• Please click on the ad below and support our sponsor!!

Bare Breasted Countess (1975) aka Female Vampire – DVD Review

fv1Bare Breasted Countess (1975) aka Female Vampire

Starring: Lina Romay, Jack Taylor, Monica Swinn, Alice Arno
Director: Jesús Franco

Out now on UK DVD from Maison Rouge Films

Attention all Francophiles! A key piece in Franco’s filmography has been given a brand new re-release. Female Vampire, A.K.A Bare Breasted Countess is one of Franco’s most iconic sexy vampire pictures, and is ready to be consumed by a new wave of cult horror followers. Franco’s career, of course, spanned decades and about every subgenre of horror that one could conceive, cementing him as one of the top European horror makers of the 20th century, and certainly one of the most prolific. Last year I reviewed the rerelease of his Bloody Moon, which was a wonderfully kitsch ‘80s slasher with a throbbing vein of noir running through it; Female Vampire is a very different picture, and one that Franco looks to have put much love into.

As the titular Bare Breasted Countess is the lovely Lina Romay, Franco’s partner and muse who appeared in or worked on the majority of his films over the years. She is the mute Countess von Karlstein, the last remaining member of a vampire dynasty, who feeds not on the blood of her victims for survival but on their sexual energy, leaving the superstitious local coroner and the dismissive local investigator butting heads to explain the deaths. Romay, a dark and wide-eyed beauty, has a bitter fragility and makes the most of her non-speaking role with her expressive face, occasionally confiding in the audience about her longing for love and peace in the face of a terrible curse. Her face wonderfully compliments the low-angled and shadowy look that Franco gives to the entire piece.

rsz_7209You’ll notice, while watching Female Vampire, that the sex is prominent. Of course, it is pivotal to the plot, but Franco likes the camera to linger and wash over the scene as it unfolds, and the movie is punctuated by long love scenes. Turns out that this is one of three versions originally shot, as was often the case during the era, with a hardcore cut intended for the more open-minded European market, leaving we frigid Brits with the tame version. But, as Franco often explained, this movie is erotica, not porn.

Even when focusing the camera directly between Romay’s legs, symbolism is achieved; the countess gently sways her legs like wings, the dark unfocused shadow of her crotch taking flight, like the bats and birds that theme the movie throughout. The countess’s sexuality is key to both her pain and her joy, a delicate, dangerous double-edged sword that is her freedom and her captor all at once.

rsz_7208Female Vampire is an acquired taste, for sure. Even those who like Franco’s work are not guaranteed to enjoy it – it is a far cry from Bloody Moon or any of the more standard horrors, and is not really intended to scare or entertain in the way that slashers do. Franco goes right back to the basics of the concept of vampirism, and the inherently sexual quality of their being. Visually not dissimilar to some of the earlier efforts of Hammer featuring the likes of Ingrid Pitt, but going far further with the eroticism than the ‘60s stifflips at Bray Studios ever dared, Franco’s vampires are very European figures of eroticism. Those who enjoyed Tony Scott’s critically-panned The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie will enjoy the moody sensuality of Female Vampire.

7/10

Scars (2016) DVD Review

rsz_1rsz_scarsScars (2016)

Starring: Danielle Cole, Neale Kimmel, Matt Wells
Written by: Sean K Robb
Directed by: Sean K Robb

Out NOW on UK DVD from LEFT Films

A few months back, I reviewed a movie titled Even Lambs Have Teeth. It was a visceral movie about two girls making the move from victim to aggressor, and it had style and a definite entertainment factor. Scars is along the same basic lines, but distinctly lacking in entertainment factor, and depth of moral questioning about killing. Sad thing is, it has style, or glimpses of it, and should be much more watchable than it is.

There are two girls, Scarlett (Kimmel) and Scar (Cole). Scarlett is a habitual manipulator, who makes her living and gets her kicks out of sleeping with married men, and then blackmailing them. She is callous, unfeeling and not a very good blackmailer; after a string of emotionally-attached guys are hurt and ultimately succumb to her scam, one particular john is not so willing to be screwed around. When she pushes her luck and they get into a fight in a dark alley, Scar appears from the shadows to knock him dead.

rsz_scars1It would be OK, I suppose, if their gig was as vigilantes, saving people from violent street attacks; but they quickly develop a taste for killing men, apparently for no other reason than that things with penises are inevitable woman-users and abusers. Scar’s mantra, and the movie’s tagline, is ‘Killing Dudes is Easy’. But making a movie about killing dudes watchable is not so easy, it would seem.

The structure of the movie shows attempts at creativity and interesting cinematography, but it comes together in a very disjointed fashion. A soap-opera style opening credit sequence à la Murder She Wrote is particularly inspired, making use of noir visuals, and heavy ‘beauty’ imagery that seemed to suggest a much more thematic work than what ultimately follows. Later attempts to add realism with claustrophobically-cropped shots sadly come off as cheap; frequent use of single camera angles for extended shots make for a static, almost theatrical viewing experience, and there is a generally down-market feel to the whole film.

Ultimately, Scars is a slow and uninspiring movie. The pace of the action drags in between stylish shots of Scar applying copious black make-up, limping along between plain walls from a single focal point, while not a lot happens. Danielle Cole was clearly chosen for her looks over her acting ability, while Neale Kimmel is quite forgettable, as is her character. But even this needn’t have mattered. Scars could have been a much more compelling experience had it taken its strife for striking and distinct visuals all the way.

rsz_scars2We are supposed to get the impression of madness in at least one of the girls, but it is sparsely expressed in a very sterile and bland manner. Writer-director Sean K Robb would have benefitted from taking more influence from Rodriguez, Tarantino, even Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which proved that style and flair can make a movie watchable despite questionable plot and characters. It is not sombre and brooding enough to be as slow as it is, and not bold and colourful enough to be as stylish as it wants to be. It is unfortunately just a dull film.

5/10

Psychomania (1973) Review

pmania1Psychomania (1973)

Director: Don Sharp

Starring: Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Ann Michelle, Beryl Reid

Out NOW on Dual Format DVD/BluRay from BFI

There was a time, way back, when British movies were made with a sense of individualism. Psychomania is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, but could be described as a mix between If… and one of any of the old school ‘60s Hammer Horrors. It feels distinctly British. Made at the historic Shepperton Studios in 1973, it tells the tale of a rich, foolhardy mummy’s boy named Tom, played with smirking audacity by English veteran of stage and screen Nicky Henson. His mother (Reid) is a ‘spiritualist’ whose communications with the other side bring her to the aid of grieving families.

Tom, who’s a dead ringer for Malcolm MacDowell in A Clockwork Orange, has waited 18 long years since his father’s suicide to learn the guarded secret of the living dead. His mother and her assistant/butler Shadwell (George Sanders) reluctantly agree that he is ready, and Tom is admitted into the spiritualists’ world, with the knowledge that his mother contracted him to some demon or god or other when he was an infant. Now bestowed with the secret to immortality, Tom is quick to commit suicide in the grandest fashion possible.

pmania2Meanwhile, his juvenile delinquent motorcycle gang ‘The Living Dead’ have been busy wreaking havoc in local shopping centres and are astounded when their dead friend turns up again. Tom eagerly shares the secret with his friends, and one by one, they join the club, and start going on good old consequence-free murder sprees.
Psychomania is so up my street. Centring on a youth subculture of the early ‘70s and attaching a classic supernatural twist makes for a thoroughly anarchic and entertaining picture. Grainy visuals and some brilliant electric folk music, including a lovely ballad theme, really capture the zeitgeist of the era, while a considerable number of very impressive stunt sequences take place involving motorbike stunts, car crashes and various suicides.

Perhaps one of my favourite elements of older movies is their lack of chance to fake it. The many incidents that take place in Psychomania are all the more startling for the fact that you can tell it’s all real. Somebody is really doing that, and somehow making it out in one piece, as are the courageous and notably artistic camera crew. To top it all off, the finale features a remarkably advanced special effect sequence that is most definitely cheesy nowadays, but can only be applauded for its quality at the time.

pmania3This movie is very British, and it was when I noticed this that I realised the different horrors from around the world are not only made in distinctly unique styles, but acted that way too. British viewers may find the acting a bit too soap-ish, quite bold and conspicuous, whereas European movies of the era such as Bloody Moon or House on the Edge of the Park are made in far more measured and understated ways. If you enjoy the Britishness of stuff like An American Werewolf in London, or basically any Hammer movie, you’ll enjoy Psychomania.

Rating: 7/10

Special features

Newly remastered in 2K from preservation negatives and presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
Return of the Living Dead (2010, 25 mins): featuring interviews with stars Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder and Rocky Taylor
Sound of Psychomania (2010, 9 mins): interview with soundtrack composer John Cameron
Riding Free (2010, 7 mins): interview with ‘Riding Free’ singer Harvey Andrews
An interview with Nicky Henson (2016, 14 mins): the star of Psychomania recalls his time on the film
Hell for Leather (2016, 8 mins): documentary about the company who supplied the film’s costumes
Remastering Psychomania (2016, 2 mins)
Discovering Britain with John Betjeman: Avebury, Wiltshire (1955, 3 mins): the celebrated British poet narrates this travelogue about the Avebury stone circle and nearby burial grounds
Roger Wonders Why (1965, 19 mins): a church-made amateur film which sees two Christian biker youths visit the legendary 59 Club, where they meet its founder, Reverend Bill Shergold
Original theatrical trailer
Wilson Bros Trivia Track (2016, onscreen text): a newly-produced subtitle trivia-track by the horror aficionado siblings
Fully illustrated booklet with new writing by Vic Pratt, William Fowler and Andrew Roberts; and full film credits
UK | 1973 | colour | English language, with optional hard-of-hearing subtitles | 91 minutes | original aspect ratio 1.66:1 | BD50: 1080p, 24fps, PCM mono (48kHz/24-bit)| DVD9: PAL, 25fps, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono (192kbps)

Unspoken (2015) Review

unspoken1Unspoken (2015)

Starring: Jodelle Ferland, Chilton Crane, Chanelle Peloso, Sunny Suljic

Director: Sheldon Wilson

Out NOW on DVD from Arrow Films

Writer/Director Sheldon Wilson has at last been given the opportunity he needed to showcase himself. With a fifteen year portfolio mostly consisting of B-movie creature-feature horrors for TV, he has well and truly paid his dues not only in the genre, but in the film-making gig in general. It was high time he was able to make a movie of his own calibre, and it is The Unspoken.

If nothing else, this movie, Wilson’s main leap from TV B-movies to budgeted feature length, shows exactly how versatile and studied an auteur he is. Where his considerable experience in cheese-horror could have seen him continue down a similar route at a greater budget, Wilson shows remarkable appreciation for horror of a more relatable nature. Surprisingly, it’s that almost out-dated kind, domestic horror.

unspoken2If this term puts you in mind of Rosemary’s Baby or, more broadly, Polanski’s Apartment trilogy, then you’re right on the money. Wilson shakes off the werewolves and mothmen in favour of a house which may or may not be haunted, and one very relatable person who may or may not be under attack. He seems to have drawn influence from Polanski’s ability to make the abnormal possible in an everyday environment, without the need for ghoulies, ghosties or long-leggity beasties, and bringing out tangible performances on which to hang the suspense.

A young girl, Angela (Ferland) is compelled to take a slightly sketchy second job caring for an emotionally disturbed young boy (Suljic), because her father is out of work and her mother is dead. The job is for a mother and son who have recently occupied a house the locals seem genuinely terrified of, even the adults. Everything is slightly off – the house slightly creepy, the boy slightly creepy, the mother particularly so. Chilton Crane’s performance as the boy’s mother is most worthy of note; demonstrating remarkable measure, she does not fall into the common trap of overacting and giving away vital clues. She balances such a perfect fraction on the suspicious side of ‘normal’ that it might even go undetected.

unspoken3The whole thing is damn good, solid. There is not a bad performance by an actor, not even a mediocre one, and Wilson’s writing defies convention while feeding the horror fan’s appetite just enough to leave us wanting more. This is no Insidious et al picture with a jump-scare quota, and staying loyal to the Polanski style, never does the horror really leave the realm of reality. Some supernatural force may be at the root of all this crime, but try processing that defence in a criminal prosecution.

Rating: 8/10

Even Lambs Have Teeth (2015) Review

EVEN_LAMBS_HAVE_TEETH_DVDEVEN LAMBS HAVE TEETH (2015)

Starring: Tiera Skovbye, Kirsten Prout, Garrett Black, Jameson Parker

Director: Terry Miles

Out now on UK DVD from Matchbox Films

I have noticed an encouraging rise in modern horror movies taking direct influence from classics of the genre – Even Lambs Have Teeth is a polished, beautifully filmed tale of two young women, and pulls together the essences of Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave and Natural Born Killers. Katie (Skovbye) and Sloane (Prout) are two typical girls of 17 or 18, who are off on an adventure to work on a Community Supported Agriculture, which at best is a ‘hippie farm’ and at worst is Jonestown revived.

But the girls never make it as far as Ecofield, for they get chatting with two young semi-hick locals, Jed (Black) and Lucas (Parker) at a diner, and Katie allows her usually sensible self to get dragged into a dumb situation by her friend, and they accept the men’s invitation to give them a ride to the farm. Instead, they are taken to the guys’ home, where their weird old Momma (Gwynyth Walsh) is waiting to drug the girls with spiked apple pie. The young women wake up stripped down to their underwear and chained up to individual shipping containers in the woods.
Katie and Sloane are both very likeable, and are subjected to horrific abuse while held captive.

lambs1But Katie’s intelligence and composure enables them to turn the tables on their abusers and escape. Thrown into the mix is Katie’s uncle (Michael Karl Richards), a former FBI agent who insisted the girls arrange code words in case of the worst, and he makes a remarkably efficient job of tracking them down – he is far from your standard buffoon horror cop.

The revenge chapter doesn’t take on any of the ridiculousness of I Spit on Your Grave, and the entire movie is done with considerable taste. Exploitation is not the key, and yet the film is totally enjoyable and watchable from beginning to end. Writer/Director Terry Miles can consider this a very fancy feather for his cap.

lambs2It is obvious that the girls are empowered for their experience, and it is suggested almost as a rite of passage, which perhaps is telling. Rather than focusing on what makes normal people turn to violence, the need for young people to be able to protect themselves is the prevalent theme. The conviction and strength with which the movie is acted pushes this home. It asks its audience whether they’d rather die a victim or live a survivor.

8/10

Captive (2016) DVD Review

captivedvd1Captive (2016)

Starring: Rob James Capel, Marty Nolan, Nic Furlong, Bernie Kavanagh

Director: Stephen Patrick Kenny

Out Now on UK DVD from Left Films

I have to lay down a condition before starting this review: I love movies, and I love independent movies, and have the utmost respect for those who work 20 hour days on nothing but Coca-Cola and Doritos for months on end for almost no pay to help create an artwork they feel passionately about. But I can also distinguish between a well-made movie, an entertaining piece of crap, and just a bad movie, and I must be honest. This is what makes having to write a bad review for a really low-budget indie so heart-breaking. I make quite a craft of slating cynical, commercially-driven bollocks that’s bad in every way, but I know a lot of people worked hard on this movie, so let’s look away and await the sharp scratch…

Stephen Patrick Kenny’s ‘Captive’ is basically ‘Saw’ with less budget, gore and imagination. It’s ‘Cube’ without the wacky sets and deaths. To be frank, it’s completely unoriginal, but I figured I could at least look forward to some darkly comical pick-offs. A dozen or so people wake up in some bleak warehouse, not knowing why or who’s done it. A cell phone rings, and a voice electronically distorted almost beyond comprehension tells them that they have 24 hours to figure out their common ground, and if they don’t, or if anybody tries to escape, they die.

captivedvd2The year is 2021, except the film is incessantly punctuated by ‘80s Alien-style green monologue computer sequences which far too simply reveal the plot. While the movie sort of gets itself going with the first two or three deaths, after that its interest trails off, killing most of the others off-screen and only informing us of it via monologue computer, which is always (except once – editing error?) followed by an annoying loud fizzing.

One of my real problems is that the movie is very fragmentary – it seems that Kenny couldn’t or didn’t want to pull off scenes of any real length or, as a result, any proper pace or sequence. It feels like a compilation of five or seven minute episodes, the dramatic flow constantly interrupted by monologue computer titles. This might just be passable if the action that actually happened were decent.

But a good half of all dialogue is either “What are we gonna do?”, “I don’t wanna die,” or a contribution by one of several characters who have stupid catchphrases, such as an old dude who keeps insisting “Nobody else is dying today” and a guy who says little other than “This is bullshit!” The real is gem when a woman in office get-up from 1992 kneels next to a young girl and asks “Are you scared?” When the kid replies in the affirmative, the woman says “Yeah, me too.” I mean, wow – super comforting.

captivedvd3When none of the above is being uttered, there is an unnatural disjointedness to the action. The actors seem to take turns at saying their bit rather than keeping the scene going, and many reactions are too measured to be believed. The chaos that should befall a situation of this sort never quite arrives, but it’s made up for by bursts of much-too-loud static sound. When the ending finally came around – and I was feeling nothing short of deflated when it did – it was a real shame, because the premise of the big revelation is actually a pretty good one, and could have been the bones of a much better movie, even at this budget.

Friends, this has not been easy to write. But I am here to be well-informed of the genre, and of us freaks who enjoy it, and to write about it accordingly. And I am sad to say that you are unlikely to find a horror fan that enjoys this movie. There’s not enough of anything, we don’t have to follow or figure anything out, there’s no gimmick or gore, and it’s simply not scary. Sorry.

Rating: 2/10

Ritual (2012) Review

ritual1‘Ritual’ (2012)

Starring: Rio Dewanto, Izzi Isman, Aridh Tritama

Director: Joko Anwar

UK DVD Release – December 26th 2016 from Terracotta

Michael Winterbottom’s controversial but quite wonderful 9 Songs made a fine observation about the terrifying vastness of the Antarctic: one experiences a simultaneous feeling of claustrophobia and agoraphobia, like a couple in bed. Scared to stay but scared to leave. Excellent horror movies truly understand how to use space and perception to their advantage, and a forest setting is a perfect opportunity to explore such a psychological phenomenon.

Ritual is a film of complexity and brilliance. It demonstrates the same keen interest in cinematographic experiment and minimal cast as the brilliant Ty West’s The Inkeepers. It’s a unique setup: practically a one man show performed with staggering range and realism by Rio Dewanto, with a few secondary characters stepping in at points, taking place entirely in the woods. Everything is minimalist except the sumptuousness of the visuals, which make Ritual a really memorable viewing experience.

John (Dewanto) wakes up in a shallow grave in the woods somewhere and can’t remember a thing. He comes upon a cabin in which a video camera shows a woman being murdered, and her body lies on the floor. He becomes convinced that an unknown perpetrator is stalking him with murderous intent, and is plunged into madness by the intensifying paranoia.

ritual2Thankfully, this is not the long and short of it, as many simple, commercially-oriented horrors remain. Where a movie of that type would present you with your line-up of pick-offs and require you, at most, to guess which order it’ll happen in, a movie like Ritual leaves you wondering if you are quite as slick as it. But it’s not interested in patronising its audience, instead placing it as witness to a scary and mysterious incident and leaving it to investigate for itself.

This brings me on to perhaps the most striking element of the film – the cinematography. Gunnar Nimpuno’s work is nothing short of admirable. Point of View has been played with endlessly, but until seeing this movie, I hadn’t realised quite how repetitive POV techniques had become in the genre. There are maybe a handful of worn-out patterns. Nimpuno makes an art of his department, pulling off the most intriguing fourth-wall-breaking in recent memory. When John hides himself away in a trunk, the camera is cramped in there with him, right between his legs, the darkness casing everybody in. When he digs his way under the wall of a log cabin to escape (Jurassic Park II-style), the camera watches him do it, follows him out through the hole in the ground, and gets right back up on the other side to run after him, absolutely seamlessly. POV exercises its ability even further when the plot starts to twist.

ritual3Ritual is an excellent movie. It weighs in on the side of neither scary nor arty, striking a fine balance between the two. While it really entranced me with its visual style, it creeped me out, and a few times, left me absolutely speechless. There is one of those glorious moments of horror that is so extreme and so unexpected that it seems to suspend animation for a minute. This really is the kind of horror that I love. Grass roots, with huge creativity and originality and little arrogance.

Some Kind Of Hate (2015) Review

somekoh1Some Kind Of Hate (2015)

Starring: Ronen Rubinstein, Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin, Sierra McCormick

Director: Adam Egypt Mortimer

UK DVD Release May 9th 2016 from Icon & Frightfest Presents

Some Kind of Hate is the greatest teen-angst horror since Ginger Snaps‘.

I am most definitely not in the habit of making ‘greatest’ statements, and gave this movie long and careful thought, but no matter how I tried, I could find no fault with it. It is the first movie I have reviewed for UKHS that I am giving a perfect 10.

I have always been a fan of proper teen horrors – the dead teenager kind are still a hoot, but I refer to the ones that really focus on the hardships of adolescence – and Carrie was always my favourite. Having been the weird, unpopular type for the majority of high school and understood what it was to feel isolated, depressed and hateful, these movies have always spoken to me. This movie is the first in a long time to be so perfectly in tune with a difficult adolescence, and to reflect this narratively and visually with such strength.

skoh4Lincoln (Rubinstein) is from an abusive home, in which his Hell’s Angels-type father rages at him and beats him up. At school, he is physically abused by the jocks. He bottles all of his rage, and one day stabs his aggressor in the face with a fork. As a result, he is sent to the Mind’s Eye Academy, a half-baked hippy retreat/criminal rehab facility for troubled teens, described as a place where they will ‘attune’ themselves and ‘destroy the impulses that got them there’. The place is as if random patches of a run-down city suburb had been ripped up and sporadically transplanted in the dusty valley, but it is really pretty beautiful.

Although he meets a girl, Kaitlin (Phipps), who is a great match for him and completes a really strong onscreen duo with brilliant chemistry, even the Academy has its thug population, a trio of idiots who promptly settle on Lincoln as their next target. When their victimisation of Lincoln finally releases his pent up rage, he unwittingly summons the ghost of a former campmate who committed suicide as a result of bullying. This is what sets in motion the horror premise of young people who we don’t really care for being slaughtered until (perhaps not even) the only likeable ones are left.

skoh2One of the movie’s unexpected turns is the almost Dickensian introduction of the ghost as a real character, and not the manifestation of the need to make the audience jump every 12 minutes or so. Moira (McCormick) is something of a reflection of Lincoln, a worst case scenario of entrapment in eternal rage and torment as a reflection of a troubled life. Her character is used to an extent so moving and unknown to this sort of a film, and it is one of many qualities that makes it so brilliant.

So much is unique about this film, which is great for a subgenre that many are quick to dismiss. A troubled adolescence is portrayed with such truth, striking balance between madness and the glimpses of bliss the right person can bring. It is emotive and passionate, and speaks veritably without false idealisations of a lost time. The movie plays with many interesting ideas and never goes where expected. It is stylised and directed like a rock music video, with beautiful use of colour to set moods and excellent visual narrative. And despite its very slick and professional production, it maintains its sense of indie grass roots.

skoh5So what, I found myself wondering, is there not to love about a movie that is beautiful to look at, wonderfully acted, intensely emotional and relatable, original, expressive and still scary? Ultimately, I decided it was as near to a perfect teen-angst horror as modern filmmakers could achieve, and subsequently fell in love a little.

Rating: 10/10

American Horror Project Volume 1 – Review

ahorrorp1American Horror Project Volume 1 (Dual Format DVD & Blu-Ray)

Out Now from Arrow Video

This week, I had the privilege of reviewing a box set of three Blu-Ray movies, released by connoisseurs of forgotten horror Arrow Video; the brainchild of the fantastic American Horror Project, who aim to bring attention to the lesser known treasures of the American horror genre. This, Volume I, is the first instalment in what I truly hope will be a long-living series. Although I have a damn good time with Dead Teenager Movies, monster and slasher movies, I really love an artistically communicated horror which performs on a wavelength independent of overindulgent gore.

This is the wavelength that American Horror Project seems to be on: here we have three broody and visually explosive films which subscribe to classic chapters of filmmaking, such as neo-noir and surrealism.

American Horror Project identifies these three movies as worthy of further scrutiny, and I encourage real, versatile horror fans everywhere to admire these artistic works, and support the cause of the AHP.

carnivalofbloodMalatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)

Director: Christopher Speeth

Starring: Janine Carazo, Jerome Dempsey, Daniel Dietrich, Lenny Baker

Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood is an interesting work: were a film student to be awarded a big enough budget, and happened to choose old-fashioned 35mm film camera, this might be the result. There is a good deal of experimentation and homage to classic directors’ work, and a surprising amount of screen time and attention is given to the more ‘artistic’ sequences. And as a feature movie, a number of things stand out about it.

Let us take the classic story arc, and number it for convenience’s sake. At the first stem of the arc, Part One, we have the introduction of a setting and characters and a particular situation. The bow of the arc, Part Two, throws some conflict or dilemma in the works, which is concluded in some way or other at the final stem of the arc, Part Three. Well Carnival of Blood kicks straight in at Part Two, with absolutely no Part One. It plonks us at the top of a figurative mountain and gives us a push. We are forced to pick up on situational information to know who and what and when (why is the more evasive part), but then I appreciate a movie that doesn’t take its audience for a fool and spoon feed the important parts.

Basically, there is a carnival, with big wooden rollercoaster and all the other bits and bobs you’d expect, and it is run by one Mr Blood (there’s an original villain name for you) and the dastardly Malatesta, who is a modern spin on Gaston Laroux’s Phantom and watches silent Lon Chaney movies. The Norris family park their trailer in the dump of a carnival and get work there, while secretly searching for their missing son, who disappeared there. Thing is, the fellas in charge are definitely up to something, and we know this because for every action and dialogue sequence, there is a surrealist sequence of similar length. The movie feels about 50% traditional, 50% surrealist.
This said, it is a very primary form of surrealism.

This is one of the reasons why it feels student-y: it is a less polished, would-be Dali or Brunuel work. Writer Liepolt and director Speeth obviously looked to the works of such auteurs when they conceived their movie. I would say because of its non-traditional narrative and quasi-surrealist style, it is an acquired taste. I enjoyed it: the setting is great, the murders are cool enough, and the guys bloody tried. Many a roll of celluloid hath been wasted on methodless, gratuitous crap over the years, but at least the Carnival of Blood crew gave it a damn good crack, and put some thought and technique into their work. A+ for effort.

Rating: 6/10

premonitionThe Premonition (1976)

Director: Robert Allan Schnitzer

Starring: Sharon Farrell, Richard Lynch, Jeff Corey, Ellen Barber

American Horror Project characterises The Premonition in its introduction as a more mature horror movie than one may expect in a genre bombarded by teenage victims with teenage problems. I would suggest it in the same vein as Rosemary’s Baby or Don’t Look Now, and describe it as a domestic horror movie, in which a horror befalls adult characters experience traumas which may not be so relatable to a younger audience. It has style and exists in a darkly-toned world, where all may or may not be well, and one may or may not be insane.

In addition to this, The Premonition takes on a Lynch or Craven-style duality, in which two sets of characters with very different lives collide with terrible consequences. On a dusty dormant carnival site live Andrea (Barber) and her clown husband Jude (Lynch), the wife a depressive recluse, the husband an endearing and talented performer, first appearing performing an illustrative mime dance outside the trailers.

On the other side of the tracks live Sherri (Farrell) and her professor husband Miles (Corey), a wealthy couple who have a five year old daughter, Janie (Danielle Brisebois). But the girl was adopted at birth, and when Andrea shows up at Janie’s school one day, Sherri starts to shrink into hysterical paranoia, and experiences a premonition of the birth mother coming to claim the child. Turns out it’s not such a paranoid thought. Problem is, though she has issues I wouldn’t be surprised to see as a result of separation from a child, Andrea is not a bad person, and Jude looks certain to be a good father, were their plan to be successful.

This emotional conflict is a major theme of the movie, hence its maturity. In a contrast of classes, personalities, backgrounds, possessions, there is no good guy or bad guy. Each person is a proper character, and Schnitzer’s writing and direction stirs sympathy for each of them in their individual struggles. The almost documentary-style realism achieved by Victor Milt’s cinematography brings the audience intimately close to the characters in the more emotionally-oriented sequences.

Another level brought to the movie is a hot topic of the late ‘70s that Exorcist II: The Heretic tried but failed to incorporate is that of parapsychology, which was of peak professional and cultural interest at the time. This, combined with the domesticity, is what makes The Premonition a different kind of horror, and the kind that I really appreciate. It takes life’s organic grief and terror, and makes art of it.

Rating: 8/10

thewitchwhoThe Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)

Director: Matt Cimber

Starring: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown

The Witch Who Came from The Sea is a dark, moody, broody movie about a young woman who wobbles on the knife-edge of sanity as a result of repeated sexual abuse by her father as a child. It is one of those pictures, somewhat like Polanski’s Repulsion or Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, that is so striking in its visual presence and strong performances, that it seems to occupy its own little dimension, independent of any other influence, diegetic or otherwise. The plot is threadbare, meaning that the whole artistic product is what we’re judging.

Molly (Perkins) is one of those girls who is your archetypal ‘60s/’70s muse. With short dark curls, wide dark eyes and white skin, she has a permanent look of simultaneous wonder… basically stick her in a velvet-strewn room with dim lights and plumes of smoke. The visuals are, probably, the very best thing about this movie. From the very first shot – a long shot of several minutes – which watches a grey beach as three figures approach from the distance, we see craft. My horror-trained mind automatically expected red captions against such an establishing shot, and found myself bowled over when they came up in a mild shade of teal, shockingly illustrative of the monotonous, cloudy world we are entering.

Despite its sensationalist tagline ‘She really knows how to cut men down to size!’ and its status as a Video Nasty, the film is mind-bogglingly mild. I think there were two murders throughout, and funnily, I wasn’t really even looking out for them. The idea is that Molly is traumatised from having been raped by her father throughout childhood, and in traditional horror terms this equals a psychotic revenge rampage on unrelated and non-offensive males. However, as made evident from the thoughtfully added special features on the Blu-Ray, writer Robert Thom wanted very much to retain sympathy for Molly. This is no I Spit on Your Grave, in which the morality of the supposed protagonist comes into question; The Witch Who Came from the Sea summons more sympathy for its femme fatale than any rival, and with significantly less on-screen trauma.

Though it may not be to everyone’s taste, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a really powerful visual narrative, well-acted and emotionally driven. The themes and tangible characters of Thom’s writing are brought to hallucinogenic existence by Cimber’s masterful direction to produce a wonderful and undervalued gem of bygone times.

Rating: 8/10

arrowahp2

The Special Features are immense for this release, so here they are!!

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

Brand new 2K restorations of the three features
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard DVD presentations
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Reversible sleeves for each film featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil
American Horror Project Journal Volume I – Limited Edition 60-page booklet featuring new articles on the films from Kim Newman (Nightmare Movies), Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) and Brian Albright (Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990)

MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Brand new interview with director Christopher Speeth
Brand new interview with writer Werner Liepolt
Draft Script (BD/DVD-ROM content)
Production stills gallery

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber
Brand new interview with Dean Cundey
Brand new interview with actor John Goff

THE PREMONITION – SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
Audio commentary with director-producer Robert Allen Schnitzer
Brand new interview with composer Henry Mollicone
Interview with actor Richard Lynch
Three Robert Allen Schnitzer short films: Vernal Equinox , Terminal Point and A Rumbling in the Land
4 Peace Spots
Trailers and TV Spots

The Mutilator (1984) Blu-Ray Review

mutilator1The Mutilator (1984)

Starring: Mat Mitler, Ruth Martinez, Bill Hitchcock, Connie Rogers

Directors: Buddy Cooper & John Douglass

UK Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD release from Arrow Video Feb 15th 2016

I always love to snap up the oldies when they get a new release on Blu-Ray; they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore! ‘Bloody’ Buddy Cooper’s brainchild The Mutilator, A.K.A. Fall Break, is a fun, camp, totally mid-‘80s slashfest that combines the creativity of Friday the 13th and the sympathy and humour of Sleepaway Camp. Before even starting the movie, I liked it. The Blu-Ray menu is blessed with an extract of the movie’s theme song, performed by Peter Yellen and the Breakers (one of whom is writer-director-producer Cooper) – an instantly catchy and upbeat retro pop song which also serves as the opening credit music.

This use of ironic soundtrack to juxtapose the violence is somewhat reminiscent of David Hess’s musical contribution to Last House on the Left, which may push the cheese level into overdrive for those who can’t appreciate techniques of the era, but made me feel quite at home.

mutilator2The introduction is a compelling one, which tugs at the heartstrings and lands the audience’s sympathy somewhat with the character who goes on to do all the slashing. Young Ed leaves a birthday note for his father and makes a start cleaning his shotguns as a gift, when he accidentally shoots his mother dead. The father, a surly and burly man, finds them and, much against his usual behaviour, we guess, takes the blame and confesses to murder.

Years later, Ed (Matler) is in high school, and his friends complain that there’s no way to pass the school holiday in their boring little dump of a town. So when Ed receives a call demanding that he close up his father’s beach villa for the winter, the crew jump on the opportunity for a little fun, and a road trip is underway. Along for the ride are his prudish virgin girlfriend Pam (Martinez), essential sex-crazed couple Mike (Morey Lampley) and Linda (Frances Raines) and slightly more restrained couple Ralph (Hitchcock) and Sue (Rogers). They are a very standard dead teenage bunch, and with frigid Pam on board, she’s pretty much guaranteed a free invincibility cheat when it comes to who’s getting butchered.

mutilator3I mean, it goes without saying that they start getting butchered, and I shan’t disclose who’s behind it all, but I shall say that though the set-ups for the murders are wonderfully stupid (“Come on you guys, quit messin’ around!”) and a few of the kids are in the habit of incessantly thinking out loud, the attack sequences are imaginative, with impressive make-up effects. It really ticks all the boxes for a fun old slasher movie, and let’s face it, the fun has always been of equal importance to the fright.

Yes, the acting is pretty bad, but yes, in a sort of ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ way, and it’s comfortable for this sort of movie. All good horror fans know to approach dead teenager movies from any era with an open mind, especially ones from the 1980s, churned out when the slasher bug had firmly burrowed itself into the cultural ear, following on the heels of the some of the more admirable and professional horror efforts of the ‘70s. Semi-amateur production, below-standard acting, and the majority of effort being put into special effects just go with the turf.

The Mutilator is a thoroughly entertaining movie, with a stirring beginning and ending, and a hell of a lot of fun in between.

Rating: 8/10

mutilator4DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

Brand new 2K restoration of the unrated version from original vault materials.
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations.
Original mono 1.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray.
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Introduction to the film with writer-director Buddy Cooper and assistant special make-up effects artist/assistant editor Edmund Ferrell.
Audio Commentary with Cooper, Ferrell, co-director John Douglass and star Matt Mitler.
Audio Commentary with Buddy Cooper and star Ruth Martinez Tutterow.
Fall Breakers: The Story of The Mutilator brand new feature-length documentary on the making of the splatter classic featuring interviews with Cooper, Douglass, Ferrell, Mitler, actors Bill Hitchcock, Jack Chatham and more.
Mutilator Memories special make-up effects artist Mark Shostrom looks back at one of his earliest projects.
Tunes for the Dunes composer Michael Minard reveals how The Mutilator s unique score was created.
Behind-the-Scenes Reel
Screen Tests
Alternate Opening Titles
Trailers and TV Spots
Fall Break Theme Song (Original and Instrumental Versions)
Opening Sequence Storyboards
Motion Stills Gallery
Original Fall Break Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM content)
Reversible sleeve featuring two original artworks
Region: Free