31 Days of Horror: #27 – Clownhouse

31 Days of Horror: #27 – Clownhouse

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

ClownhouseClownhouse (1989)

Written & Directed by Victor Salva

Starring Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell

Disguised as clowns, a trio of escaped mental patients terrorise three young brothers home alone for the evening in this goose-pimpling chiller; the feature debut of future Jeepers Creepers helmer Victor Salva. It’s a classic slasher set up but, like the sub-genre’s progenitors Black Christmas and Halloween, Salva’s emphasis is on suspense and mood rather than squirty gore and bloodletting, the then-fledgling filmmaker ratcheting up the tension with expert precision.

Sadly, Clownhouse is impossible to talk about without discussing the heinous events that surrounded its production: In 1988, Salva plead guilty to five counts of child molestation after sexually abusing the film’s twelve year old lead, Nathan Forrest Winters. Such an appalling crime has, quite rightly, hung over both the film and Salva’s subsequent career, which ranges from the Hitcher-riffing, direct-to-video gem Hatchet Man; to family drama Powder, and the aforementioned fan favourite Jeepers Creepers and its strictly so-so sequel. However, if one can look beyond such scandal, and judge the film away from its uncomfortable predatory subtext, Clownhouse remains a ruthlessly effective skin-crawler; a disquieting peach ripe for reappraisal.

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31 Days of Horror: #18 – Hell Asylum

31 Days of Horror: #18 – Hell Asylum

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

Hell AsylumHell Asylum (2002)

Directed by Danny Draven
Written by Trent Haaga

Starring Debra Mayer, Tanya Dempsey, Timothy Muskatell

There’s a fearsome, festive magic to the go-for-broke Hell Asylum. For one, it’s a staple of near enough every Poundland’s chunderiffic Halloween range; dig deep among their entertainment section this October and you’re almost guaranteed to find a copy of this cheeky little number, likely wedged between Michelle McManus’ slimming DVD and Onka’s Big Moka by Toploader. For another, it’s actually one of those handful of movies that – for this hack anyway – is completely beyond any form of negative criticism. Personally, it’s a very special movie; I’ll spare you the mawkishness but let’s just say my late grandmama had THE most remarkable knack for (unintentionally) picking sublime schlock. Of course, it helps that Hell Asylum is a belting great B-pic too…

Full Moon Entertainment’s dip into the murky waters of post-Blair Witch reality horror, Hell Asylum is one of the beloved cult companies very best late-era offerings, and the crown jewel in their collaboration with DIY film icon J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe outfit. A bog-standard haunted house tale is enlivened by the deft direction of cheapie maverick Danny Draven (who’d previously shown his chops with the damn good, poverty row cyberpunker HorrorVision) and the surprisingly witty script of future Cheap Thrills wordsmith Trent Haaga; the two rising well above cliche with a remarkably accomplished sense of spookshow aplomb. Interestingly, Draven would return to similar territory a few years later with Reel Evil, but with less successful results.

Chad Ferrin regular Timothy Muskatell, Martin Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez and the delectable Tanya Dempsey – who’d appear in Draven’s stupendous erotic jolter DeathBed the following year – round out Hell Asylum’s solid cast. Seek it out!

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31 Days of Horror: #13 – The Gravedancers

31 Days of Horror: #13 – The Gravedancers

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

GravedancersThe Gravedancers (2006)

Directed by Mike Mendez
Written by Brad Keene, Chris Skinner

Starring Dominic Purcell, Clare Kramer, Marcus Thomas, Tchéky Karyo, Megahn Perry

Three old pals incur the wrath of three pissed off ghosts after a drunken cemetery gathering in this gleeful jolter from Big Ass Spider! director Mike Mendez. Just as his previous offering, The Convent, aped Night of the Demons, Mendez this time uses The Evil Dead and Poltergeist as his touchstones and once again crafts another charmingly old school-feeling shocker. Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell – who’s since become something of a B-flick cottage industry in and of himself – leads, but it’s Tcheky Karyo and The Convent’s Megahn Perry who steal the acting honours as a pair of eccentric parapsychologists. The real stars, however, are the volatile spooks themselves; a trio of deliciously freaky-looking ghouls designed by Norman Cabrera and realised by Spectral Motion Inc (Hellboy I & II, Looper).

Produced independently, The Gravedancers was selected and screened Stateside at After Dark’s inaugural 2006 HorrorFest before hitting DVD the following spring. Over here, it was dumped straight to disc with little to no fanfare and, despite a handful of showings on The Horror Channel, has languished in near-obscurity since; a fact likely not helped by its distributor, Revolver, folding. What better time, then, than now to rediscover this scare-house pearl and make it the cult favourite it should quite rightly be? There’s used copies on Amazon for less than a quid; you know what to do…

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The Killjoy Collection (2014) DVD Review

Killjoy1The Killjoy Collection DVD Review

Directed by Craig Ross, Tammi Sutton, John Lechago
Written by Carl Washington, Douglas Snauffer, Tammi Sutton, John Lechago
Starring Ángel Vargas & Trent Haaga

RRP £5.99

Distributor 88 Films

OUT NOW

Occupying that unique space between the sublime and the awful is Killjoy; Full Moon Entertainment’s stupefying schlock saga concerning the various nefarious exploits of the demonic, homicidal clown of the title. And now, after years of wild west-like distribution from a whole slew of different discount pit companies, 88 Films have whacked this four flick strong cavalcade of deranged cheap-o chunder together in one attractive little box-set; the first time it’s been available as one complete collection anywhere in the world. How long it remains that way though is something else entirely: With Full Moon chieftain Charles Band’s penchant for sequel milking, and with his recent attempt to crowdfund a spin-off web series, Killjoy’s Psycho Circus, this marvellous chunk of fodder will likely need an expansion pack or six by this time next year…

In a move seemingly tailored to simultaneously delight Killjoy’s small but rabid following and horrify its many – MANY – detractors (and, not to mention, bamboozle any poor sod who’ll now become acquainted with it), 88 have, cannily, fashioned this two-disc DVD package as a limited run HMV exclusive. It’s the third set of its kind Blighty’s most B friendly boutique label have produced over the last six months, with the first three chapters of Full Moon’s flagship Puppet Master and Subspecies legacies having both received similar, collector-baiting treatment. While the zippy Killjoy canon isn’t quite as beloved as those distinguished horror programmers – at least not yet anyway – 88’s solid compendium will hopefully go some way to improve its rep among cult circles.

A rare beast, Killjoy, as a series, actually improves with each successive entry.

Killjoy 22000’s numero uno is the unequivocal runt of the litter: Produced by Full Moon’s short-lived urban division, Big City Pictures, it is a crude attempt at reconciling the studio’s distinctive pulp house style with the uniquely millennial wave of hip-horror pictures; a subgenre exemplified by the fun, Snoop Dogg-starring Crow retread Bones at its best, and Albert Pyun’s horrendous Urban Trilogy at its absolute worst. Killjoy is – mercifully – at least a step up from tosh-meister Pyun’s soul crushingly terrible three way, but only just; like them, it too seems to have been assembled as a deconstructive exercise in truly terrible filmmaking. From the shockingly cheap sets, to the hysterical performances, and Craig Ross’ clumsy direction; quite simply, it stinks. Yet, for that very reason, it is never less than totally watchable; a so-naff-it’s-amazing experience in the lofty, essential clag tradition of Manos: The Hands of Fate and Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2.

Killjoy 3Though still disgustingly tacky, 2002’s second offering, Deliverance From Evil, fares much better in a conventionally good sense. It benefits greatly from a talent transfusion, the by-this-time fading Big City Pictures being mostly replaced by Dead Next Door maverick J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe Entertainment; the grassroots outfit responsible for co-producing some of the very best Full Moon movies of the early naughties. Despite being a touch too slow on the get go, for the most part Killjoy 2 is sassily written and directed by future Isle of Dogs helmer Tammi Sutton who, along with co-scripter and fellow Tempe mainstay Douglas Snauffer, re-works the first film’s voodoo revenge idea into a back-woods slasher scenario with surprisingly audacious results. Best of all, however, is low-budget Renaissance man Trent Haaga, who takes the eponymous psychotic jester role over from the screeching Ángel Vargas. Haaga – who’d go on to write the superb indie DeadGirl and last years sleeper hit Cheap Thrills – exudes charisma in a Krueger-meets-Pennywise mash-up; a turn as imaginatively freaky as it is gleefully silly.

Killjoy 4It’s Haaga’s show come Killjoy 3, which tardily arrived eight years later amidst Band’s rejuvenated slate of previously dead Full Moon franchises. Shot back-to-back in China with B auteur David DeCoteau’s charming Puppet Master: Axis of Evil, Killjoy 3’s locale is, sadly, used just as inconsequentially; though Axis of Evil, at least, featured a Chinese opera house. Regardless of Full Moon’s cost-cutting ‘minimal set syndrome’, John Lechago – who directs this outing, and whose previous work includes the remarkable, softcore S&M shock cheapie Blood Gnome – crafts a wonderfully dynamic sequel. It’s infectiously entertaining stuff, heavily accenting comedy and cartoon-like, violent slapstick as a bunch of college students cross over into Killjoy’s netherworld via a cursed mirror. Credit too for tying in with the rest of the series through something other than self-reflexive dialogue.

Killjoy 5Lechago keeps the energy high for the collection’s final entry, 2012’s barnstorming Killjoy Goes to Hell; released but last year by 88 under the uninspiring alternative title ‘Killer Clown’. It’s once again delirious popcorn fluff; an exceptionally stylish and uproarious blend of sharp, profanity-laced patter and humour even more outrageous than before as Killjoy is placed on trial by ol’ Beelzebub himself for not being scary or evil enough. Haaga dominates but there’s nice, laugh out loud support from part three’s returning quartet Tai Chan Ngo, Al Burke, Victoria De Mare and Jessica Whitaker, as bad-ass clown trio Freakshow, Punchy and Batty Boop, and ingenue Sandie, respectively.

Clag connoisseur’s and thrift hawks will almost certainly recognise Killjoy’s un and deux from their regular spot in Poundlands and car boot sales the country over; thankfully, 88 have trumped those previous Film 2000 and Boulevard editions – and even Full Moon’s own Region One versions – by providing the films with their first anamorphic transfers. Though far from demo material, it’s a thrill having them in a true, 16×9 friendly presentation. The real jewel in the crown, however – for us Limey’s at least – is the inclusion of Killjoy 3, which makes its UK DVD premiere. Extra features, unlike the aforementioned Puppet Master and Subspecies sets which included an assortment of commentaries and various Band-related gubbins, are restricted to 88’s trailer collection and Killjoy one, three and four’s bite-sized, behind the scenes VideoZones. Still, with an RRP of only £5.99 for the full sha-boodle, it’s hard to criticise too much. Fans and the adventurous, just get it bought already.

Killjoy: 3 out of 10

Killjoy 2: Deliverance From Evil 6 out of 10

Killjoy 3: 7 out of 10

Killjoy Goes to Hell: 8 out of 10

The Killjoy Collection is available exclusively at HMV from 13th October, via 88 Films.

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31 Days of Horror: #9 – Saw

31 Days of Horror: #9 – Saw

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

Saw (2004)

Directed by James Wan
Written by Leigh Whannell, story by Leigh Whannell & James Wan

Starring Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell & Danny Glover

There’s been few – if any – modern horror franchises that have had as much pop culture impact as the Saw saga. While its increasing emphasis on explicit gore-carnage might not seem to lend itself particularly well to the playfully ghoulish spirit of the scare season, the fact is that, for those who came of age during Jigsaw’s titanic box office reign, the Saw series simply is Halloween; mandatory viewing every bit as important as the likes of Night of the Demons, Trick’r Treat and the John Carpenter standard.

The operatic parts III and VI come damn close, but it’s The Conjuring director James Wan’s genre-busting original that holds the strongest. Slick and shocking, it’s an utterly compulsive, Se7en-on-steroids blend of suspense and visceral, grungy horror. Scripter Leigh Whannell and Cary Elwes star – in case any of you have been living in a cave for the past decade – as two men shackled in a dingy subterranean bathroom, the victims of an infamous puritanical psycho known only as Jigsaw. In there with them is a dead body and a hacksaw each; the latter of which isn’t for their chains…

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October on UKHS… 31 Days of Horror !

HalloweenOctober on UKHS… 31 Days of Horror!

Tomorrow, be sure to join UK Horror Scene as we kick off our special Halloween season with 31 DAYS OF HORROR; your bitesized daily guide to the movies that we think you scare lovers should be checking out this month. With everything from the Samhain essentials like Halloween and Trick’r Treat, to some lesser known curios, we’ve handpicked a diverse selection of our favourite festive fright flicks for you guys to devour.

And, hopefully, you’ll gorge on them with us too: Are you watching it? Do you agree with what we say? Or are you damned opposed to every word we’ve wrote? Heck, are you just screening any old shocker in general?! Then please, let us know and we’ll talk some terror together on Twitter. Simply tag us @UKHorrorScene or use #UKHS31.

Oh, and one more thing: Keep your eyes peeled for some very cool live tweet-alongs of a couple of our selections too. The schedule will be up real soon…

Let the party begin…

Stagefright (1987) Blu-Ray Review

SFSTAGEFRIGHT (1987) Blu-Ray review

Also known as StageFright: Aquarius, Deliria, Bloody Bird, Sound Stage Massacre

Directed by Michele Soavi
Written by Lew Cooper [George Eastman, aka Luigi Montefiori]
Starring Barbara Cupisti, David Brandon, Giovanni Lombardo Radice

RRP £17.99
BluRay Region B released by Exposure Cinema (Ltd to 3000)

Schlepping out now onto blu-ray, almost completely devoid of the kind of fanfare it deserves and very nearly lost amidst numerous release date changes, is StageFright; a rip-roaring Italian shocker and the first feature proper of Dario Argento protege Michele Soavi. Though Soavi would later go on to helm much more ambitious and more epically scoped projects like the Argento-presented The Church and The Sect, and the exquisite, Rupert Everett-starring Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man), it’s this lean and mean offering that is his crowning terror achievement.

Soavi’s StageFright producer, the late Aristide Massaccesi (or ‘Joe D’Amato’ to give the spaghetti schlock maven his better known alias), thought so too and cited Soavi’s subsequent work – somewhat harshly – as overblown and unfocused; a fact recounted by Alan Jones in one of several solid special features that fill Exposure’s tasty limited edition disc. Entitled ‘The Critic’s Take’, Jones – an undisputed high priest of genre film criticism, the Italian stuff especially so – makes for terrific company as usual in a fascinating twenty-odd minute long dissection of the film and Soavi’s career. “It’s an amalgam of the best of American and the best of Italian movies,” he explains, and it’s hard not to disagree with him.

sf1Blending both his home countries unique giallo vogue with the distinctly American slasher formula that sprung from it, Soavi crafts an enthralling and slick popcorn scare flick; sumptuous Italian murder mystery by way of crowd-pleasing, Friday the 13th-style primal brutality.

Working from a story by Big Boot B-pic mainstay George Eastman – perhaps best remembered as the titular gut-muncher in Massaccesi’s charmingly lousy video nasty Anthropophagus, and credited here as ‘Lew Cooper’ – Soavi’s set up is a bog standard body count scenario: A masked maniac, fresh from the local mental institution, bumping off a slew of thinly drawn characters in a typically isolated location. Though such a conceit was already stretched to breaking point even by this late eighties stage in the stalk and slash cycle, the ferocity and the pizazz with which Soavi knocks down his stacked dominoes is what truly elevates StageFright far beyond cliche and into the realms of not just a great slicer and dicer, but to the upper echelons of essential must-see horror status.

Soavi milks the tension of his playhouse setting for all it’s worth, delivering plenty of jolts as his bloodthirsty killer – deranged ex-actor Irving Wallace (Clain Parker) – prowls the shadows of the stage and the labyrinthine dressing and storage rooms. Hidden by a giant owl mask that is at once both completely absurd and surprisingly creepy, Wallace has taken a particular shine to ingenue Alicia (Barbara Cupisti, who would appear in Argento’s similarly themed Opera less than a year later), the lead in the bonkers erotic performance piece that is being rehearsed at the theatre. With a troupe of thespians and backstage talent (including gore icon and Soavi regular Giovanni Lombardo Radice, aka ‘John Morghen’, as the deliciously preening Brett) locked in for the night by their highly strung director (a fine scenery-chewing turn from David Brandon), it isn’t long at all before the corpses start piling up…

sf2Pre-cut by distributor Avatar upon its original British tape release, StageFright has appeared uncut in two notable reissues since from Redemption and the infamous Vipco; most notably as part of the latter’s budget Scream Time DVD collection (“Scare yourself shitless for £5.99!”) a little over a decade ago. Exposure, of course, carry on this uncensored tradition and even go as far to add a lovely little comparison featurette spotlighting the differences between theirs and Avatar’s print.

StageFright’s status as something of a minor rental tape classic seems to be the real theme of the blu-ray, with Exposure’s key art replicating Avatar’s original sleeve right down to its inclusion of an old style 18 certificate – a cute touch. Modern VHS culture is explored too in the disc’s breezy doc ‘Revenge of the Video Cassette’; a fun addition. Also included is an illustrated booklet, ‘Video Chillers’, that was sadly unavailable with the press copy.
On the transfer front, Exposure have unleashed a pleasing affair: The odd burst of visual noise and haloing due to slightly overdone edge enhancement aside, it’s quite the eye-popper, with natural flesh-tones and well-balanced grading.

It certainly showcases Soavi’s mastery – even at this fledgling stage – of colour and depth far better than Vipco’s orange-tinged hues ever did; although, in the old V’s defence, their StageFright’s picture quality was infinitely superior to most of the ugly-looking hooey they usually belted out. Don’t be getting rid of that version quite yet, however: While this blu-ray marks the first time StageFright has been available upon these shores in its correct 1:85:1 aspect ratio outside of the import market, Vipco’s open matte release reveals more information at the top and bottom of the picture. For Soavi’s cheeky, fourth wall-breaking final shot, the open matte is actually more preferable.

sf3Soavi himself pops up in ‘A Bloodstained Featherstorm’; Exposure’s good if somewhat rambling half hour making of piece. Thankfully, Soavi, along with the still beautiful Cupisti, scripter Eastman and actress Mary Sellers, share enough anecdotes to make it well worth dipping into; the best of which being Sellers’ explanation of the film’s subtitle ‘Aquarius’ and Soavi’s recollections of working with Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava and the aforementioned Argento and Massaccesi both in front of and behind the camera.

Massaccesi’s involvement is discussed in the excellent, fifty minute long ‘Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut”; an in depth archival chinwag with the Euro-pud icon that, along with the film, is worth the price of admission alone. It’s the highlight of Exposure’s package – though actor Radice’s interview feature ‘Giovanni’s Method’ comes a very close second, with the cult hero on fine droll form. Rounding things out is the film’s trailer and a thorough stills gallery.

Strangely, composer Simon Boswell is nowhere to be found. Considering just how integral the Brit maestro’s rousing and atmospheric score (which rattles around Exposure’s serviceable 2.0 stereo track rather nicely too) is to Soavi’s haunting imagery, and with it being on the cusp of a deluxe vinyl reissue, his non-inclusion is something of a missed opportunity. Overall, however, Exposure have assembled a damn good set well worth picking up. Collectors take note though: With Blue Underground’s region free Stateside edition landing in the next couple of days, and with its specs identifying a completely different set of extras to Exposure’s release, it looks as though devout StageFright disciples – and, personally, this writer includes himself in that bracket – will have to fork out for both versions. It’ll certainly be interesting seeing how they weigh up against each other…

The film 9 out of 10
The disc 7 out of 10

sf4Special Features:
⦁ Dual format edition: contains both Blu-ray Disc and DVD versions of the film
⦁ High-bitrate, dual-layer encoding for high picture and sound quality
⦁ New restoration, colour-timing corrected and produced from original vault elements
⦁ Original trailer
⦁ Still, poster and behind-the-scenes gallery featuring rare photos and international artwork
⦁ Cut version comparison
⦁ A Bloodstained Featherstorm
⦁ Giovanni’s Method: Interview with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (aka John Morghen)
⦁ Alan Jones: The Critic’s Take
⦁ Joe D’Amato: Totally Uncut
⦁ Revenge of the Video Cassette
⦁ Video Chillers booklet
⦁ Limited Collector’s Edition (3,000 copies)
⦁ Original artwork used on front cover

Disc Information
⦁ Feature Running Time: 90 minutes approx.
⦁ Picture: Colour | 1080p/24 | Widescreen 1.85:1 / 16:9
⦁ Sound: English language | Uncompressed audio (BD), Dolby (DVD)
⦁ Subtitles: English for the hard-of-hearing (removable; main feature only)

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Buy StageFright from Exposure Cinema
http://exposurecinema.com/shop/stagefright-blu-ray-limited-edition

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Fractured (2014) DVD Review

Fractured dvdcoverFractured (2014) DVD Review

Directed by Adam Gierasch
Written by Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch
Starring Callum Blue, Vinnie Jones and Ashlynn Yennie

UK certification 18
RRP £7.99
Run time 87 minutes
Distributor Warwick Films

Out Now

Hitting shelves this past Monday, and continuing the last year or so’s trend for something actually not too shabby popping up among the usually naff cavalcade of direct to disc chart chunder, is Fractured. Despite being misleadingly packaged as some sort of Vinnie Jones-starring Taken knock-off (a terrifying prospect if ever there was one), Fractured is, in fact, a diverting if not entirely successful noir-tinged horror thriller from husband and wife filmmaking team Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson.

Beginning their careers penning dumb but enjoyable D-grade creature features such as Spiders and Rats for production company Nu Image – long before Avi Lerner’s outfit hit paydirt thanks to The Expendables franchise – Gierasch and Anderson are no strangers to cut price genre fare. Making the most of their limited budget, in Fractured (or ‘Schism’ as it was formerly known) the duo have produced their most technically accomplished work to date; with Gierasch’s final transformation from purveyor of raucous schlock to assured left-field fear flick director being particularly impressive.

fractured3Like their last film, the After Dark Original Fertile Ground, here Gierasch once again opts for a similarly measured and creepily oppressive tone; with far more effective results than in that good but cliche-ridden offering. In Fractured, Gierasch at times demonstrates a near master’s touch and expertly controls an atmosphere of surreal and disquieting incident. And, just as he did with his earlier Autopsy and Night of the Demons redux, Gierasch once again shows himself more than capable when it comes to scenes of claret-soaked mayhem. Though abandoning the cartoon-like artery splitting of those aforementioned gore-parties in favour of a more brutal, art-like approach, Gierasch’s impish glee is still just as infectious in Fractured’s occasional and incredibly well constructed moments of seductive splatter. A scalping scene in particular could give Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac revamp a run for its money, and it’s easily one of the most horrifying jolt moments of the year.

While it would have benefited from using its New Orleans locale a little more, by and large Fractured is a visually sumptuous experience. Strikingly lensed by DP Scott Wining, its rich, textured aesthetic betrays the undoubted influence of Gierasch’s mentors Dario Argento and Tobe Hooper; the two all-time great horror stylists who brought his and Anderson’s Mother of Tears and Toolbox Murders scripts (amongst others) to life, respectively.

Thematically, Gierasch wears the rest of his inspirations on his sleeve too, with Hellraiser, Angel Heart, Jacob’s Ladder and A History of Violence all serving as narrative touchstones. Sadly, it is here where Fractured falters: While that specific bracket of genre morality play are all anchored by a fascinating central character and performance, Fractured is lumbered with the terminally dreary Dylan instead. Plagued by waking nightmares and bizarre time-shifts, Dylan journeys into the darker side of city life three years after waking from a coma with no idea who he really is; a potentially delicious arc squashed by the fact that Dylan just ain’t that interesting. Gierasch and Anderson gamely pile on the mystery and the effective philosophical symbolism, but sketch Dylan so finely that it’s nigh on impossible to actually give two hoots about his past, present or future; so much so that the film comes dangerously close to full-on derailing because of it. Smallville’s Callum Blue’s take is fittingly just as uninspired – he barely shifts from mild bewilderment, even when his character’s anus is penetrated by the spit-covered fingers of a drunken harlot in a fruity sex scene.

fractured4Of all people, it’s Jones who saves the day, with Gierasch – in a move this critic never actually thought possible – actually coaxing something of a performance from a man who, as an actor, generally makes Danny Dyer look like Gene Hackman. His role as cockney fackin’ ‘ardman Quincy, Fractured’s villain, may not be too much of a stretch for the, erm, cockney fackin’ ‘ardman, but it’s delivered with a damn sight more conviction than the last seven hundred turns in his truly chronic back catalogue. He’s still rubbish, of course, but it’s a welcome burst of sprightly pantomime colour when compared to Blue’s dull Dylan.

Nonetheless, as lacking as Fractured is as a dramatic mystery piece, it’s hard not to recommend it purely because of its remarkable technical prowess and enthralling, nightmare-like presentation. If Gierasch and Anderson had spent more time on their leads characterisation, Fractured could have been a thoughtful modern classic. As it stands, it’s simply a glossy but ultimately hollow B shocker.

6.5 out of 10

Extras:

None.

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Circus Of The Dead (2014) Review

COTD 1CIRCUS OF THE DEAD (2014)

Directed by Billy ‘Bloody Bill’ Pon
Written by Lee Ankum & Billy ‘Bloody Bill’ Pon

Starring Bill Oberst Jr., Parrish Randall, Chanel Ryan and Ryan Clapp

Run time 116 mins

This terror season, clowns are hot. From the recently announced crowd-funded double of Rob Zombie’s 31 and Full Moon’s latest Killjoy instalment; to the Eli Roth-produced Clown’s tentative Halloween release Stateside, if horror were the world of fashion, greasepaint, oversized shoes and a big red nose would be the latest must-have look on the scare catwalk. Big top bogeymen are ‘in’; and Circus of the Dead’s Papa Corn – the homicidal harlequin at the centre of this distinctly Texan frightmare – is the first fearsomely essential jester of this Bozo shockwave.

COTD 2It’s one hell of a turn from Bill Oberst Jr., the Boris Karloff of indie grue. Making John Wayne Gacy (whose fitting “Clowns could get away with murder” quote opens the film) look like Ronald McDonald, Papa Corn is quite possibly the Emmy Award-winning thesp’s finest performance to date; a frightening, ferocious and deeply charismatic turn of unpredictable energy that – if there’s any justice in the world – should see the man finally mentioned alongside such modern horror heroes as Englund, Combs and Moseley.

Through a mysterious Tarot card game – “Like bingo, but from Mexico” – Corn has deemed Don (Parrish Randall, decent) ,  and his family ideal victims for their Saw-type morality game. Incapacitating – to the say the least – Don’s adulterous wife (Chanel Ryan, perfunctory), Corn snatches Don’s daughters and coerces him into joining his merry band of murderous clowns on an odyssey of bloody slaughter if he ever wants to see them alive again.

COTD 3Building upon a mock trailer that opened his acclaimed short Doll Boy (the titular antagonist of which makes a fun cameo here), debutent feature director Pon has crafted an authentically scuzzy blend of Tobe Hooper-esque white trash schtick and Herschell Gordon Lewis-style exploitation. Mean spirited and grotty, Circus of the Dead is one sick little puppy of a picture; a charmingly ramshackle and gleefully repellent wallow through the lowest ends of the schlock spectrum. Its lack of slickness and, indeed, decency may prove too much for some, and its crossover appeal will almost certainly be minimal; but for those willing to embrace its boisterous nastiness it’s one of the years stand-out genre releases.

Shepherding an infectiously seedy carnival of perversity, Pon, along with co-scripter Lee Ankrum, happily piles on the transgressions; from the in-your-face DIY effects, to cannibalism, rape and necrophilia. Though the grotesque one-upmanship is undercut somewhat by Pon’s bursts of clumsy staging and his, at times, far too relaxed sense of pacing (Circus of the Dead clocks in at just under two hours, with a handful of scenes running much longer than they should), for the most part he proves himself a deft directorial hand; especially when it comes to the film’s numerous scenes of knockabout savagery. His flair for outrageous hyper violence is to be applauded, in fact, with one set piece in particular – a late night siege of a mini-mart – rivalling the infamous bar sequence in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult vampire hit Near Dark in terms of knuckle-whitening intensity.

COTD 4Despite being somewhat tamer than recent taboo busters like Human Centipede 2 or the I Spit On Your Grave revamp and its sequel, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how Pon’s unflinching approach affects the film’s certification when – or if – it’s submitted to the BBFC. Fingers crossed it hits these shores, unscathed, soon; the adventurous would do well to seek this one out.

8 out of 10

Currently on the festival circuit, you can keep up to date with all the latest Circus of the Dead developments via their Facebook or twitter feeds HERE and HERE.
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The Washing Machine (1993) DVD Review

WM 1THE WASHING MACHINE (1993) DVD Review

Also known as Vortice Mortale

Directed by Ruggero Deodato
Written by Luigi Spagnol
Starring Philippe Caroit, Ilaria Borrelli, Katarzyna Figura & Barbara Ricci

Out 25th August from Shameless Screen Entertainment

It’s sex, lies and dismemberment in this twisty-turny erotic thriller; a giallo-tinged sexer from Cannibal Holocaust helmer Ruggero Deodato. Though lacking the brutal power of that said gut-muncher, and not quite capturing the same kind of spiteful excitement that makes the likes of House on the Edge of the Park and Cut & Run so essential, The Washing Machine is nonetheless a required look for those familiar with this often underrated spaghetti splat journeyman. It’s certainly tacky and downright bizarre enough to hold one’s attention – casual horror lovers or those who find the Italian stuff already indecipherable, however, should probably give it an exceptionally wide berth.

Continuing Deodato’s fascination with ghastly occurrences rooted in reality (“I don’t like films with a fantasy element,” he once told Eye For Film’s Jennie Kermode. “If I make a horror film I want the horror to come from something realistic, not something made up.”), The Washing Machine finds Budapest detective Alexander Stacev (Frenchman Philippe Caroit, leading a pretty damn good multi-national cast) investigating the peculiar case of some poor sod who’s been hacked to pieces and stuffed inside the titular white appliance… Well, allegedly anyway. The problem is there’s actually no sign of the gorily disjointed body, even though the supposed victim – sleazy pimp Yuri, played with zest by Yorgo Voyagis – is nowhere to be found either.

WM 2Soon, Stacev is in Polanski-aping territory and at the mercy of Yuri’s lover Vida (Katarzyna Figura, billed as Kashia) and her two sisters, Maria (Ilaria Borrelli) and Ludmilla (Barbara Ricci); becoming a plaything in their strange, cat-and-mouse love quadrangle…

It’s spicy stuff for sure, even if the simulated bonking veers more towards absurd smut than anything particularly sexy. Though slightly reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s psychosexual horror-comic The Fourth Man, The Washing Machine is closer to the type of soft-core silliness that Channel 5 used to broadcast late on a Friday evening; the same kind of murder mystery T&A fluff that Shannon Tweed would have excelled in, just a little more Euro-pudding. Deodato of course directs with his usual gusto, assuredly embracing both the occasional splashes of grue and Figura’s pneumatic chest in typically unreserved fashion.

It’s during the weirder, quieter moments where he really excels though; the moments in which the increasingly bewildered Stacev tries to piece together just what the hell is actually going on playing like a macabre and surreal joke. Deodato conjures up a pleasingly off-kilter mood, one perfectly served by cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi (who also lensed the director’s Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park, as well as Lucio Fulci’s exquisite giallo Don’t Torture a Duckling) who’s cool colour palette also compliments the Budapest locations rather nicely. It’s a pleasure to look at, and Shameless’ unremarkable transfer is solid enough to do it justice: It’s watchable, even if it’s a touch on the hazy side thanks to a dodgy compression job.

WM 3The Washing Machine is no classic, mind you; there’s far too much narrative flab for that. Italian television writer Luigi Spagnol’s script piles on the intrigue, but it’s too rambling when it should be twisting the suspense screws; too unfocused when it should be razor sharp. Moreover, both he and Deodato can’t quite keep the pace going; it kicks off with a bang but peters out before ending with a nonsensical damp squib. There’s still plenty to enjoy though in this stylish and entertaining potboiler; it won’t convert anyone to the church of bloody Italian chills, but it’ll certainly satisfy the parishioners already worshipping within it.

On the extras front, Shameless‘ disc is an odd one: Bells and whistles with its swanky-looking, Graham Humphreys-designed metal tin packaging (this critic was privy to the check disc only, sadly) but almost completely devoid of anything additional feature wise. There’s a cute easter egg spotlighting Deodato’s nosey neighbour cameo and a surprisingly lacklustre selection of on-set stills; compared with the slew of specially produced extras the company prepared for their new cuts of Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park though, it’s damn disappointing.

Reportedly unhappy with the finished product, it would have been interesting to hear what Deodato himself has to say on the project. And with the likes of Death Waltz Records et al creating a fresh demand for horror soundtracks of late – Italian especially – the lack of an isolated score option to showcase the splendid work of Goblin man Claudio Simonetti is a bit of a missed opportunity too.

WM 4Still, it’s hard not to recommend it, if only for the chance to pick up this dotty little movie itself. Shameless‘ package is the first time The Washing Machine has been available since a small VHS release back in 1999, and the fact that things like this are getting released into the ever more difficult British market is something to be applauded. Hopefully, with enough sales, Shameless will be able to whip up a few more Deodato releases; uncut versions of his poliziotteschi Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man and his American sylvan slasher Body Count would be most welcome indeed…

The film 6/10
The disc 3/10

The Washing Machine is available on Amazon from HERE 

And visit Shameless Films site & shop HERE 

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