras weren’t fixed to the damned toilets either, as this is certainly where this film goes…

devilsdue2The most obvious switch of a satanic doctor/midwife is bafflingly stupid too, and he does nothing to hide the fact that he’s bloody evil. I mean look at him! From that point, I really should have given up but no; I held out and was subjected to even more madness.

The film-makers themselves got so bored at the midway point they throw in three random teenagers allowing the possessed woman and showcase her devil powers,stupidly irrelevant to the couples story.

The scares are few and far between, any experienced horror fan will see the pay-off coming a mile off. In fact, just throw in all the clichés of satanic horror movies: priests getting nosebleeds, super devil powers(what is this super Devil Juice?), cravings for eating raw meat (even though she’s vegan), overt satanic symbolism and you have Devil’s Due.

The cult move into the most run down ,obviously creepy old building hideout(Scooby Doo where are you?) in order to monitor the pregnancy while they wait for the seed to develop, my god it feels like this boring movie takes nine months to end.

I’m sure the Devil himself would find this utterly repulsive movie garbage too; the whole film is more concerned with the last five minutes by which point I was bored to tears and very nearly sacrificed my own first born – which doesn’t even exist yet – to make it end. All this time they were just setting up a bloody sequel… Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

devilsdue3There are plenty more movies to seek out if you want some satanic thrills but please for the love of the horned one please don’t watch this film it doesn’t even fall into so bad its good territory. Sure, there is the argument that there are hundreds of films which are worse than this but I guarantee that every single one of them will have some tiny redeeming quality that makes them a million times more relevant than this life-sapping filth.

 

*****

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

#7 Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon 

#8 Avia Vampire Hunter (2005) by Andy Deen

#9 La Jetee (1962) by Stuart Anderson

#10 The Shining (1980) by Stuart Smith

#11 The Thing (1982) by Dean Sills

#12 Monster Brawl (2011) by Duane Hicks 

#13 Session 9 (2001) by James Pemberton

#14 Crimetime (1996) by Dave Wain 

#15 The Evil Dead (1981) by Oli Ryder

The Pit and The Pendulum (1961) Arrow Video BluRay Review

pitpen1The Pit and The Pendulum (1961)

Director – Roger Corman

Starring – Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders.

Released in the UK 19th May 2014 on BluRay & Steelbook by Arrow Video.

The Pit and the Pendulum was the second Roger Corman adaptations of Bostonian literary icon Edgar Allan Poe, much as Stuart Gordon was with H.P Lovecraft, Corman was heavily influenced by the macabre and mysterious tales of Poe.

1960 was the start of Corman’s Poe cycle in which he directed and released several films based around the works of Poe, several of these productions starred the legendary genre actor Vincent Price the first being House of Usher (1960) concluding with The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) an interesting aside the only Corman work not to feature Price was The Premature Burial (1962).

Another literary icon helped Corman flesh out the original short story, Richard Matheson ( I am Legend) took the short story which all takes part in the chamber and added a brilliantly character driven tale and he would go onto work with Corman on more of his Poe adaptations.

The excellent independent label Arrow video- long praised and applauded on this very site- have been releasing lovingly restored, seminal Price works and the one under review here is 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum presented on a beautiful Blu ray packed full of extras and glorious, newly commissioned artwork from Gilles Vranckx.

pitpen216th Century Spain is the locale, after the mysterious death of his sister Elizabeth ( the Gorgeous, incomparable Barbara Steele) Francis Barnard ( John Kerr, South Pacific) travels to visit his brother in law, Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price, Theatre of Blood) son of a brutal torturer from the Spanish inquisition to discover the true events surrounding her death which will shock the audience unravelling a greater mystery.

Vincent Price empowers every frame that he appears in, his tortured character is a perfectly realised; a trait which Price delivers with gusto and believability, the audience can feel the grief of Nicholas as he offer vague explanations of Elizabeth’s death whilst dealing with the tortuous exploits of his father. The turmoil and despair or Nicholas is portrayed perfectly with the use of Price’s expressions, his eyes powerfully emotive and Corman exploits this in lavish close ups allowing the man to act his very soul out particularly in his descent to madness.

Flashbacks of the bewitching Elizabeth are washed in dreamlike hues of light blue, these sequences are used masterfully with Price’s distinct voice carrying the audience whilst an emotive and passionate score divulges and lulls the audience to the tragic events that Nicholas is reliving.

These flashbacks are an important tool that Corman and cinematographer Floyd Crosby utilise to drive character emotion in effect urging the viewers emotive response, colour is equally as important, one such startlingly violent flurry is drenched in a warm orange glow drawing the viewer into the acts thrusting their feelings toward that of the young Nicholas, events which haunt him in adulthood.

pitpen3The lavish Gothic castle is as much a character to the film as the actors themselves, cobwebbed secret corridors, extravagantly elegant stonework and an incredible attention to detail create immense amounts of atmosphere particularly in the films torture chamber. The titles eponymous pendulums swing is methodical, tense and perilous. Again the sound design adds tension to the proceedings as each swings creaky, croaking momentum fills the room counting down the perilous moments fantastically making each second feel like an eternity in the best possible sense.

The kaleidoscopic opening and closing credits are wonderfully delirious, rounding off an brilliantly filmed body of work its reminiscent of the Saul Bass and early James Bond credit sequence design, feeling completely at home with the tone of the film in the process conveying the perfect chaos of a descent into madness and panic.

As with all the Arrow video releases the extra features are what pushes these films to essential status, the ones on offer here are tremendous in their quality, commentary tracks from Corman himself and a separate track from renowned critic Tim Lucas are included alongside the discs highlight: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe, a made for television production from Samuel Z Arkoff in 1970 in which Price himself reads several Poe classics in-front of a live studio audience. The tales on offer in this 52 minute run time are as follows: The Tell Tale Heart, The Sphinx, The cask of Amontillado and The Pit and the Pendulum itself.

pitpen4Price delivers this performance with his usual gravitas and passion, every word he utters an embodiment of the terror and tension that Poe could conjure with his words. This is an superb feature and showcases the powerful presence of Price as he captivates the audience in his telling of these stories with such gusto that it is hard not to get sucked into every tale.

An original trailer is included on the disc and it gleeful revels in the terror and , an extended scene which was filmed in 1968 to flesh out the feature for play on television and features starlet Luana Anders as she was the only cast member available for additional footage at the this time.

Another highlight of the disc is a brand new making of feature filmed in 2013 an extensive 43 minutes runtime entitled The Story Behind the Swinging Blade featuring interviews with Roger Corman, Barbara Steele, Brian Yuzna and Victoria Price among others.

pitpen5All of the interviewees are personable, passionate each offering brilliant insight into the work of Corman and Price. As usual Corman is a delight to witness on screen his stories and explanations of working with American International Pictures are riveting and he holds an audience with his enthusiasm its hard not to get sucked into the stories he shares, the documentary is produced to the high quality you would expect from the High Rising Productions team rounding off this Blu ray package nicely. In the process offering one of the most complete edition of this classic film pushing it into its rightfully deserved essential purchase status.

7.5/10

A beautifully designed blu ray: from the excellent and reversible cover art to a glorious presentation of a Vincent Price classic, loaded with extras and a painstaking attention to detail this Arrow film release is an essential purchase for Corman/Poe/Price fans as well as collectors with a flair for the Gothic.

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #7 – Battle Royale (2000) by Mark Pidgeon

The UKHS Ecstasy & Agony Showcase #7:

The Ecstasy of BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

br1As we hit the end of our first E&A week, it’s Mark Pidgeon’s turn to tackle a film he just can’t get enough of. Here, Marky Mark picks iconic J-shocker Battle Royale to marinate in his love-filled juices…

Being part of UKHS has been a real pleasure for much of this past year. It’s given me ample real estate and freedom to express opinions, to direct readers towards great movies and, hopefully, to steer them away from a few not so good ones. Being involved has been an amazing opportunity, and in the process I have made some great friends who I hope are around for as long as I am!

As writers we rarely get the chance to wax lyrical about the things that we truly love; the movies that are for most us the reason we became critics and genre-based writers in the first place. That film for is Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 opus Battle Royale.

The premise is simple: the forty-two classmates of class 3B are shipped to a government appointed island. They are given three days, armed with limited supplies, weaponry and given a chilling ultimatum: kill or be killed.

Underneath this skeletal idea is a story rife with political and sociological commentary; the way that both Koshun Takami – whom penned the original novel, and Fukasaku saw the state of Japan heading at the turn of the millennium. It’s an Orwellian swansong: a terrifying premonition of the actions arbitrated by a fearful government and the struggles that young people will go on to face on a daily basis.

br3Many can argue that this is not in fact a horror movie but let me shatter that misconception with this proposal: imagine if you, dear reader, stepped into this scenario. Face your colleagues, face your friends with the orders to kill them all without the ability to refuse. Tell me that isn’t scary. All of this because a totalitarian government feels it cannot handle the teenagers of its nation; crime rates, increased civil disobedience and the lengths that people with power will go to in order to “protect” a nation is laid out and controlled through the ultimate fear-inducing act. Big brother is always watching.

The film focuses on a small group of the students, making it easier to follow and thus allowing the runtime to flesh out the characters; their moral standpoints, their personalities and their fears as they face as much uncertainty as the viewer does. Main character Shuya Nanahara [Tatsuya Fujiwara] is coping with his father’s suicide. Through flashback, we see his strife and later on his morals are the driving point against the corruption at hand, whereas Takako’s [Chiaki Kuriyama] reckless and psychotic nature is the perfect counterbalance. It’s the personification of the Battle Royale program and the closest thing we get to a total villain in the movie.

Dreams, ambitions and desires all unfold as each student tackles the hardships in his or her own way Alliances are formed. Students plummet to their deaths in planned suicides to avoid participation, and bullies, victims and cliques are all pushed to the very edge of their psyche.

Another underlining threat which touches upon the voyeurism on display is from the excellent Takeshi Kitano’s character, the class teacher -note the authoritative figure being a spearhead in this campaign- who watches his students strife nonchalantly. It’s eerie. Really eerie.

br2Battle Royale left an impression on me that has lasted for fourteen years and has led to numerous revisits of this wonderfully rich, paranoid and ultimately heartfelt tale of teenagers against the odds. My own real life fears make this as much a centrepiece of my collection as does its defining of my taste in genre cinema.

I first stumbled across this film while working in a video store upon its DVD release. Already being familiar with the Tartan Asia Extreme label and a devout fan of Asian splatter cinema, I initially expected much of the same only to have my whole world lifted. Battle Royale took my mind and scattered it all over the floor and allowed me to see cinema in a whole new light. Other than Blade Runner I don’t think that a movie has had me think for days after a viewing, or offered something new in each subsequent watch.

Since its release a number of real world incidents have cemented the fears that are presented here as satire have now taken a whole new symbolic reference point for our own societies in 2014, this will only increase as time moves on and real world fears surmount.

Music is the most important part of a feature for me, in some cases turning a bad movie into a good one and vice versa! Battle Royale is perfectly scored from the outset, with an ominous outpouring of Verdi’s Requiem Dies Irae setting things off beautifully. It grabs me sonically, before even a frame has unfolded. The whole soundtrack perfectly captures the atmosphere, adding monumental emotion to an already volatile mix. Revisiting the soundtrack alone elicits the same response emotionally as watching the film, my mind filling in the scenes or making feelings arise without asserting them.

br4Another thing that resonates with me is that director Fukasaku loved cinema. Making movies was his lifelong passion and the fact he did so until his final days is a true testament to living your dreams and never giving up. Battle Royale was his last film and the perfect end to an already illustrious career. The fact that the film finishes as it does showcases that, in spite of the hardships presented, freedom and friendship will always prevail; the stuff all worth fighting for.

Violent, challenging, chaotic and rewarding, Battle Royale is a perfect movie. Let it wash over and seep into your very being; devour it’s rich black humour whilst struggling along with the forty-two ill fated students.
*******

Read all the previous Ecstasy & Agony pieces by clicking them:

#1 Dead & Buried (1981) by Duane Hicks 

#2 The Happening (2008) by James Pemberton 

#3 Sleepstalker (1995) by Matty Budrewicz

#4 A Serbian Film (2010) by Oli Ryder

#5 A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Dead (1985) by Dave Wain

#6 Cabin In The Woods (2012) by Joey Keogh

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979) BFI BluRay Review

ntv1Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979) – Limited Edition Steelbook (BluRay)

Released by BFI on May 19th 2014.

Director – Werner Herzog

Starring – Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz.

 

The story of Dracula has been told a thousand times before on the silver screen, the characters lasting appeal is evident in the luscious and romanticised interpretations presented across generations; it is F W Murnau’s 1922 expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu which is an undoubted influence on German director Werner Herzog’s reinterpretation of this classic story, his love song to the pinnacle of German cinema’s expressionist era.

Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz, Downfall), a real estate agent from Wismar, Germany is tasked with an ill fated journey through the Carpathian Mountains to close a deal with the mysterious Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski, Aguirre, Wrath of God). Despite several bad omens on his arduous journey Harker makes the trip only to discovers all is not as it seems with the count and his mansion.

The Pallid Count, his sickly pale skin, almost transparent exudes an aura in every scene he appears in. Kinski, the driving force here not once feels as though he needs to tread into camp overacting; a feat which is both refreshing and necessary to the story.

ntv2Herzog’s Dracula isn’t your atypical portrayal but this isn’t a typical horror picture, he masterfully creates tension with wonderfully crafted framing and painterly, expressionist imagery. Combined with an evocative and emotive score from Popul Vuh offers a deliberately paced cinematic experience filled with passion and homage – the aforementioned German expressionism movement a driving force in Herzog’s opus – in equal measure.

This film will undoubtedly alienate a large section of the current generation of vampire flick fandom, this is a staggeringly slow paced, character driven and distinctly human tale, the desperate nature of the count and his struggle with immortality a beautifully rich study of the lust and subsequent burden of everlasting life. Herzog presents this as a hindrance to the count rather than a power to be exploited, the usual vampire trope in modern cinema. This is a curious addition to the psyche of the count bringing a moving and thoughtful dimension to the vampire mythos.

Kinski plays the role much like the masters of silent cinema contorting his figure to evolve into the backgrounds strikingly fierce and terrifying at the same time, much like Max Schreck did with Count Orlock in the Murnau production from 1922. The magnetism of the vampire is evident in his scenes with Lucy Harker, upon watching her in her bedchamber wistfully lusting after the love she shares with her husband offers a wisp of longing and is presented here as something that the count is missing, love.

His acting is both meticulously paced and captivating, from the moment he firsts meets Harker to the desperate longing on display when a cut raises the counts primal urges Kinski uses his posture, eye contact and a tremendous intensity to bring the count to life.

ntv3Jonathan Harker is an interesting study into the depths that humanity will go to discover the unknown, starting his journey to the castle his motive, the purchase of a new home for his beloved wife Lucy quickly spirals into a quest to discover the truth behind the counts “ghost Castle” and the occupant, the count an elusive and supernatural fairy tale to the locals.

The supporting cast all work marvellously particularly Roland Topor’s portrayal of Renfield, his menacing and completely insane, mistimed cackling is wonderfully creepy and later in the film he is enamoured with the count his obedience and longing showcase his acting ability. The gorgeous Isabelle Adjani plays Lucy Harker wistfully, appearing almost dreamlike in some sequences, a rich ethereal presence heightened by the surreal and fantastical camerawork makes her a pivotal and seductive character and it is easy to see why Dracula lusts after her.

Opening with an harsh, unrelenting pan of mummified corpses- victims of a cholera epidemic- is jarred with haunting choral music setting the proceedings nicely, this is again coupled with the idyllic surroundings in which Harker journeys, again the accompanying music is hauntingly beautiful as it is throughout.

The film’s set design and lighting are both outstanding with the expressionist era encapsulated in the counts castle design, high angled shots showcase the intricate pattern and designs which were synonymous with the Murnau production and the blu ray showcases these perfectly shadows elicit the dark and expansive emptiness of the surroundings and bring the viewer closer to the feelings of Harker himself.

ntv4The muted colours express the desolation of the journey and an overuse of white reflects the undead nature of the count, everything from the craggy mountainsides with their dark grey and shadowy depths are alienating to the damp, wet countryside and dull, dank landscape shots all add to the feel of the film not guiding or smothering the viewer with a sense of security.

BFI have included both the German and English language versions of the film on the disc; the German language version the superior of the two presentations Kinski’s acting benefits more form this production,his delivery and emotion resonate more in his native tongue than they do in the English version. Both versions are of merit and it is down to personal preference as to which you view.

BFI have included a wonderful new essay from Laurie Johnson that thoroughly dissects the film and touches upon a controversial scene involving a plague of rats, Herzog received a lot of negative press about the mistreatment of animals during both the making of this and throughout his career, she offers a brilliant study of the film and is a highlight of this release. Sight and Sounds review from Tom Milne is included in the booklet as well and offers a fascinating look at the film from the time of its release in 1979, essential stuff.

An on set promotional film from 1979 is included and features extensive candid interviews with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski about the shooting of Nosferatu to see them both talking about the film, film history and continuity.

Watching Herzog direct is a thing of beauty, the working relationship between the two as it has been historically documented and one filled with turmoil. Herzog is a passionate film maker and he comes across as a determined and focussed director with a rich passion for the embodiment of cinema itself, his passion unfolds across the screen a distinct, driven persona.

ntv5Also included on the disc is the original trailer and an extensive gallery of production stills set to the haunting Popul Vuh score these are a great look into the process of the films genesis.

This package from the BFI is both an essential and important release. Hopefully BFI will offer a whole new generation of cinephiles a chance to see a master at work, evocative seductive and intense this is the epitome of vampire films.

9/10

Special features:

• Limited Edition SteelBook

• Newly remastered presentations of the English and German versions

• Original mono audio (German and English)

• Alternative 5.1 Surround audio (German)

• Feature-length audio commentary with Werner Herzog

• On-set documentary (1979, 13 mins): promotional film featuring candid interviews with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski

• Original theatrical trailer

• Stills gallery

• Fully illustrated booklet with a new essay by Laurie Johnson, full film credits and on-set photographs

 

Pit Stop (1969) BluRay Review

pitstopdvdPit Stop (1969) BluRay Review

Directed by Jack Hill

Starring – Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn, Sid Haig, Beverly Washburn, George Washburn.

Out Now from Arrow Video on Dual Format DVD & BluRay

 

Legendary exploitation director Jack Hill takes to the racetrack in the excellent blu ray release of Pit Stop A.K.A The winner (1967) from Arrow Films; an exhilarating and high octane action film that works both on and off the track.

 

Drag Racer Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos) is sprung from prison and recruited by racing promoter Grant Willard ( Brian Dowley in his final film) to move from the drag to a more dangerous and chaotic figure 8 track, this reckless and unrelenting race at first frightens the tough guy greaser who is reluctant to participate, but he soon finds the thrill of the speed and danger, brought on by an intense rivalry with Hawk Sydney; played to perfection by Jack Hill main-stayer and exploitation legend Sid Haig.

 

pitstop1The charismatic Haig holds the screen whenever he is present and this groovy slice of 60s americana and his brash loud-spoken character oozes bravado and fearlessness and put stop is a great introduction to this highly talented, varied performer.

 

Richard Davalos plays the great anti-hero loner, perfectly brooding and intriguing as his motives and ideologies unfold over the films short runtime.

 

The beautiful and captivating Jolene (Beverly Wishburn) is one of the highlights, her free spirited racecar junkie/groupie is a breath of fresh air and a relic from an age of strong female personalities and as always Hill showcases a very positive image with his female characters; Hill fans will undoubtedly be drawn to Coffy for an example but add mechanic Ellen McCleod to that list as well she is a bold statement for women’s equality and her tale unfolds into a bitter sweet story of a neglected wife who’s husband is dedicated to his sport rather than the gem he has in Ellen.

 

Legitimate race car driver and stuntman George Wishburn – brother of Beverly, whom plays the aforementioned Jolene – brings realism and gravitas to the racing sequences and plays the part of a man who’s love of the speed and racing overshadows the love of his wife, these race sequences are heightened by the kinetic and energetic camera work and exciting pile-ups, crashes and burnouts.

 

The film is so much more than a brainless action-er and as with all good characters Bowman evolves from a reckless and carefree young man with nothing to lose to a sympathetic and believable hero.

 

The roaring sounds and powerful noise of the stock cars bring so much more to the table and bring the atmosphere and exhilaration of the race track to life, but the film does not rely on stock car junkies as its target audience as viewers whom are not avid race fans will find lots to love in this fun, exciting and ultimately tragic story of ambition, desire and passion.

 

pitstop2The score is another welcome addition to the package with psychedelic funk bank band The Daily flash bringing in warm fuzzy guitar tracks and a reoccurring theme which has the viewer tapping their feet and nodding their heads in time, perfectly capturing the era in hazed out mix of acid blues and funky, fuzzy guitar overlays. Perfectly chaotic and mellow in one swift package.

 

Innovatively filmed at the now closed Ascot Racetrack in California, the crashes, smashes and near misses are all filmed with gusto and the natural talent of Hill as a director is evident, close up shots of the two protagonists are as much part of their persona as the actors themselves convey with acting, Haig’s Hawk is filmed erratically and chaotic, while the cool stillness of Bowman’s hero are captured with gusto in POV shots from inside the cars, the fact that each differs in essential the same set up is remarkable and is a credit that Hill doesn’t receive enough.

 

As usual Arrow have pulled out all the stops to bring the most comprehensive release of this film, offering a commentary track with Jack Hill, extensive interviews with Hill, Haig and producer and genre legend Roger Corman making this an essential purchase Calum Waddell and his High Rising Productions are churning out extras as good or even better than the movies themselves, the dedication and effort is commendable.

 

Jack Hill fondly reminisces about Put Stop in an excellent featurette entitled Crash and Burn, he fondly about being asked by Roger Corman to make a stock car racing film and wanting to make a movie where the hero loses, after being persuaded by Corman and finding out about the figure 8 races he agreed to do the picture.

 

Hill was in the thick of the action during filming placing himself on the intersection to get footage of the best crashes, shot in six weeks this certainly doesn’t look like it was a quickly produced.

 

pitstop3Jack Hill comes across enthusiastic and its hard not to cling onto his words and his stories about the cast and film making techniques are a pleasure to listen to.

 

Interviews with Sid Haig and Corman himself are both excellent, Life in the Fast Lane: a conversation with Roger Corman is fascinating as he talks about the AIP pictures, having some of his 60s pictures cut due to their radical nature (the Trip in particular) and the genesis of his own company. Corman speaks slowly and eloquently the only downside is this feature is only 11 minutes long, the stories he tells are important, interesting and informative.

 

A particular highlight are the stories from Hill’s later films such as the Big Dolls House(1971) and the women in prison sub genre.

 

Sid Haig is a genre actor most horror and exploitation fans will be familiar with, his charisma and energy are prevalent in this interview as he chats about making Pit Stop, working with Hill and his experiences talking to the drivers and real life racers( during filming Sid haig actually couldn’t drive) and about his character Hawk Sydney and how Hill pushed him in filming to gain confidence and method in his acting.

 

A short but welcome feature is included about the restoration process that James White does for Arrow Video, including comparison screens with narration explaining the reasoning and processes in making a film look its best while retaining the original “feel” of the original prints, keeping with the drive-in feel of Pit Stop.

 

The inclusion and supervision of Jack Hill is another testament to the amount of love and care that Arrow have for these lesser known titles, more companies could and should take note of this.

 

This high octane, thrill ride into the dangerous world of figure eight stock car racing is full of action, thrills and a heart highly recommended

 

7/10

 

White of The Eye (1987) BluRay Review

wote1White of The Eye (1987) BluRay Review

Directed – Donald Cammell

Starring – David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, Alan Rosenberg, Art Evans, Michael Greene.

Released on Dual Format DVD & BluRay and in Limited Edition Steelbook by Arrow Video 31st March 2014.

Donald Cammell’s 1987 thriller White of the Eye is an intense study of mankind’s primal urge to destroy; ultra stylised and kinetic this underrated film from the late 80s is an intense character study with an often alienating and always intriguing story.

 

David Keith (officer and a gentleman) plays Paul, an audiophile who installs high end sound systems for the rich community in Globe, Arizona. He possesses a rare talent to sonically find the “sweet” spot for acoustics in households and using this talent garners a backlog of work.

 

A spate of murders of the areas housewives leads detective to Paul making him the prime suspect for the vicious crimes. Paul’s wife Joan is dragged into the investigation and as the tale of adultery, murder and Apache Indian folklore (which is where the films title derives from, the white of the eye being a saying about those who look too closely into the eye of violence with the “white” being the mark left upon the viewer) unfolds, hammering home the fact that even those closest to us may not be as they seem, this is a chilling tale which is only marred by the overtly climatic finale which although is well acted and part of the film seems at parts forced upon and not part of the spirit that Cammell creates throughout the runtime.

 

wote2To describe this film as beautiful would be an understatement; Cammell has a distinctive voice which he projects into every frame of this cinematic oddity, longing pans and extremely cold, sharp close ups both break and create the tension perfectly, coupled with an excellent score from Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason which again is perfectly mirrored to the imagery that Cammell painstakingly creates make this a journey into the psyche of troubled souls a worthwhile, complex journey.

 

The complex and staggeringly aggressive opening scene lays the foundation of the tone of the film captivating the audience as he does so is remarkable, the cinematography showcases the artistic talent of the director as well as his unrelenting focus and unflinching style of directing

 

The juxtaposition of the classical music against the more familiar popular musical choices help define Paul as a character as much as David Keith’s intense, magnetic charisma do. Even the dialogue links into the sound early hints that the detective likes the composer Gustav Mahler is conducted into the story with the climatic finale playing out to the energetic Second Symphony which Mahler Composed is elaborate signifying the connection and conclusion perfectly.

 

The acting and cast are perfectly suited Cathy Moriarty and David Keith interact tremendously and without this dynamic the film could fall into the category of style over substance.

 

The White of the eye also merits re-watches as some of the subtle nuances that are included are easy to miss, the flashbacks for instance are easy to get confused with (the costume changes and period items, an 8 track player are hints) but the dreamlike sequences almost don’t feel like flashbacks at first, its an odd experience and sadly it could be one I am alone in experiencing would be interesting to view this with an audience.

 

As an aside the main character, a serial killer with an ordinary family life draws comparison to the popular television series Dexter, even down to the meticulous opening scene of the series which to an extent mirrors Cammell’s style of film-making, as it is just an observation would be interesting if this was an influence.

 

White-of-the-Eye-12Once again Arrow have included a wealth of footage on this excellent Blu Ray package, firstly is an essential feature length documentary, The ultimate performance which was first broadcast on the BBC looking over the life of the charismatic and enigmatic director through extensive interviews with an alumni of friends, collaborators and colleagues including Mick Jagger, Kenneth Anger and footage from Cammell himself these are a highlight of the disc and Donald Cammell makes such an astounding character that the runtime swiftly runs holding the attention of the viewer leaving them wanting to devour more of this eccentric and enigmatic visionary.

 

This documentary showcases an artist whom sadly didn’t produce as many movies and have critical awareness that he ultimately deserved. This is an excellent documentary which is essential for anyone wanting to find out more Cammell and the troubles and trials he underwent making films particularly 1997’s Demon Seed which in itself was an intelligent and though-provoking feature.

 

There is also a spate of deleted scenes included from the White of the Eye all of which are from the original camera negative, the flashback scenes as they were originally filmed are also showcased.

 

A short from 1972 again features the passion and alienation of the Utah Desert, The Argument is a beautifully shot film about a director and his muse (one scantily clad the other over dressed) arguing in the desert, lucid imagery and the exotic locale make this a must see for the avant garde crowd, bringing in the complexity of god, society and film-making all in 11 delirious minutes.

 

Seemingly lost and re-discovered in 1999 this short feature has been edited by Cammell collaborator Frank Mazzola.

 

wote4Into the White of the Eye is a short making of feature in which the crew talk about the experience they underwent in filming including the influence of conflict which Cammell set upon his crew, whether this was intentional is undetermined but perfectly captures the spirit of this director and his chaotic lifestyle. The murder set pieces are discussed and how the crew went about directing and conducting the scenes is a fascinating insight into the film-making process.

 

Rounded off by an alternative opening credits sequence and the original theatrical trailer this superb steel book blu ray is a great addition to the Arrow library and the treatment that this oft overlooked film is given is testament to the hard work of the label

 

Beautiful, alienating and complex White of the Eye comes highly recommended to fans of psychological thrillers and hyper-stylised and artistic horror films.

 

8/10

 

 

 

 

 

The Doll Squad (1973) DVD Review

dollsquad1The Doll Squad (1973)

Directed by Ted V Mikels

Starring – Michael Ansara, Francine York, Anthony Eisley, John Carter, Lisa Todd, Tura Satana.

Released in the UK on DVD by 88 Films –  17th March 2014.

They don’t make them like this any-more is term which is thrown around loosely and very rarely is true, this cannot be said about the films of Ted V. Mikels and his 1973 all female action flick The Doll Squad as this has all the trappings of an excellent evening viewing which will not disappoint.

 

Over the top Z grade action filled with beautiful (and deadly) women, this kitsch slice of 70s secret agent delirium will have fans screaming for more; a top secret squad of agents are assigned a mission to stop a mysterious villain whom has blown up a government rocket and plans on more atrocious acts.

 

Cue Sabrina Kincaid (Francine York) assigned to assemble the Doll Squad and put and end to the evil masterminds plot. Armed with an array of gadgets that would make James Bond weak at the knees and a team of seductive and specialist ladies all of whom have interesting side jobs as well as working for a government agency and what unfolds is an entertaining Charlie Angels with attitude graced with OTT action set pieces, imploding villains?! And the most idiotic henchmen known to cinema who all ride around on the top of car bonnets for no apparent reason.

 

dollsquad2The inclusion of Faster Pussycat Kill Kill starlet Tura Satana as Lavelle Sumara is underplayed and aside from a GO-GO dance which sets an introduction she is under utilised playing a backing role here, as we find out on the superb DVD extras making of featurette she originally auditioned for the main role and that could’ve undoubtedly changed the whole dynamic of this film.

 

Out of the main ensemble Tura was the only one I was familiar with but again this didn’t hinder the film at all in fact it was refreshing to see.

 

The main charm of the Doll Squad is that the script and film-makers have set out to make a film which audiences can thoroughly enjoy and they succeed fans of 70s action will find lots to love here but people who are looking for a more exploitive seedy flick may want to look elsewhere as there is a surprising lack of nudity, extreme violence and sex on display here and that is not a deterrent at all.

 

The action is fun and reminiscent of some of the earlier Bond movies and the Mission Impossible TV series a particular highlight is when the girls stop at a roadblock set by the henchmen and give them a concoction of odourless liquid mixed in a full bottle of vodka which makes the guys implode in gloriously cheesy visual effects which are a sight to behold.

 

The costume design is wondrous with all the girls floating around in tight hot pants, revealing and matching outfits,over the top hairstyles and throwing kung fu high kicks wearing high heels!

 

The soundtrack is another highlight featuring 70s action vibes and a theme tune that viewers will be humming for hours afterwards.

 

There is plenty of on offer for viewers to enjoy and this light-hearted action flick never delves too deeply into dangerous territory making it perfect lazy evening viewing for those who like a bit of cheese with their machine gun toting babes.

 

dollsquad388 Films have put a lot of care and effort into this release and the other Mikel’s release The Corpse Grinders with striking menu designs, an excellent if not short making of feature voiced over by Tura herself, she comes across as energetic, enthusiastic and wonderful company this a lady whom you could listen to for hours talking about the films she starred in and is greatly missed.

 

There is also an audio commentary track with Mikel’s himself and the usual trailer park reel, couple this with the excellent reversible artwork and this is an essential action oddity from 88 films.

 

6/10

Black Magic (2014) Short Film Review

bm1Black Magic (2014) is the new short film from Los Angeles film-maker Connor Strader and his American Projects Productions company.

 

Three friends Harry, Vance (played by Director himself Strader) and Todd retreat to a reclusive lakeside cabin after harry undergoes a breakup leaving him a little distant and reclusive

 

Vance is unsympathetic to the cause and sees the extraction as a chore not a vacation as was intended; after stumbling upon a corpse in the nearby wooded area with a pentagram carved into his forehead the three men turn away from the problem not wanting to get the authorities involved or get themselves involved in something way over their heads. Retreating to the haven of the cabin and leaving the scene come sunrise but the safety of the cabin soon eludes them and the events that unfold unravel a great danger, chaos and disillusion among the friends unravel into an evil greater than anyone imagined.

 

Black Magic showcases a lot of talent in its short runtime, ideas are planted but never seen to grow to fruition as one would like to have seen this is more than likely due to budget constraints rather than the talents of the crew.

 

bm2Dialogue sometimes feels a little clunky and will no doubt improve as the resume increases but Vance delivers some excellent one liners which are both humorous and feel in line with his character. Overall these quips do not hinder the pacing or tension created by the use of sound. The merit lies in the shorts cues and musical pieces that are chosen aptly and coupled alongside the atmospheric use of colour in the cinematography adds to the overall package the music feels part of this universe.

 

Black Magic although treading familiar waters with it genre offerings is more of a tease of what this upcoming director and his crew can achieve given the time and budget constraints and professional actors and is well worth a look.

 

American Projects Productions are certainly a company to keep a close eye one, the follow up feature Dinner at Bert’s looks an innovative and interesting story.

6/10